Dogs Possession Aggression Resource Guarding

Dogs Possession Aggression Resource Guarding

Possession Aggression Resource Guarding Dogs

Cocker Spaniel Guarding a Cardboard Roll
Cocker Spaniel Guarding a Cardboard Roll

Canine Possession Aggression Object Guarding: This is the act of aggressively protecting objects such as toys, pigs ears, rawhide chews and other treasures

It can also be the dog’s bed, the dog’s space, the dog’s body, approaching a sleeping space, touching the dog when it is at rest, or even just stroking.

It can also happen whilst approaching the dog when it has bones or articles that it has found, been given or stolen. Items such as socks, shoes, underwear, tissues, and high-value human food.

The ears going back will be part of typical body language relating to this behaviour and the body may go very still and quite rigid

The dog then will go into a crouch over the object, displaying a whale eye the head is turned away but the eyes are swivelled back towards you. It is you that is the perceived threat to his possession. 

The whites tend to show as he looks back at you you may also find the dog’s lips are slightly pulled back almost in a grin and the eyes dilated and very hard. Look at pictures of whales and you will see why the 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 quite as simple as it may seem. Though I would say that Cocker Spaniels tend to resource guard far more than any other dog, nearly 78% of all the work I do with object or resource guarding is with Cockers,

These cockers are mainly solid colours the goldens being at the forefront. Generally, bi or tri-coloured cockers tend not to suffer from this problem though I have seen a number of cases where it happens, see the picture above.

It appears in nearly every case in the show breed rather than the working strain and is generally male dogs. Having said that it can happen with any dog. I believe that the owners are rarely to blame for this problem.

I think the breeders that may be breeding Cocker Spaniels for their looks and not their temperament and these can sometimes be the culprits. Therefore, they are in some instances breeding from parents that genetically resource guard.

This is evidenced by the high level of Cockers that are prone to this problem. Therefore, it must have genetic implications. Why breed a dog that is a resource guarder, knowing that it will probably be passed on to the pups? Madness.

Having said that, it could be that this trait could also be a throwback in the genes of the Sire and Dam. Therefore, they may not be displaying the guarding instinct themselves. I think it is important that all Cocker breeders should try to look into their dog’s backgrounds, hopefully, they may see if there have been any guarding instances in any of the forebears. If they do I suggest they are sterilised.

What is vitally important is to seek treatment from a recognised expert in this field, as soon as the dog displays any tendency towards guarding. Delaying treatment could mean it may go too far and is quite often irreparable when they pass a certain age. They do not grow out of this trait, it always gets progressively worse without professional intervention.

I have also written a top article on (1) Cocker Rage. Just type in Cocker Rage into Google and I probably be the 1st. Other gundog breeds also tend to be at the forefront of this problem, especially Springer Spaniels who are the second most common breed I have to work with for this disorder.

Followed by Beagles, German Shepherds and English Bull Mastiffs then the pastoral flock-guarding breeds like Border Collies. Having said that any breed can food or resource guard and most will have learned it from a young age, without treatment this problem will get progressively worse. This is a very different problem to bowl guarding and needs to be worked with different techniques.  I have written an article on (2) Bowl Guarding which also explains how to treat this fairly simple problem.

Possession Aggression DogsMine! All Mine: So why would the dog want to protect these objects?  The simple answer is that it’s normally either a genetic trait passed on from the mother or father or a learned experience. And it is fear-based a fear of losing something important

In some cases, it could be a reaction from their siblings or the breeder taking and tugging objects away at an early age. It can also be the owner who stimulates and creates this behaviour through our actions and reactions to the dog in a number of 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 and 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. When you give a command, he does not always need to obey. If he shows aggression, you back off.

And by our actions, we have successfully taught him to resource guard. However, especially in Cockers, this can also be a genetic disposition, so early touching, training and socialising are absolutely vital. Follow the guidelines as early as you can with all your dogs.

