Preventative Resource Guarding

May 1, 2022

Training puppy to not guard toys

Does your puppy play the keep away game when they have something they shouldn’t have? Does your puppy sometimes have a tight grip on their toys and bones, or do they gobble down their food in the presence of you or other pets in the home? With an excitable puppy, these behaviors can be relatively common, however in some cases, these behaviors could be a sign of a more serious behavior called resource guarding.

Resource Guarding is a behavior motivated by an item of value such as toys, bones, food, beds and spaces, and in rare cases, even people.

Oftentimes, the behavior(s) seen when you or a pet in the home approach your puppy may include a growl, lip snarl, hunching over the item, stiffened body, hiding the items, and/or side eyes. In more severe cases, a lunge, snap, or bite will occur upon approach or if you try to take the item.

Resource guarding can be either, genetically or environmentally developed, or in some cases both. Our biggest advice to new puppy owners is that it is best to work on prevention of these undesired behaviors from the very moment you bring your puppy home. We recommend working on the following preventative guarding exercises, no matter if you see early signs of onset or not, to help prevent these behaviors as best as possible from escalating as your puppy matures into adulthood. In most cases, very early signs of onset can be seen as young as 3-4 months old. At that age the signs will typically be mild, and sometimes, almost unrecognizable to you as the pet owner at first due to the mild nature. The behavior of resource guarding will typically escalate from there, and then peak at the age of 1.5 years to 3 years old. When we are talking about preventative measures, from a young age the goal is to teach your puppy that good things happen when they have an item of value and we approach. These exercises are simple and can be done anytime. We recommend practicing once a day when you first bring your puppy home, and practice outside of meal time.

Preventative Guarding Exercises


  1. Place an item in front of your puppy (toy, bone, food bowl, etc.)
  2. Approach your puppy and as soon as you walk up to them you will say “good” and hand them a treat, regardless if they drop the item immediately or not.
  3. Immediately walk away and leave the toy there. This is 1 rep. Practice 10 reps in a row.


  • Continue starting the exercise by doing approaches as detailed above, however, this time, you are also going to pick up the item.
  • Approach your puppy, bridge “good” and feed. Then immediately but gently pick up the item, bridge “good” and feed. Then immediately place the item back down and walk away. This is 1 rep. Practice 10 reps in a row.
  • If you are ready, you can take the item away from the puppy, just remember to give a treat in exchange first.

If you approach your puppy with an item, and they immediately drop it, deliver BIG praise and an immediate treat.

If your puppy does not look up at you as you approach or is struggling to drop the item, show them the treat in your hand or wave it by their nose. If they let go, praise them, take the item and deliver a treat. If they are still struggling, consider moving to a higher value/tastier treat or decreasing the value of the item they have and then work back up to it.

By practicing these exercises, you are developing a history with your puppy that good things happen (treat!) when you approach them or take their item. Remember to keep these exercises light and fun! Include lots of praise while practicing.

As you begin to practice these exercises, if you notice any behaviors of concern such as growling, snapping, lunging or biting, for safety reasons please immediately stop these exercises and we recommend you contact your local behavior consultant. Further treatment of resource guarding and management strategies can be provided to you and we are here to help. Contact us here!