Beyond Typical Resource Guarding

bully stick 3 smallerWe’ve all heard about dogs who guard their food, or perhaps treats or toys. But there are some dogs from whom resource guarding goes beyond the norm, and seems to be an art form. Here are just a few examples:

1. Guarding people. Most dogs in this category guard their owners. At the dog park, I’ve watched dogs spend the entire time running at and fending off dogs who come anywhere in the vicinity of the owner. The owner believes he or she is doing a good thing by bringing the dog to the park for exercise and socialization. In reality, the dog is in a constant state of stressful arousal. After all, when vigilantly guarding a valued resource, who could relax? Unfortunately, some owners find this sort of behavior admirable, in a “Look, my dog is protecting me” kind of way.

I can always count on Sierra to add something strange and different to typical behavior. When I first got Sierra, I’d allow her to go greet dogs and owners in the dog park if there were only one or two inside. Here’s a typical scenario: There’s a nice Australian shepherd mix, and her owner, who is sitting on a bench. I open the gate. Sierra immediately runs up to the owner, hops up beside him, and begins her wiggly, flirtatious, pet-me routine. Fair enough. But, when the Aussie approaches Sierra guards the dog from her own owner! Needless to say, this is not something I let to continue to happen, but it certainly was interesting.

2. Guarding Other Dogs. Imagine two dogs romping happily. A third dog approaches, and suddenly a skirmish breaks out, as one of the previously romping dogs drives the interloper away. “Isn’t that nice? He’s protecting his friend,” says the owner. Not so much. If the dog could speak, he’d be saying, “Go find your own friend. This one is mine!” This dynamic isn’t uncommon when two dogs who live together come to the park, where one turns on the other to guard a valued newcomer from the housemate.

3. Guarding Locations. This isn’t all that uncommon. When there are two or more dogs in the house, often one will lie across a doorway that leads to a room or to the outdoors, in order to controlling access to the area. Before the other dog can pass, he’s got to get past the Club Canine bouncer. Some dogs will even do this with their owners. In those cases, many owners will step over their dogs, while others will get the dog out of the way by calling the dog to them. I recommend the latter, or simply teaching a “Move!” cue.

4. Guarding from Afar. This is one that sometimes goes unnoticed or is misunderstood by owners. In this case, the valued item is not even in the dog’s possession. Some dogs, for example, will stand near the kitchen table while the owners are eating, glaring at the other dog. They might well have never been fed from the table; it’s as though they’re just waiting for a tasty morsel to fall. And if it does, whose will it be? Yep.

5. Just Plain Weirdness. There are dogs who will guard their own leashes. I’ve known dogs who have resource guarded dust balls. (Good thing they don’t live at my house.) But the prize for the oddest guarding behavior goes to…Sierra! In the mornings when I make my green smoothie drink, I give them Bodhi and Sierra each a small piece of banana before it goes into the blender. Each dog will quickly eat their portion. Sierra will then walk up to Bodhi and begin to lick the remnants of banana from his lips and, if he opens up, the inside of his mouth. If he doesn’t allow it, she may growl. Yes, friends, Sierra is actually guarding the food that is in Bodhi’s mouth from him. That’s a new one on me.

Your turn: What sorts of odd things do your dogs guard?

32 Responses to Beyond Typical Resource Guarding

  1. Kuruk says:

    Me and sisfur Nalle don’t guard anything. Woooowoooooooo

  2. Jill Snyder says:

    Pens, Paper, the Mail and anything on the front hall table that he can reach and he is in the mood to steal….Sometimes we trade sometimes he can hang on to things for hours before getting bored and leaving the item at my feet.

  3. Susan says:

    I have three dogs,two females and one male. They are all allowed on my bed. Andy Anne my female lab has no problems sharing the bed with the female terrier mix and will share the bed with Atim the male husky mix IF he is on the bed first. God forbid however if Andy gets on the bed first,Atim will just look at her and go to the couch instead!

