by Hannah Blumenfeld, CDBC, CBCC-KA, and CPDT-KA, and DANW Alum

Resource guarding is a completely normal canine behavior. When a dog is “resource guarding,” it means that they are protecting something/someone valuable from other dogs or people.

What’s important to note here is that the dog defines what’s “valuable;” though dirty socks or a muddy stick may not feel valuable to you, if your dog thinks that thing is worthy of value, it is!

Because resource guarding can range from mildly annoying to downright dangerous, here are some do’s and don’ts to help keep everyone safe.

  • For a dog guarding food from you…
    Do: Let your dog eat in peace. Every once in a while, walk by and toss chicken or hamburger meat into the bowl to slowly condition the dog to feel that your presence near their food means good things from them. 
    Don’t: Stick your hand in your dog’s food bowl or pick up the bowl (or bully stick or Kong) while he’s eating.
    Do: Establish a plan to address the behavior. Here is a great example from the ASPCA.

  • For a dog guarding objects from you…
    DoChange your dog’s emotional response to your approach. Teach this counting game to move your dog far away from the object so you can safely pick it up. Teach a “drop it” cue – either this standard one or this creative one.
    Don’t: Chase your dog or take things away from them without a worthy trade.

  • For a dog guarding space from you…
    Do: Teach a hand target or place cue to safely move your dog around the environment.
    Don’t: Physically move your dog.

  • For a dog guarding food, objects, and space from other dogs…
    Do: For food guarding, feed separately, no exceptions. For object guarding, keep toys and other valuable items off of the ground when dogs are together. For dogs guarding space, ensure that each dog has a separate and safe space to rest.
    Don’t: Let dogs “work it out” on their own or physically move your dog.
    Do: Establish a plan to address the behavior. Here is an excellent behavior plan by well-known trainer Hannah Branigan that addresses dog-dog guarding.

Lastly, be sure to check out this canine ladder of communication. Always watch your dog carefully so you can recognize the early signals of stress, and respect these signals so that you do not escalate any given situation. And if you feel that your pup’s guarding is truly worrying, consult a behavior professional to develop a safe and specific plan for your own household.