Monday, March 5, 2012

Back Off Buddy! Resource Guarding Between Dogs

Possessive behavior (aka resource guarding) is not a fun behavior in any context.  I'd say it's even less fun when it specifically occurs around other dogs because, in many ways, I can't disagree with the doggy logic there.  Sharing resources doesn't exactly win the evolutionary race, ya know?

Tongues.  That's what wins in the game of evolution.

Both Parker and Skye have some resource guarding around other dogs.  For Parker, this stems from a puppyhood competing for his food with other dogs.  Now, he hides in his crate when he has a bone or other goodie and will growl if another dog tries to take it.   It is a long time habit that used to apply to people as well, but the human element has been addressed through training.

Skye's possessive behavior only appeared when Sinatra came to live with us.  While I focused on teaching Sinatra to share his toys and treats, Skye picked up on his hostility and returned it in kind.  Now, when new dogs are at the house she is quick to growl and grumble when her space is invaded or her bone is involved. 

Neither Parker nor Skye have gone as far as snapping, but they are quick to give a vocal warning.  When pushed, they opt to avoid the other dog rather than seek confrontation. 

But if I wanted, I could take you.

The first thing I need to do, both as an owner and a trainer, is decide where to draw the line.  To be honest, I'm comfortable with the vocal warnings my dogs give.  They are not excessive and they teach the dogs that stay with us what is acceptable behavior.  Feel free to disagree and teach your dogs accordingly.

Regardless- the goal is to change your dog's mind.  Not to trick/coerce/force them into accepting dogs near them when they have a goodie, but for them to anticipate dogs as a cue for good things.

This photo has no purpose, other than to show off Skye's bod.

In an earlier post I talked about using the trade-up game.  This method is great when your dog is slightly possessive with people around their resources.  Unless you can teach one dog to trade with the other, this method may not work so well.  But the idea is the same:

The presence of the dog/hand/child is the cue for good things to happen.  For example:

Fifi turns into a snarling maniac whenever Bobo comes in the room while she's eating.  If Bobo gets too close, Fifi will lash out, snapping and biting before returning to the food bowl.

First- manage the situation.  Don't let your dogs work it out for themselves- Fifi is willing to defend her food to the point of hurting Bobo.  Unless you are actively training with them, they should eat in separate areas.  Bones or other valuable items should only be available when they are apart, and should be picked up when they are together.

This also goes for guarding outside of the home.  Your pup loves other dogs until they get near his ball?  Leave the ball at home.  Fido isn't going to pine away if his ball isn't at the dog park, and you won't need to apologize when he goes after another dog.  Can't bring treats on play dates?  Find other ways to reward your dog's good behavior.  You can't expect strangers to help you train your dog safely, so keep the training controlled.  Once you've done some hefty legwork, begin transferring what Fido has learned into everyday situations.

Schnauzer shadow

Next- start working the magic!  Select a type of treat that your dog goes nuts for and put them aside.  These treats should never appear unless you are practicing with the other dog.  Remember it needs to be special.  This is not dry-biscuit and kibble training.  I'm talking string cheese, liver treats, cat poop hot dogs kind of goodness!

Generally the process is easier if you have a second person.  Many of the dogs who are on the receiving end of possessive aggression will anticipate their pal's behavior.  It is important that Bobo learns a new way of thinking as well as Fifi- otherwise the pattern of behavior may not change.  In a pinch you can use leashes to attach both dogs to something solid and move between them both, spending the bulk of your time on the Fifi end of the room.

If one person is attached to Fifi and one to Bobo, you can move at a faster pace.  Place a bowl of boring food in front of Fifi at the same time Bobo enters the room.  If Fifi reacts immediately, just wait, keeping Bobo at a maximum distance.  The instant Fifi takes it down a notch, drop a treat in her bowl.  For each 10-15 seconds that goes by without a reaction, drop another treat for Fifi. 

Bobo's handler should be using treats to keep Bobo busy- practice his basic commands, teach him a trick, etc.  Keep Bobo relaxed and keep him from staring at Fifi- this could spark a confrontation.

Pit bull shadow- aka Skye is a fatty on the inside

Just like with other guarding issues, you don't want to move too fast.  Keep pairing good things with the other dog at a comfortable distance.  After several sessions of this, begin moving Bobo closer and walking him around Fifi.  Let me be clear- don't circle Fifi like a creeper.  That would not be helpful.

Begin to slow down with the treats.  You want to see Fifi thinking at this point.  Many dogs will look at the other dog, then look at you like "hello?  I'm tolerating Bobo- where's my goodness?"

