Help! My Dog Is Resource Guarding Random Areas

Updated on March 1, 2018
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a former veterinary hospital assistant, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

When a dog is stressed out and needs space, they may resort to resource guarding.
When a dog is stressed out and needs space, they may resort to resource guarding. | Source

Why Is My Dog Guarding Random Territory?

When a dog starts resource guarding "space," the situation can be quite challenging to deal with. "Space" cannot be systematically defined by many dog owners, and such challenging cases may require intervention from a behavior professional.

If we think about it, all dogs who resource guard are also guarding "space" to a certain extent. Resource guarding is a distance-increasing signal. The dog is basically asking for space, and the more a dog's space is invaded, the more intense the resourcing guarding becomes. A dog who is resource guarding a bone may not react when a person or another dog is several feet away. If the person comes a bit closer, the dog in question may start tensing up, evoke a growl, bare its teeth, and snap.

In some circumstances, a dog may appear to resource guard "space" or territory, rather than guarding a particular object or person. In some cases, an exact area may not even be identifiable. Let's look at some interesting dynamics that can take place when a dog resource guards space.

Sometimes, a dog who appears to be resource guarding "space" is actually guarding an object or a person.
Sometimes, a dog who appears to be resource guarding "space" is actually guarding an object or a person.

How to Identify "Hot Spots" in the Home

For dogs who are predisposed to resource guarding, there may be certain areas in the home or yard that are perceived as valuable. These "hot spots" may vary between one dog and another, but I have noticed some trends:

  • Sleeping Areas: Sleeping areas are often a hot spot. The dog may seem as if he is guarding the couch, but he is also guarding the space around the couch area. Other dogs or people are growled at when they invade the space. It's as if there is an imaginary bubble enveloping the whole sleeping area.
  • Feeding Areas: Feeding areas are also prone to resource guarding behaviors in predisposed dogs. Many dogs resource guard food bowls even when they are empty. Some dogs resource guard the whole feeding area even if the food bowls are out of sight. If there are bags of food or storage bins nearby, these dogs may resource guard those.

One day, a dog owner told me her dog suddenly became very territorial and was growling at dog owners walking by the yard through the glass door. This dog had never done this before and the owner knew how important it was to nip the behavior in the bud. Upon closer evaluation, I was able to find the trigger. The owner had moved the dog's food bin right next to the glass door and the dog was simply resource guarding the food. To confirm my hypothesis, once the food bin was moved back to the area in the back of the home where it was kept before, the behavior reduced and eventually stopped. Quite an interesting case!

Sometimes, a dog who appears to be resource guarding space is actually guarding something that the owner is not aware of. There may be a small crumb on the floor or a spill on the carpet. Some dogs may not truly resource guard, but may be emotionally charged in certain parts of the home where there's a lot of excitement. Areas of high excitement can include exits and entryways. For some dogs, tight passageways may trigger "discussions." Small rooms may also be a rough spot.

A dog who appears to be resource guarding space is actually guarding something that the owner is not aware of.

Understanding your dog means identifying "hot spots" in the home that trigger resource guarding.
Understanding your dog means identifying "hot spots" in the home that trigger resource guarding. | Source

Resource Guarding May Become Generalized Over Time

At times, the dog may initially resource guard a distinct stimulus such as a toy, food, a bone, or a person. The behavior may then become generalized (courtesy of classical conditioning) and triggered by other stimuli, so much so, that the original behavior-evoking stimulus can no longer be identified. This leads dogs to resource guard space or to act aggressively for no reason.

A dog may start resource guarding food against other dogs, or the dog may growl when the owner places the food on the ground and there are other dogs nearby. As the days go by, the dog's behavior may transfer to events prior to mealtime. The dog may start the growling behavior the moment the owner starts the meal preparation routine. Soon enough, the whole kitchen area will evoke food-guarding behaviors.

If the dogs are taken out to potty right before mealtime every day, the guarding behavior may progress and tension may arise when the dogs come back inside. Jean Donaldson, in the book, "Dogs Are from Neptune," describes this phenomenon and claims that dogs who sometimes appear to fight for no reason are actually reacting to everything that leads up to the original behavior-evoking event. This is similarly demonstrated when dogs get excited when their owner parks the car at the dog park. The dog may exhibit excitable behavior in the car before even arriving at the park.

Sometimes, dogs may resource guard a single item, but as time goes by, stimuli leading up to the exposure may make the dog growl for no known reason or guard something intangible such as "space."

The dog may initially resource guard a distinct stimulus such as a toy, food, a bone, or a person.
The dog may initially resource guard a distinct stimulus such as a toy, food, a bone, or a person.

Pay Attention to Your Dog's Signals

Along with a dog who resource guards objects or space, there is often a dog who is shrinking in a corner afraid to even move. If a dog's fearful behavior is directed towards people, a person who has lost trust in the dog may fear an impending bite. Just because dogs in multiple dog households never engage in fights, this doesn't mean that there isn't tension. There often is, and the circumstance may sometimes turn into a ticking time bomb. Any time there is tension, trigger stacking may take place, and the ending might not be nice. When directed towards humans, it's important to carefully evaluate circumstances.

In the case of a dog who is being pestered by a child, the dog may retreat and desire to be left alone; the dog may move to the couch, under a bed, or in a corner. He may also send stress signals such as lip licking, head turning, and yawning. If these requests for space are ignored, he may growl to make his point clear. When this happens, the dog is often accused of being aggressive when he is simply stressed and misunderstood. His requests for space along with the many "leave me alone signals" get lost in translation.

A dog is often accused of being aggressive when he is simply stressed and misunderstood.
A dog is often accused of being aggressive when he is simply stressed and misunderstood. | Source

When to Seek Professional Help

If your dog is resource guarding objects or space, it's important to seek professional help. What does treatment usually entail in this case? A reputable behavior professional will assess the situation and try to identify the exact triggers of the behavior. He or she will then implement a behavior modification program custom-tailored to the specific circumstance.

A functional analysis of a dog's resource guarding space often reveals a dog who engages in certain behaviors (stiffening, barking, growling) which are contingent upon people/dogs getting closer to his/her perceived space. It's important to investigate whether the behavior occurs when the dog is in possession of a resource. This may require putting on the investigative hat to search for concealed triggers—crumbs, empty food bowls, carpet stains, the owner—or determining whether the dog is simply fearful or intimidated by other dogs and people. In some cases, a fearful dog doesn't like interacting with people (e.g., the dog is fearful of being stepped on, the dog is fearful of being picked up). Sometimes, identifying the true trigger is not always possible.

Affected dogs often benefit from management, desensitization, and a counterconditioning protocol where the dog is systematically exposed to less stressful versions of the triggering event while forming positive associations. If the dog is actually resource guarding an item, safely reaching for the object and picking it up (while trading for something highly valuable) may be added to the conditioning protocol. For dogs who are fearful of people, moving into the dog's space and making great things happen (petting the dog and creating positive associations) may be effective. These techniques should only be done under professional supervision.

Disclaimer

This article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional behavior advice. If your dog has a tendency to resource guard, please consult with a professional for safety and correct implementation of behavior modification.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Adrienne Janet Farricelli

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, pethelpful.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://pethelpful.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)