Published: August 29, 2018  

Last updated: May 25, 2021  

Resource Guarding or Aggression in Dogs

First, let’s cover some major facts about resource guarding and food aggression. Guarding food is a natural instinct for dogs. Resource Guarding in dogs does not mean you have an aggressive dog.

A dog may resource guard his owner, food, toys, or any item or space he feels is valuable.

An insecure dog may resource guard out of anxiety or fear. And an alpha or dominant dog may resource guard to show his dominance.

If your dog is only aggressive around his food he is a resource guarding. Food aggression is a form of resource guarding in which a dog uses threatening behavior to force other dogs, animals or humans away. The food can be his daily kibble, bones, treats or any other food source.

Some dogs only show mild food aggression by stiffening his body when people or dogs walk by. A moderate level of food aggression the dog will grow and show his teeth and maybe even snap or lunge at anyone that approaches. In some severe cases, the dog will bite whomever he sees as a threat of taking his food.

Learn more about reading your dog’s body language, How To Speak Dog Language.

How Do I Know if My Dog is a Resource Guarder or Has Food Aggression?

Your dog will show signs way before he gets to growling and biting. If your dog stops eating and stiffens his body when you walk by his bowl while eating, he has a mild case of resource guarding. If ignored, it could escalate into a severe case of aggression.

Early signs of resource guarding to watch for are:

  • Stiffen the body around food, bones, toys
  • Hovering over food, bones, toys
  • Ears titled or pinned back
  • Looking sideways, showing the whites of his eyes (also known as whale eye)
  • Lip curling
Foster Dog Ginger as a puppy
Our dog, Ginger as a puppy before we adopted her. Who would ever think that cute face would turn into a resource guarding dog!

Our Story with Ginger and Resource Guarding

When we adopted our dog Ginger she was 6 months old. We knew nothing of her past, other than she was dumped at a shelter’s back door in Tennessee. She was a sweet puppy that was destined to be our daughters’ dog.

A lot of changes happened from the time we began fostering Ginger in January through July. Maybe something during this time frame triggered her resource guarding.

We officially adopted her in February and our other resident dog, JJ, was diagnosed with heart failure in May.

It wasn’t until we started fostering a chocolate lab named Mocha in June that we noticed the resource guarding. It started with her protecting a bone when Mocha would get too close.

Ginger felt the need to protect her bone from Mocha. But why? Could it be that Mocha was also female? Or because Mocha was an insecure dog? Or because JJ was sick and she felt she needed to step up her authority? I honestly don’t know the answer, it could be any one of these, or it could be totally something else that I didn’t notice.

January: Started fostering Ginger February: Officially adopted Ginger May: Our other resident dog, JJ, was diagnosed with heart failure June: Brought in a new foster dog, Mocha. Started noticing resource guarding of bones. July: Mocha was adopted, next day JJ past away August: Adopted new resident dog, Bear

This post contains affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will receive a small commission, but it won’t cost you a penny more). Click here to read my full disclosure policy.

You see, I’ve never had a resource guarding dog, ever! This was all new territory to us, and looking back, I should have talked to a behaviorist dog trainer right away.

I did enough research on my own, that I did know that Ginger was an insecure dog, which is the root cause of the resource guarding. We started building her confidence by taking agility classes. This seemed to help but didn’t make the resource guarding go away.

With each new foster dog we had in the house, her resource guarding would get worse. Ginger went from mild to moderate to severe in a matter of 10 months. She started with a simple low growl to attacking a foster dog. She would never actually bite the dog, but the loud growling and yelping were terrifying to hear.

Sometimes it felt like she gave no warning, which I know is not true, because there is always a sign… but sometimes it’s so quick we don’t recognize it.

Not only was Ginger exhibiting the resource guarding behavior with other dogs, but started to growl at my, then 9 year old, daughter. When I say growl, it was more like a grumpy grr sound. Not a full-out aggressive growl, but enough of a warning to let her know she wanted to be left alone. Obviously, this was very unsettling to us as parents and we needed to find help quick.

We took a break from fostering dogs until we could manage Gingers behavior. It certainly wasn’t fair to the other dogs, and we had some serious changes to make.

Dog Resource Guarding / Food Aggression Training Techniques

It wasn’t until we attended a seminar about dog behavior, that I received some great training techniques and advice from a behaviorist dog trainer. There is not a one-size-fits-all solution to Dog Resource Guarding or Food Aggression. So what works for us, may not work for your dog. Here is what we learned:

1. Teach the OUT Command

The trainer’s advice was to teach Ginger the OUT command. We use LEAVE IT, you can use DROP, or whatever word you desire. But the concept is that the dog needs to be trained to drop any item on command.

The OUT/ LEAVE IT / DROP command should really be taught to all dogs. It can protentional save a dog’s life, but that’s for another time to go into detail.

