Resource guarding or food guarding is very normal and instinctive in wild animals. Only those can guard their food successfully can survive in the wild. However, when your dog exhibits this behavior at home, it becomes a problem.
The severity of resource guarding varies from one dog to another. Dogs with milder cases of this behavior will slightly stiffen up when you approach their food. Those with severe cases might growl, or even jump at you and bite you when you approach them as they eat.
If your pet is exhibiting resource guarding, just remember that it’s a fear-based behavior which he uses to prevent others from taking his food or other possessions away. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he has become overly aggressive or dominant. If you’re wondering why your dog guards his food too much, here are some common theories to explain the behavior:
Puppies Learn Resource Guarding When Competing With Littermates For Food
This behavior is believed to start from a very early age when young puppies compete with their littermates for limited supplies. Puppies can compete when eating food from a bowl or when suckling their mothers’ milk.
Puppies that eat the most grow the fastest. Because of this, they tend to compete with their littermates so they can eat as much as possible. So, in this case, the puppies exhibit resource guarding from a point of insecurity. But this doesn’t mean that such puppies are deprived, abused or neglected. It’s their natural way of survival.
The Environment Where A Dog Lives
Usually dogs in shelters usually exhibit higher levels of food guarding compared to those in a normal home environment. This is because the environment in shelters is very stressful. The dogs don’t know when their next meal will come, so it’s understandable why their anxiety increases.
But the good news is that many shelters are now developing feeding programs to help their dogs decrease their food guarding. This is done by free-feeding the dogs i.e. by ensuring that they have access to food consistently and/or giving them a full bowl of food all the time.
Studies show that shelter dogs under such feeding programs show little to no food guarding when placed in their new homes within the first 3 weeks. This clearly shows that resource guarding in dogs is manageable with patience, consistency and the right training approach.
A Dog’s Genes
Lastly, your dog’s genetics is also thought to contribute to his resource guarding behavior. However, there are no definitive studies so far that shows the specific dog breeds that are prone to food guarding. This should be a wakeup call to researchers in this field to find out if there’s a connection between genetics and food guarding in dogs.
Overall, dogs that guard their food aren’t necessarily aggressive, bad or dominant. They’re just trying to protect their food from anyone who might want to take it away from them. If you’ve noticed resource guarding in your dog, seek professional help as soon as possible. A professional behaviorist or trainer can help you come up with a management plan to modify the behavior.