It's bed time, and Ronnie the Rottie is curled up comfy in your spot on the bed. But, you're tired and need to get some sleep, so you walk up and reach to lift the blanket. Suddenly Ronnie tenses up, his eye get big and fixed with lots of white showing, he growls, and he snaps at you. You're terrified, and with good reason.
Ronnie is doing what's called "resource guarding," a trait that some dogs are simply born with. While it's very scary to experience it, the good news is that with proper training, we can teach dogs who resource guard to no longer fear our approach, and instead welcome it.
Let’s take a look at what resource guarding is all about, using a human example to get the conversation started.
People Do It
You’ve not had breakfast and are finally sitting down to dig into your lunch. Because you’ve been working hard, you’ve treated yourself to your favorite side: French fries. As you are about to dig in, your officemate Dave walks right up. Without a word, he snatches a few of them up off the plate and pops them into his mouth. You look up at him and give him the dirtiest look imaginable, hoping that your steely eyes sent the message loud and clear: “BACK OFF MY FRIES!” Imagine your surprise when next week, Dave walks up to you and does the very same thing. This time, in addition to the hard stare, you might give him a bit of a verbal warning: “Dave, seriously, don’t touch my fries!” Dave, it seems is not very good at understanding clear communication and does it YET AGAIN the next time you’ve got some tasty fries. This time, in addition to your steely-eyed, angry message to back off, you grab his arm, feeling like you seriously need to drive the point home and really, really hope that Dave doesn’t try to mess with your food anymore.
Dogs Do It Too
Though it may seem a bit of a leap to compare a human situation to one pertaining to dogs, it really isn’t much of one. We all have things that we consider prized possessions and our dogs are no exception. Some dogs may guard food, a favorite toy, a prized spot on the couch, YOUR BED (!!!), or a high value resource, such as a bully stick. Some pups are not as picky and will guard anything they consider to be theirs— even things like used tissues, socks and garbage. Simply speaking, dogs who guard feel threatened. When you approach the bed and reach in for the blanket, fight-or-flight software kicks in. And in that moment, more than anything else in the world, Ronnie needs you to BACK AWAY FROM THE BED!!! So how do dogs tell us to back away? Like we discuss on the Response to Threat page, dogs have a number of behaviors to get threats to step away from the goods:
Emit a hard stare
Bite with “inhibited force” (meaning, they “pull their punches” and bite with reduced pressure).
If after all of those warnings, the threat still has not moved away, dogs might THEN bite with full force.
How To Treat It
The old advice about leaving the dog alone when he’s working on his bone is good advice. Any time a dog does not feel safe, he may let us know. While some dogs have a wide vocabulary of warning signals to tell you to get back before you get hurt, others might skip right to biting with full force. Because of that, resource guarding is a behavior problem that is best addressed with the assistance of a qualified trainer. A protocol of “counter-conditioning” — wherein a dog like Ronnie would learn to love, rather than fear, you coming to bed — is the best course of treatment. Due to the potential for resource guarding to be injurious, the importance of hiring a professional to help cannot be overstated.
Don't Touch My Guac!
This little guy is the perfect human resource-guarder model. Check out his body language:
Frozen over his food
Nothing moves but his eyes
Lots of eye whites showing
He most definitely falls into the "distressed" category.