Resource guarding is a normal ‘survival skill’ behaviour that dogs exhibit to varying degrees. It can range from not worried at all to growling and then to biting. Warning signs are constantly given off by the dog, escalating as the dog gets more annoyed / worried. It can cover food (including treats), toys, sofas, beds and humans. Dogs may resource-guard from other dogs or humans.
What you can do?
Management and behaviour modification are the best way to deal with resource-guarding.
Getting aggressive or using punishment with a dog exhibiting this behaviour will escalate the behaviour.
Taking bowls and toys off the dog can make the situation worse and can push the dog into biting.
Make sure that everyone in the home and all visitors understand the importance of leaving the dog alone at mealtimes or when the dog has his/her special item of choice (toy).
It’s important that children are taught to respect a dog’s boundaries and this means staying away from dog bowls, toys and beds. Children who are taught these rules and learn how to read dog body language are less likely of get bitten.
To avoid resource-guarding in young dogs or help older dogs get passed low level guarding, you can work with your dog on trading precious items for treats.
Starting with less valuable items use the cue ‘give’ and trade a high value treat for the item.
With food guarders, starting from a distance, while the dog is eating offer high value food/treats to the dog. Take it slowly so that the dog begins to associate having you nearby at mealtimes is a good thing. If, at any-time, the dog shows the original reaction do not push through. Back off and start again. To push ahead may make the behaviour worse.
If the behaviour is long term or extreme, engage a trainer to help.
Note the lowered body posture and tense body. This dog has frozen still. His ears are back and the brow is furrowed. Just after the photo was taken, he picked up the bowl and walked off.