Resource Guarding – Dog growls to protect his bone

How do you safely take a toy or bone away from a dog?

Does your dog exhibit aggressive behavior when he has a bone or toy? This issue is called Resource Guarding and if not addressed, can escalate into dangerous behaviors like biting.

From an evolutionary standpoint, dogs developed this behavior for obvious reasons. If a dog didn’t protect high value objects like meaty bones from theft, it would starve, pure and simple!

In practical terms, that toy, bone, or high valued object is rewarding to the dog, and having it taken away is an undesired outcome.

Forcing the dog physically to give up the toy will cause this problem to escalate, up to and including severe biting. So how can we address it safely?

As a positive reinforcement dog trainer, you must make the behavior of giving up the toy or bone a rewarding behavior. This is commonly done by trading objects with the dog with food – after all, the dog can’t guard a toy while simultaneously taking food from your hand.

Furthermore, if every time a toy or bone is given up and it’s put away, there’s no incentive for the dog to ever give up the toy, so its important to trade for food, and then return the toy to the dog. This creates a win-win situation where there’s no downside at all to giving up the highly valued object.

If you trade for food, and return the toy enough times, you’ll find your dog actually looks forward to releasing the toy as you approach. Its at this time we can put the behavior on cue with “Out” or “Drop It”.

If your dog has developed a serious case of resource guarding, where he starts growling and even biting as you approach, it is absolutely critical that you get professional help with this work as the risk of eliciting a dog bite is very high.

Whatever you do, don’t force the dog to release the object. This only teaches the dog that he was right to guard the item in the first place, and will increase the severity of the guarding and increase the severity of his aggression response. He’ll progress from guarding looks and body language to growling, and ultimately may resort to biting to protect the object.

Start early with your puppy to practice trading. If your adult dog is growling or biting, get help right away with a trainer or behaviourist that uses positive reinforcement to teach the dog that giving up toys is a fun and rewarding game.

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30 Replies to “Resource Guarding – Dog growls to protect his bone”

  1. Thanks so much for this, we were seriously worried about our puppy after some uncharacteristic nastiness. Practiced drop and it worked great. Need to be consistent with it but she’s doing well so far. We tried time out which did get her to calm down, but nearly got a nasty bite in the process. This worked much better!

    1. My pup is 8 monthes and is exhibiting multiple bad behaviors and the most recent one is resource guarding.. he never shown any signs of that when feeding him but I recently cooked a bone with meat on it for him n when I approached him to see how he was making out with n if he was enjoying his treat.. he literally turn and went to bit my leg.. thank god I had pants.. his other
      bad behaviours are chewing.. which we quickly put a stop to.. we had to take his pillow bed.. blanket.. squeaky toys.. ropes n any soft chew toy away because he was literally chewing and swallowing the pieces.. n they showing up in his stool.. now we look for the toughest and hardest durable toys we can find.. but he also has this aggression towards certain trees.. he will literally go after them.. start clawing at them and chewing the bark off them like the tazmanian devil.. and squirrels.. I’m just glad he hasn’t caught one.. I’m afraid what he’d do to it.. the other bad habit is pulling when walking and jumping up on people.. it’s been 8 monthes.. the consist reinforcing the bad behaviour isn’t working.. turning are backs and Ignoring him.. the removing from the room when hes miss behaving.. the constant stopping and starting again when hes pulling not working.. trying to redirect his bad behaviour to good behaviour isn’t working .. because as soon as your backs turned he will literally come at you.. he wont confront you head on he will wait til your backs turn to test you.. I’m hoping by getting him fixed next week will help.. If not.. I’m not sure what to do.. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong..

      1. It sounds like you may have a squirrel hunting dog on your hands, they will instinctively stay at a tree and bark and go crazy if they ‘treed’ a squirrel. Maybe talking to a hunter who trains their own dogs would help

  2. I know this is an older article but I’m glad I found it. My 8 month old puppy just started to guard an edible chew. She had never been aggressive about it before but just suddenly started to growl and bite at my son when he touched her while she had it. She did the same to me and I was very surprised. We had started to trade objects she wasn’t supposed to have for a high value treat but I never thought to do that with her edible chew. I think that’s a great positive solution. I don’t want this to escalate.

  3. I am fearful of the outcome for my dog. She is a little over a year. If she finds a food bone or a treat bone she is in full attack mode and has bitten my nephew. With her bowl food I’m not sure if she will attack I have rubbed her and such while eating. The other thing is she will miss meals, her choice. She is fearful sometimes stressed and anxious lots of changes around here but I try to keep her things a routine even when we travel. Please help me. There are other underlying issues as well I can’t even teach her to have an attention span longer then a few seconds.

  4. I just adopted a 2 year old Bernese Mt dog and he has growled at me when I want him to move, like he got in the front seat of my car and I nudge him to get in the back and he growled. Or I tried to make him go in another room with his toy and he snapped at me. Ive only had him for 3 days but I dont know what to do. Should I out him down ?

    1. You most definitely should not put him down!! If you cannot take care of him, give him to a shelter and let someone else care for him.

      1. Not a solution . disappointing answer. Train the dog. All dogs are trainable. It is like giving chips away because it misbehaving

    2. Please don’t put your dog down someone can take care of him if it’s too stressful and too much for you just give him to another home I know it can be too much to bare sometimes and that’s OK but someone will care for him.