Advice: 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 or recommend neutering, 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. But this must be started as soon as the guarding starts at whatever age

Jet one of my 4 working Cockers none of which resource guard
Jet one of my 4 working Cockers none of which resource guard

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 special treat like Beef Jerky Sticks or Beef Jerky for dogs See all (3) Natural Treats for Dogs 

Hold onto one end of the treat while the dog chews on the other end. He may want to play tug, but just hold the treat and try not to do not pull away, In time he will get used to your presence and relax and just chew. Train the dog on the “OFF” command. When I am working with bowl-aggressive or object-aggressive dogs this is the first thing I teach.

This allows you to stop your dog from picking things up off the floor without your permission See (4) The Jingler for further information 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 the command  “Good” and “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 put the first object 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, and rank them in 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 air-dried high-value treats for dropping the object. Rabbit Cubes and slices of my airdried Beef Sausages are ideal for this. 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. this becomes a fun game

I think it is prudent to point out that not all Cockers are resource or food guarders. Jet (above)  a working Cocker Spaniel is one of five Cockers that I own. He is one of the gentlest dogs you could ever meet and does not have a bad bone in his body. However, early desensitisation work is essential to make sure your dog does not start this problem. This article only covers possession aggression resource guarding.

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 you can trade with him for his favourite treat, what is his favourite treat 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 far more difficult.

Cocker Spaniel Guarding a Soft Toy. Resource Guarding
Cocker Pamial Guarding Sof Toys

Guarding a Soft Toy. Resource GuardingTrade and Reward: Firstly take away all objects the dog is guarding, which could be toys, tissues, chews, bones, pigs’ ears or sleeping places, which can include beds, sofas or chairs.

You may not be able to move the latter but you can cover it, put a box or something else like dining chairs on them so it will restrict access. Do not allow access to these precious resources for a considerable amount of time

You need to prepare for the next stage if the guarding is articles such as toys chews bones etc, prepare some of the dog’s 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, or a pig’s ear may be perceived as high value. Try to be 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” and 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 at inopportune 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 with people approaching the objects being guarded. The dog needs to understand that people approaching and the removal of objects can be positive and rewarding.

Touch Sensitive: In this scenario, the dog is guarding its own body space and may be overly sensitive to contact and touch. You may be stroking the dog or giving it a treat and suddenly it will growl. lunge, show teeth or bite. There appears to be no reason. However, like most aggressions, there is normally a key or trigger for the behaviour. The dog may be a bully and enjoy threatening, or he may suddenly feel threatened or dislike the touch.

If the dog is a bully then you need to change the way you deal with the dog. See my article on the (5) Alpha Myth. If the dog is resource-guarding his body space then you need to desensitise the dog to touch. To do this you may need to introduce a soft mesh muzzle (See website) so you can touch and treat in relative safety.

Start by touching the dog and say “Good” Take it. Good is the equivalent of a clicker and is marking the behaviour you want and Take it is permission to share your treat (See The Alpha Myth). Do this two or three times a day for a couple of minutes each time so that the dog becomes desensitised to the touch treating and praising as you go along. This may take some time. The same thing should happen if the dog is overly sensitive to the collar being touched or the lead being put on.

Dog Bed Guarding Resource GuardingLocation 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 worthwhile in these cases to make 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, try to come in at an angle from the side, and give lots of verbal praise for a calm and passive reaction from the dog.

Maintain the Status Quo: Over time, your pet may come to realise that your approach is a positive experience and that 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 of the dog’s 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 a behaviourist or a trainer who understands and regularly treats aggression, and especially resource guarding. You should look for one that comes to your house. I never understand how professionals can assess your dog’s behaviour anywhere other than where the problem occurs. Dogs react very differently when out of their own environment.

The Bad News: I have to say that if this is genetic, then you will probably never be able to overcome this problem. You may be able to control it but never totally eradicate it. If the aggression is severe and blood has been drawn and the dog really means it, then you may have to make some very serious decisions as to your future with this dog. It is not really feasible or right to rehome and pass the problem on to someone else. I am afraid that when I come to the conclusion that it is genetic and the dog is biting hard and means it, and especially when they start coming over for a stroke then lash out when you touch them, then it is time to talk it over seriously with your vet or behaviourist and you may have to consider euthanisation.