Because Ginger was already at a high moderate level of resource guarding, the trainer recommended using the Pet Convincer as a tool to help Ginger learn the OUT command.

We created a controlled setting with Ginger and item she was known to guard (her bone). We let her get relaxed with it, then go to her, give her the command, LEAVE IT. She must drop the bone and allow us to pick it up. If she does not drop the bone immediately, we use the Pet Convincer to help her understand we mean business. Just as a side note, we did not use our hands to pick up the bone, I used a broomstick just in case she did decide to bite.

Some people do not agree with using the Pet Convincer, but all it is a loud burst of air that breaks the mindset the dog is currently in. I think of it as like tapping a person on the shoulder to get their attention. But you can’t tap a dogs shoulder when they are threatening to bite you, so that’s when the Pet Convincer comes in handy.

A newer option has recently come on the market, called the Doggy Don’t. It is the same concept as the Pet Convincer, but instead of air noise, it creates a buzz sounding noise.

Teaching the Place Command to Your Dog to prevent resource guarding
Our dogs, Ginger and Bear, in their place command.

2. Train Your Dog the PLACE Command

Another training Technique for Dog Resource Guarding / Food Aggression is to teach the PLACE command. This teaches the dog to go to his pillow, a rug, or whatever place you choose, on command. The dog must stay at this place until you release her.

You can read more on how we use the PLACE command at: Why You Need to Teach the PLACE Command to Your Dog

The PLACE command is another one that should be taught to all dogs, it can solve so many other behavior issues.

3. Your Dog Must Work for Food

Making your dog work for his food is my favorite technique for food aggression. This can really help create a strong bond between you and your dog.

Simply spend 5 minutes training your dog with his daily food. You don’t have to feed piece by piece but feeding small handfuls when he performs a command is a great way to keep your dog mentally stimulated and fed at the same time.

4. Trading Game

The concept of the trading game is to trade your dog for something even better than the item he is guarding. For example, when your dog is eating their regular food, offer something special such as cheese or meat.

The goal is to have your dog stop eating their kibble to take the treat from you. This teaches your dog no one is out to steal her food if she steps away from it and even better it leads to something even tastier.

Resource aggressive dog

How To Prevent Resource Guarding or Food Aggression Between Dogs, Cats or Other Animals

Preventing Resource Guarding at the Puppy Stage

Spend lots of time with puppies while they eat to get them comfortable with your presence. If you have another dog or animals in your household that is not food aggressive, feed them in the same proximity. Pet the puppy while they eat and occasionally put your hand in their bowl and let him eat from your hand.

Use the work for food method mentioned above. It’s great to use the food as training treats. There is no rule that your puppy needs to eat from a bowl. Use part, or even all, of his meals as training rewards.

Dog Resource Guarding Toys

Be proactive and do not leave toys laying around. When you want the dogs to play with toys, place them in their crates or in PLACE command. Believe it or not, toys are not a necessity for dogs. Toys should be a privilege earned, not assumed… hmmm, kind of like kids!

It’s actually a great idea to keep toys away when the dogs aren’t playing. This not only will keep the toys fresh and exciting for your dog, but they will also last much longer. Most toys aren’t meant to be left with your dog unsupervised anyway, they are prone to chewing and destroying toys which can become a choking hazard.

Recommended Just For You: Is Your Dog Bored with Her Toys?

Dog Resource Guarding Food and Dog Aggression Towards Other Dogs

We have learned to feed our dogs in separate areas. It really is normal for your dog to not want to share his food. Not that we want to give our dogs permission to guard his food, but let’s just prevent it from being an issue. Your dog should feel safe when eating.

Think about this scenario… if you are eating dinner and someone walks by and takes a bite out of your sandwich. What would you do? Now I suppose if it’s your spouse or kids, we may (or may not) let it slide. But what if some random person took your food, would you be okay with that? Your dog feels the same way. It’s his dinner, he’s hungry, and he doesn’t want to share.

Dog Resource Guarding Owner, People or Random Items

This behavior of a dog resource guarding his owner or people needs to be dealt with immediately. This can get out of control really quick if the dog thinks it needs to claim his owner. I recommend talking with a dog behavior trainer as soon as you see any signs of a dog resource guarding his owner.

Our dog, Ginger, resource guarding
Ginger is resource guarding her bone. Notice her body language, her ears, eyes, stiff body.

Will My Dog Ever Be Normal?

I’ve asked myself this question many times over. Will we ever not have to worry about Ginger attacking another dog over a resource item? Some trainers will tell you it is possible, but so far I’m still always on guard when we have a new foster dog or in any situation around food.

We have stretches of good times and she does not resource guard for months. This is usually when we don’t have a foster dog.

We use the LEAVE IT and PLACE command every day to prevent any situations where she would feel she needs to resource guard.

