Strange Guarding Behaviors

snarking dog house crop

When you have two or more dogs in the house, it’s not unusual for one dog to guard resources from another. Some dogs will take exception to another going near their food. Some guard chew bones or toys. Other wily canines will lie across doorways in order to control access to and from a room. And some will even try to keep that most valuable of resources—the owner—all to themselves.

Like most canine behavior specialists, I’ve come across those scenarios many times. I’ve also seen dogs guard more unusual items, like the little terrier mix who guarded bits of leaves outdoors and dust bunnies in the house. But my own dog Sierra really takes the cake. Sure, she guards the usual things from Bodhi; food, toys, and locations. But check this out: both she and Bodhi love bananas. Luckily for them, my morning oatmeal includes a banana, and I always share. Every now and then, though, after both dogs have chewed and swallowed their pieces (although Bodhi pretty much inhales his), Sierra will walk over to Bodhi and begin licking at his mouth. Is this a submissive gesture, you might wonder? Not even close. It’s a blatant attempt to get to whatever food might be left inside his mouth. If Bodhi turns his face away, she’ll persist and will sometimes even growl at him. Yes, friends, Sierra is actually guarding the food inside Bodhi’s mouth from him. How’s that for canine chutzpah? If she could figure out a way to guard the air they breathe as well, no doubt she would.

Lest you think Sierra’s strange guarding tendencies are limited to Bodhi, allow me to share this peculiar tidbit. Our local dog park has benches scattered around inside. Even though we’re out at the crack of dawn, sometimes another person will be in the park with their dog, sitting on a bench as their dog runs around. If I know the person and know the dogs play well together, I might let Sierra inside. Here’s where it gets strange. Every now and then, after greeting the dog and perhaps romping for a bit, Sierra will jump up on the bench next to the person and…ready for it?…guard the person from their own dog! Seriously. I no longer let her do this, of course, and she’s lucky no dog ever took major exception to it.

As I said, nowadays I don’t let Sierra engage in the guarding of other owners. And at home, when the issues arise between her and Bodhi, I let it be unless it’s really causing a problem. But I’m curious: beyond the usual food, treats, toys, locations and people, what strange guarding behaviors do your dogs engage in?

Note: Since the original publication of this post, my book Keeping the Peace: A Guide to Solving Dog-Dog Aggression in the Home has become available.
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29 Responses to Strange Guarding Behaviors

  1. Clementine FujiMura says:

    My dachshund steals our socks and then guards them from the other dogs. They didn’t care for socks until they saw her do this and now my youngest pup, a Malinois no less, Will steal them when she isn’t looking for kicks, but let’s her have them back if she protests.

  2. My Border collie Nikki’s best bud and frequent play date is my daughter’s mixed breed dog Peanut who is about the same age and size. Nikki used to guard her water bowl from Peanut but I always intervened and now she no longer does that. I am careful to either feed them in separate locations. She has a tendency to be possessive about her toys with Peanut but because Peanut doesn’t challenge her for them, that has not been an issue. Once when a friend was visiting with her dog, Nikki surprised me by turning into Godzilla when I got her beloved Frisbee out, intending to let my friend toss it for her dog – I put it away to prevent a fight. She does show some mild resource guarding of me, for ex. by asserting her right to the place beside me on the couch, but doesn’t turn nasty about it. Nikki doesn’t show any resource guarding aggressive behaviors with humans and I think that is in part because of the preventative work I did with her when she was a puppy. What is interesting is that to this day she has a hard time giving up her toys to me when she is retrieving – she shows avoidance behaviors such as returning to me in a circular way rather than in a direct line and when she reaches me she will stop short a couple of feet from me and turn her head away from me. The only exception to that behavior is when she is doing a formal obedience dumbbell retrieve.

    • wildewmn says:

      It sounds like Nikki really values those toys! Interestingly, I’ve seen the same in other Border collies. It is good that you put the kabosh on the guarding issues between Nikki and Peanut, though.

  3. Anelka Dudaczy says:

    Hello Nicole,

    we have two dogs, Yani, an Australian Cattle female, 11 yrs old, and Socks, a Saarloos wolfdog male, 5 yrs old. Now generally Yani takes the lead here, guarding mostly me and occasionally other members of the family as well as whatever she happens to feel is worth keeping him away from… But there are exceptions: They totally respect each other‘s food and she wouldn’t dare interfere when he is busy with a bone. However when it comes to water, we have repeatedly experienced him growling her away from it and being the first one to drink – and she yields and waits her turn. And water’s a mighty resource! So although she’s definitely the one who pushes him around here, there are boundaries – which just goes to show that although we have a hierarchy, it’s not a totally rigid one but allows for some flexibility? Maybe a topic to reflect on in one of your next posts!

