Stop Food Aggression and Possessiveness Quickly: How to Eliminate Your Dog's Resource Guarding
Updated: Sep 30
You're sitting on the couch catching up on the latest episode of your favorite show. Your dog comes over and hops up next to you, eagerly awaiting the inevitable falling snack. You casually reach for the bowl of popcorn to grab a handful, but just as your hand gets close, you're met with a deep growl. Surprised, you retract your hand quickly as your pup positions himself between you and the popcorn, glaring intensely. What gives? Why is your dog suddenly acting aggressive over a bowl of popcorn?
If this scenario sounds familiar, you're likely dealing with resource guarding, a common but often misunderstood behavior in dogs. Resource guarding is when your dog displays possessive, protective, or aggressive behavior in response to you getting too close to or trying to take away a valued object, food, toy, resting spot, etc. It stems from a fear over losing something of value.
In the wild, resources are scarce. So naturally, wild dogs evolved tendencies to guard and protect items they deem valuable, like food and resting spots. This survival instinct still exists in our domesticated companions. But resource guarding becomes problematic when directed toward their human family members.
It's understandable to feel hurt, surprised, or even angry when your dog resource guards against you. But remember, aggressive behavior is your dog's way of communicating fear, stress or discomfort. Yelling, punishing, or forcing the item away will only make your dog's anxiety worse. Not to mention, you risk getting bitten!
Instead, prevention is key when dealing with resource guarding. Manage your dog's environment to avoid triggering the behavior. For example, feed meals in a separate room, don't leave high-value items like bones lying around, and respect your dog's space when resting.
If you notice warning signs like lip licking, yawning, whining, or freezing, back off before your dog feels the need to escalate to growling or biting. And never attempt to take away an item by force. This will only teach your dog to guard more intensely next time.
With patience and positive reinforcement training, you can help build your dog's confidence and teach him that your presence near his resources predicts good things are coming. Reward calm, relaxed behavior around valued items using treats, play, or by adding something better to the mix like a piece of chicken.
Remember, resource guarding stems from fear and anxiety. With compassion, prevention, and training, you can help your dog overcome those feelings and learn to trust you near his treasures. Soon you'll be able to reach for the popcorn once again without any lip licking or ominous glares coming your way.
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