    • Caroline says:

      Similar issue here! Two male Border Collies, one is 2, the other 7 months. if the older dog, Kash, gets up on the couch or bed first, he guards it – growling and teeth bared. If Pep, the younger dog gets up first, no issues at all. I even catch them sleeping up against each other. Interesting part of the story is occasionally they will guard high value treats against each other and Pep always has the upper hand.

  4. Melissa says:

    Thank you for the article!

    #2 hit home, its a problem we have been trying to work on. Both our huskies are social, and on their own they are great with all dogs, even unsocialized pups. But when they are together and a 3rd dog comes into the picture, our female snaps at her brother if he tries to interact. No injuries have ever happened, but it has scared more than a few people. (our female sounds like a dragon and looks ferocious, male submits).

    I would love to take them out to meet other dogs together, but we avoid it. They go on separate “social meets” and visits, but I dream of a day we can go out together to meet other dog friends.

    • wildewmn says:

      Melissa, I sense a kinship between your husky and Sierra, who is a husky mix. She does the same thing, she will turn and snark at poor Bodhi. We avoid those situations as well.

    • Lori Jablon says:

      We have a similar thing going on with my 2 Aussie mixes…If there’s another dog visiting or we encounter another dog on a walk and my male tries to interact, my female will snark at him. (He then, of course, has to snark back at her)….Same when people come over….Like she thinks “she” controls who he greets and how he greets them!!! I have to constantly remind her that “I” make those decisions…not her.

    • Melissa says:

      The poor male pups! Otus puts up with so much from Chinook sometimes … though there are times I think he tries to get a rise out of her.

      Thank you so much for the article and for the replies. Its the first article I have seen that talked about this type of guarding. I’m not alone. 🙂

  5. Nothing unusual. Just the hallway/dog door thing and the bed. 3 out of 4 of our dogs sleep on the bed. Two females and a male. The females don’t mind the male coming on the bed but if one of them tries to the other one will do a very low growl and stare. If I, or my husband, are there we tell them to be quiet and lie down. Once they have staked out their spot we get our little slivers of real estate. Sigh

  6. Sacko says:

    While grooming my little mix breed today, a tuft of hair fell to the ground. My rottie picked it up and began trotting around with it in her mouth. She didn’t growl but she didn’t relinquish it because my little dog followed her around trying to reclaim his lost fur.

    But, my boxer currently protects me from dogs that jump or loiter around me too long. When on leash, she guards if they get within six inches. So, I would like to ask, since I have been having trouble getting a behaviorist to help. Since she gets more intense when I touch her, I am finding corrections or diversions difficult to execute with timely effectiveness. I have heard ignoring the behavior works, is this viable if the dog isn’t a biter?

  7. Tiffany says:

    I struggled with resource guarding with my male bullmastiff. He guarded food, high value toys, and people. I had to be on alert to direct him to his bed if anyone in the house came up to me or reached toward me. Oddly, he would guard me from my other bullmastiff only if I was laying down – I had a rude awakening from a nap the first time that aspect of his behavior surfaced!

  8. Tina Wolverson says:

    We are a three dog household. Our young golden retriever girl intermittently resource guards all sorts of things including the door spaces from her brother, and only her brother.
    On one occasion she didn’t want him coming near the kitchen table. Turned out there was a tiny piece of felt ‘floor protector’ poking out from under a chair leg that she thought she wanted. Took us ages to notice it ourselves. Go figure!

  9. threenorns says:

    i had a wolf hybrid named Nero. i loved him like crazy and he loved me but maaaaaan, talk about separation anxiety! he drove me mental (not good, as i had no clue about dogs 20yrs ago; didn’t even realize there was anything TO know about dogs!).

    whenever i was in the bath – never on the toilet or in the shower, only when i was in the bath – he’d lay across the top of the stairs and prevent anyone from coming up. i could fall asleep in the tub if i wanted (three adults and fours kids in the house) and they’d have to lob snowballs or pebbles at the window to get me to come out!

