The first thing to remember about dog-dog resource guarding is that it is a very natural behavior. I would venture a guess (and that is purely what it is) that most predators have some level of resource guarding. If they were ultra philanthropic or gave away their own resources willingly, they probably wouldn’t survive. Ironically enough, as I was writing this, I was watching a show about painted dogs and the narrator had this gem of a comment, “…even for a stuffed lion, sharing isn’t easy.” The resource guarding may be between group members or against outsiders or more than likely a bit of both. When we put resource guarding into that context, it’s actually an incredibly important survival skill.
Although it’s natural and an important skill, that doesn’t mean we want a Cujo running around the house claiming things and guarding them. We shouldn’t tolerate inappropriate guarding–dogs who will “guard all the things”, will claim and guard items they were not in possession of, will claim in item in possession of someone else, and who have crazy big space bubbles when they have an object. We also should not tolerate dogs who are over the top with their guarding–these dogs might seriously bite, attack, snarl, or snap at people/dogs who are they feel are a threat (even if it’s simply a person 15 ft away minding his/her own business).
In my house, for MY dogs, I allow a certain level of guarding. I have zero problem with Shayne lifting her lip if Rio is trying to steal her food/toy. I don’t mind Rio having a big tooth display if a cat walks up to his food bowl or roast. I don’t mind because I’m comfortable that neither will escalate and when push comes to shove Shayne will let Rio take the item and Rio will just walk away with his food item. None of the dogs guard random objects, they don’t bully other dogs away from an object the other dog has (Rio MAY just walk up and steal it but he won’t threaten to get it), and they never take things over the top. I will interrupt and redirect, step in and find another option for the seeking dog, or will help them negotiate but they quickly peacefully resolve things 99% of the time without any interference from me.
If I had to interfere often, or things got heated quickly, or there were more aggressive displays (snapping, growling. biting), or there was an unpredictable nature to the guarding, then I would absolutely be putting time and effort into resolving the resource guarding. It’s not a difficult thing to resolve but it takes time, consistency, and management to create a more harmonious environment.
The shocking truth (to many people) is that most of the time the dogs who are resource guarders are actually quite insecure. Confident dogs don’t worry about sharing (when resources are plentiful) because they know they will be able to get the resource again. The work in rehabilitating a resource guarder is teaching them that they have no need guard their resources. We may pair good things with another dog getting a resource, we may pay out big time every time the dog decides to walk away instead of steal, they may get bonus bits when another dog walks near by while they have a resource, but in short order they stop feeling threatened by the triggers and instead anticipate them because they mean good things will happen.
The other piece of resolving dog-dog resource guarding, besides pairing the trigger with good things, is to have a strict management plan in place. You do not want the dog to rehearse the unwanted behavior because behavior practiced is a behavior that is getting stronger. You may decide to feed separately, to pick up all the toys (and only put them out at given times), to give chews in different places, utilize mat-work to keep dogs stationary with resources, etc. Management is often understated and under utilized–prevention is so important!