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Help! My dog guards his food and I worry about my kids

Otherwise known as resource guarding, a dog that guards its food or any item can be unpredictable and takes many owners by surprise. Add children to that scenario and one would not blame you for being concerned.

In this article, we will explain how to identify resource guarding, the common signs to look for and how to fix the behaviour.

What is resource guarding?

Resource guarding is as the name would suggest when your dog sees something as valuable and wants to protect it from being taken from them so will guard it. A dog will most commonly guard food but I have also seen dogs resource guard toys, furniture, and even the front seat of a car!

No matter the item your dog is guarding, this behaviour can escalate quickly and does need to be addressed. 

How do I know if my dog is doing it?

When guarding their resource, dogs will often tense up, growl, or even snap when you get too close. For example, if your dog has a big bone and you walk past he/she may growl or attempt to turn themselves and the bone away from you.

 

Is resource guarding serious behaviour?

There is no sugar coating it, resource guarding is dangerous especially if you have children who don’t understand your dog’s negative feelings towards being approached with certain items.

There is also the potential your dog will transfer its guarding and what may start with just the dinner bowl, then becomes bones before moving on to the entire kitchen area. It is this unpredictable and escalating nature that makes the behaviour serious. 

What causes it?

Genetics do play a big part and certain breeds are more likely to be resource guarders than others. For example, it is common among spaniel breeds. However, as owners, we too play a part in the development by actions such as sticking pestering the dog when they are eating or allowing it to be the only one who sits in a certain place.

How do I stop my dog from resource guarding?

To put a stop to the behaviour you need to counter-condition your dog’s resource guarding. Put simply, this means – allowing your dog to see your approach as a good thing and not a threat.

But, how do I do this?

Before you can start there are a few things you can do…

1. Management

Crate training your dog will be a very useful tool, I give my dog their bone/dinner in their crate, this is a nice safe place for them to go and reduces the likelihood of me interrupting. 

2.Put a leash on your dog (even in the house)

If your dog is guarding objects such as the sofa or rubbish bin etc, having a 1.8-meter leash on your dog will safely enable you to safely maneuver around your dog to access these items. 

3. Bed / place training

To safely work with your dog I like to use a fixed solid object such as a raised bed. This becomes your dog’s ‘place’ which they will go to when asked. For more info on place training, see our article on basic dog obedience. 

4. Muzzle training

A muzzle is not a long-term solution, but if you’re dog has ever lunged at you, or you have children, the use of a muzzle will give you peace of mind until the situation is resolved. Muzzles do need to fit correctly to be effective but can be purchased from most pet stores. 

5. Stop messing around with your dog’s food bowl.

Many of us have heard the theory a dog will not guard their food if you regularly put your hand in their bowl. However, this is a myth and not to be attempted.

6. One on one dog training

Resource guarding will not be fixed in group classes/online training. I would highly recommend booking a one-on-one session with an experienced dog behaviourist / trainer.

Looking for more dog training tips? 

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