Resource Guarding in Dogs

I use the term resource guarding all the time at San Francisco’s Pet Camp to refer to a dog who “guards” its food or belongings from people or other dogs and who reacts when you try and take those objects away. I thought this is what the term meant and how pretty much everyone used it in the world of pet care, dog care and dog training. Well, a recent issue of DVM Magazine suggests I’m not being careful enough in how I am using the term.

First, the professionals at DVM Magazine suggest that “resource” is simply too broad a term. They argue that when the definition of a term that includes everything the word has no definition at all. I respect that argument in a theoretical sense, but suggest in the practical world of dog care that it simply doesn’t matter if the resource that dogs are guarding is dry food, canned food, a toy or anything else – you just need to know that you have to be careful.

The article also suggests that the issue for dogs is not the resource “guarding” but rather the resource “removal” that actually causes the problem behavior. The analogy DVM uses is that while most people don’t normally guard their dinner while eating at a restaurant, they would get upset if another guest tried to take it away because they liked the way it looked. So is the issue the resource I’m guarding or the act of someone trying to remove it that sets me (or the dog) off? Again, a pretty interesting intellectual conversation, but for the 10 fingers I’m trying to keep on my hands this may be a distinction without a difference.

Lastly, DVM tries to articulate a difference between normal and abnormal behaviors. They argue that depending on the context and the history of the dog, protecting food might be normal response and that it is a myth to think that the normal response is for a dog to let you take their food away from them without a negative response. Once again, this is an interesting intellectual issue but not relevant to most pet care professionals. We need to feel comfortable that we can remove a dog’s food bowl when it’s empty or when the water needs to be refreshed. Even if the “normal” reaction of the dog is stop us from doing so; that doesn’t matter since we still need to get it done.

In sum, maybe I’ve just been scooping poop for too long but I’m much more interested in the practical side of dog behavior than the purely intellectual side. I appreciate both the arguments and observations made in DVM Magazine about resource guarding in dogs, but question the real work application of both. What do you think?

Thanks for reading!