Which Dog is Resource Guarding?

Here’s a little body language fun: Who is seriously resource guarding? And what is the other dog doing?

I showed these pictures to two of my skilled observer friends to compare, and they came up with some great observations. Much better than my own, and these are my dogs!

How about you? Care to play? Can you tell which dog is seriously guarding her object? How far do your think she is willing to go? You can write your observations in the comments. It’ll be more fun if you make some specific observations/comparisons to back up your guess.

Here’s my usual disclaimer: photos can be deceptive. They catch only a moment in time. A fleeting expression can look like a terrible warning signal. A captured lip lick can make the dog look terribly nervous when she wasn’t. However, both of these photos are accurate representations of how the dogs looked and were acting.

A brown, black, sable dog is holding a toy bone, staring straight ahead at the person taking the picture with wide eyes and her mouth open showing teeth. Resource guarding.

Summer and her bone

A black, white, and tan rat terrier with big ears is hold a rawhide and looking up at the person holding the camera. Resource guarding.

Cricket and her chewie

Note: resource guarding can be a serious problem. I’m not making light of it. One of these dogs didn’t want to give up her item, but still, she did so without incident.

Addendum 2/28/14: I realize from some readers’ responses that the combination of these two photos and the previous sentence might give the wrong impression. I should have explained. One of these photos is back from when I didn’t know what to do about resource guarding, and the other is from a play session. Stay tuned for more details in the next post.

Related post: Dog/Dog Resource Guarding in Slow Motion

Coming Up:

  • Invisible Cues
  • How Skilled are You at Ignoring? (Extinction Part 2)
  • More Training Errors: Cautionary Tales (I seem to have an abundance of these)

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About eileenanddogs

Passionate amateur dog trainer, writer, and learning theory geek. Eileen Anderson on Google+
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26 Responses to Which Dog is Resource Guarding?

  1. Ok my totally uneducated guess…:-)…I see the top pic as more playful…ears flat, eyes soft, not covering the toy. The second pic I see white’s of the eye and ears pricked and holding the toy so my guess is in the bottom pic the dog is a little more serious about guarding the toy…??

  2. Ingrid Bock says:

    This is scary–I have so few observations that I feel like I can’t be right. I’m going to say that Cricket is guarding, based on foreheads, eyes, ears, whiskers (which I can see only on Summer), and distance from the camera. I’m probably backwards re. ears. I should have stayed in the observation group. I thought I wasn’t interested in these details. But when you do it this way, in the form of a contest, it’s very fun, although it’s hard to stick your neck out when you don’t have the knowledge :). Thanks for doing this, and I hope you do more!

  3. Lynn Shrove says:

    I share Lindsey’s explanation. For the same reasons.

  4. Shannon says:

    My quick, gut feeling was: Summer is protesting, but Cricket — watch out! So some of the body language backup would be that Summer’s eye are soft, her ear positions show “conflict,” her lips are on the soft side, her mouth is open and on the relaxed side without a lip curl (as if she’s “griping” without violent intent), and, while the photo really doesn’t show enough of her body to tell, it doesn’t seem as if her body is tensely frozen. Overall, I feel that Summer was likely give up the object. She was not “serious.”

    Cricket, on the other hand, has the obvious whale eye, the body is quite tense all the way to that curled rear foot and even the muscles on her head, the object seems to be gripped hard, ears are back and tense, and, while a photo “freezes” every dog, her facial muscles especially make her look like she was in a tense freeze when this was taken. Overall, I feel that Cricket was prepared to bite, if necessary. She was seriously resource guarding.

  5. Muriel says:

    Yes I’m with everyone else – I feel that Cricket is the guarder. The 3 comments above mine explain it pretty well – I can’t really add anything else!

  6. aaron says:

    Summer wants to play and Cricket wants to be left alone. Cricket is resource guarding.

  7. Karen says:

    My guess is that bottom dog was guarding. The bone is still being chewed on which tells me that she thinks she owns the bone.
    The first picture, it appears that Summer is willing to give it to you, but her eyes, say please momma don’t take it.

  8. mrsbehaviour says:

    Neither dog is comfortable about giving up her toy and thus I would not take either toy. Never the less, I am less concerned about the top dog. When dogs are sending out signals, the large round eyes, the ears pulled back, and we take steps to not listen to them, we teach them that their concerns are not going to be heard and that can lead to escalation. In the first picture, I am concerned about the large round eyes, the pulled back ears and the tense muzzle. In the second picture, I am concerned about the whale eye, the tight lips and the tension in the face. Keep in mind that when you are talking about dogs, just because you can take away their item…doesn’t mean you should.

    • mrsbehavior, thank you for your cautions. I realize now that I was very remiss in not telling the back stories of these pictures. (I was holding back since it would tip off regular readers which picture was which. Bad decision.) One of the photos is of play, and the other is from years ago when I didn’t know any better. I don’t brush off resource guarding as unimportant just because I have avoided bites when taking items away from guardy dogs, but I know it sounded as if I did. Mea culpa. My followup post will have resources for the prophylactic measures all dog owners should take to prevent RG from ever becoming an issue in the first place, which I have done successfully with all my current dogs. Thanks.

  9. Phoebe Wiliam says:

    I’m with the majority – Summer is *almost* playful – but still wants that bone. Cricket just wants the bone really badly. What lovely dogs, such sweet faces! Love Cricket’s bat ears too.

