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Does your dog snap or growl when another person or dog approaches its food? Does it show aggression when people come near you? Perhaps it aggressively guards a toy or bone that you have given it. These are all signs that you have a possessive dog.
Male and female dogs of all ages and breeds can show possessive characteristics. Obviously, this is undesirable, as someone in your family or another pet could get seriously hurt if a possessive dog lashes out, especially if it is large and powerful. Let us examine the steps you should take to prevent your dog from becoming possessive, and what you should do if it develops possessive traits.
Sign of possessiveness in dogs
Possessiveness in dogs is essentially resource guarding, where a dog lays claim to and guards something that it views as its own. This can be a person, such as its owner or another person in the family. It could also be its food, bones, treats, toy, or some other object that has fallen onto the floor. It could be a space, such as its kennel, a person’s lap, or a specific area of the house. Some dogs will show possessiveness to other dogs and animals, but not to humans. They may also show aggression to some people but not others.
A possessive dog will display warning signs, such as staring at the approaching person or animal. It will show a stiffened body posture, raise its hackles, tense its body, and wrinkle its nose. It may growl and bark, licking its lips and showing its teeth. The dog may snap and bite. It could seek to take the object and hide it somewhere it can guard it more effectively.
Many factors can cause a dog to be possessive, including its personality, breed, and background. A dog’s characteristics are strongly influenced by its mother and littermates. Its upbringing and early training also play a part in its behavior, including possessive inclinations.
However, that is not to say that these are the only determining factors. Each dog is unique and will differ in the way it responds to situations. A dog that has grown up in an abusive home where it had little to eat may not show possessive aggression over food, but a dog that lives in a safe, loving home may snap and snarl when anyone approaches its food bowl. Ultimately, dogs are animals that act on their instincts. Consequently, it’s important not to take your dog’s possessiveness personally but work with your dog to get rid of any undesirable characteristics.
The longer your dog shows possessive traits, the more ingrained the behavior becomes. Therefore, it’s important to stop these characteristics as soon as they appear. Even better, take steps to ensure that your dog doesn’t develop these traits in the first place. Many of the large, more powerful breeds, such as rottweilers and pit bulls, will seek to assert their dominance over their owners unless you are watchful and consistent in teaching good manners. Remember that dogs are pack animals, and it’s important to assert your role as pack leader, otherwise you may end up with an uncontrollable dog on your hands.
Teaching your dog obedience from a young age is an excellent way of controlling any tendencies toward possessiveness and other undesirable traits. Obedient dogs tend to be more respectful of their owners and their authority. They also learn to be more self-controlled and respond readily to your instructions. All dogs should come when called, sit and stay on command, and know how to walk properly on a leash.
Ideally, you should begin teaching your dog when it is still a puppy. However, it is never too late, and it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks. Bear in mind that some breeds are more intelligent than others, so you will have to spend far more time teaching a basset hound a command than, for example, a German shepherd. Some breeds are also far more obdurate than others and don’t take readily to obedience training. But with patience and persistence, any dog can be taught to follow simple commands.
A dog that has been taught to be obedient will be better able to deal with the instincts that are causing it to be possessive. In contrast, a dog that has no self-control will act as it sees fit and will not be willing to listen to you. For example, it may chase a dog on sight without heeding your commands. In order to make your dog more obedient and submissive, you should first teach it to sit and perform other tasks on command. You can then improve its discipline and self-control by getting it to sit at different times of the day.
“Sit” is a great command to start with, as it is relatively easy for dogs to learn. Once your dog has learned it, it can be used to build up its self-control. You should get your dog to sit before feeding it or giving it a treat. You can also command it to sit before going for a walk or before playtime. You can get the dog to perform other commands as it learns them. The dog will learn patience and discipline as it will be rewarded for such behavior.
Avoid rewarding the dog when it’s being pushy and disobedient. Don’t reward the dog in any way if it tries to grab food or toys from your hands or tries to drag you along on its leash. Ignore it when it jumps on you or tries to get on your bed. Don’t give your dog treats or pet it in such situations. Instead, it should be given treats and attention when it is calm and well behaved, such as when it is walking calmly beside you on a leash or lying in its dog bed.
