Resource Guarding Between Pets–Triage and Treatment

Resource Guarding Between Pets–Triage and Treatment

For those of you unfamiliar with Shayne’s history, she came to me with a food protocol from the humane society because of food aggression.  She would stiffen, growl, hover over the bowl, and snap if a person tried to get near her or the bowl.  She meant business and it was severe enough that the shelter, according to the adoption counselor, was considering euthanizing her between that and her timid nature.

Even though she was pretty resource guardy with people, she really wasn’t bad with other animals.  She would eat quickly but she could eat her meals off the floor with other dogs and could easily eat in the same space with no issues.  When she was about 6 and Rio was two, I saw her lift her lip and growl at Rio who was trying to steal her bully stick.  This is the first time I saw her guard anything from another animal, and I would argue it was perfectly acceptable.   About 8 months ago I caught the second (and so far last) moment of resource guarding towards Rio when they were eating kongs near one another on video and shared that on youtube.

Other than these instances there haven’t been any notable issues of resource guarding between the dogs.  About a month ago there was a surprising altercation between Shayne and Panther.  Now, Shayne has lived with the cats her whole life with me and has been a model citizen.  She doesn’t chase the cats, she snuggles with the cats,  and she leaves the cats alone if they are eating on the floor.  For all of her 7.5 years living with me, she has never so much scared the cats (occasionally she and Jeffy may wrestle around but Jeffy tends to initiate the play).

I was not in the immediate vicinity when Shayne and Panther got into issues but once the dust settled, I found a bag of cheese (that I had cut up for class) on the floor with kitty-sized chew marks on it.  My best guess is that Panther stole the cheese out of my bag, knocked it on the floor where she was eating it until Shayne came over and snarked at her (it may have been a bite, it may have been an open mouth whip, it may have been an open-mouth pin, who knows).

Panther ended up at the vet’s office with a fracture on her skull, basically her cheek bone–the vet doesn’t think there was much force behind the “bite” because there was very little bruising and no puncture wounds.  They seem to think that Panther’s age and size just made her more fragile.  I am incredibly thankful that after a few days of using pain killers Panther was pretty much back to normal and she is now, almost a month later, well on her way to being completely healed.

After this absolutely terrifying incident, I knew something had to be done.  The immediate aftermath involved a strict management plan, Shayne was relegated to staying on her bed if Panther was in the room (trying to keep Panther from snuggling with Shayne was the challenge–Panther clearly doesn’t hold grudges), Shayne wasn’t allowed near the kitchen if we were working in it, and Panther was kept crated if no one was home or no one was able to closely keep an eye on her (eventually, when she was allowed out at night, my door was closed so she couldn’t get in my room with Shayne).  Panther was crated more than I would have needed just for Shayne, but Jefferson and Monty were picking on her more so even if Shayne was out of the house, she had to be crated for her safety.

It was at least 2 weeks of this ‘lockdown’ system before Panther got more freedom as her injury healed and Shayne got a little bit more freedom as well.  Since the incident was so isolated, things are mostly back to normal but because the kitchen and high value food was quite the trigger, Shayne is still being sent to her bed while I work in the kitchen and there are extra precautions with food around.  I don’t want to put Shayne in a situation where she may rehearse the unwanted behavior.

With the mild and modified management plan in place it was time to start addressing the issue on a behavior modification level.  Since the issue was not wide spread or out of control, I was able to start pretty far along by having Shayne and Panther near one another taking treats (keeping Rio and Bandit away worked for a while.

Our counter conditioning and behavior mod plan has been a daily process for the last 10 days or so.  We do a few different activities in a given session but I have laid out the basic plan of things I want to work on with them:

Chicken please?  During one of our training activities we pause for a moment for a photo.

Chicken please? During one of our training activities we pause for a moment for a photo.

Counter Conditioning–Panther gets a treat and then Shayne gets a treat.  Panther getting something yummy predicts that Shayne will too.

Counter Conditioning Panther eating treats off the floor—Panther eats a treat off the floor near Shayne and then Shayne gets a treat.

Counter Conditioning Panther walking between Shayne and the feeder of treats–Panther walks walks in front of Shayne to get a treat and then Shayne gets a treat

Rewarding for her yielding access to the treat–Put a treat on the floor  for Panther, when Shayne turns away or pauses her approach to the treat, she’s clicked and treated for making a good choice.

Relaxation around feeding times–I’m working on rewarding Shayne for sighs, flipping on her hip, putting her head down, relaxing her ears and other calming behaviors while doing the feeding activities.


I am not sure there is an “end behavior” but we will continue to do these exercises and follow our management plan to hopefully prevent any further issues with Shayne and Panther.  Immediate action needed to be taken to ensure everyone’s safety and to prevent the behavior from being practiced but now that we have gotten beyond the initial response, we need to continue to do work to hopefully change Shayne’s feeling that she needs to guard.


**Typically, with “out of the blue” big behavior changes, I suggest a vet visit but since Shayne just had a full work up done when she was at the e-vet, I didn’t feel it was warranted.


  1. I have a similar issue here – a dog who guards food (and toys to an extent) and a cat who she often views as the competition. She also gets possessive of ME when the cat and other dogs are around.

    We’ve made a lot of progress with her ability to relax around her food bowl. I can handle her food, take it away (and return it of course) etc. But she’s still on guard around Jasmine, my 15-year-old baby who’s been with me since I found her in Montreal as a kitten.

    I’ve started working on some of these suggestions – basically showing the dog that good things happen when the cat’s around. The concern with a food possessive dog is that adding food will make them worse. For us, the key is to keep the treats off the floor and out of sight I think.

    I’m also starting to use “stay” or “go to your bed” more to keep her from stalking the cat obsessively. Her commands are pretty strong so that’s working and she gets good treats for doing well. I taught her these commands so that I could use them for situations like this yet I realized recently that I was shying away from using them – maybe out of fear that she’d fail? Anyway I’m starting to use them more because that’s what they’re for! And she’s ready for it.

    When she’s being particularly possessive I’ll either leave (assuming it’s me that she’s guarding) or put her in another room for a timeout (and a reminder that guarding me doesn’t get her what she wants – ie access to me). Although I don’t like to do this all the time it does seem to shift the dynamic quite immediately.

    • Sounds like you are handling the situation well! I’m glad you’ve found some management and training techniques to make things work for you. I’m really thankful the only guarding we have is about food and not space or people, that is always quite the challenge! Nice work!

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