On Guard – What to Do When Your Dog Starts Resource Guarding

No matter how long I've been learning about dogs, there is always something new to know.


confess: Every once in a while, I take advantage of my role as WDJ’s editor and ask an author to write about something that I, personally, need to learn about for the health of my own dog or dogs. There is an article in this very issue that meets this description. 

Nope, it’s not the one that my new puppy modeled for (that’s Boone on page 8, hanging out in our outdoor kennel). I have long used a kennel to contain stray dogs (while looking for their owners) and for litters of foster puppies (when I have them). And I’ve long been a fan of teaching my dogs to chill and be chill when kept in short-term confinement in a kennel. 

But this does concern Boone. For months now, he’s been exhibiting a behavior that none of my other dogs have ever been prone to: resource-guarding. And the first time I saw it was sort of dramatic. 

One day, when Boone was about 14 weeks old, I was helping an 84-year-old friend with the 10-month-old Border Collie she had recently adopted from our local shelter (that’s a story for another day). After a session of showing my friend how to improve her dog’s on-leash behavior by engaging and rewarding the dog’s attention while walking off-leash (one of my favorite training techniques), I asked my friend if she’d like her pup to play with my pup. I let Boone out of my office, and the two young dogs started to romp and wrestle. It was all fun and games, until my friend happened to give Boone a treat when he approached her in greeting. 

In his aroused state, he immediately decided my friend and her treats were a resource that were well-worth guarding from the visiting dog – her own dog! – and he went from playful to hostile in a split second. He spun around and went right after the little Border Collie, growling and snarling. She ran away, yelping, and he came right back to stand guard next to my astonished friend, wagging his tail but with all his fur standing on end. “Don’t worry, ma’am, our treats are safe from that dog!”

Fortunately, I knew enough not to punish Boone. I picked him up and carried him back to my office to let him calm down. No harm was done, the young dogs have played together without incident (and without treats on hand!) several times since then, and I now have knowledge about Boone that I need to be aware of. And, boy, am I conscious about this, because the last thing in the world I want is for Boone to covet and make a play for anything that rightfully belongs to the king of the castle, my senior dog, Otto. I asked WDJ’s Training Editor, Pat Miller to write the article about resource-guarding in puppies; I’ve learned a lot, and it has really helped. I hope it helps you, too.