    Anyway, I always enjoy them and read them as soon as I see them in my in-box… Please keep it up😊

    Many greetings from Goldbach in Germany,

    Anelka, Yani & Socks

    Gesendet von Mail für Windows 10

    Von: Wilde About Dogs
    Gesendet: Montag, 17. April 2017 18:17
    Betreff: [New post] Strange Guarding Behaviors

    wildewmn posted: “When you have two or more dogs in the house, it’s not unusual for one dog to guard resources from another. Some dogs will take exception to another going near their food. Some guard chew bones or toys. Other wily canines will lie across doorways in order “

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Anelka, you’ve brought up a great point, that regardless of who is normally the “alpha,” it really is dependent on the value of that resource to that dog. I wonder whether in a male-female dog household whether the female is usually the one in charge (outside of specific resource issues), as it so often happens to be the case.

  4. Great post, Nicole! The image & yes, chutzpah of Sierra actually guarding the food inside Bodhi’s mouth was hilarious!

    My Dutch Shepherd mix, Ginger Peach, will guard other dogs’ owners when we go to my favorite dog park. It’s actually a series of forested trails that lead to a river, completely unfenced, so dogs need to have a good recall. It also helps that we’re moving. But sometimes, she’ll run off to greet a person and not come along as we continue walking. Then she resource guards that person from their own dog(s). Always a reminder that we need a recall refresher.

    She also lays across doorways and is the biggest speed bump in the house. My three-year-old son knows to say “Excuse me,” so she’ll move out of the way.

    Your post is so timely as I struggle to help my five-year-old BC, Magnum, relax in our small house without being attached at my hip. He now resource guards me from our three other dogs: Darby, 15 yr F Dalmatian, Jolie, 13 yr F Dalmatian, and Ginger Peach, 10 yr Dutchie mix.

    He wants to be close to me, as does Jolie. She can’t hear anymore and her vision is impaired, so she doesn’t pick up on Magnum’s warnings to stay out of the space. My son wants to be close, too, or more often, his unpredictable motion sets off Magnum into a panic if he feels “stuck.”

    He has gotten into scuffles with every animal member of the family (including two 15-year-old cats whose worried staring at him freaks him out). He nicked the snout of Darby when she accidentally fell on him while the pack ran out the back door when I came home, and he nicked Jolie on the shoulder once.

    Our house is 650 square feet, so other than separating him from everyone by a baby gate, I feel too overwhelmed with what to do to help all of us. I worry my son could accidentally get caught up in one of these scuffles if I don’t figure out a solution.

    Thanks for reading this and listening.


    Julia Lane Owner/Director of Training Spot On K9 Sports “A tired dog is a good dog!”


  5. sarahj44 says:

    My 17 month old pup exhibits lots of guarding behaviors to my dismay. At the dog park if he takes a liking to another dog, he will decide not to let other dogs near it. And if any old random dog shows interest in an object on ground, say a stick or frisbie, all of a sudden that is SO valuable to him and needs controlling (he could care less about sticks or frisbies and will play with neither). What a challenge for the other dogs, I must micro manage him at all times and it is his saving grace that he listens to me. He is an Indian street dog but having been taken off the the streets of New Delhi at 4 weeks, did not learn those behaviors in the street. Super smart, super fast, good looking and funny, and a super pita haha.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Sarah, the behavior you describe of your pup guarding one dog from another at the park is exactly why I don’t let Sierra play with more than one dog in the park at a time. Apparently all dogs belong to her! I agree that micro managing is the way to keep everyone safe, and it’s great that you’ve trained him well and he listens. Sounds like he had a rough start and ended up in the right place. 🙂

      • sarahj44 says:

        Thanks Nicole and he is so fascinating to me and I hope I am up to the task. He is not food motivated and it took me 2 weeks to get him to lick rather than cache a raw meaty knucklebone… and what does it say about us when he decides to cache us, his beloved humans, with blankets on the bed 😮 Great topic!!!

  6. Kristyn says:

    My Gsd will guard Smells from other dogs, I assume they must be valuable to him but my nose is not equipped to know what those smells are.

  7. Tracee says:

    I have a friend whose dog guards his favorite dog play pal at daycare. He actually ran after and snapped at other dogs who came near where they were playing. Doesn’t do it when his friend isn’t there.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Tracee, this isn’t uncommon! A lot of times dogs seem to have a preferred play partner, and when a third wheel comes along, watch out!

  8. Sharon says:

    I have a female St. Bernard, Willow, who has an issue with sharing things, whether they are hers or not. Since I’ve had her, I’ve had to take all of Brittany Spaniel, Jase’s, toys and teddy bears away because there were too many issues. However, they are able to play with toys: balls, ropes, etc. outside. No issues outside, but if they bring them in the house it turns nasty.

    We had an issue this weekend. When they play outside, Jase will drop the ball and then when Willow tries to get it, he grabs it and runs and she chases him. Its really cute and they play so good together. Saturday, they were playing outside and then when Willow came in, Jase followed her in and still had the ball in his mouth. He dropped it, wasn’t even reaching for it, and Willow attacked him. My husband and I had to pull them apart. I’m terrified that something like that might happen when we aren’t home and she could really hurt him. She outweighs him by 100 pounds.

    Any idea why something is ok outside but not inside. Its not in any particular part of the house or near any particular item.