I hate giving up on dogs but in the end, you cannot cure a problem that is congenital ie genetic. Where it was not learned and you did nothing to create this response. It was created many years ago by a dog that suffered this genetic problem and I believe was a Crufts Winner and was widely bred from. It is mainly males but not always, it is mainly solid colours but not always and it is normally from show stock and it is mainly Cocker Spaniels. Though recently I have seen quite a number of Cockapoos with guarding tendencies once again almost certainly from the cocker part of the equation.

What shocks me is why they are still breeding from dogs that have this genetic trait. I believe many of the breeders are aware of this in their dog’s lineage but still go ahead and breed.

In some cases, it is a throwback and the parents did not suffer from the problem but somewhere in those dogs’ lineage, this trait will be known. I think the Kennel Club should get a grip on this problem, as it is becoming a serious and dangerous concern.

(1) Cocker Rage.

(2) Bowl Guarding

(3) Natural Treats for Dogs

(4) The Jingler

(5) Alpha Myth

©  Stan Rawlinson 24 July 2005

Updated regularly last updated April 2022

©Stan Rawlinson.Dog Behaviourist & Trainer

Comments (15)

  • Jillity

    Guarding a space aganst another dog
    Thank you for an excellent article. It deals very well with resource guarding when the aggression is towards the dog’s human family. It would be great to read another article that deals with aggression towards another dog.

    My springer collie cross Jilly, has just reached social maturity and she’s startng to guard her space at bed time. She wants to bite our older bitch, Sasha before settling down in her own space at night. Sasha is giving off calming signals all the time but mostly she won’t move out of the way.

    Occasionally she’ll take herself out of the room until Jilly has settled down. The question is, do I manage the aggression by fending off Jilly until she settles down, do I create a separate space for Sasha or do I create a new and separate space for Jilly, or do I attempt to train the younger dog to allow Sasha to go to bed in peace?

    During the day the dogs play a lot and run together all the time on walks. I get the feeling that Sasha is a pacifist and would need to be pushed to extremes before she would bite Jilly. I’m wondering also if tiredness plays a part in resource guarding.

    The problem with my dogs only occurs at night. During the day and first thing in the morning they’re like two dfferent dogs. Very occasionaly there has been a show of agression from Jilly where there’s a found resource such as a small amount of food dropped on the floor.

    October 2, 2014 at 7:59 am
    • Doglistener

      Interdog resource guarding

      This is a very different behaviour to resource guarding to humans. Though it must be said that it is all related to resources. Often dogs in the same household start niggling with each other. This can escalate to all out war.

      I treat this problem regularly and the trigger is always the owner or other people living in the household. These dogs would rarely if ever fight when the owners or other people are not present.

      The greatest resource is the owner, becoming a resource controller is vitally important. For more information on these read The Alpha Myth and Dogs Fighting in The Home on my site.


      January 28, 2015 at 3:38 pm
  • claramcg

    Dear Stan, ive found this a very helpful article as I have a 10 month old male bearded collie with this issue. We’re working on a behavioural program as you describe but I wondered if you had any sense of the prognosis for this problem. How long until the behaviour may subside (if it does subside) with daily practice in place and are there some that just can’t change? Tasks in advance

    May 24, 2015 at 4:53 pm
    • Doglistener

      Unfortunately this is not an easy problem to overcome and all dogs react to behavioural programs in different ways. The problem with resource guarding as opposed to bowl guarding is that if you catch it early then the prognosis is good. But not all resource guarding dogs can be cured.

      I normally expect the program to last about three months. If there is no improvement after that then you may never get a full recovery. It is worth you talking to a behaviourist who understands the problem.