Our entire family has learned how to read her body language, so we know when she starts to feel nervous about the situation, and we can change it before she feels the need to take it in her own hands.

There is hope, don’t give up on your dog. With the above training techniques, you and your resource guarding dog can live normal lives. Normal will just need to include you being more present and aware of your dog’s feelings.

You shouldn’t be embarrassed if your dog isn’t perfect. Heck no dog or human is. So I’m here to admit, our dog Ginger is far from perfect. But to tell the truth, writing this post helped me look back and assess where we were and where we are today. It’s been a great reminder to keep positive, how even the bad can turn into good, and there is always hope.

Now it’s your turn…

Does your dog struggle with resource guarding? How have you been able to handle the situation? I always reply to comments, so let’s start a conversation… it could help someone else with the same problem or question.

Recommended reading just for you:

Recommended Training Tools:

About the Author

Debi McKee

Debi McKee is the expert behind Rescue Dogs 101 where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She is a mom of 3 human kids and 4 dogs and volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society. Click here for more about Debi and her passion for helping you and your dog.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

  1. Hello,
    I have read the 3-3-3 article. I have an almost 5 year old male Pomeranian. We got a girl Cavalier King Charles Spaniel 8 week old puppy a little over 2 weeks ago. At first the adult dog growled at her constantly and lunged at her twice. He since has calmed down some. We can have him out and her on a leash to keep her at a distance from him for portions of the day. I have a strong feeling he will resource guard myself and my husband when she comes up to say hi when he’s saying hi. He’s shown a few signs that this could be an issue. Do you have any ideas for when they can maybe be off leash together and for people resource guarding?

    1. Here’s the thing… an 8 week old puppy can be annoying to even the most patient adult dog. Also, a puppy should not be allowed to roam around free, pestering the adult dog.

      Read The first things to teach a puppy

      And THE best training resource is Spirit Dog, it’s an online training platform that can help with training your puppy and the adult dog. Here is a review I wrote about the program:

  2. I rescued my beagle Nov 6, 2021. He's sweet and lovable. He is a bit fearful of himself and me. Protective of himself and me! He fears my friend at times. I think a bad man hurt and scared him in his past. I also think my friend is the same size as the bad man! Mostly, "Teddy" wants attention from my friend, but occasionally Teddy will growl and want to go after my friend. This behavior makes my friend shut down towards Teddy. He will then ignore Teddy, never petting or talking to him. I need help, and don't know how to correct this.

    1. This type of behavior is best helped by a professional dog trainer that specializes in resource agression. There are a couple factors that are important to understand though. Your beagle is still in transition phase, read the 3-3-3 rule. Also, it’s a misconception that dogs that fear men have been abused by one in the past. Men are larger and louder than women, making them more scarier, which is why many dogs have fear of men. It’s also important to leave the dogs past in the past. Focus on the future, feeling sorry for the dog won’t help him get better. Consider boosting the dogs confidence with actives or a training class. SpiritDog Training has an online confidence booster class that is great.

  3. Hello,
    I just adopted a 2 year old male german shepherd today. I've grown up with shepherds and have a lot of breed experience, but I've never had one that resources guards. (He is the only dog in the house and I am the only person in the house.) After getting him home today, I discovered he resource guards toys after he growled at me after I got too close. Since he's been here, he also seems to be showing a lot of dominant type behaviors as opposed to more scared behaviors like I had anticipated. I've been trying to trade toys with him, to entice him to drop what he has to take the "better" option, but he collects the toys and keeps them at his paws. Due to his stance over them, I don't want to approach because his stance looks to be telling me to keep my distance. How do I deal with the resource guarding and the aggression signs while he's still adjusting to a new home? I don't want to ignore them and allow them to get worse, but I also understand he's going to need a lot of time to get acclimated.

  4. We adopted our 2 year old Cooper (Pyrenees mix) at 8 weeks after finding him and his mom and dad walking down the highway. He recently started aggressively resource guarding us from his older brother Toby (a 8 year old Sheltie – adopted 5 years ago after his owners left him out wondering around a camp ground in a storm). It seems now that it was always happening non-aggressively, as he was always getting in our faces when we were showing the other dogs (we also have 8 year old Gracie, adopted from a rescue at 8 weeks) attention. I suppose it also happened previously when we were dog sitting our daughters dog – a 1 year old intact male Husky – we thought maybe it was that he was intact and a dominance issue. Recently he attacked Toby grabbing his neck angrily and had to be physically separated- there was also a toy involved initially but happened again a short time later with no apparent fatalist (other than we had been showing Toby a little more attention earlier. Less than 2 days later Toby was following me around and I was chatting to him, Cooper approached to get my attention and I gave it to him, but Toby was still close by, he stiffened and his posture began to change, I petted him and tried to calmly reassure him with praise, but Toby still nearby soon became his focus and again he attacked him. We have been keeping them separated but alternating them in/out of kennel. As I have been writing this Cooper is laying on the couch and Toby is in the kennel in the other room – in Cooper’s eyesight – he raised his head, staring in Toby’s direction and started growling – I think Toby might have just adjusted his position in the kennel. We have an appointment with a behaviorist in 12 days, but we are afraid to let them in close proximity; we try to be reassuring but the mood in our house is tense and heavy. By the way, he seems to be fine with Gracie. We some work being done in our yard and it has been stressful for all of us, this just makes it worse. We also have grand children, 3 of which live out of state that he has never met. We are genuinely concerned as we love all 3 of our fur babies and just really don’t know if even behavioral training will make our home any less stressful. We are feeling like rehiring might be the best option for all, but don’t really want to.. and it is a decision between Cooper and Toby and if it comes to this, how can we ensure it is to a good loving home?

