By using this website, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.

What to do if your Dog is Guarding their Food or Toys

By Jason Wright

September 20, 2023

Training plays a huge role in shaping a well-behaved and obedient dog. One common behaviour that owners may encounter is food or toy guarding. While it can be concerning to witness your pet exhibit this behaviour, especially if you’re a household that has small kids or that has a lot of friends and family visiting,  it's important to understand that guarding is a natural instinct.

This does not mean that you should allow your pet to misbehave and guard their food. Instead, through the right training tactics and techniques, you can work with your pet to manage this behaviour effectively. This not only helps your dog exhibit proper behaviour but also keeps your children or friends, family and loved ones safe - preventing any unforeseen accidents.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll highlight why dogs may start guarding their food or toys, the importance of addressing this behaviour, and practical training techniques to help your dog overcome it.

Why Dogs May Start Guarding Their Food or Toys:

It’s important to understand the intricate reasons behind food and toy-guarding behaviour. Just as humans may feel protective over their personal possessions, dogs have their triggers that lead to guarding. 

These triggers can stem from various sources, including their history, past experiences, or underlying emotional states. By understanding the complexities of guarding, you can develop a holistic approach to tackling this issue, allowing you, the owner, to work with your pet to prevent it. Here are some of the reasons as to why dogs guard their toys or food:

  1. Resource Protection: Dogs have an innate instinct to protect their valuable resources, such as food, toys, or a favoured spot. This behaviour may stem from their evolutionary history when resources were scarce.
  2. Fear or Anxiety: A dog may resort to guarding if they feel threatened or anxious. This can be triggered by the presence of other pets or people during mealtime or play.
  3. Past Experiences: Traumatic experiences or competition for resources in a multi-pet household can lead to guarding behaviour. And so, dogs may engage in guarding behaviour out of fear or anxiety that they won’t receive enough food or resources.
  4. Lack of Socialization: Poor socialization during puppyhood can result in anxiety or insecurity, which may manifest as guarding behaviour.
  5. Medical Issues: Sometimes, pain or discomfort when eating can lead to guarding. Dogs may fear that their food source will be taken away.

Why It's Important to Address Food and Toy Guarding:

The impact of food and toy guarding in dogs goes far beyond the immediate behaviour that you can see your dog doing. If you allow your dog to continue this bad behaviour, it can affect the safety and well-being of all those who interact with your dog, as well as the emotional health of your dog itself. 

Here are some of the reasons why you need to take the time to work with your pet on this behavioural problem:

  1. Safety: Guarding behaviour can escalate into aggression, posing a risk to other pets or family members.
  2. Quality of Life: Dogs that guard their resources may become stressed and anxious, diminishing their overall quality of life.
  3. Prevention of Aggravation: Ignoring or mishandling guarding behaviour can worsen, making it more challenging to correct over time.
  4. Positive Interaction: Resolving guarding issues enhances the overall relationship between you and your dog, creating a more harmonious living environment.
  5. Compliance and Trust: A dog that doesn't guard resources is likely to obey commands and trust your leadership, simplifying training and daily interactions.

Training Techniques to Address Food and Toy Guarding:

It's essential to maintain a calm and consistent approach when working with your pet to address this behaviour. While letting go of guarding tendencies will take time and patience, managing the environment plays a pivotal role in ensuring a successful transition. 

Here are some of the ways that you can manage and create a more supportive environment:

  • Control Access to High-Value Items: Avoid leaving high-value items, such as special toys or particular treats, casually around the house where your dog can access them freely. Instead, store these items securely and only introduce them during supervised play or training sessions.
  • Supervised Play: When allowing your dog to interact with items they tend to guard, always supervise the play. Engage your dog in interactive games like tug-of-war or fetch, where you control the item. This not only builds trust but also reinforces your role as the provider and guardian of the resource.
  • Scheduled Playtimes: Implement scheduled playtimes to provide structure and predictability. This way, your dog understands when it's time for enjoyable interactions, reducing the need for guarding behaviours.
  • Refrain from Approaching: Never approach a dog who is in possession of a high-value item, especially if you don’t have the proper training to do so. Approaching a dog that has their high-value item with them can cause the dog to move into their guarding tendencies, becoming aggressive.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Reward your dog for positive behaviours during playtime, such as sharing or willingly relinquishing items. Positive reinforcement helps reinforce the desired behavior and encourages your dog to let go of guarding tendencies.

By proactively managing the environment in these ways, you create a safer and more predictable setting for your dog to learn and adapt. Consistency in your approach, combined with a well-structured environment, will go a long way in helping your pet overcome guarding behaviour.

We also recommend using a balanced or Operant Conditioning training approach to help your dog understand their commands and adjust their behaviour. Here is a list of the training techniques that can be used to address your dog’s guarding:

Counterconditioning: Teach your dog that the approach of people or other pets during mealtime or play is a positive thing. 

Leave It Command: Teach your dog a firm "leave it" command. This can be invaluable in redirecting their attention away from guarding and toward you.

Management: While working on the behaviour, always supervise interactions with other pets and manage the environment to prevent potential conflicts. This is why we advise against taking your pet to a dog park, where the environment is not controlled. 

Consistency: Be consistent with your training efforts. Everyone in the household should follow the same rules to avoid confusion for your dog.

The iTK9 Way: Training Your Dog to Stop Guarding Their Food

Dogs ' food and toy guarding behaviour can be managed and improved with proper training techniques and patience. Understanding the root causes, addressing the behaviour promptly, and using Operant Conditioning methods will go a long way in helping your dog become more relaxed and comfortable in sharing resources.

If you're struggling to work with your pet or unsure where to start, our trained professionals can help. They fully commit to working with them through behaviour, obedience training, and continued learning safely and effectively.

We do the hard work for you to attain a happy home and a healthy relationship with your pet.

Included in all of our programs are the following;

  1. In-Person Learning: Midway progress training video, two go-home lessons.
  2. Online Learning: Owner education course, instructional training videos, iTK9 member community, e-books & additional training resources.
  3. Owner Support: Photo updates of your dog training with our team and access to our team for questions & support.

Contact us today for more information on our programs, including Board & Train.

Why you shouldn’t take dog training advice from your vet

Why you shouldn’t take dog training advice from your vet

February 15, 2024

Finding an adequate source to gather dog training advice from can be complicated. You know it is important to train and work with your pet; however, you may not know where to go for the best advice.

Should you Let your Dog Sleep on the Bed with you?

Should you Let your Dog Sleep on the Bed with you?

February 7, 2024

Explore the importance of setting boundaries for your dog regarding bed sharing in our latest blog. Learn about the potential behavioral issues and sleep disturbances it can cause, and discover effective training strategies to establish healthy limits for a happier home and pet relationship. Ideal for pet owners seeking balance between affection and discipline.

iTK9: Common Reasons Why Your Dog Is Leash Reactive And How To Adjust

iTK9: Common Reasons Why Your Dog Is Leash Reactive And How To Adjust

January 24, 2024

Walking your dog should be a positive experience that fosters a deeper connection and shared joy. However, the reality for many dog owners is a walk that often involves the challenge of leash reactivity.