When is a dog’s resource guarding unacceptable?

Resource guarding is a natural behaviour and is necessary for survival in any species, including humans. If we didn’t guard our resources, we wouldn’t survive. Dogs may resource guard their food, food bowls, bones, toys, beds, furniture and even people. None of these are unusual. That said, resource guarding can escalate, become extreme and dangerous, and it can result in harm to another animal or person. It then becomes unacceptable and the reason it is happening needs to be looked at, addressed and managed. Resource guarding is very stressful for the dog.

If Rover is happily enjoying his evening meal and Fido comes along and tries to take it, Rover will probably growl or snap at Fido. Rover has every right to do this. He is protecting his resource, his food – acceptable behaviour. However, if Rover viscously attacks and injures Fido, that is not acceptable. A situation like this, for example, could be managed and prevented by separating the dogs when they are eating, picking up the food bowls when they have finished, putting the bowls away and only then allowing the dogs to be together.

Resource guarding can usually be prevented, addressed and managed. I would recommend contacting the Animal Behaviour Consultants of SA for a referral to a qualified behaviourist if you are unsure about this and for more specific advice for your situation.

Alyson Kingsley-Hall, behaviourist

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