Some things seem to come in droves, whether it be dogs of certain breeds, sizes or behavior problems. Recently we have had an influx of owners coming to us that have dogs with resource guarding as a behavior problem.
Resource guarding means that the dog is possessive over something that the dog finds great value in. This resource can be anything that is valued by the dog such as food, water, space, affection and toys. It really could be anything. It can also be the owner that they consider to be a resource.
The body language and state of mind of the dog is an important factor in this and it can be challenging to some dog owners to even recognize this behavior unless the dog is exhibiting obvious cues such as showing teeth or growling. It starts before that.
Some of these dogs are from breeder and some are rescues. Resource guarding can happen for a variety of reasons and is not always someones ‘fault’ as it can also be a genetic trait.
The temperament of the dog matters and I also believe what the dog’s working purpose is. There is also, from what I have seen, a trust element involved, a defensive behavior that is possibly learned based on environment. Some dogs are just exploring their options. Ya know, seeing what tree they can climb. When you are dealing with this type of issue, it is important to keep all of these things in mind.
There is a constant debate in the dog community of nature vs nurture. I have been taught and recognized that if it is learned it can be unlearned. I believe this aspect to be dependent on the owner and the level of escalation that has occurred. I can say that if your dog has resorted to biting, it is often more difficult to go back. There will always be that understandable hesitation. I have a rule of thumb that I follow; If it has happened once it will happen again. Sometimes management is the best solution.
The last thing that you want to do is chase your dog around, angry that she stole a sock and corner her to drop it. Remember, they are masters of reading body language. They pick up on heart rate and breathing patterns. That’s how they communicate amongst themselves. It is not always what we do but how we do it.
You should be able to move your dog away from what they are guarding, send her to place and have her down so you can go get the object. You should be able to tell your dog to drop it and to come when called. These obedience skills are important for management and also a small part of a protocol to extinguish the guarding behavior.
Structure around resources is imperative as nothing in life is free, at least last time I checked. We as dog owners must take ownership over the important things in life. If we don’t, they will and this may result in unwanted behaviors.