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Sharon, I couldn’t answer the “why” for sure without an in depth consult, but my guess is that the house is considered their primary territory and the yard, somewhat less so. It’s interesting that there are dogs who, for example, will not allow their nails to be cut while indoors on their dog bed, but if done outside in the yard there is much less resistance. Another thought is, I don’t know how big your yard is, but in most yards there is more opportunity to get away from each other than in an enclosed area (a room).

  9. L Andersen says:

    I have three rescued GSDs. My daughter and her husband have one adopted Sibe and one adopted Sibe/hybrid The GSD that is mine (the other two belong to my sons at home) is a female who is the typical resource guarder, primarily me when in familiar locations. She’s reasonable, she lets other dogs know with a particular whiny bark to stay away when she’s relaxing with me. This is a dog that I was unable to use treats for in training because the combination of being in a new home (insecure from too many changes), familiar territory (weekly obedience class) and treats (she’s highly food motivated), made her extremely reactive. Now she’s secure and confident in our family and this diminished almost entirely. My daughter’s Sibe guards her bed, even from people. If you try to move her bed out of the way, she growls. Otherwise she’s such a perfect girl. Her Sibe mix lived outside all her life with little human nor animal companionship. Yet desiring both greatly. So when my daughter and her husband brought their Sibe to meet her, she was over the moon happy for this break from her boredom (she was just shy of four years old). She was equally happy to meet my three. As happy as she was in the beginning to meet any dog, she very quickly became extremely guarded of her people and Miya from other dogs. Now two years later she’s relaxing just a bit. When I have their dogs at my home, she is edgy and circles Miya like a shark and does the same to whichever of my dogs she desires to play with. She also wants to own me when she’s with me, so I have to keep her and my GSD separated when I am home.

    • wildewmn says:

      That sounds like a very tense situation all around when all the dogs are together. But obviously you’ve learned how to manage it well, and progress has been made with all the dogs separately. Sometimes that is the best we can hope for in a “now and then” (the visits) type situation.

  10. Sandy says:

    Love the guarding of dust bunnies!

  11. Lori says:

    Whenever guests arrive in our driveway, my male Aussie mix happily goes out to greet them.(from fenced yard) My female Aussie mix seems to resource guard all guests from the male…She gets very pushy with him…It’s not that she wants to greet first (I think)….She just doesn’t want HIM to….

    • wildewmn says:

      You’re probably right, Lori! When my husband comes home from work, my female, Sierra, always gets to greet him first. She has taught this to Bodhi, and he understands to the point that sometimes he won’t get up from his bed until after they’re done. It’s as though he’s thinking, “Why bother?” It’s interesting that in these situations it usually seems to be the female laying down the law.

      • Lori says:

        I’m wondering if she feels like she “owns him” (I know that sound like a human talking) and doesn’t want him conversing/getting attention with any other being than her….This is when she exhibits her “butt-head” side…Otherwise, she is sweet, submissive and delightful. It’s ONLY when guests arrive….She immediately goes into overdrive…Would love some tips on what I can do to help her understand that being a “butt-head” really isn’t cool.

  12. Rider guards all the toys in the house, they are all his. But Belle could careless about the toys except when we are throwing a ball for Rider, then she will come in and whom ever is throwing the ball, she gets in between us as if to say nope your not going to play anymore. We have a nick name for her, Shut Down Sally. LOL She really never plays with the toys but does not want us to play with him with the toys. She will however grab a toy at times and toss it in the air to get him to chase her. A lot has changed here since Bandit passed who she would attack over anything as he got older. With Rider, we kept them separated for a couple weeks, and then she instigated play with him. WE had one fight when he was young and after that she shows her teeth a lot but they have never gotten into it again. He is never intimidated by her teeth baring and that might be the difference as to why she does not get mad at him like she did with Bandit. They even play the guarding game with Troys Back pack when he comes to spend the night. .

  13. One of our American Eskimos guards my clothes from everyone else in the house. She will dig them out of the dirty laundry and stash them somewhere to guard.

  14. Janet says:

    Hi I have a Basenji almost two and I am unsure if it’s gaurding behaviour or she just doesn’t like my oldest boy she will go for him if he comes into her space whilst she’s Laing down could be near a human or in her crate or even one of the beds. She will also do it at the entrance and also after food is around. Obviously we try to manage this behaviour but she’s very hard to read.

  15. I think it’s very important to educate people on this. All to often we see individuals who don’t completely understand canine behavior. We will definitely be sharing this with others.

  16. Karen Murray says:

    Wow! Lightbulb moment! My female JRT resource guards toys and me from my male GSD cross. She also licks his mouth which I thought was from affection but after reading your blog, I realized she is doing exactly what Sierra is doing to Bodhi. Thank you for the insight!

  17. My rescue dachshund has an issue with toy guarding, he doesn’t have a clue how to play with them but he he guards them with his life. So sad, and difficult to teach him that toys are supposed to be fun because he will snap if he thinks you are taking his toys away. Really interesting post.

  18. Eurodog says:

    Ozzy, my Australian Shepard guards his bed. I think that’s quite normal but lately he has been guarding the saucepans which are perched on a shelf in the kitchen!

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