Many dogs and cats have favorite resting spots, playthings, or other possessions, and they can become attached to them and understandably upset when they are taken away. However, they should always willingly give them up to the people in their lives when asked. Problems arise when a pet begins to act aggressively around their possessions. Resource guarding is another name give to this behavior.
If a pet growls, hisses, or attempts to bite or scratch when a person tries to remove an object that is under the animal's control, it is displaying possessive aggression. If it is difficult to determine the cause of an animal's aggression or initial attempts at treatment are unsuccessful, consulting with a professional animal behaviorist may be necessary.
Sometimes avoiding a situation where a pet tends to be aggressive is the easiest and safest way to deal with the problem. For example, if a pet resents people approaching while it is eating, feed it in a separate room, behind closed doors, and pick up the bowl in between meals. A great way to prevent or treat possessive aggression under other circumstances is to offer something in trade that will be next to impossible for the animal to resist. For instance, a puppy that is guarding a shoe that it has taken out of the closet will usually be happy to relinquish it in return for a squeaking toy or a treat. In this way, animals are taught that the removal of one of their possessions is actually a good thing. Never physically punish an animal or forcibly remove an object that it is guarding. Not only can this be dangerous but it also tends to make possessive aggression worse rather than better.
Written by: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Last reviewed: October 2, 2008