Dogs and resource guarding

Dogs and resource guarding

Have you ever gone to remove something from your dog, only to have them growl, or worse, snarl and snap at you?

It can come as quite a shock. But, in actual fact, this is quite normal (if not desirable) behaviour for a dog. It is known as resource guarding, or possession aggression. It’s a dog’s reaction to a perceived threat when they are in possession of something. This can be a meal, a bone, bowls, toys, socks, beds, sofa, space etc. and even their owners.  It’s important to recognise the signs.

So, what does resource guarding look like?

Freezing – the dog freezes with a hard stare, not looking at who is approaching, and immediately stops eating or chewing.

Accelerated eating – as the threat (person or animal) gets closer, they speed up eating, trying to finish the food as fast as possible.

Preventing access – they might take the item in their mouth and move away from you or shift their body weight to block access to the item.

Growling or snarling (where the dog’s lips are pulled back and teeth are shown) – They may lunge or air snap (an air snap is a deliberate, if the dog wanted to bite they would). They may mouth you with an inhibited bite where the skin is not broken. The last resort for a dog is to bite. They will have given many warning signals previous to this that have gone unheard/unseen.

Dogs and resource guarding

What causes resource guarding?

The behaviour is, in fact, genetic but it can also be learned from other dogs. Pain or illness can also be a factor; they may be protecting their space to keep people or other animals away as they don’t want to be touched.

Similarly, if a dog is tired, they may protect their space as they need to rest. They may also be stressed or frustrated through lack of physical exercise and mental stimulation. If the resource (e.g. food) has been scarce in the past, they would have guarded what precious food they found in order to survive. It’s important to note that dogs that have been punished in the past for this behaviour will most likely exhibit worse behaviour in the future.

How do we prevent resource guarding?

With desensitising and counterconditioning which, put simply, means changing the dog’s emotion. For example, teaching them that somebody approaching their food bowl is a positive thing rather than that person is going to steal their food. Management of the dog’s environment is also crucial. Let them eat in peace, in a quiet and secure area, away from other animals/people. It’s best not to free feed, i.e., leaving food in the bowl on the ground all day. For the same reason, toys should be kept away when not in use. Creating positive experiences around dropping, leaving and recall will go a long way in helping to avoid future problems.

Happy Feet Dogs offers training on how to treat or prevent resource guarding. For more information, visit or email

By Diane Lowe

Diane Lowe has been living in the Algarve 23 years. It’s not where she was born but it’s where she belongs. She is passionate about dogs, hiking and being out in nature.