A resource guarding dog strongly believes that he controls all the resources (ie what is mine is mine) and it is his job to allocate the resources according to his desire (ie no, this is not yours > bite ).
But what a lot of people don’t understand is how this mindset is cultivated, validated, and reinforced in the dog’s life — to the point where guarding has become the most logical and natural decision for the dog.
In order to understand this, we need to look at the dog as a member of an animal community with their own set of rules and logics.
In an animal community (eg a pack of dogs living in the wild), there is a leader whose job is to ensure the survival of the pack. In order to do that, this leader needs to allocate the limited resource within the pack practically so the pack can survive.
When a dog is guarding resource, he believes he is the allocator and has no idea that there is someone else who is supposed to allocate resources in this community.
There are many resources which are crucial to the survival of the pack.
For example, time.
Time is a very important resource. It tells the pack when to do what. Is it time to play loudly, or is it time to just keep moving quietly? Is it time to hunt, or is it time to hide? Is it time to sleep, or is it time to move?
The leader is supposed to tell the members “what time it is” — he is there to allocate the proper behavior that is appropriate for that particular occasion — and the members are supposed to follow the allocation.
When a dog is living in a human family, if this dog already believes he is the allocator of resources in the family, always allowing the dog to choose “what time is it” throughout the day (ie, let the dog chase squirrel whenever he wants, barks at the fence whenever he wants…) will further validate (because it tells the dog he is indeed in charge of his resources), reinforce (because a lot of these behaviours are highly self rewarding) and greatly worsen the resource guarding problem (because this choice is being validated and reinforced repeatedly).
Another important resource is movement.
The leader is supposed to tell the pack which way to go, and the pack should all follow.
A pack will freeze to death if they do not follow the leader to find refuge before nightfall. They cannot survive if each member chooses to move in whichever direction they feel like. If a pack is supposed to migrate in a single line formation in the midst of a snow storm so they can find a cave to spend the night, that is what they should all devote their energy in doing or they will all die.
In a human family, if the dog can move in whichever direction he wants all the time (ie free rein of the house, Velcro to the human like a shadow, run away when called, bolt through doors and escape) and the human will always follow the dog (being dragged down the street, chase the dog to come back…), a dog with a guarding tendency will once again believe that he is in control of this important resource of movement and become very “devoted” in allocating this resource (ie, If you move close to my human when l don’t want you to, l will bite you. If you move close to the sofa when l don’t want you to, l will bite you. If you try to go into the bedroom when l don’t want you to, l will bite you).
The dog becomes the movement police. He controls where everyone is allowed to go and how they can or cannot move.
It is not something we can stop with just obedience command training. It is a deeply imprinted false belief that is shaped by how the dog has lived with the human throughout the day.
It is usually found in dogs who spend a lot of time doing whatever he wants and going wherever he likes in the house (e.g. following the human everywhere, charging at the door and barking out the windows whenever someone comes) and running around freely in the yard (e.g. fence barking, chasing critters…). All these unstructured movements have consolidated this false belief that the dog is in charge of movement, and it is very hard - if not impossible - to break this belief as long as the dog is allowed to keep living like that.
A dog will not think of himself as the allocator of only one single resource.
Dogs are very black and white. So, when we allow — and unintentionally encourage— a dog to control some resources in our life, he will think of himself as the allocator of all resources.
We cannot just stop the dog from controlling one resource (e.g. food) but keep allowing this resource guarder to control others (e.g. movement, space). A dog will not understand this concept. You are either the allocator or you are not.
That is why it is very important to reset the life style of a resource guarder if we really want to stop his resource guarding successfully.
If l let him bark at people/dogs/cars at the fence, if l let him chase critters in the yard all day, if l let him pull and drag me to where ever he wants to go, if l let him guard any furniture he feels like … in his mind, he is the allocator of resources in this household. Why can’t he control his food then? According to dog logic, isn’t guarding food supposed to be his job as well?
That is the root problem.
And that’s why no matter how much obedience we teach him, and how much socialization we do, it will not work — not until we can convince him that we are the one in charge of allocating resources in his daily life.
And that is why implementing a proper daily structure is the most important and why it is the corner stone of resource guarding and food aggression rehabilitation.
Hope this makes sense.