Does Your Dog Own You? Resource Guarding of Territory, Food, Items, or People

Ace_BallResource guarding is when dogs posture, growl, snarl, bark,  snap, lunge, or bite for reasons we believe are efforts to keep other animals or people away from what they consider to be valuable resources.

Resources include food, territory, items and persons.

Food related aggression, territory aggression, and possession aggression are specific labels for different types of resource guarding.

Resource guarding can be confused with protection aggression and fear aggression.  People believe their dogs are protecting them, when in reality, the dogs are guarding what they believe to be their property, or the dogs are exhibiting fear aggression. Fear aggression is often present with territory aggression. Resolving the fear issue is the solution.  A behavioral history, questionnaire, careful observation,  and testing can usually identify the specific types of aggression.

In my experiences, resource guarding is commonly directed at other dogs, which many people accept or manage. When the aggression is directed at people, I am likely to get a new client.

Food related aggression is seen more often when high value rawhides, bullie sticks, pigs ears, etc.  are involved.

Some dogs guard dry dog food (less common), and severe cases involve dogs that guard empty bowls, and feeding or food preparation locations.

Territory aggression is when dogs posture, growl, snarl, bark,  snap, lunge, or bite when animals or people approach specific areas. Clearly defined areas, such as fenced yards, motor vehicles, homes, crates, kennels, rooms, chairs, couches, beds, and areas underneath furniture are guarded by dogs who exhibit territory aggression.

Less defined territories, such as doorways, and the areas within the length of the dog’s leash or tie out can be considered valuable by some dogs.

Possesive aggression is when dogs guard non-food items, regardless of the location.  Common items are toys, and stolen treasures, such as socks paper towels, ink pens, remote controls, etc.. Some cases of posessive aggression can be resolved by teaching the dog basic obedience commands such as leave-it and drop.

Some aggression behaviors can be fueled  by miscommunications and the balance between dogs and people, better described as the relationship. In some cases, the dog’s physical, social, or emotional needs are not being met, and / or, the chosen training methods are flawed.  A 21st Century Canine Relationship Specialist can help you with these areas. Visit the APDT to find a trainer near you.

Regardless of the type of aggression, the first step is to manage the environment so the dog does not practice (and people or other animals are not injured). Prevention can include simple steps like removing high value food items, feeding in a crate or secure area, crating the dog during social events, removing toys, housing the dog inside the home, and dog proofing the home.

Next, you’ll need to establish a clear system for communication and motivation. Condition a reward marker and follow the rewards awareness program, no free F.A.T.!

There are specific exercises for treating different types of resource guarding. Each dog and case is different. The treatment plan must be fluid and should be adapted for the dog’s success. You’ll probably need help from a dog behavior counselor.

Visit this Solve-It section on this site for specific examples and detailed solutions for aggression.

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner – Companion Animal Behavior Counselor and Trainer, Canine Specialization

How’s Bentley – Memphis, Collierville, Germantown TN

21st Century Canine Relationship Solutions

Group Dog Obedience Classes

Private Dog Training in Memphis TN

Reactive Dog Specialist


Canine Behavior Modification for Reactive, Unwanted, Behaviors, including Fear and Aggression


LilyOkay, so your dog is fearful, barking, lunging and otherwise distressed when he or she sees people, trucks, cars, or dogs. Depending on who you are talking to, those behaviors may be classified as territory or protective aggression, possession aggression, inter-dog aggression, fear aggression, or leash aggression.

I’ll refer to the other people, other dogs, trucks, cars, as “triggers”, because they trigger the fear or aggression in your dog.

There are volumes of articles and books on how to modify fearful and aggressive behaviors in dogs. Some of the information may be helpful and other information is outdated and less helpful.

A canine modification plan is fluid. It changes as you progress. Because of all the variables, and the constant adjustments when treating fear and aggression in dogs, it’s not feasible for me to post all the methods and solutions I would use in a private consultation.

But I can give you this overview and some instructions that might work with your dog.

This article is about visual triggers. If your dog reacts to noises, the same concepts apply.

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First you need to change your dog’s perception of the triggers. Then you will use rewards to pay your dog for desirable, non reactive behaviors, when the trigger is in sight.

Before you actually do exercises with your dog in the field, please review this checklist.

Meet your dog’s physical, social and emotional needs.

Kindly prevent your dog from practicing unwanted reactive behaviors.

Establish a method to communicate precisely. Condition a reward marker.

Enact the Rewards Awareness Program.

Establish a Reward System.

Teach your dog “attention on cue” or “look”.

Practice “look” in various places with increasing levels of distractions (distractions should not be people or dogs or whatever triggers the unwanted, reactive, behaviors).

Teach your dog to sit on command.

