How can I stop my border collie resource guarding stolen items?

border collie resource guarding stolen items

Is your border collie resource guarding stolen items: stealing items and running off, then getting defensive when you try and take these items away?  This is known as resource guarding and may occur alongside similar resource guarding related to food, treats or proximity to the dog’s owner, particularly the owner that controls most of the resources: usually the person that feeds or gives the most affection to your collie

You’re not alone with this – border  a relatively common issue with collies from working lines.  It can be difficult to completely “cure” a dog that is resource guarding stolen items, but it can be managed quite well if it’s in the early stages.  Follow the training advice below and contact a behaviourist, preferably one who specialises in collies.

The outcome is much better if your collie is still young and has only just started to guard things.

It’s especially important to get behaviourist help if you have children that are likely to leave toys and other items lying around, and a significant risk if you have children under 5 who may not understand that they need to leave the dog alone when she is guarding.  Small children also may not pick up on the dog’s communication that she does not want anyone to approach.

Never leave any dog unsupervised with children under 5 years old.  This is particularly important when you have a dog prone to resource guarding.


Why does your border collie resource guard stolen items?

The main reason that any dog resource guards anything is because she is worried that we, or other animals, are going to take the resource away.  And in any of the dog species, domesticated or wild, the rule is that if you have something, you are entitled to keep it.  In dog society, effectively, possession = I keep it.

So why do dogs start guarding stolen items?

There are a few reasons for this:

  1. The puppy may have come from a litter in which the dynamics between the puppies or between the puppies and the mother meant that your puppy developed the need to resource guard before ever arriving in your home.
  2. It often starts with a game. Puppies love stealing items to play with.  We chase them to try and retrieve the item before it is damaged.  The pup finds this great fun and a fantastic way to get attention when nothing else exciting is happening.
  3. Over time, our apparent concern and persistence to retrieve the stolen items gives the dog the impression that the items are indeed very high value, and she becomes more likely to hold on to them.
  4. This then starts to develop into your border collie resource guarding when the dog is continually frustrated that “his” items are being taken from him. In the dog world, this is “against the rules”, and highly unfair.

Body language

Border collies that resource guard usually use the following body language to communicate to us that they do not want to surrender the item.  It’s important to understand this because this can stop things escalating to the dog having to resort to a bite.  And the more the dog practises a behaviour, the more likely she is to use that behaviour the next time, so that it becomes the dog’s way of dealing with that situation.

The dog’s communication that they are not happy with you approaching are usually as follows

border collie guarding a toy1. The dog will hold the item in its mouth or hold her head low over the item and freeze, with her body tensing. Her nose may be pointing down, towards the toy, but she will be watching you with her eyes and you may be able to see the whites of her eyes. This is known as “whale eye” and is an early sign that a dog is not comfortable with a situation

border collie looking anxious

2. If this communication is ignored, the dog may escalate to the next level, where she will also growl and may lift her head.


border collie snarling

3. Eventually, if still ignored, the dog may lift her lips into more of a snarl.



lunging4. If the person or animal approaching still doesn’t take any notice and continues to approach, the dog may lunge and snap.


5. Eventually if still not left in peace, the dog may bite.

HOWEVER, if the dog has been continually ignored in these situations so that she has had to resort to biting, then these early communication stages may not be present, and she may just bite straight away.  This makes her a lot more unpredictable, and you are advised to seek professional help from a dog behaviourist.

What can I do if my dog has just started to resource guard stolen items?

If your dog has only just started resource guarding stolen items, it’s important that everyone in the household follows a few simple rules:

  1. If she steals something, so long as it can’t do her any harm, or she can’t damage the item, don’t react. Go and do something else that the dog will think is really interesting but not with her directly.  This is because interacting with her can cause a behaviour chain – “I pinch an item, I get attention”.
  2. Instead, take her ball or toy into a corner of the room and start throwing it up against the wall and catching it. Or pick up lots of her balls and start trying to juggle!! Or if you have another dog, start giving her titbits. Or anything else you can think of that she won’t be able to resist seeing you do without coming over to investigate.
  3. Once she gets to you, ignore her for a few seconds, then keep her engaged.  Start playing with the ball with her or start doing some training.  At the same time, try and shut off whatever room she left the stolen item in, so that when you stop, she doesn’t rush off and grab it again.
  4. If you have to retrieve the item, for safety reasons, or to stop her from destroying something valuable, then take a handful of her favourite treats, and throw them behind her. When she turns around to eat them, grab the item when she’s not looking.
  5. Keep making absolutely nothing of the stolen item if possible and try and keep anything that she could steal out of her reach at all times.
  6. If she picks things up on walks and guards them, then you may need to think about muzzle training, so that she can’t pick things up, for her own safety as well as yours.

I understand that this can be extremely inconvenient, and it is much quicker just to grab the dog and retrieve the item, but trust me, if you resort to this each time your dog steals something, you will end up with much more of a problem.  It’s always much better to prevent a problem than to have to treat an established problem behaviour.

There are other things that we can try so if you have followed the steps above and the behaviour is still a problem, please get in touch.

If the issue is not in the early stages and your border collie resource guarding stolen items has been a problem for over 6 months and has bitten, then please see a behaviourist.  It can be a difficult issue to resolve, and you will need specialist help.

As always, if you have any questions relating to your border collie resource guarding, or need any help, please drop me an email on



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