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On Guard!

I was speaking with a client a few days ago regarding his dog’s resource guarding. He was perplexed as to why his dog has become a resource guarder since he followed the oh-so-popular advice given to avoid this exact problem. I asked what advice was that? Even though I knew what his answer was going to be.

He said “I walk up to him while he is eating and remove his bowl so he knows the food comes from me and I am the boss.” Unfortunately hear this a lot.

So, first off, what is resource guarding? The short answer is it is a basic survival instinct present in many animals, not just dogs. In dogs, it is when the dog guards a {insert item here} upon the approach of a person or another dog or animal. It is a negative emotional change brought on by the approach due to fear of losing the resource.

It’s your dog’s way of saying “this is mine, don’t touch!”

A freeze over the bowl

Resource guarding is not limited to dogs. Ever hear a cat with a chunk of yummy meat when another animal approaches? They can be very growly! Somehow cute and vicious at the same time, actually, but I digress. Even people resource guard - we lock our doors when we leave the house, right? It is a natural survival mechanism used by many species in order to survive.

So, let’s go back to this “remove their food while they are eating so they know you are the boss” advice. If someone walked into my kitchen every time I ate dinner and removed my food, it wouldn’t take long before I would be stabbing them with my fork. By removing your dog’s food, you could actually be CREATING a resource guarder, especially in a dog that is genetically or otherwise predisposed to guarding behaviours. By doing this, you are also creating a negative association with your approach!

Two other common words of advice for new puppy owners is to pet the dog while eating and to put your hands in their food bowl while they are eating. These are also great ways to create a resource guarder.

So, what do we do instead?

I cannot stress this enough – LET YOUR DOG EAT IN PEACE.

We need to let our dogs know that their food is theirs. Sometimes we could even hand feed our dog their kibble so we have that positive interaction with them without the element of us taking

Even though this may look like a cute photo, it is not a good idea to allow children to pet dogs while they are eating.
This is a picture of what NOT to do

the good stuff away every time we approach! Or, most importantly, we allow our dogs to eat their meal in peace, just like we allow our other pets and ourselves to do. Sometimes this means separating your dog from young kids and other animals in the household by using baby gates, crates (for the dogs, not the kids…) or other techniques so there is no accidental negative interactions from your dog’s perspective.

The whole removing of the food bowl while the dogs are eating thing is based in dominance theory. It’s the belief that we need to show them we are the boss. These poor dogs aren’t trying to dominate us, they are just trying to get through life the best they can, just like every other animal on the planet. These dogs just want to eat their meal.

So, if you are seeing this kind of behaviour in your dog and have been following the old fashion unproven advice, please stop and instead, drop something even better in their bowl while they eat so your approach becomes a GOOD thing!

What to drop that is even better, you ask? Well, maybe some bits of cheese or a favourite piece of treat. Or, how about trying this recipe for some delicious crunch:


Coppers Favourite Cinnamon Cheddar Bites

2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ cup vegetable oil

1/ 3 - ½ cup water

Mix all the ingredients together starting with less water, add more if needed. Knead on a floured surface until firm then roll out to about ¼” thick. Cut into 1” strips or use a cookie cutter for fun shapes. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Turn oven off and leave the cookies in the oven with the door closed for 1-2 hours to harden. Be sure to try one yourself!


The bottom line is, even though resource guarding is an instinctual and normal behaviour, it can be dangerous and unhealthy for all parties involved, and it can be prevented in most cases. This topic definitely warrants more space, but that will be for another time. Today, I just want to shed some light on why resource guarding can happen. If you aren’t sure if your dog is starting to show signs of guarding, look for the common clues your dog may be giving when you approach them:

· Freezing over their resource

· Increase in the speed of eating when people or other dogs present

· Whale eye

· Head low over resource and growling or baring teeth.

If you need help with resource guarding issues you may be seeing in your dog, please reach out to a qualified positive reinforcement trainer in your area. Qualified trainers and behaviour consultants will adhere to the LIMA (Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive) policy for training and behaviour modification. According to the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers website, “LIMA adherence also requires consultants to be adequately educated and skilled in order to ensure that the least intrusive and aversive procedure is used.” For more information, please visit


Kim is the owner of Scentsable K9 and is a CPDT-KA certified dog trainer in Ontario, Canada. She lives with her rescue dog Copper and works mainly with dogs struggling with behaviour issues. For more information or to book a training session with Kim, you can email

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