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Don't Touch My Stuff! Resource Guarding Behavior in Dogs.

Resource Guarding

The survival of all animals depends on finding and keeping food, water, shelter, and more. In the animal kingdom, guarding food is not a behavior problem, it's a survival instinct. Even though our dogs have been domesticated, they still have this instinct. Some dogs more than others. While it may be normal and natural behavior, it becomes a behavior problem when it creates a safety risk to people or pets.

What is a Resource?

A resource is anything the dog decides is valuable enough to protect. While food or high value chews like bully sticks are common, I've worked with dogs that guarded a whole lot of non-food resources, including:

  • A specific toy or ball

  • Stolen tissues

  • Plastic bags

  • Plastic bottle caps

  • Anything found or stolen

Resource Guarding vs Possession Aggression

"Resource guarding" is a category of behaviors to protect a valued resource from a perceived threat. What the dog guards, where they guard it, and how they behave when guarding is different with every dog.

"Possession aggression" refers to a dog that uses aggression to protect a resource in their possession. But this is only one type of resource guarding.

Not All Guarding Is the Same

Most people think of resource guarding as a dog that guards their bowl of food. And many of the recommended tips for prevention focus on bowls of food (more below). In reality, resource guarding has many variations.

What the dog guards, where the resource is when the dog guards, who the dog guards from, and what the target is doing to trigger guarding behavior. Here are some of the many variables in guarding behavior:


Location of resource


Behavior of target

Bowl of food

In dog's possession


Reaches for resource

Empty bowl

Near the dog


Touches resource

Any food

Same room - in sight


Touches dog

High value chew

Same room - out of sight


Walks toward dog

Any chew

Next room

Stolen/found item

Gone, prior location

Walks between dog and resource

Specific material

Threatens dog