How to Train a Dog Not to Be Possessive of a Toy

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When puppies are little, it's natural for them to nip, growl, and not want to give up their toys, because they haven't yet learned better manners. As puppies grow, however, and get bigger and stronger, with more teeth and sharp claws, this possessive aggression can become a problem. If your dog grows into being possessive over toys or food, they could go beyond growling over toys and even bite another person or another dog to keep them away.

It makes sense from an instinct perspective that a dog would want to keep other dogs or humans away from something that they find valuable, like food or their favorite toy. They don't want to give up the advantage of having it. The RSPCA, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, says that these possessive issues usually stem from a lack of trust or an insecurity on the part of the dog, so working on developing a basic good relationship with your dog could be a first step.

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Guarding of toys

Many dogs are possessive of their food, and VCA Hospitals says you can train this out of them at a young age by talking softly to them while approaching their food bowl and giving them some petting. You can approach training the sharing of toys in the same way that you might approach possessiveness of food.

The goal is to teach the dog that when you have the toy, it's not being taken away but instead it is a good thing because they get some attention and playtime. As with many aspects of dog training, treats are a valuable resource. Most dogs are motivated by food but there are options for training your dog even if he is not food motivated.

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Training out possessiveness in dogs

Gather your treats and set aside a calm hour to give your dog attention. Choose a time when your dog is relaxed and happy and not overly hungry, but hungry enough that he will be interested in some treats.

Position yourself near the dog with her favorite toy also nearby. While talking slowly and calmly, offer the food while slowly approaching the toy. Don't yet take the toy, just approach it and distract your dog's attention with the treat. Your dog might growl and act possessive. If you're ever concerned that your dog might actually bite you, have an assistant who can help you control her or else seek the advice of a certified trainer.

Some trainers suggest not giving her the toy until she recognizes that you are the owner of the toy, by having her wait for your permission before she gets the toy. Before your dog ever gets the toy, have her perform a task or otherwise obey you, so she knows that you're in control. Using a leash can be helpful to make sure you and your dog knows that she is under control. Repeat this each day until your dog's behavior starts to change.

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Using commands with possessive dogs

Using other common commands like "wait" or "leave it" can also reinforce that he gets the toy only with your permission. When you use the "wait" or "leave it" commands and your dog behaves be sure to reward him with a treat or praise so he knows when he's done something right.

The "give" command is also useful. When your dog has a toy in his mouth that he doesn't want to give up, gently place your hand on the toy without actually trying to take it. With your other hand, present treats. When he releases the item to go for the treats, say the "give" command and then reward him with the treat, and then let him have the toy back. This process teaches him that your actions aren't something he should fear, and if he behaves, he gets a treat and gets the toy back.

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What motivates your dog?

The RSPCA writes that dogs are most motivated by us showing interest in them. If we are making a big deal out of them not giving up the toy, that could be more motivating than them giving up the toy in the first place. If we act like the food or the different toy is the most interesting thing ever, your dog may exhibit less interest in the toy it already has in its mouth.

The VCA Hospitals says that dogs that protect their toys should have them taken away. Then, they only get them back when they're in their crate. Keep your dog's precious items well out of reach so they don't start a stealing habit. VCA Hospitals says your dog should have a good set of manners already such as knowing "sit", "stay," and "leave it," before trying to correct a possessiveness problem. Otherwise, you're not likely to be successful.

When to consult a trainer

If the behavior has escalated to the point that the dog is aggressively growling, snapping, or biting, do not attempt the training on your own because you could get hurt. It's best to call a trainer at this point.