K-9 Expert Reveals the Warning Signs a Dog Is 'Resource Guarding' Your Baby

A K-9 behavioral training expert is educating parents to spot the signs of "resource guarding" in their dogs—a behavior that could be putting a baby's life in danger.

Resource guarding is when a dog uses aggressive, anxious or avoidant behaviors to "guard" an item they value. This can include rushing towards an object to prevent others from touching it, as well as running away with, hiding or blocking the item. They can also display aggressive behaviors, such as growling, flashing their teeth or biting.

Signs dog is resource guarding your baby
Stock photo of a dog with a sleeping baby resting on its back. It may look like protection, but it can be dangerous if your dog starts to "resource guard" your baby. steever/iStock/Getty Images Plus

However, some people mistake these actions for protective ones, believing that their pet wants to keep their baby safe rather than harm it. In a series of videos shared to TikTok, accredited trainer Jacqui Zakar (@dogsense) explains why this behavior is risky, and how you can stop it before someone gets hurt.

In a video posted on Friday, Zakar shared a clip uploaded by another user where their dog is resource-guarding a baby. The creator of the original clip has captioned the scene, "When the dog thinks he's the dad now," despite the dog growling angrily and preparing to lunge as the parent approaches the baby.

@dogsense

#stitch with @matthew12mat7679 please please please can we er on the side of caution FOR THE BABY!!!

♬ original sound - Jacqui Zakar

"We think the dog is being protective. This dog is aggressively warning his own owner to stay away from their own child," said Zakar.

"What reason does a dog have to guard a baby from its own parent? This is a behavioral issue, it's not protection. It's nothing to do with the baby's safety.

"Please can we wake up."

In a second clip, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier is seen defensively resting its head on a baby's stomach, while his owner tries to move the dog away. In this video, Zakar has highlighted the signs that the pet is resource guarding, such as "stress [panting]," "tongue flicking" and "posturing/claiming."

Zakar told Newsweek that people tend to rationalize this behavior as a form of confirmation bias.

"We want to believe our dogs love us as much as we love them so we look for evidence to confirm that," she explained. "To acknowledge a dog may be displaying a dangerous behavioral issue rather than a loving [or] protecting one can be incredibly challenging. Many people feel personally attacked and blamed for the behavior, but behavior like this is complicated and rarely a result of one factor."

It's a myth that dogs automatically "bond" with new babies brought into the family, with their emotional state a key factor in how well a dog will take to the infant.

"If a dog already has any behavioral issues, it's far more likely they could default to those emotional systems when big changes occur and they feel stress, and unfortunately many owners may not realize their dog is dealing with these issues in the first place," Zakar said. "It's important dogs are taught how to behave around babies rather than being left to figure it out themselves."

TikTok users were grateful to Jacqui Zakar for calling attention to the issue.

JD commented: "Thank you for posting this because so many people think its sweet but it is not."

User Trisha, Barry, and Chorizo wrote: "OMG I thought that was a doll for training purposes initially. I nearly puked from anxiety when the baby started moving!"

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs annually in the United States. Over 800,000 of these people require medical attention for their injuries, with children the most common victims. People under the age of 16 made up almost half of dog-bite deaths between 2000 and 2018, with a 300 percent increase in child dog bite incidents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, a 16-month-old girl was killed in a dog attack in Akron, Ohio. The dog had been described as "agitated" before launching the attack on the infant. In March, a 7-month-old baby was mauled to death by a Bulldog-Great Pyrenees mix while visiting her grandparents in Martinez, Georgia, according to police. In April, police said a mother had stabbed a Pitbull to death as it attacked her year-old daughter in Pico Rivera, L.A. The infant was left with a fractured hip and bites to her left leg, shoulder and ear.

In the comments, Jacqui Zakar expressed concern that many people dismiss the seriousness of resource guarding or justify the dog's behavior, writing: "It's very concerning seeing these videos, not just because of how dangerous this is but because of the comments that usually go with them..."

In another video, Zakar explained how to react in a resource-guarding situation, for both the dog's and the baby's sake.

She explained: "Don't try and pick that baby up. The dog is literally communicating that they want to hold on to the baby.

"Trying to take the baby away could actually make it worse and escalate the dog."

Zakar also cautioned against punishing the dog, as it could also backfire. Instead, she recommended "getting the dog to voluntarily move away."

She added: "I don't want to go into the details of how that could look, as it really depends on the dog, it depends on what they find valuable, it depends on the whole situation."

However, she suggested having a plan in place to prevent this behavior, so the dog doesn't try to resource-guard the baby to begin with. This includes access to food, toys and furniture and using clear communication to set boundaries.

"Using food [or] treats to teach helpful behaviors in ways a dog enjoys is far better than just punishing what we don't like," explained Zakar.

"Punishing 'warning behaviors' like growling can also backfire as owners could inadvertently teach dogs not to 'warn' and go straight to a bite, as it doesn't change the way the dog 'feels' about the situation, nor will they feel heard.

"But it's also important we're not too permissive with our dogs and it's ok to teach them NO, as long as they understand how to earn YES."

Update 13/06/22, 4:03 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include quotes and further advice from Jacqui Zakar and to correct the breed of dog featured in the second video.