Canis ISSN: 2398-2942

Aggression: possessive

Synonym(s): Resource guarding

Contributor(s): Karen Overall, Elizabeth Hardy


  • Resource guarding is when another being is deemed a threat to a resource. Dogs display guarding behaviors in order to maintain possession, or access to, a resource.
  • The resources are very valuable to the individual, the behavior is motivated by a fear of loss. The dog can often feel strongly that the resource is important for their wellbeing and/or safety. This can be especially the cause if dog experiences contextual or generalized anxiety.
  • Resource guarding behaviors are most commonly displayed towards household members, for the simple reason that there is a higher frequency of exposure to interactions around resources.
    Print off the owner factsheet Behavioural problems: resource guarding to give to your client.



  • Anxiety is the anticipation of exposure to a fear eliciting stimulus. Behavior associated with fear, or anxiety, includes exaggerated watchfulness and ‘‘scanning’’ of the environment, panting, trembling, pupillary dilation, efforts to hide or escape, piloerection, and lip-licking. High levels of anxiety can lead to objects, locations and people being associated with safety and security and so more valuable.
  • Owners often use aversive techniques (punishment), even in conjunction with positive reward based methods are more likely to have dogs that display behavior problems. Exposure to owners or an environment that are inconsistent and unpredictable from the dog’s perspective, are increasingly more likely to have anxious dogs.
  • Resources have a higher perceived value if they are rarely accessible to the dog or have been rarely accessible in the past.
  • Other coping strategies have not been successful in removing the threat, ie avoidance or more subtle body language.
  • Aggression is successful at retaining the possession and dog develops experience and skill during its use.


  • Resources, eg toys, safe comfortable places, chew items, safe relaxed mealtimes were scarce or not present during puppyhood.
  • Dogs can learn to 'steal' items as an attention seeking device or through natural puppy like curiosity. Many owners respond to this by using  'punishment', teaching a dog to anticipate confrontation and loss when in possession of something important to them.
  • The dog may have been exposed to teasing type games in the past.
  • Owners not aware that pack theory was no longer accepted.


  • Signs can present at any age


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from VetMedResource and PubMed.
  • Casey R A, Loftus B L, Bolster C, Richards G J, Blackwell E J (2014) Inter-dog aggression in a UK owner survey: prevalence, co-occurrence in different contexts and risk factors. Appl Anim Behav Sci 152, 52-63 PubMed.
  • Herron M E, Shofer F S & Reisner I R (2008) Survey of the use an outcome of confrontational and non- confrontational training methods in client- owned dogs showing undesired behaviours. Appl Anim Behav Sci 117, 47-54.
  • Reisner I R (2003) Differential diagnosis and management of human-directed aggression in dogs. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 33, 303–320 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Horwitz D F & Neilson J C (2007) Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult Clinic Companion: Canine & Feline Behaviour. IOWA: Blackwell Publishing.
  • Bowen J & Heath S (2005) Behaviour problems in small animals: Practical advice for the veterinary team. London: Elsevier Saunders.
  • De Keutser T & Jung H (2002) Aggression toward familiar people and animals. In: D. Horwitz, & D. Mills BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline Behavioural Medicine. Gloucester: British Small Animal Veterinary Association. pp 182-210.