  5. We’ve had our 2.5 year old rescue dog for three days. He had been sweet and gentle up until yesterday when he growled and lunged at my adult son when my son was reaching for a dog toy to play with the dog. Today, the dog growled at the cat when the cat walked past the dog’s open crate. Also, my husband was petting the dog, and my son walked past them. The dog turned with a growl towards my son. And also tonight, my son was walking between me and the dog and my husband. The dog, who had been pacing around really with his tail held down low, longed menacingly at our son again. This is upsetting, sad, and makes me angry. I find this behavior unacceptable. What should we do? He is our third rescue dog.

    1. What you should do is up to you. But here are a few things to consider. The dog is most likely stressed out from the move from shelter to your home. Read the 3-3-3 rule article to understand the transition phase. With that said, aggression is not something to ignore. You could seek help from the shelter you adopted him from to see have they have any insight and/or trainers to help you. You could find your own behaviorist trainer to help you. Or you can consider returning him to the shelter. Also read Is it Ever Okay to Rehome a Dog?

  6. I adopted a two year old (ish) female dog back in September! She gets jealous of other dogs and is super aggressive towards them when they get close to her food, toys, or even her sticks she finds outside. It's awful. My roommate for this upcoming year has a puppy and they play well together but I'm scared Nala (my dog) my go after my roommates dog. How do I help prevent it / make Nala stop being so aggressive?

  7. Our 7 month old doodle has shown guarding tendencies for a while. He mostly guards when he steals something (kids toy, banana peel, shoe). We’ve learned to get him to “drop it” by offering a treat and he will do that right away. But he is very food motivated…counter surfs, steals food from our kids hands, etc. he recently bit me when I tried to take away duct tape he was chewing on without waiting for him to “drop it” – I faked like I had a treat because I didn’t think he’d guard it. We are looking to do a board and train with ecollar but just worried that he will always have that “possession aggression” in him no matter what. And we have 3 kids under 5. Any thoughts or feedback?

    1. If you find the right trainer I think there is hope. I will be honest, with our dog Ginger we have not been able to 100% “cure” her. But we manage it with knowing her triggers, her body language, and avoiding anything that we know will set her off.

  8. My 10-lb chi mix had had 2 failed adoptions, so I guess I was at least his 4th owner. He would resource guard my lap. A simple technique I learned was, as soon as I noticed warning signs, I would matter-of-factly put him on the ground. That worked in our situation. I thank you Debi for all your helpful info. You are non-judgmental & real. The need for patience & to have faith & to work on the relationship & mutual communication – all advice that is golden. It seems like, even with dogs, things worth having don’t come easy.

  9. Hi my puppy is 5 months now I’ve been working on him with the guarding issue I got him at 3 mths and he was abandoned and living in the streets. He has really bad food aggression he will bite me when I take his empty bowl and even my others dogs bowl up cause they get Fed at meal times he is getting better he will eat his food and even walk by her but once she’s done that’s it he lunges for it

  10. Yes Kilo will resource guard. He is a rescue we started fostering at 2. We know we were his 5th home but not too much else. We worked with amazing behaviourists as well and tried the same training. Unfortunately he can get madder if you try to distract him but he loves treats so he will trade. He now drops for a trade and will go to a certain spot and do a few tricks for treats when needed. He also seems to understand “yucky” and usually drops or even lets me take something from his mouth like a chicken bone on a walk for a treat.

  11. These are excellent tips. At least you have discovered that Ginger’s biggest trigger is other dogs coming into the home. You can be hyper aware if you bring fosters into the home, or maybe choose not to foster again until her issue it well under control. She is clearly very threatened by other dogs. Your timeline is so interesting, you can see how these changes in her family environment must have created extreme insecurity. I’m glad you incorporated training, that usually helps build confidence in dogs. Thanks for sharing your story, I think it can help a lot of other people with dogs with resource guard. Sharing.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}