  10. gvannini says:

    I’ve got one of those “weirdos.” He thinks he “owns” two things in the house – the spot under the bed and… trash. Not the garbage can… trash that hasn’t been put away yet. Like, if I eat a cheese stick and leave the wrapper on the table for a minute, or use a Kleenex and wait to throw it away until I get up. And even more weird, he doesn’t guard these things from us, or his doggy siblings. He guards them from the cat!!! He gets along with the cat just fine but if the cat (who is food obsessed) goes after a wrapper or gets too close to him when he’s sleeping under the bed, he grumbles at him.

  11. says:

    Where can I find information on how to help with dogs who guard people?

  12. My 2 Giant schnauzers have their own weird guarding quirks. If my big male Atlas gets the coveted spot on the couch next to me, he will growl when he senses my female Phoebe wants to come up. However, if Phoebe is scared/nervous (hearing lightning or fireworks) she will jump up anyways, sometimes even climbing on top of Atlas! Atlas never attacks her, he just grumbles and jumps down.

    Atlas also guards other owners from their dogs– but only if the owner is petting Atlas. I have learned not to let other people pet Atlas if other dogs are around. He also growls any time other dogs are too close, which I guess is guarding me.

    But the weirdest of all is when my super-sweet girl Phoebe guards her kibble against Atlas. She doesn’t care much about her kibble, and is never interested in it until Atlas finishes eating in the other part of the kitchen. As soon as he approaches, she will start to guard it (usually with just a stare) and then finally eat it. I was shocked the other morning to hear her low growl at Atlas from across the kitchen to guard the kibble. He was about 10 feet away, they made eye contact, and he would not come any closer to her. Sometimes she will just walk away and let him have it. If I put down a plate of people-food, though, she and Atlas will lick it clean together.

  13. Kathleen says:

    I have a rescue Dane. When he was introduced to me I was the only one home. They typically don’t ever do this but I am an experienced Dane owner. Well about 3 weeks after my husband came back from traveling from work. Anytime my husband approached me he would run and cut in. Most of that stopped after I corrected him to lay on his bed, but one room that bothers him is the kitchen. He does not like Dad to enter the kitchen. Its Mom’s domain. If My husband walks in there and doesn’t look behind he head butts him in the butt like a goat. Since my husband is aware of this he turns quickly and says no go lay down. We had to put up a gate that just stretches across from the opening no latch. I had to do this because even if I am sitting at table he will chase Dad from a sound sleep and give him a head butt. So he has decided to lay claim on the kitchen and Mom. We constantly hug on him when we hug so he knows he is part of it too. He was abused by a male husband so we know he had some fears. We love him and he does love Dad he sits on him in the mornings typical Dane, and rests his paws and head on him when they sit at night. Its just the kitchen mostly, and power tools.
    We laugh and say he was a billy goat in another life. Oh he has done that to a neighbor that followed his Dad into shop. 🙂

  14. Mandolina says:

    My dog has set her own dogdom rule. Whomever has the resource first is the owner. Regardless if it is a toy, person, car, home, or tuft of grass. She is better at accepting a dog into her territory than a person, but if the person is there first, then it is ok. She is fine going into other people’s/ dog’s spaces, if invited. She does respect all of the dog signals to keep away- but there are very few dogs that exhibit any toward her. If a dog has a toy then it is their toy. Should the dog drop the toy then it belongs to whoever claims it first.

  15. Penelope says:

    I am a rescued Yorkie mix who used to have all kinds of guarding issues. Toys are still a problem for me, especially those that squeak! I’m told my strangest behavior was guarding the coat I was wearing and not letting my people remove it when I’d warmed up … I think I’m over it now 😉

  16. So far, my Ruby is a sharer with both me and other dogs and I’m so thankful for that.

    Guarding the banana that already belonged to him from Brody is an interesting twist, indeed!

