Canine Possession Aggression

RESOURCE GUARDING – Canine Possession Aggression


Canine Possession Aggression………Object Guarding,  this is the act of aggressively protecting objects such as toys, pigs ears, rawhide chews, the dogs bed, the dogs space, ie touching, bones, or articles that the dog has found or stolen, such as socks shoes underwear tissues and human food.

The ears going back will be part of typical body language relating to this behaviour. The dog then will go into a crouch over the object, displaying a whale eye, that is the head turned away but the eyes are swivelled back towards you the perceived threat to his possession, the whites showing, you may also find the lips are slightly pulled back almost in a grin. Look at pictures of whales and you will see why whale eye gets its name.

Breed Specific:

I am often asked if this is a trait of their type of dog or breed, the answer is not as simple as it may seem. Though I would say that Cocker Spaniels tend to resource guard more than any other dog, nearly 70% of all the work I do with food or resource guarding is with Cockers. The gundog breeds also tend to be at the forefront of this problem, followed by German Shepherds and English Bull Mastiffs then the pastoral flock guarding breeds. Having said that any breed can food or resource guard and most will have learned it from a young age, without treatment will get progressively worse.

Mine! All Mine:

So why would the dog want to protect these objects?  Simple answer is that it’s normally a learned experience. Either it is a reaction from their siblings or breeder taking and tugging objects away at an early age. Though it is often the owner who creates this behaviour by our actions and reactions to the dog in certain circumstances.

As a puppy, your dog will have wandered through parts of the house, picking up and investigating any little object left lying around. However as soon as he picked up something we did not want him to have we immediately snatched this precious possession away.

Before long, our intrepid pup would pick up an object then run away so we couldn’t take away his find, he would scamper either to another room, the garden, under or behind a table, settee, or chair, anywhere where we could not easily relieve him of his treasure.

So what do we do? We follow him to wherever he has hidden shouting and yelling at the top of our voices. What does the little monster do, he whale eyes you stands over the object and starts to growl. He has now learned a couple of very valuable lessons.

1. When you give a command, he does not always need to obey. 2. If he shows aggression, you back off.

And by our actions, we have successfully taught him to resource guard.


Well meaning friends and of course the inimitable doggy experts. You will find these in abundance in any park, street, pub or internet forum, they will tell you to grab the dog by the scruff of the neck then forcibly remove the object, put the dog into an alpha roll position, or give it a good thump. The tips and advice are endless. If you analyse them all you will find that nearly every suggestion will be confrontational, these methods will inevitably have the exact opposite effect to what you are hoping to cure.

What you will rarely be told is to train the dog so that it wants to give up the object, that the dog will think it is fun and rewarding to let you have these treasured articles back.

Start Early:

Your puppies and adult dogs should be used to having their mouth touched, when you then wish to remove something it isn’t seen as confrontational. From the day you get your dog, either as a puppy or adult dog, brush his teeth, play with his flews (the floppy bits on the upper lip), open his mouth, check his tonsils, look down his throat, do this in a positive fun way with lots of praise and the occasional treat.

Purchase a long rawhide knot or bone. Hold on to one end of the knot while the dog chews on the other. He may want to play tug, but just hold do not pull away, in time he will get used to your presence and relax and just chew.

It is important for your dog to view you as the provider of all good things. You can do this by tightly controlling the dog’s environment. Keep all but one or two toys up off the floor and take the others down only when you want to play. Make sure you offer an item with a command like “Take it.” When you are tired of the game (you that is, not the dog), tell the dog to “Drop” or “Dead” Give him another item or treat in exchange, and then pick up the first object and put it away.  Do you know your dog’s likes and dislikes? Compose a list of all the things your dog really enjoys including food, toys, treats and activities, rank them in a hierarchical order, In exchange for dropping the first item give your dog a second, “better” item. For instance, if tennis ball retrieving is third on your dog’s list, reward him with cheese, frankfurter or puffed jerky for dropping the tennis ball. If your dog attempts to pick up a bit of rubbish in the street, command him to “drop” and then throw or give him his tennis ball.