      June 9, 2015 at 2:05 pm
  • Karenpriestley1_246238

    Guarding space and objects
    My cocker spaniel is one and can have problems with growling and snapping when you take certain objects or try to get him to move or go to bed. I have read your article and have been using the treats to coax him to bed and that seems to work. Have tried treats with him and objects but doesn’t seem to work he gets quite suspicious and seems to growl more . Should I continue with this or try something else ?

    March 27, 2016 at 8:33 pm
    • Doglistener

      Resource guarding dogs
      Cockers are the breed that is at the forefront of resource guarding problems. It is genetic and can be very difficult to cure. Remove all items initially that he may resource guard. Introduce them slowly starting with something that you think is the least important.

      When you introduce it keep hold of the object and allow the dog to hold the other end then use a release command drop, dead or leave it really does not matter which and offer a high-end treat. (I use and sell air dried sprats for this) Do this until you can just use the release command when the dog drops it give a treat. Gradually reduce the treating until the dog allows drops it on command.

      I use a jingler for the OFF or drop command it is extremely effective in creating a solid release, drop or dead.

      Best of luck

      March 24, 2017 at 11:54 am
  • Jo_249837

    Have I broke my Labrador?
    This is a great article and it describes exactly what I have done to turn my Labrador puppy into an aggressive guarder.

    I took stuff off her with force, shouted, grabbed, raged as recommended by a few friend and a dog trainer. Now she guards random things and her crate at night. When we put her to bed she barks, snarls and growls and it’s very frightening. She has bitten me once when trying to remove a shoe from her crate.

    She’s only 7 months and on the whole is a little sweetheart. She’ll let me take things from her mouth, has no problems around her feeding. Walks and recalls lovely. Plays well with children and comes from a cuddle on the sofa.

    It’s just if she gets something she perceives as precious. If I ignore her or suggest a walk she’ll just snap out of it and even brought the item to me this morning in exchange for a walk.

    The other danger time is bedtime. when we crate her she goes mad, turns into another dog. Then in the morning, ‘Hey Presto’ loveliness is restored!

    We realised what we were doing was counterproductive and have been trying methods similar to what you describe, we are having limited success but I wonder how long we should carry on with the help of an expert? I don’t want this behaviour to be irreversible.

    May 30, 2017 at 9:08 am
    • Doglistener

      Have I broke my Labrador?

      Sorry for the delay in answering this. It is not easy to overcome this problem and there are no quick fixes. You do not mention what you are feeding this dog that can have an effect on this behaviour read my article dog food and behaviour. I would also consider the jingler. The many hundreds of dogs I have worked with because of this behaviour have all been helped by using this tool watch the video clip and also follow the instructions to the letter the OFF command is the one that could help you.

      July 1, 2017 at 11:12 am
  • [email protected]

    Crate/food guarding, cat aggression.
    My 4 month cocker x toy poodle has started to guard his crates from the cats, when he’s in it he’ll launch growling at the bars if a cat approaches. Tonight he was asleep under my chair when he heard a cat walk into his empty crate, he flew at the cat and I had to pull him off, cat is OK shaken and bruised.
    In the bedroom crate he’ll try to bite if a cat walks too close. Luckily the bars prevent contact.
    However away from the crate he loves them and plays nicely. I only leave food down for 10 minutes in crate after he has eaten his fill then I remove it bowl too and he only has pigs ears etc when I go out, he goes in kitchen not crate when I’m out as he prefers it.
    I will add the cat started it by nicking his food when he was 9wks old which was why I started to feed in crate so he’s able to eat in peace. Cat is a menace. He’s on James wellbeloved twice daily and not neutered. I’m particularly upset with this development due to the fact that I had planned to train him to assist me.
    He doesn’t resource guard from humans and he’s fine with cat near his toys. However he is a runner if he doesn’t want to share his toy with people, I’m still trying to find what he loves as treats, cheese, meat gets ignored and his idea of playing is rough housing which I don’t allow. Help I really don’t want to part with him but my cats were here first and I have to keep them safe.

