Resource Guarding; Why Dogs Protect Their Stuff

By: Beverly Ulbrich, Guest Writer

Most people have heard that you should mess with a puppy’s food when he’s young to ensure he doesn’t growl at or bite you. But did you know that you need to keep doing this throughout your dog’s life?

Yellow Dog chewing on a bully stick

You should be able to grab a bone from your dog’s mouth without him growling or otherwise reacting to you taking it away.

You never know when you’ll need to grab something dangerous from your dog’s mouth, or when someone might try to pet your dog while he’s chewing on something. So you need to make sure your dog knows that it’s okay.

Make sure your dog doesn’t react in any of the following situations:

  • Put your hand in his food bowl and take the bowl away while he’s eating
  • Pet him while he’s eating food
  • Pet him when he’s chewing on a bone or other chew toy
  • Take away anything he’s chewing on or playing with
  • Once you’re assured he’s safe, ask other household members or friends to do the same actions

If you can do all these things, great! Just keep practicing occasionally to ensure your dogs stays in shape.

If you don’t feel safe trying these things, then don’t do it! But you should get help. The Pooch Coach can help train your dog to feel comfortable – and even enjoy – having someone handle his food bowl. You can also teach your dog to drop any item in his mouth; in fact, here’s a video of The Pooch Coach teaching “drop it” on live TV to a shelter dog who was protective of her bone.

Here’s the bottom line: just as you should easily be able to take away your child’s toy or food plate, you should be able to take away whatever your dog is eating.


In nature, it’s “survival of the fittest.” If an animal doesn’t protect its food, shelter or offspring, they can be taken away. So a dog guarding his food or bones by growling or biting is actually quite natural. However, it isn’t welcome behavior in our homes.

Companion dogs should trust us to take dangerous things out of their mouths and listen to us when we ask them to get off furniture. We should be able to easily take food or toys away; just as a child should not get mad at you for removing his dinner plate, your dog shouldn’t mind you taking his bowl.

How resource guarding starts

Usually, puppies do not resource guard. If they do, you want to address it right away. Most owners typically know to take things away from puppies to test and train them. When they see the puppy just back off and look confused, they figure they’re safe. But if you do not continue to mess with your dog’s food or chew toys throughout his life, he can easily develop guarding behavior because it’s in his nature to do so.

Once a dog realizes that growling or snapping keeps people and/or other dogs from taking his prized possessions, it’s all downhill from there! People back off and the dog becomes more confident it’s his role and duty to protect his stuff.

The cycle needs to be broken as soon as possible. Otherwise, you will both end up getting more and more frustrated until someone finally gets hurt.

Bad experiences

Many different experiences and situations can lead to resource guarding. Most dogs who are rescued from the streets have issues with protecting things. Indeed, their survival depended on defending their turf and food.

And not surprisingly, many dogs never learned to trust humans. Additionally, if a human or other animal did take away a dog’s food or bones unexpectedly, a dog could learn to react and try to protect these objects.

How we are affected

Naturally, we as owners become afraid or frustrated with our dogs. We show fear when trying to take a bone away. Or we avoid our dog when he is eating. Or we separate our two dogs into different rooms when serving meals.

This actually helps create tension. It starts a cycle where we are anticipating our dog’s reaction and getting almost as upset as he is! Without outside help, it’s often very hard to break this cycle.

How to stop it

When a dog is resource guarding, usually he most important this is to (re)build the trust between the dog and owner. Even if the dog is guarding against another dog, it’s still really about the owner, who ultimately does own all the possessions.

Just as it’s a parent’s job to teach two children to get along and share nicely, dog owners need to teach their dogs. We need to let them know they can trust us and that it’s actually not a bad thing if we need to take something away from them. Once the negative energy around this is removed, the dog will actually like your coming her his bowl, and he will eagerly drop a bone from her mouth. And two dogs can learn to respects each other’s spaces, bowls and toys so they no longer need to fight for possessions.

If you feel your dog might have a problem with resource guarding, schedule an appointment with a professional like The Pooch Coach for further assistance.

Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for professional training. If your dog is resource guarding, make an appointment with a training specialist to work one-on-one with your dog. 

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