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Animals 2012, 2(3), 331-346; doi:10.3390/ani2030331

Preliminary Investigation of Food Guarding Behavior in Shelter Dogs in the United States

2,*  and 3
Received: 17 April 2012 / Revised: 23 July 2012 / Accepted: 24 July 2012 / Published: 3 August 2012
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Simple Summary: Even though food guarding is an adaptive trait for dogs, they are often euthanized when they exhibit this behavior while at an animal shelter. This research demonstrates some dogs that guard their food can be adopted and guarding is seldom seen in the home. Based on post-adoption follow-up of the dogs selected for the program, guarding behavior was rarely reported during the first three weeks, and by three months, adopters reported no food bowl guarding behavior. The adopters reported being highly bonded with these dogs and return rates were lower than general shelter dog population. Placing food guarding dogs into homes and providing follow-up support for adopters can provide a life-saving safety net for many shelters.


A survey given to animal shelters across the US reported food bowl guarding as one of the most common reasons for euthanasia and only 34% attempted to modify this guarding behavior. This study identified 96 dogs that guarded their food bowl during an assessment, and then placed them into a home on a modification program. Food guarding behavior was identified as stiffening, gulping, growling, freezing, and/or biting a fake hand during the SAFER® food bowl assessment. Dogs that exhibited guarding behavior over toys were excluded. Follow-up was done at 3 days, 3 weeks, and 3 months post adoption to measure all guarding behavior in the home. Six adopters reported at least one incident involving guarding in the first three weeks, of which only one was around the food bowl. By three months, those adopters reported no guarding behavior except one new occurrence of a dog guarding a rawhide was reported in the third month. For dog identified with food guarding, the return rate to the shelter was 5% and 9% for adult dogs not identified with guarding behavior. Adopters did not comply with at least one aspect of the program, so it is unclear why so little guarding was reported. The key finding is that dogs that guarded their food bowl in the shelter were not guarding their food in their new homes.
Keywords: food; resource; possession; aggression; shelter; guarding; adoption; ASPCA food; resource; possession; aggression; shelter; guarding; adoption; ASPCA
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Mohan-Gibbons, H.; Weiss, E.; Slater, M. Preliminary Investigation of Food Guarding Behavior in Shelter Dogs in the United States. Animals 2012, 2, 331-346.

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