    July 25, 2017 at 1:44 am
  • Doglistener

    Crate/Food Guarding

    Possession aggression within animal to animal is very different from the same problems with humans. I think your dog may have a genetic disposition and this may transfer to humans within a few months. If that happens it is quite a difficult problem to overcome, Try and put all the suggestions into place as soon as possible to try and catch it early.


    June 24, 2018 at 10:14 pm
  • brynhenllan_255244

    Owner guarding
    Hi, how should I tackle my dog’s aggression towards other dogs when they approach me? She’s generally good with dogs who stay away from me and doesn’t transfer aggression to people who approach – just dogs! BTW, she’s a 3 year old GSD

    March 7, 2020 at 12:00 pm
  • Doglistener

    This is normally related to

    This is normally related to the first 16 weeks of the dog’s life and socialisation with other puppies and other dogs and tends to be fear-based rather than guarding based as is most resource or bowl guarding. That first 16 weeks, is critical in accepting other dogs close to you and to your dog. If that is is not done on a regular basis you can have a dog that feels uncomfortable when a dog approaches you. If it is related to this you will not get a full recovery.

    April 11, 2020 at 10:48 am
  • sarahy_263725

    Resource Guarding in Cocker Spaniel Puppy
    We have a beautiful 8 month old tricolour working Cocker Spaniel who started exhibiting Resource Guarding behaviours at 3-4 months of age. The breeders say they have never had this problem with any of their dogs, but I am not sure whether to believe them. He also shows sudden aggression when waking from sleep at times. He is showing some bite inhibition now, but will bite if provoked on these occasions. We have had our puppy trainer round just before lockdown, but we have obviously not had much help during the last two months. We are working hard at holding treats while he chews and playing at exchanging toys, but when he is bored he starts searching around for things to steal, usually from kitchen surfaces. If I can get them off him quickly and reward him he is usually fine, but if I can’t he becomes quickly aggressive. Sometimes he will shrug out of it we ignore him as he definitely wants our attention, but it is quite worrying in one so young. He is a completely amazing dog in every other way, so fun to be with, loving affectionate, pretty obedient and good at recall, and loves training. I am really worried if we can’t train him out of this we will have to get rid of him, but as he is young I am hoping there is hope. He isn’t yet neutered and wondered if that would help. It has been quite difficult with lock down though. I have tried to purchase two of your janglers, but something went wrong with the website and the money was taken but the janglers never left my basket. I have e-mailed you three times about this but had no response, and your phone number doesn’t seem to be working. I hope you’re OK? Any advice would be gratefully received. We have 4 older children aged 10-17 and I have noticed that he is more likely to guard if they approach him when he has a high value resource, than when we do. We did panic a couple of times when he was a baby puppy and had something and he may have felt ‘mugged’ by us. He is also the smallest in a litter of 9 and I have a feeling they were fed from the same bowl. Neither of these issues may have helped. Your articles are very helpful. Best Wishes,

    May 24, 2020 at 7:11 am
    • daveiham_269096

      Resource guarding
      We are experiencing exactly the same issues as you are describing. It’s very stressful and we are prickly more scared of him in certain situations when he’s guarding.
      Can I ask how you got in with your dog and were you able to redouble this?

      August 25, 2021 at 9:38 am
  • Stan Rawlinson

    Hi Sarah
    Sorry for some reason I did not see your email and therefore did not answer I am very surprised that you state you paid for the Jingler and did not get them however you also say it stayed in the shopping basket which normally means that the payment was not recorded to the website by Paypal who were managing both my card and direct Paypal payments at the time. Give me your full name you can email it to [email protected] and I will look into it. My phone number has always been OK. I would also be interested in hearing what has happened to your dog. My phone number is 07976 153161 give me a call if you want.

    I will say I retired 5 years ago from full-time dog behaviour but I am still very involved in all aspects of improving knowledge and understanding of dogs.

    July 22, 2022 at 3:39 pm

Leave a Reply

Related Posts