  10. Deb says:

    Cricket looks as if she’s dead on serious. Her body is tight, whites of eyes, and RED in eyes, holding bone in her mouth ears stiff. Summer has a softer mouth, more open body language, ears a bit back.

  11. I’m with mrsbehavior: ears down and back, hard stare, mouth open. I don’t see playful here at all. Yes, Cricket has a whale eye, but her mouth is on her bone. Summer’s mouth is off the bone and ready to go!

  12. awesomedogs says:

    Find it interesting that as soon as you seed doubt, people are very unsure. Just an observation. Not guessing because I’ve read about your dogs and don’t want to spoil. Sharing.

    • Katie says:

      I believe summer is guarding her bone. She’s making eye contact (challenging whoever wants her bone) and showing her teeth. She looks confident that she will make a move if you do.

  13. kya4ever says:

    I thought summer was the guarder because of her flat ears and wide eyes and because her muzzle looks quite tight. Her body also seems stiff and hunched.
    I thought Cricket looked quite playful – very much like my GSD when she teases my other dog with her bone. I would have expected her ears to be flatter if she was genuinely anxious about her bone.

  14. nickynockynoo says:

    Summer’s mouth looks quite relaxed. No furrowing on brow that I can see. Her tail looks relaxed. Not too sure about her ears, most of the inside is hidden on her left one. Not a good sign, I believe? Now the eyes. Very wide but I have a sneaky suspicion you may be about to trade up with something better, a ball maybe?

    Cricket has a relaxed hold on her bone. Ears perked up as if listening. Her muzzle & brow look slightly wrinkled.

    I suppose if I had to hazzard a guess, it would be Cricket guarding but I bet I’m wrong, LOL

  15. My guesses having not ready other comments….crickets body is engaged with the bone, but the eyes are watching you, giving the whale eye look. I pick cricket as the resource guarder. Summers body and face are engaged with you and her positioning looks likes she’s about to sproing off the bed in the middle of play time leaving the bone behind…not resource guarding. That’s my guesses.

  16. If summer is playing, the photo sure caught her in a moment of “pretend guarding” or “come and get it, I dare you!” The intensity that comes across in the photo must be from effort at playing the game. She looks like she’s about to pounce, thus tensed. I’m sure if it were video I’d see play totally. There is nothing but seriousness in Cricket’s pic.

  17. leoncoombs says:

    I think Crickets ears give us the most information. Everybody else has given brilliant observations. Her ears are what I call aeroplane ears. They are showing for extra ‘cover’ (it’s mine). Both ears are covering because the threat is coming from in front of her. She could use 1 ear to correspond with a threat from either side. As you say Eileen, photos do not give context. Thanks for sharing.

  18. jkronstadt says:

    My dog is a hard-core resource guarder – it’s something we constantly have to work on – so I’m pretty sure Cricket is guarding and Summer is playing. Cricket’s crouch and sideways whale-eyed look are exactly what my dog does when guarding, and Summer’s posture is more like when he’s got the zoomies and is running around with a toy.

  19. Marjorie says:

    I would have said both, but to different degrees/situations. Cricket would be the more serious of the two.

  20. Mary Bell says:

    Well, I don’t know the dogs and I am just going by my immediate impression – not by any particular knowledge, but my guess is that Summer is the resource guarder. Trying to tease out my reasons for what was just an emotional response – 1st, Summer is showing her teeth, and her front legs and paws are completely surrounding the object as if saying “this is all mine” while Cricket is just holding the end of the object closer to her, and second, her expression just looks more playful to me. That being said, I wouldn’t try to take the object from either of them without knowing them better or seeing more than a slice of their behavior. I will probably end up embarrassed by my answer, since in reading others’ responses, I apparently am not taking into account obvious signs involving “soft” or “whale” eyes and ear positions (I found the comment on Summer’s ears perhaps indicating conflict as actually supporting more the idea that she is guarding though, as I don’t think a playful dog would be in conflict). I really have no idea though, and I am really curious!

  21. Jennifer Thomas says:

    Summer is the one I would watch out for. Buggy eyes in what looks like a hard stare. Ears back. Lips pursed forward and whole muzzle tense. She looks dug in to her position. Also, her whole body is in a straight line pointed right at you. Taking your word for it that one of them was playing, I think he playful dog was Cricket. Her ears are neither forward nor back — that is, they are in an alert and engaged position, but not in a “drive forward” position nor in a pulled back position. Her eyes are buggy, but that is their natural state. ; ) She does have some half-moon eye since she is looking at you while she is positioned obliquely to you, but I see that as a way of being engaged but also non-confrontational. Where Summer has the toy pulled right in to her chest, Cricket has put the toy out from her body in what looks to me like a tease (though her mouth is on it). Her body is coiled, but the position of her legs looks to me as though she is ready to spring backward in a game of chase rather than forward to guard the toy. She looks, in fact, as though she is teasing you.

    This is a wonderful exercise. I certainly would not risk my own flesh, or the comfort of either of those dogs to test my hypothesis, since really both pictures could be resource guarding. Please post the answer soon!

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  23. I think it’s too hard tell to from a single picture in this case! Both are showing some signs of guarding and other signs not indicating guarding!

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