For a usually well- behaved dog, a growl or snap is reserved for the really annoying or scary things. Aggressive behavior is not what you might expect from your dog on the best of days and especially not when you’d been looking forward to playing with him and his favorite toy. Instead, your dog is hunkered down, protecting that toy as if it were his own puppy. While this sort of behavior is not uncommon, it’s almost always unwanted and sometimes it can escalate into dangerous.
Known as ‘resource guarding’, this behavior occurs in dogs who feel as though their ‘resources’-- for example, food or a nice to--are at risk of being stolen or taken away at any moment. Your dog is merely protecting what he believes should be rightfully his, calling back to behavior that his ancestors would rely on to protect the food and other resources they needed for survival. However, while it may have benefited his ancestors, there’s typically no reason for a domesticated dog with a comfortable home and a regular feeding time to guard his resources.
Resource guarding can go from bad to worse if not handled appropriately and what may start off as a growl can quickly escalate into a snap or outright bite. It’s best to stop resource guarding in the earliest stages of growth during the puppy stages, but that may not always be possible. Luckily, there are ways to ensure your dog that he doesn’t need to fight for survival and adjust him to being open to sharing his food and toys with you. It can take some time for him to understand that he can trust you, but a little bit of patience and repetition can go a long way.
If your dog’s resource guarding has already escalated to the point where he is likely to cause injury to someone with a bite, it’s always recommended to see a vet or a professional trainer. Your safety is always the most important thing when dealing with a dog with any sort of aggressive behavior issues.
Dogs often pursue things with most value to them, generally in the form of tasty food. To start with, you’ll need to find something much more valuable to your dog than whatever it is that he’s guarding. Food will almost always be worth more than a toy to a dog, so it’s recommended to use treats that are exceptionally rare for him like little bits of cooked chicken or beef. The smellier the treat is, the better.
Besides this, the only other thing you’ll need is a lot of patience and a bit of bravery. It can be scary to face a growling or snarling dog, so practice this training when you’re in a good mood or relatively relaxed. Stress will easily get passed to your dog, so making sure you’re in the right environment and you’re mentally prepared is key.