Practice “sit” in various places with increasing levels of distractions (distractions should not be people or dogs or whatever triggers the unwanted, reactive, behaviors).

Teach your dog to bump your two-finger target to the cue, “here”.

Practice “here” in various places with increasing levels of distractions (distractions should not be people or dogs or whatever triggers the unwanted, reactive behaviors).

Teach your dog to walk nicely on a loose lead or to heel.

Practice walking nicely in various places with increasing levels of distractions (distractions should not include the triggers).

Optional: Obtain a Gentle Leader head collar or a Canny Collar. Introduce your dog to the head collar and practice with the head collar, so that your dog is not distracted by wearing the head collar. Head collars make it possible to safely move or control your dog’s pulling behaviors.

Optional: If your dog is “crazy excited” for squeaky toys or balls, get a couple of new ones and save them for these exercises. You can use the toys as rewards, or as distractions to get your dog’s attention when the triggers are too close.

Now you can begin the real work!

Identify the Threshold

Find the distance where your dog can see the trigger but not react with “out of control” barking, lunging, et cetera. I’ll refer to this distance as the threshold for reactivity. It may be 400 yards or 20 feet. It will change depending on the environment, your dog’s current emotional or physical state, or any number of factors.

The threshold is fluid, not static. You’ll need to find the threshold every time you start a practice session. Whatever it is right now, this distance or threshold will become shorter and shorter as you practice. You’ll always start each session outside the threshold.

Set up the Practice Session

For this step you’ll need the help of others. Their jobs will be to present the trigger outside the threshold, move a few steps closer and then move back outside the threshold.

If you don’t have any helpers, you can still set up the session. Go to a place where you are likely to see the triggers, such as a walking path at the park or a parking lot of a pet supply store. Get several feet off the path or away from the traffic, outside the threshold.

It helps if your dog is hungry. Do this before feeding time or withhold dinner and feed during these sessions.

Change your Dog’s Perception

Before you start with the triggers, ask your dog to perform a few simple commands such as “here’ or “sit”. This will engage your dog to pay attention to you!

Stand outside the threshold of a trigger. The instant you see the dog or person or car approaching, announce the trigger. Tell your dog something like “that’s a friend or that’s a truck” and immediately feed your dog several treats. Keep feeding until the trigger has retreated and is no longer nearby.

(If your starts barking or lunging, you are too close the the trigger, move away. If your dog starts to stare or looks like he or she might be ready to bark and lunge, command “here” and present your two finger target, or ask your dog to “look”. Either one of these commands gets the dog to look away from the trigger and focus on you.)

This sequence is called a cycle. You will hold many cycles during a session.

Between each cycle, give your dog a tension rest to absorb the recent events. The tension rest should be as as long as it took to perform the cycle. So, if the trigger is in sight for 10 seconds before it moves outside the threshold, the duration of the tension rest immediately after the cycle will be at least 10 seconds.

Repeat this process for at least 30 minutes per session. Perform another cycle followed by a tension rest. The idea is to change your dog’s immediate, involuntary responses to the trigger.

Instead of “oh no, there’s another dog, which is immediately followed by involuntary barking, fleeing, freezing or lunging (fight, flight, freeze behaviors), you want your dog’s initial involuntary response to the sight of the triggers to be anticipation of food. You are using classical conditioning to associate the trigger with the delivery of food. Your dog cannot be aggressive or fearful and salivate in anticipation of food at the same instant!

As you progress through the session, you will notice your dog will begin to ignore the trigger and focus on you and the food as soon as you announce the trigger. Perfect. Now you can move a bit closer to the trigger and continue. The threshold is getting shorter!

Repeat these sessions until your dog automatically looks towards you whenever a trigger is in sight. Continue to announce the triggers on routine walks, and anytime you are interacting with your dog, be it during a practice session, or not.

Real LIfe Ambush

If you get “ambushed” by a trigger during an outing, and you are not ready with several treats, kindly ask your dog to sit facing you, or to bump your two finger target. If she is too excited, move her away from the trigger and ask again. Repeat this sequence until your dog is far enough away that she will listen to your commands.

This basic method will work with most dogs, and most reactive behaviors, however it is not as efficient as perception modification via Syn Alia Training System.


Keep in mind, there are many factors about your relationship and your daily interactions with your dog that influence behaviors. In addition, your dog may be influenced by other dogs in the household, medical conditions, diet, nutrition, genetic and or neurological factors. If your dog constantly barks at triggers from inside the house, or fence fights with the dogs next door, the prognosis is poor.

You’ll need to prevent your dog from practicing fear and aggression if you want to succeed!

Happy Training!

Alan J Turner

How’s Bentley

Canine Behavior Modification for Fear, Aggression in Dogs – Memphis TN

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