If you have more than one dog, reward the one that acts calmly and politely. Give it a treat and ignore the dog that is acting aggressively or dominantly. The dogs will soon learn that it won’t get any treats if it tries to fight for them. By rewarding good behavior, you will be reinforcing the idea that the dog must not act possessively with other household pets.
A common problem that owners often encounter is a dog that acts possessively with its food and toys. If your dog lets you take away its food and toys, you should reinforce such behavior by lavishing praise on it. When your dog is eating, you can approach the bowl and add some food that it likes to the bowl. After taking away a toy, give the dog some tasty treats. The dog will understand that it doesn’t have to be possessive around you, and you will not have to deal with any undesirable behavior later on.
Assertive dogs try to become dominant because they come to see their owners as being lower down in the pack order who cater to their every whim. You can rid your dog of that idea by making it earn food, treats, and affection. For example, make it sit on command before giving it its food bowl. If your dog asks for a treat, make it do another obedience task. Of course, it is understandable that you would want to pet your dog and give it treats without always demanding something in return, but it’s important to make your dog understand that it can’t take you for granted. By making the dog perform these tasks, you are teaching it that you are not there for its every whim and that it must be submissive and obedient in order to receive rewards.
You can also show your dog that you are in control of its toys and treats by putting them away outside of designated times. This is especially pertinent for households that have children and other dogs. Of course, if your dog is alone during the day, you may want to leave a couple of toys to occupy it. Keeping the toys away allows you to reward good behavior by offering them to the dog when it is calm and well behaved.
If you have multiple dogs, feeding them separately is always a good idea. This will prevent fights from starting as a result of the dogs trying to steal each other’s food. It also prevents dogs from getting possessive about their food. You should only feed the dogs together if you are able to supervise them and the dogs are well behaved. Discourage the dogs from checking out each other’s food with a firm “no.” This will prevent any bad behavior taking root.
Dogs usually love going to dog parks and daycares. Besides allowing your dog to have fun, taking it to these places is also a great way to teach it to socialize. However, you need to be watchful and ensure that play doesn’t spill over to aggression and fighting. If you are taking your pet to the dog park for the first time, you should first introduce it to some other dogs to gauge how it interacts with them. Ideally, these should be one or two well-behaved, quiet, rather submissive dogs that will not interact aggressively with your dog. Before the playdate, you should exercise the dog for around 45 minutes to dissipate any excess energy that could cause it to misbehave.
Both dogs should preferably be on a leash when introduced. Watch their interaction closely and be prepared to intervene if either dog shows signs of aggression. In most cases, the two dogs will sniff each other before interacting cordially. They may start being playful. If the interaction is friendly, you can bring out some of your dog’s toys to see how it reacts to sharing the toys with the other dog. Still keep the leash on in case your dog becomes aggressive. Reward your dog with plenty of petting if it behaves well and lets the other dog play with the toys as well. Keep the mood light and positive, interacting with both dogs and ensuring both are relaxed.
After a couple of these interactions, you should have no problem taking your dog to the dog park, though you should keep a watchful eye out to maintain good behavior and ensure that your dog doesn’t cause or have any problems with another dog.
Training a possessive dog
You may find that you have a dog that has already become possessive, either because you neglected to take preventive measures or because the dog has developed the trait despite the training. Fortunately, there are a number of measures you can take to train your dog out of this unhealthy trait. It is always easier to rid the dog of unwanted habits as soon as it has picked them up, so be watchful and take suitable steps as soon as you find your dog developing possessive tendencies.
You will find that trainers and experts recommend different methods. It is advisable to try different training techniques with your dog. This is because all dogs have unique personalities and will react differently to the different methods. Also, what works with one dog may not work with another. By trying different types of training, you will be able to discover the one or two methods that work most effectively for your dog.
If you have a problem dog, it may be helpful to get a professional trainer. Even expert trainers often benefit from a second opinion. A trainer will be able to observe your interaction with your dog. Often, a dog’s behavior is influenced by its owner, so it is useful to be able to get a professional’s opinion on how you handle your dog. In addition, a professional trainer will be able to tailor a program to deal with your dog’s problem with maximum efficiency.
