It is very natural for a dog to guard its valued resources, in fact, we as humans are also resource guarders. We lock our doors, some people keep a weapon in case of an emergency, and if someone does try to steal our things, we are likely to try to protect them if possible. Dogs are the same way. They guard their valued resources because they are important to them. We as owners also tend to compound this issue by taking away those objects without offering something in return.
Many people think that if you take the object away and give it back enough, the dog will learn that it will come back eventually. This often actually makes the problem worse. Consider someone taking your valued possession, giving it back the next day, and then taking it again over and over. It’s inconvenient and irritating and would likely provoke a response from a human as well.
Trades: It is always a good idea to teach your dog or puppy that you will trade their valued resource for another, even if they don’t already guard resources. I typically will use a piece of hot dog or cheese as the trade (so the dog can eat it quickly) for a high value bone. Your dog will not be likely to give up a bone for kibble, and if they do, they will likely regret it and not do it next time. If someone offered you $10,000 for your car, you might give it to them… if of course your car was worth around that amount, but if they offered you $500 (the equivalent of kibble), you probably wouldn’t give it up.
If you already have a resource guarder, there are a few things you can do. If your dog is a mild resource guarder that may freeze (seems to stop breathing momentarily) or growl, but not bear teeth, snap or bite, I would suggest that you simply try to associate your presence with a good thing. Ex. When Fluffy is chewing his favorite bone, instead of trying to take it away, simply walk by and throw him a few pieces of hot dog. Repeat over and over again (across multiple days) until your dog comes to expect hot dogs when you approach. To remove your dog from a resource, try pouring food in his bowl, or asking if he wants to go for a walk or outside to see if you can get him away from the resource. Once you have him away from the resource either put him outside or in another room while you go to pick it up (he should be out of sight). This is what we call management. Dogs will often get wise on this trick, so try to make it fun when your dog leaves the resource (give a special treat or play with your pup). Over time, you will begin doing trades with this dog, once he is comfortable with your presence. If your dog is bearing teeth, snapping or biting it is a good idea to consult a behaviorist or trainer to help you along with the process. It’s important to understand that even the most friendly dogs may bite in the wrong scenario, so don’t try to push it. No matter how small your dog, resource guarding is not cute. Even small dogs can do serious damage, especially to a child.
If your dog is guarding from other animals check out this article from Whole Dog Journal.