Give a Cue:

Teach the word dead, drop, or give, do it in a fun way with a happy high silly voice. Start by allowing him to have something that is not so valuable then trade with him for his favourite treat, what is his favourite treats or game? Do you really know your dog’s likes and dislikes?

This is fine for teaching young pups or dogs that are not presently guarding but what about ones that are already way down the road of resource guarding. Training a young puppy is relatively easy. Re-training an older dog is more difficult, but not impossible.

Trade and Reward:

Firstly take away all objects the dog is guarding,  that could be toys, tissues, chews, bones, pigs ears or sleeping places, that includes beds, sofas or chairs. You may not be able to move the latter but you can cover it, put a box or something else on it that will restrict access. Do not allow access to these precious resources a number of days.

You need to prepare for the next stage if the guarding is articles such as toys chews bones etc, prepare some of the dogs really favourite treats, cheese or frankfurter tends to be high on the list. Then get a low value object, it may be a tissue or a sock, a pigs ear for instance may be perceived as high value. Try to be slightly to the side of the dog rather than face on and relax, take the tension you may feel out of your body as the dog will both smell and sense your fear and this could trigger a reaction.

Offer the object to the dog but try and keep hold of it as the dog takes it,  use whatever release command you have decided on it could be “dead” “drop”  “leave” or “trade” immediately produce the tasty treat from behind your back and exchange.  Praise when the exchange takes place and give back the object you first exchanged.

Set scheduled times to repeat this exercise at least four times a day but also just do it in opportune moments. Gradually up the anti of treasured goods. Over a period of time the dog will start to look forward to your approach and game. It is at this time that you give your dog the object and walk away, at first come back immediately and trade gradually making the time and distance you walk away longer, until you clearly see the dog is having no problems with your approach whatsoever. Then only give a treat every third time, then every tenth, take the object away and immediately give it back extending the period on this until the guarding behaviour disappears.

As with food guarding, you want to build a positive association around people approaching the objects being guarded. The dog needs to understand that approaching people and the removal of objects can be positive and rewarding.

Location or Bed Guarding:

This is not always as simple as it may seem, as the severity or incidence may be related to who is approaching. It may be that a woman can approach the bed or sleeping place but not a man, an adult but not a child.  It is not always tied to the object being guarded, but more to the relationship or lack of it of the person approaching the resource.

Sometimes this behaviour manifests itself when we try to move the dog off a sofa or when we handle or stroke the dog. It is worth in these cases making sure the dog is not ill or in pain as this could stimulate aggressive reactions.

As with other forms of guarding, make this a positive experience. Gauge how far you can approach before any aggressive reaction occurs. Initially keep to this distance and as you pass throw a treat, praising the dog at the same time. Make sure you do not praise or treat if there is growling or any show of aggression. Gradually decrease the distance over a period of time, do not rush the exercise, if the dog starts to react go back a few steps and start again. Change your angle of approach and the person who is approaching. Always try not to approach head on come in at an angle from the side give lots of verbal praise for a calm and passive reaction from the dog.

Maintain the Status Quo:

Over time your pet will come to realise that your approach is a positive experience and the guarding will hopefully cease. However if it starts up again repeat the exercise. You should practice once a week exchange or trade, for the remainder 0of the dogs life.

If you are already at the point where the dog has actually bitten you, then I would suggest you get professional help. This should be from a behaviourist or a trainer who understands aggression. You should look for one that comes to your house. I never understand how professionals can assess your dog’s behaviour from the confines of a vets or an office. The dog reacts very differently when out of its own environment.

This article was written by ©Stan Rawlinson (The Original Doglistener). A professional full time Dog Behaviourist and Obedience Trainer. You can visit his website at for more articles and training information.

These articles are posted as part of PGAA’s curation efforts.