Before you begin, you should make a list of your dog’s triggers. These are anything that causes it to become possessive. Involve everyone that your dog interacts with, including other family members, groomers, and friends. You should also detail the situations that cause the dog to become possessive. For example, the dog may be fine when receiving food but act aggressively when food is dropped on the floor. Such information will be very useful and will also help a professional trainer if you bring one in.
Use several short training sessions throughout the day rather than one long session. This will prevent your dog from becoming bored and stressed. Five minutes per session is a good time to aim for. A key part of your training will be offering your dog treats that it finds irresistible. These are not treats that you give every day but ones that your dog will do anything for. It could be a piece of ham or lamb from dinner. It may even be a toy or some other object. The important thing is that it should be something that will make your dog willing to give up whatever it is being possessive about.
As we have already discussed, your dog should be trained to be obedient. It should be able to carry out basic commands such as sit, stand, stay, and heel. Possessive dogs should be taught two other important commands – “drop” and “leave it.”
These two commands are not the same. For example, if your dog has a toy in its mouth, he should drop it when you command it to “drop.” If a toy is on the floor and you say “leave it,” your dog should refrain from picking it up. You can use different words if you like, but these are two important concepts for your dog to learn. Start with one command and, once your dog has mastered it, move on to the next. Depending on how quick your dog is to learn, this can take a month or so.
When you say “drop,” your dog should be prepared to release whatever is in its mouth. To first teach your dog this command, start with something that your dog is not possessive about and will let you remove from its mouth.
To start with, don’t use the command at all. When your dog plays with a toy and drops it, praise the dog and give it a reward. Repeat this a few times to make dropping the toy a positive experience for the dog.
Your dog will soon readily drop the toy to get treats. At this stage, you can say “drop” to get it used to dropping the toy on command. As soon as the dog drops the treat, rush in to reward it so that it will start associating the command “drop” with dropping the toy. Repeat this over several sessions until the dog becomes accustomed to the command.
Now you must slowly increase the difficulty by getting the dog to drop objects that it values more. Don’t move onto highly valued objects at once, but slowly make it more challenging. Finally, you can move on to the things that are triggering the dog’s possessiveness. To make it easier, you can even offer a trigger item as a reward. For example, give your dog a bone for dropping a toy. Alternatively, use one of the special treats that you have ready. Remember that this is a slow process that can take weeks or months.
To teach your dog the leave command, drop an object that it doesn’t value highly. If it attempts to get at it, block its path. Once your dog steps back, reward it with a treat and some praise. Wait a few moments before picking up the item.
Once your dog seems to get the hang of things, add the command “leave it.” Most dogs get the idea quickly. As before, you will gradually move on to highly valued objects, finally getting the dog to leave trigger items.
After your dog has become accustomed to both commands, practice them in different situations, such as when you are going for a walk and at the dog park.
Correcting a dog that is acting possessive is a tactic that may work depending on your personal situation. Its success depends on the personality of your dog and how bad the possessiveness is. This method involves correcting the dog and rewarding it for appropriate behavior.
For example, if your dog displays possessive behavior, you can verbally reprimand it. Alternatively, you can use some other means of showing your displeasure. One method is to put your dog on a leash and give it a firm tug if it acts inappropriately. One firm tug will suffice.
For example, let’s say your dog starts growling when you approach it while it is eating. Say a firm “no” and give it a firm tug on the leash. Then reward the dog for behaving properly by petting it and giving it a treat. You can also use a choke chain for this purpose.
This technique involves desensitization and counterconditioning your dog to its triggers. To desensitize the dog, start by training it to behave correctly with less-valued items. For example, let’s say the dog growls when you try to take a toy from it. Start by taking a toy that it doesn’t value very highly. Once it gets used to that, move on to something it likes more until you have reached the trigger object.
Along with this, counter condition the dog by trying to elicit a different reaction from it just before it becomes possessive. For example, if your dog growls when you approach the food bowl, toss it a treat and walk away before it starts getting possessive. If you repeat this over several weeks, you should be able to gradually get closer on each occasion until you are able to actually take the food bowl from the dog.