    3. Give him up to a shelter. Even thinking about having him put down after 3 days of ownership shows you probably aren’t right for dogs. Do your dog a favour and give him up

  5. Not a solution . disappointing answer. Train the dog. All dogs are trainable. It is like giving chips away because it misbehaving

    1. Your shouldn’t be so judgmental. Perhaps he thinks the dog is a potential danger it is a large dog. It’s one thing to tell him to give back to a rescue it’s another thing to judge him for asking a question. This person is trying to reach out for help and you’d say his answers disappointing.
      Well your reply is disappointing. Some of these rescues fail to divulge information about a dangerous animals issues. I’ve seen it before many times.

    2. Maybe you should NOT judge.. my pit terrier just started this behavior as a it is VERY worrisome, I nor I’m sure anyone else doesn’t want to wait until the get seriously hurt! It’s not black and white like you THINK it is…aggressive behavior is NOT ok as a bit everyone can deal with it until they maybe at some point get seriously hurt!

  6. Not a solution . disappointing answer. Train the dog. All dogs are trainable. It is like giving your child away because it is misbehaving

  7. Ok, so my puppy is six months and he is a little aggressive with his bones, we get near and he scrunches his snout and shows his teeth, and if we actuall get close enough he will nip and sometimes actuall get us. I try coming close with one of his treats but he just thinks we’re comomg to take away his bone, we’ve done this thing where we tuck his skin under his teeth real quick and he stops biting and lets us have it. Is this a good strategy?

  8. omg we have a English bulldog 11 moths old just started giving him a bone treat and he just gets freaked out with it scarey I had to hose him down and also take away when I give him a treat.. have grand childred and nieces and nephews so scared for them to be around also makes me nervous please help….

  9. My sister dog hides his bone. Then wants his sisters bone. If he can’t get it then he starts a very bad fight. Please help us found out what we can do please

  10. We have adopted a rescue dog, who was a street dog for some time. She is the sweetest, most loving dog. The only problem she seems to have is bone/toy aggression. We have two other rescues that are feeling the brunt of her aggression. We are taking every precaution to avoid the fights, they still continue. Bones are not given all together. Winnie is given her’s in her kennel. We had an incident yesterday when she was given a bone, alone with me outside. The other dogs came out, after she allowed me to take her bone, using the treat switch method. Our other dog was smelling where she had been laying with her bone, and Winnie attacked our other dog.
    Any help offered to remedy this will be welcomed. We love our dogs and want the best for them
    Thanks in advance

    1. same here, my ex street dog does the same with my other rescue dog and I feel so sorry for him, did you find a solution?

  11. I had a beagle that I dearly loved,and had to rehome him last year which was heart wrenching for me,he eventually bit my son on his face coz of food.we had him 2 half years tried to fix but because of consistency of ALL the family wasn’t a.ways carried through it never worked,had a behavourist once but couldn’t afford 200 quid again so went to a trainer and his way was harsh and very different

  12. So my dog does have a small problem with resource guarding. Especially when we give her bones and stuff but this is a recent trait she’s starting to develop. Sometimes it makes me scared I know me being scared isn’t good and probably makes things worse. She’s so sweet and I don’t know why she is doing this now. I had no idea to train her when she was younger because it wasn’t a problem then. Any advice would help. Thanks

  13. My Labrador won’t eat her bone, just walks around with it in her mouth making whining noises and wanting to be close to me. This is why her sister is chomping away on hers. Any advice please. Kind Regards Debbie

  14. my english bulldog is 2 1/2, he has become a perfect pup now, jolted me at 1 1/2 in that he tore my chest wall muscle which healed forming scar tissue, left me with severe chest attacks with severe pain in center of chest and paralized briefly until it resolved for about 10minuted. Tonight he had a new elk bone, he tries to gobble them up asap, but bone is uneven and he may choke, tonight when tried to give him a treat in exchange of me checking the condition of the bone he growled and lundged at my hand and bit very deep between my fingers and brused the entire hand. when he went to be I took the bone and his them. He’s very spoiled because we love him so, he runs my husband and i , not the other way around, taken him to obedience school, lots of money and did not do anything. We do love him so very much, i’m now afraid of him. I know I provoked him by trying to make sure he was safe with his elk bone and not in danger of breaking a piece off. What do I do? I’m mad emotionally and hurt physically. I though I’d have to go to the emergency room.

  15. How about just taking it away and never giving them it back? My dog has been displaying aggressive behaviour, growling, showing teeth and even attempted to bite so the bone is gone

  16. Today my normally sweet and gentle 4 year old Shnoodle who is protective and growls when we approach him when he has a bone, bit me hard. He was in his crate with the door open, when I noticed puke on his blanket and the 2 day old chewed up bone leftovers near by. I called him out of the cage, and he didn’t come out, so I went towards him to pull him out he growled and bit my middle finger and kept it a few seconds, I could believe it. I had a hole in my finger and literally can’t bend it today. This is 4 hours later, after cleaning and icing the wound. It’s so sore and swelling a bit now also. Spoke to my doc. He gave me instructions for the next 3 days. He’s snapped a me before when I went release a bagel dying his mouth. This dog doesn’t play. Today was the worst. ?

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