Resource Guarding or Rule Setting?

May 5, 2021

dog resource guarding toy

Studies in shelter dogs have demonstrated that guarding behavior during an assessment in the shelter is not predictive of guarding in the adoptive home © Can Stock Photo / dariolopresti

In my experience, it appears that for dogs, possession is truly 9/10ths of the canine “MINE!” law, i.e. if it’s in your possession, you have the right to retain possession. These seem to be the details of what constitutes “mine” in the dog world:

• You can hold it in your mouth.
• You can eat before anyone else does.
• You can carry it away.
• You can lay on or near it.
• You can cover it with your head, neck and/or chest.
• You can control, deny or permit access to the resource.

When we attempt to impose our set of human rules on dogs, it is at best puzzling or confusing for them, and it can escalate into threatening and scary. “Give that to me!” a guardian might demand, and – understandably – the dog turns away, tightening his grip on the item, and perhaps even adding a low growl.

The guardian then may grow more insistent, grab the dog and/or tear away the item, leaving the dog to wonder why dog law is being utterly disregarded. Repeated interactions of this kind can be destructive to the relationship and help convince the dog that he was right to be worried.

(Issue 47, March 2021, pp.28-30). Read article