Resource guarding of anything that a dog considers valuable is normal dog behavior. It goes back to- you guess it, evolution. Dogs are opportunistic feeders and scavengers. In other words, in the wild, dogs do not know when their next meal will appear so they eat when food becomes available. In addition, they are scavengers which means they can feed off of other’s leftovers. This is, by the way, one of the main traits that apparently got dogs and people together in the first place.
For our modern-day dogs, or better said, for dogs that live life as pets in the comfort of someone’s world with pretty much meals around the clock, guarding might be not that relevant. But try to tell that to the dog that covets food, toys, bones, or any other item such as a bed, and even a person. Yes, indeed, dogs are complex beings. Besides genetics, dogs are learning all the time so it is possible that the guarding is a result of learning.
Say, for example, that a dog learned that when he is enjoying chewing on something of interest someone comes by and forcefully removes the item. Now, the dog decides that what is his is his and he will fight for it because otherwise it will be taken away from him. What a slippery slope!
When it comes to dog & dog guarding the scenario is very similar to the above. Sure, dogs often want different things at different times; after all, they are individuals. But what happens when more than one wants the same stuff? Here is where problems might arise.
Ideally dogs have not been reinforced either by a person or by the environment itself for guarding to the point of escalating displays of aggression or full-fledged aggression. Also, ideally, dogs learn to diffuse conflict instead of going all out because they want something now! If you have dogs that jump the gun at any provocation, you are in for a lot of fighting, my friend!
The trick, of course, is to know when the guarding is “appropriate” that is; no-one is getting injured physically or even bullied emotionally- in the case of another dog and when it needs to stop before things get very ugly.
There are several things people can do to make sure their dogs or their dog and a visiting pal don’t get into trouble.
1. Manage the heck of resources that are typically desirable. This includes anything edible and toys.
2. Make sure there is ample to go around. So, that the message the dog gets is that he too will get the goodie thus no need for competition.
3. Teach your dog manners! You have no idea how long this strategy will go! Dogs need to learn that pushing their weight around is not the way to get what they want. You will be surprised how quickly they can learn this if you are consistent in delivering consequences for poor behavior such as bullying another.
4. Supervise around coveted stuff until you learn if there are any such items that the dogs will compete over. If so, just deliver these individually. The good news is that time alone with a favorite toy or chewy is an excellent way for your pups to spend some “alone” quiet time.
Some dogs are quite good at sharing certain things as in the case of my two dogs. However, things can change quite rapidly so it is important to keep this in mind and make any necessary changes to keep the peace at home. Sigh.
When it comes to dog guarding a location, say a sofa, or your bed, you could just teach the dog (in short sessions used for this purpose) to get off the furniture on verbal cue. Again, I urge you not to physically force your dog off stuff. Adversarial approaches do have consequences and most of them are exactly what we do not want. Instead, teach this in the form of a game by tossing treats on the floor that your dog gets to have when you say off and he complies. Also, this can double for a nice round of cardio when the weather is not nice to go play outside! “Up, off, up, off, up, off”… you get the picture. So, whenever your dog guards a location you ask your dog to get off as he just lost the privilege of a comfy place.
Paying attention to how your dogs relate to resources is one of the most salient and easy things you can do to avoid most fights in your home. If your dog is already a compulsive guarder do not label your dog as a “bad”, dominant or even a stubborn dog because he is just responding as a dog. Instead, pay attention to the items that are at the center of the problem and teach your dog (s) that waiting politely for goods is the best way to access them.
If the guarding or even posturing continues, c-a-l-m-l-y escort your dog outside. The goal here is to teach your dog consistently yet gently that manners matter and that if he cannot be polite he misses out. That is all. One of the best-kept secrets about dogs is that they do what works. Period. They are savvy creatures that have perfected – if you will, the art of staying alive and thriving. If you teach your dogs what you want them to do in order to access resources you will see your dogs following your lead.
Finally, if your pups are already fighting over resources, please get professional help. Find someone that has experienced aggression and behavior modification. Equally important- avoid, avoid at all costs harsh methods to “fix” the problem or you just made the situation much worse for everyone involved.