5 Common Mistakes in Households with Multi-Pet Guarding

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If you’ve read our blogs this month, you already know how I’m likely to start this one. Guarding is normal, but it can also be maladaptive, or just disruptive. Living in a multi-pet household, you are already juggling the needs of multiple creatures. No one needs the additional stress of conflict over resources. 

If you’ve experienced multi-pet guarding, you may have turned to the good ol’ google machine to do a quick search on what to do. There is a ton of information out there, some of which can make your situation worse. Let’s talk about 5 common mistakes when it comes to multi-pet resource guarding, and what to do instead.


Mistake #1 – Punishing the growl 

We’ve written more than once about how we love a dog that growls. A growl is a warning. I’ll take a warning over a bite any day. Now, I don’t like that my dog feels the NEED to growl, but that’s a different topic for a different day. This is about keeping the growl. Keeping that very, very polite warning that I am crossing a line. 

I understand that a growl can be scary, and that sometimes our reactions are out of fear as well. I understand that hearing a growl will put us on the defensive. But, trying to suppress or stop the behavior of a growl won’t change the dog’s feeling that they NEED to growl. It will remove a very clear warning from their communication system. You may have a dog that goes from: 

Growling —> lip curling —> air snapping, and/or biting 


Lip curl —> air snapping, and/or biting 

I have off days. I have days where I’m distracted. I may not catch every lip curl, but I likely will catch every growl. 


What you should do instead: 

Listen to the growl. The growl needs to work for your pup. If your dog growls, give them space. Back up. Leave them be. I know this may feel counterintuitive, but remember, in the moment, we are working to diffuse the conflict, not add to it. If it’s toward another member of the household, help that member back up. Remember, we want the growl to stay intact. If you’d like a more in-depth example, check out this blog on pets who growl when you move them


Mistake #2 – Taking Stuff Away 

It’s common internet advice to take from one and give to the other to “show them” they “don’t own things”. There are a couple of problems with this idea. One, taking stuff away just because you “can”, frequently exacerbates resource guarding. Two, if you really safely can’t, you are putting yourself in harm’s way, and bringing more conflict into your relationship with your pup. Three, if you have inter-household resource guarding, taking items will increase conflict AND then put the pups in proximity to be uncomfortable over said resource. 

Imagine you’re browsing on your phone and someone is lurking over your shoulder. You may turn the screen away or put your body between you and the person. Then, someone comes over, snatches the phone out of your hand and gives it to the lurker because “you can’t share nicely”. I don’t know about you, but I’d be furious. 


What should you do instead: 

Give each pet a place where they can enjoy the item in peace. Provide full separation, and if possible, maybe even remove all visual access. Let them have their thing until they leave the item on their own. Being able to eat, play, rest, and meet other needs in peace is really important. 


Mistake #3 – Letting them “work it out”

So, here’s the thing, dogs who have the skills to “work it out”, don’t need to “work it out”. This phrase usually pops up when there are already high levels of conflict within a relationship, such as fighting. If we think of our relationships as a bank account, all it can take is one bad incident to completely bankrupt the account. Rebuilding that account from broke is a whole lot harder.


What you should do instead: 

Get really, really good at reading body language so that you can intervene and address things early. Noticing the smallest change in your dog’s body language can help you catch situations where they may be feeling discomfort much earlier than if you wait for the growl. Help your pets out and get them both separated from each other. Provide them the opportunity to do things in peace. Put a management system in place to keep situations of conflict low and prevent situations where you might use the phrase “let them work it out”. 


Mistake # 4 – Chalking it up to a one time fluke 

It can be easy to say, “oh, that’s just a one off”. The problem is, we may not notice the pattern until it’s been happening for days, weeks, or months. Remember our bank account? Freezing the account after one withdrawal instead of 5, 10 or 15 can be really helpful. 


What to do instead: 

Again, study up on your dog’s body language. Being able to notice changes and patterns quickly will make a huge difference in your journey. When my dog’s stomach is upset (loose stools), we have bigger feelings about kibble than on a regular day. I’ll see faster eating, more whale eye, and more vigilance than days when her fecals are normal. I can adjust our household routine to make sure she’s getting the peace she needs when she isn’t feeling 100%.


Mistake # 5 – Trying to DIY

I’m all for DIYing on a ton of training. There are incredible trainers and behavior consultants out there providing wonderful free resources for people. I frequently look up instructional videos for training a myriad of things. Finding a fun behavior on YouTube and giving it a go with your pup can be a great way to have fun, get some mental enrichment in, and bolster your relationship. The time to DIY is not when anyone’s safety and quality of life is on the line. 


What to do instead: 

If you already have conflict in your home and safety and quality of life are concerned, it’s time to find a qualified professional. Find help early, so that your behavior professional can help you avoid common mistakes from the start. Think back to that bank account. Minimize withdrawals as soon as possible. With the guidance of a qualified behavior professional, you can start safely and productively making deposits again. 


Now What?

  • Look at your current set up and see where you can make any of the changes I suggested above. Start with one change, and go from there!
  • If any of this resonated with you, come join our Free Resource Guarding Workshop happening 4/5/2021-4/9/2021. We will be talking more about Resource Guarding and all things related. 
  • If you are living with a pet that resource guards and you’ve identified you’d like professional guidance, I highly recommend our upcoming Resource Guarding Immersive Digital Course. You can learn more here

Happy training!