Resource Guarding or Space Invasion? Reasons for Aggressive Outburts in Dogs

Resource Guarding or Space Invasion? Reasons for Aggressive Outburts in Dogs

Labels like Resource Guarding can blind us to other possible explanations to aggressive outbursts by our companion dog.

The common understanding of resource guarding is that your dog may show the following behaviors: tense, stiff, give you a non-wavering gaze, lip retraction to show teeth, growling, snapping, and/or biting when a person or other animal approaches. This behavior usually occurs only when a person or other animal approaches your dog while: meal preparation, eating, sleeping, has a toy, by a “favorite” place or there might be a “new” item brought into the house, food/treats/vomit, anything related to meals – empty food bowl, room where dog is fed, etc.

However, there might be another explanation for the aggressive outburst.

First, rule out any possible medical condition your pet might have. Being ill, injured, lame or having a chronic symptom(s) can lower tolerance levels and increase aggressive behaviors for a self-preservation. Also acute onset of being sick can lead to aggressive responses. Second, is the outburst predictive or not. Can you pin-point exactly when your dog will have an aggressive outburst?  Third, are you aware of any possible trigger stacking that will further reduce your dog’s tolerance?

Two common triggers in resource guarding are the invasion of personal space by other and the assumed ‘valuable’ in proximity.

This is where you can start seeing if there is another possible explanation to your dog’s aggressive explosions.

What if the behavior occurs without a clear value in proximity to your dog? 

What if your approach or the approach of another animal causes an excessive aggressive response?

What is going on?

Your dog comes pre-wired with intrinsic behavior responses like avoidance, flight, threat responses, acquisition and approach. All of which deal with self-preservation. It could be that your dog is hyper-sensitive to their personal space.

I attended a seminar by Obi Fox back in 2011 on The Canine Subconscious-Understanding a Dog’s Personal Space which help shed some light into what my own dog was doing. All animals including humans have a comfortable bubble of personal space and when another invades we can feel uncomfortable. On a deeper level, it involves motor neurons. Neurons respond to a stimulus causing muscles movement to either avoid or approach said stimulus. There are specialized neurons that respond to only specific stimuli like visual stimulation, tactile stimulation and some to internal changes, etc. Animals have proprioceptors that help with sense of self with their environment.

A lot of neurons are linked to visual and tactile because that’s how most animals perceive the world. When an individual is presented with both forms of stimulation, the brain perceives them as being “one” and the neurons prepare to either avoid or approach.  Say an individual is touched or that individual perceives something moving “within” the bubble range, the specific body areas get hyper sensitive to that particular personal space bubble. By moving into an animal’s bubble, their brain can be responding as if they are being touched. Ever move or have watched livestock being moved? Those neurons will continue to fire until that particular stimulation is no longer present or when the motor sequence is completed.  This field of study leads to understanding the “phantom limb” syndrome. ­­­­

Personal space bubbles can change based on the overall health condition of the animal that day, the intensity of the stimulation, the frequency of the stimulation, interior house layout.  So personal space can ebb and flow depending on external and internal factors. Some individuals may be more hard-wired and sensitive to being “space invaded”.

The more we read body language and understand the individual’s sensitivity we can learn to open new alternative solutions to interacting with them to enhance bonds and companionship.

Words of interest:
Gamma moto neuron
Somatosensory system

Daphne Robert-Hamilton, CPDT-KA

Daphne Robert-Hamilton is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer- Knowledge Assessed by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. She was a Certified Equestrian Coach by the Canadian Equestrian Federation before moving into the dog training world. She competed extensively with her two Doberman Pinschers from 1997-2002 and achieved being a finalist in the Top 20 Obedience in 2000 and 2002 with the Doberman Pinscher Club of America. In 2002 Daphne graduated from the SFSPCA Academy for Dog Trainers, which is now defunked. She went on to intern at the SFSPCA Academy and graduated with honors in dog aggression. Daphne became the go-to trainer in the SF Bay Area for aggression cases. Daphne has done webinars, been interviewed in several dog magazines and has written a two part article on “sibling rivalry” for The Chronicle of The Dog. Daphne was the Head Trainer for Washington state for Pets for Vets for about two years. She has fostered many dogs helping them find loving forever homes. Daphne is a member of The Pet Professional Guild.

Daphne has been married for 24yrs and currently lives with her two Rhodesian Ridgebacks in Washington State.

Website is under construction – k9partnership

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