Canine Resource Guarding refers to a dog that guards a resource, anything the dog perceives as valuable or important, from other dogs or people.
Is this normal behavior?
Yes and no. All mammals guard, us included. It is primal and ensures survival. Where it enters the not so normal zone is when it was accidentally manufactured through inappropriate handling.
TYPES OF RESOURCE GUARDING
There are most likely as many things to be guarded as there are dogs – but here is the most common resource guarding that I see.
Dog Dog Guarding – dogs that will guard an item from another dog
Dog Human Guarding – dogs that will guard an item from a human
Food Bowl Guarding
Person Guarding – guarding their favored person from other dogs or humans
Location Guarding – a favored nap place or place of value – i.e. parents bed
RESOURCE GUARDING DISPLAYS
Resource Guarding comes with a lot of warnings to start with, and if not understood then acts of aggression.
Lowering of the head / eyes up and hard
Rapid barks combined with lunge forward
Mouth/Teeth contact with human or dog that is approaching – intent is to harm
LET’S START AT THE BEGINNING
In every litter of puppies you have a small village of temperaments. From day one the puppies fly their little flags and identify their baseline temperaments. Their first little nursing session is like a miniature scrum of sorts, and even with only minutes to hours on the planet there will be one or two, if not more that are pushing and shoving and using little vocalizations to get the milk that they want. Milk, a valuable resource.
For a breeder this is important to observe and desirable, you want a puppy with vigor, in fact it is called the vigor test. Within two minutes of birth a breeder assesses breathing, movement, vocalization, and how fast that puppy makes it to mama and starts to nurse.
Nursing is also the time that the mama dog will vigorously lick the genitals to stimulate urination and defecation, clean her pups, and make sure everyone is well. The mama will go about her tasks, and the pups learn to robustly nurse and latch on.
AS THEY GROW
Week after week as the puppies grow, the force of the milk scrum grows as well.
There are some great benefits to this in the long run. Litters that are health and have good vigor will step all over each other and knock each other off of mama’s teats to get the most nutritious milk and the largest quantity. Competition for nutrition and position creates a litter of pups with amazing frustration tolerance, the early ability to solve concepts and reason, and a strong keen sense for survival.
WHEN FOOD IS INTRODUCED
Puppies even though they will naturally ween around 9.5 – 10 weeks of age, are ready to try solid foods around 3.5 – 4 weeks of age. Mama’s milk is still the main source of nutrition, but as their little teeth start to come in, they are ready to try other foods.
Introducing food is liken to pirate bootie, it is a valuable resource. If a breeder missed a puppy that showed early signs of resource guarding, the first introduction of food should be a helpful reminder.
Here is one of my puppies at 33 days of age, growling and singing to a very valuable resource and letting her littermates know, this is MINE! This is normal and fair communication, and if you see all of the other puppies not being bothered by this but also not bothering her, well they are learning and teaching each other rules in the canine world. Respect and conflict resolution.
THIS IS NOT ABOUT DOMINANCE
And this is where puppies can accidentally get mislabeled, and in turn start to be handled differently, and in turn the breeder can take a normal developmental behavior and turn it into an early manufactured real problem.
A breeder hopefully has an appropriate and mature mama dog, that is key to success number one.
The breeder should be well managed, attentive, and have good observational skills.
The breeder should also never try to take the place of the mama dog when it comes to teaching the puppies. Human wants and needs are a great way to really screw up the natural order of a litter and everything the mama dog is trying to teach in regards to canine skills.
Never ever should a breeder remove or physically correct a puppy that shows signs of guarding.
Puppies that tend to designate valuable items as there own, are usually super inconsistent about it. Sometimes it is hunger that is driving it, sometimes it is a tired puppy, and sometimes they lack the early knowingness that if they want something they can have it. So a lot of factors.
Everything about resource guarding in these early stages comes down to trust, mamas teaching skills, and the breeders managed environment.
A puppy needs to be able to trust that if they have something valuable, everybody else, human and puppy alike, understands this.
This is where the power of guarding starts to naturally fade away, within reason. If all human hands are the givers of love and valuable items, approaching human hands can be trusted. If the mama dog has been teaching her pups about canine manners in the canine world, and the importance of self control, well you will see trust start to grow and grow in the litter.
Being around valuable items and learning to share comes with time and consistency.
ARRIVING IN A NEW HOME
When it is time for the puppies to move in with their new families, hopefully the breeder and new puppy owner have had many valuable conversations, and have an understanding for the new puppies life with nourishing foods, management, education, and kind and considerate socialization.
When a puppy is ready for this transition they are also in the heavy teething stage, which means any and all things in the home are fair game – base boards, shoes, door jams, paper, boxes, chair legs, anything. It is the new owners responsibility to provide legal things for teething that the puppy finds valuable, and to gate and manage the household appropriately.
Simply put, be a GOOD MOUTH MANAGER.
In a multiple dog household it is always best to be even that much more managed to start with for the puppies safety and to create really good management from the beginning.
THE TIPPING POINT
If the new owner is managed, practices equal exchange – a treat for the sock, and provides valuable chewing items, things will be normal puppy chaos, and move along with trust and understanding.
If however, things are not so managed, and there is very little patience in the household, and the puppy is having things physically ripped out of the mouth or is being physically corrected, grabbed, scruffed, or yelled out, well this is the point that the puppy will learn about not trusting these humans.
Never correct a growl – if you correct a warning you will build a silent dog that will bite.
Never mess with your dogs food – if you gave your dog food, allow them to enjoy it. This includes walking by your dog when they are eating and touching them or allowing children to mess with them while they are eating.
Never grab things out of your dogs mouth. If your dog has something you don’t want them to have do an equal exchange with something more valuable.
Never chase, grab, pin, or corner a dog that has something they believe is valuable.
DOG DOG or DOG HUMAN
Whether you have a dog that is starting, or has full on resource guarding with items towards other dogs or humans, the advice is the same.
Clean up your household – inside and out.
Have gates for managed environments and the ability to separate at certain times.
Make sure you are not just feeding your dog, but are nourishing your dog. If your dog is deficient in nutrition or has poor digestive health, they will not act well. Optimal nutrition is actually key.
Meet your dogs exercise needs both physically and mentally each and every day. Make sure it is appropriate for their age and breed.
Social and emotional balance are super important, but if your dog is a safety risk with other people or dogs because of potential resources, pull back and create a rich socially and emotionally balanced home within safety.
Work with a professional trainer that understands this behavior and knows how to work with it – on both ends of the leash, because it isn’t just about the dog, it is the household.
Be okay living with a new level of management and a new education. WHY? Well once an animal learns something, it cannot be unlearned. Teaching a dog that what they perceived as valuable is not really that valuable anymore takes a great deal of time, and must be managed on the human end forever.
If you don’t have resource guarding, don’t build it. I hope you have taken the time to read through the entirety of this article and watch each video start to end. Working with true resource guarding behavior is not a quick fix, and the understanding and education behind all of the work that needs to be done is extensive. This is just the beginning.