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break a dog’s possessiveness

What do you do when your dog becomes possessive of a certain object such as a bone, a toy or a sock?

Here are my suggestions for dealing with a dog’s possessiveness:
First of all, nothing should ever be given to a dog for free. Even if certain objects “belong” to the dog, he should only be allowed to touch them with permission from his owner.

Some people will allow aggressive behavior from a dog when the dog is being possessive of food or toys that “belong” to him. It’s easy to make excuses for the dog, but possessiveness of toys or food or random objects should never be tolerated.

Some dog owners even believe their dog is showing aggression because the dog is “protecting” the toy or believes the toy is his baby. Trust me, dogs do not think their toys or other objects are their babies. Believing so would be humanizing the dog.

What starts out as minor possessiveness of a stuffed toy can easily escalate to much more serious aggression. Dogs that are allowed to show possessiveness of their food and toys often begin to show possessiveness of other objects such as socks, table scraps or even people.

How to prevent a dog’s possessive behavior

These are some tips you can use to work with your puppy or dog to prevent issues with possessiveness from developing. It’s much easier to prevent a problem than correct a problem!

1. A dog should always be given a clear set of rules.
The owner is in charge, not the dog.

My mutt Ace works for his food, works for my attention and works for playtime. If he wants something, I will make him sit or lie down before he can have it. Ace understands I can take his food or toys away at any given time, and I often do. And just because something is in his mouth does not mean it’s off limits to me or any other person. I take things from him all the time just to prove my point. I also give things back to him as a reward or I trade him for something even better!

2. Make sure you “claim” anything you give your dog.
At feeding time, I always require that Ace gives me about five feet of space before he is given permission to approach his bowl. Just because I set the bowl on the ground does not give him permission to come running up and grabbing it. He has to wait. I wish I could teach my cat the same!

It’s also a good idea to take your dog’s food away while he is eating. Have him sit or lie down, and then give the food back. If necessary, step over the bowl and move into your dog’s space the way a dominant dog would do.

With toys, it is the same concept. You own the toys. You can take them away at any time, and you should. Don’t allow the dog to grab toys out of your hand until you say it’s OK.

3. When your dog has a toy, offer him something even better!
Drop random pieces of chicken in your dog’s bowl while he is eating so he learns that good things happen when you approach his bowl! When he’s chewing on a bone, randomly come up to him and sprinkle liver treats or other goodies around him.

4. Teach the dog the command “leave it.”
I use the “leave it” command for any object, and all it means is “Do not touch.”

Teach this command by rewarding the dog with food when he leaves the object alone. Since my dog loves tennis balls, I’ll put a ball on the ground and say “leave it.” When I’m ready for him to pick up the ball I say “OK!” You could also say “Take it!” Ace now understands that “leave it” can be transferred to anything such as food or even nasty things he finds out in the yard.

Preventing possessive behavior is much easier than correcting it, so the most important part is to set clear rules for the dog before any issues come up.

I also want to point out that a dog can be obsessive without being possessive, but neither behavior should be encouraged. My dog is obsessed with retrieving and will bring a ball to someone over and over, but he has no problem allowing any person or dog to take the ball right out of his mouth.

How to stop a dog from showing possessiveness

1. Do not make up excuses for your dog’s possessive or aggressive behavior.
Small problems lead to bigger problems when dog owners do not take a dog’s mild aggression or possessive issues seriously.

Of course, some dogs sound aggressive when they are playing with toys. This is normal as long as the dog is just playing and will allow you to take the toy and end the game at any time. For more information, see my post on why does my dog growl at other dogs?

2. Begin “claiming” everything you give the dog, even if you consider it “his.”
Deliberately place the object on the ground and do not allow the dog to approach or take the object until you give him permission. If the dog tries to take the object too early, correct him instantly and put him in a sit or down position. Stand over the object the way another dog would.

Be careful not to frustrate your dog. Deliberately requiring your dog to wait for an object should be a healthy challenge for him. If he seems stressed out about this process, then give him treats while he waits for the original object. Remember to tell him how good he is. Then, give a command such as “OK” to take the original object.

3. Create situations where the dog is likely to become possessive.

Unfortunately, the only way to break a dog from a certain behavior is to catch him in the act. It does not work to simply take the bone away and hide it. This is like a “time out” and teaches the dog nothing. If the dog is possessive about rawhides, you’re going to have to present rawhides to him every day and correct him the second he becomes possessive.

Put a leash on the dog to give yourself more control and confidence. Then, purposely drop a rawhide and correct him the second he goes for it. The dog must learn to wait until you give him permission to take the rawhide. Practice this multiple times a day. Dogs need a lot of repetitions before a behavior becomes conditioned, so be patient.

Give your dog highly valued treats whenever he drops the object or waits to pick up the object. Make this process fun rather than stressful. You want to be the leader, but you want to be a fun leader.

4. Teach the dog that you can take anything at any time.
In order to practice this, you will have to allow the dog to pick up the object. Make sure to do so once you have claimed it and given him permission to take it. Once he has it in his mouth, take it away again but give it back as a reward. Practice this over and over every day. Taking something, holding it for a few seconds while praising your dog and then giving it back will teach your dog that you’re not necessarily taking the object away for good.

5. When the dog shows aggression, “trade” him for something better.
Do not hesitate to seek help from a professional dog trainer in your area if you are at all hesitant about approaching your aggressive dog. If you are tentative and giving off a weak energy, your dog is more likely to bite you.

If your dog becomes aggressive once he has an object in his mouth, do not allow him to keep the object. If you allow your dog to keep his bone every time he growls at you, then he will be rewarded for growling. The aggression is reinforced.

To get the desired object away from your dog once he is showing aggression, I recommend using the “trade” method. Give him something better than what he has. Practice this over and over again.
What do you do to prevent possessive behavior from your dog?
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