When you see that light bulb go off, make a big deal about it!  The connection between Bobo and good things is being established.

Remember, you know your dog best.  Don't get lazy and risk a backslide, but don't feel like you can never move beyond step 1.  When training is going against instinct it can feel impossible, but dogs are wonderfully malleable when it comes to their behavior.

The best resource I can recommend if you want a more in-depth instructional is Jean Donaldson's book Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding


  1. Thank you for this advice! We have decided to "manage the situation" by feeding both dogs in their crates and putting away high-value toys when both dogs are out of their crates. This is working so seamlessly that I'd be okay with continuing it indefinitely, but if we ever decide to train them not to resource-guard, this post will be our starting point.

  2. Excellent advice. Also, I can't recommend enough pre-training for calmness around food.

  3. This is such a great post - excellent advice!

  4. Great post and a very interesting/helpful read!

    As an aside, it's too bad Skye is such a miserable dog ... just kidding! Those pittie smiles are AMAZING! Made my day!

  5. When our foster came she'd snap at our dogs over food and treats. We were just told to quick grab her, flip her over, grab her mouth and tell her no. I don't know if that's the most approved way, but it worked for her. She would still have that issue over a real bone but we don't give those, or if we do, we know she has to be separate and that's fine. Our dogs give vocal warnings sometimes, or Hades will just lift his lips and show his teeth if the girls get too close while he is chewing on a Nylabone and I know him well enough to know he isn't going to do anything. You should never be overly comfortable of develop a false sense of security that nothing could happen, but I feel like it's with new dogs that I worry about these things, not with my dogs.

  6. Great pictures, Jenny!! I loved the shadow shots!! ;op

  7. you always give good advice and tips that ONLY mom appreciates. Mom said something about, Why does my Lily scream at almosrt every other furry friend?
    Benny & Lily

  8. THANK YOU FOR THIS POST! Zoe has become an increasingly intense resource guarder (with our cats and other dogs, not with people). We are having a trainer come over in a week to begin working on the issue, but in the meantime, I will start implementing your suggestions!!

  9. Izzy is possessive over bones, but has learned to share a few toys. It all depends on the dog and the day. But she wants what everyone else is having. Unfortunately, she can re-direct onto us too if we try to correct her or pull her back, so we try not to put her in situations where she might have an issue.

  10. Great post! Resource guarding is a fairly common problem and so many people have no idea how to go about eradicating the behavior.

  11. Hey, I wanted to let you know to expect a small prize headed your way this week. You were one of the two randomly chosen runners-up in the dog breed challenge contest giveaway over on my blog.

    I believe I already have your mailing address, unless it has changed since December, so will go ahead and get it in the mail tomorrow.

  12. Funny, it's like you read my mind! For the first time in five years, we had an episode of mad resource guarding at our house. The Happy Yak chews we were reviewing for our giveaway this week are apparently very high value as far as the Felix is concerned. He's banished to the crate when he gets his now.

  13. Awesome post! My pibble Abbie has issues with other four legs coming near her food, and sometimes empty bowl. Since I foster, that makes a lot of learning with each new dog. Bowls no longer stay on the floor empty, which helps. Everything I researched told me to feed them separate...duh...but nothing about how to curb the issue. I am all about letting the dogs set their own boundaries to a point, but the day it is an old or young or simply clueless foster that does it and it gets ugly...well, I don't want that to happen. Thank you!

  14. My pit, Cali, just started this behavior with our other dog, Jessie. Cali is a year and a half and Jessie is a fourteen year old boarder Collie. They've lived together for a year. Cali has been tolerant of Jessie regularly eating her food and drinking her water until this past week. We had one episode of Cali not only growling and acting aggressively. Then today at the park she went at another pit, to take his toy away and prevent him from having water. Cali, was aggressive and went at the other dog growling with teeth showing. I intervened quickly yelling "NO" and then put her leash on to prevent further contact. The behavior seems so sudden and unlike her, She has always been very passive and never even a little aggressive. About three weeks ago Cali was attacked and bit by another female pit. She was not severely injured, but her mouth, chin and neck were bleeding. She had puncture makes on her neck. I wonder if this incident has something to do with the aggression. A friend who fosters pits suggested using a spray bottle with water in it and spraying her face when she is nasty. I don't know. I don't want her to be aggressive with other animals. Any suggestions for dealing with this with other dogs we encounter outside the home? Like when we're at the dog park etc... thanks. and btw great blog. I found it Google-ing help for resource aggression.

  15. below should be ***Border Collie***


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