  17. Our guy sometimes guards the front door. I may be projecting, but it seems to be when he’s unsure whether he wants to be upstairs with me or downstairs with my husband (he can see both of us from the mat by the door). Or it’s when he seems afraid that we’re going to go out and leave him alone again (he’s fine all day by himself, but once we’re home, he really wants us to be all together as a family). I’m a little hypersensitive to guarding behaviour (should I worry?), so I usually move him away from the door and back to his bed or other “neutral” locations.

    Occasionally, our guy has growled when people he doesn’t know approach his bed and try to pet him. Would this be considered guarding or just uncertainty?

  18. Cadie says:

    My little female definitely guards me from other dogs, at the park or on walks and fir a little dog she can be pretty aggressive about it. I correct her each time and while the severity has lessened it hasn’t gone away. Do you have any advice on working her through this? If she gets particularly worked up she’ll actually start guarding me from her brother, this has happened on walks and certainly makes things very difficult when I have both of then leashed to me!

  19. Suzanne Schiavoni says:

    Sadly, my two year old saint bernard, Henry, guards me. I love him dearly, but this has caused us problems. He has bitten a neighbor who came to the door. Henry is a true gentle giant towards the people he knows, but he is reactive to strangers. Ugh! We have our trainer working with us, but we have a ways to go. Sometimes I feel like prisoner in my home.

    Any suggestions would be appreciated!

    • Arnette Small says:

      I have many grooming clients who have told me their dogs guard the. bandanas that I put on after they fall off at home. And just today I was told of a Westie who had resource garding issues who garded a new vacuum cleaner , and wouldn’t let the owner near it for a whole day.

  20. Rebekah says:

    My big boy Bruce guards space, food, and toys. It is much better than it used to be. Faolan is “jealous” in that he attempts to guard us, by being bratty when one of the others comes over for attention. I cannot stop laughing at Sierra guarding the food in Bodhi’s mouth!!

  21. I’ve had a couple client dogs who will guard anything that falls on the ground. If you set it on the ground, it’s not such a big deal. If it falls, wham. Both quite dangerous about it.

  22. philospher77 says:

    Is inter-species guarding common? I have a 17-year-old cat, my first pet, who is rather set in her ways. She has done fine with the greyhounds I adopted, but this new little rat terrier is a different matter. The rattie guards me at a distance when I am eating (need I say that she is VERY food-motivated?), which involves her sitting in front of me, very politely, and trying to drive off the cat when she gets on the sofa or otherwise gets within a certain distance of me. This seems to make the cat even more determined to be close to me when I am eating (which can get rather annoying, I will admit). There is also a certain amount of competition for my lap, since they are close in size. The rattie isn’t happy with the cat being in my lap, but will tolerate sharing if she has to. Generally I wind up with the dog in my lap and the cat up on my chest, or one on the left and the other on the right. This works until someone, and it’s generally the cat, starts moving around, at which point things can get snarky. I’m torn about what to do.. the situations are workable, but sometimes I think that the cat does things just to provoke the dog, which I don’t want to encourage. But the things I would do to correct a dog in that situation (remove the resource, generally me), just seem to give the cat what she wants (since she will just curl up in the chair quite happily). And, I have 17 years of habit that I am fighting as well.

  23. When our neighbors’ female bulldog came to play with our male Cane Corso, we were told to put all the toys away, because she doesn’t share well. I put them up on the tables where she can’t reach them, but out eternally optimistic boy kept grabbing them and inciting her to play with him. I have a video where he is inviting her to play and she comes creeping up while growling, steals the toy and then retreats into HIS crate! He is literally twice as big as she is and let her get away with this sort of behavior repeatedly (although he did eventually fight back).

  24. Pit girl says:

    My best friend and I swear my rat terrier and her cocker spaniel guard the air from eachother…LOL

  25. crawforddogs says:

    My youngest Loki will try to guard girl dogs he fancies from other dogs on occassion. The fact that he loses his play privileges for it has decreased but not completely eliminated the behavior. It’ll return in the oddest situations and yep, play privileges have now disappeared. 😉

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