Possessive behavior in dogs can be easily overlooked, especially when we have no desire for their breakfast or slobbery tennis ball. However, our lack of interest may not be interpreted by our dogs as disinterest. Instead, they may perceive it as a reward for their possessive behavior, whether it be persistent barking, growling, or even resorting to biting. Their thought process might go something like this: “I told them to go away, and they did. This worked in my favor, and I’ll continue doing it in the future.”
Although possessive behavior may not always be alarming, it is always inappropriate. There shouldn’t be any objects or resources that are exclusively the dog’s and not open to sharing with their human family. To help your dog become more comfortable with sharing, experts provide the following advice:
Take away her excuse. While some dogs are extremely possessive and will defend a tennis ball or their place on the bed as aggressively as they guard dog food, most have one or two objects that they have strong feelings for. The easiest solution is often to get rid of temptation. Toss the tennis ball in the trash while your dog is sleeping, or cover “her” place on the couch with a load of books. This won’t change her personality, but it may eliminate the problem.
Give her something better. If there’s one thing that dogs like better than praise, it’s bribery, and you can often stop possessive behavior with a few well-timed, preferably tasty rewards. Suppose your dog is holding on to something and won’t give it back. Call her to you and use your usual “give” command—and offer a treat at the same time. She can’t hold on to the object and take the treat at the same time, and she’ll probably opt for the treat, at which point you take away the object.
Bribery can be a win-win situation. You get the object back, and your dog has to work for a treat, which is the essence of good training. If you do this consistently, she’ll begin to associate the command “give” with getting treats, which will make her more likely to obey you later on.
Take the fun out of it. Dogs aren’t always possessive because they love an object and can’t bear to give it up. Sometimes they get grabby because they think you want it—and are willing to chase them in a rollicking game of tag. As you reach for the object, they’re off like a shot, downright tickled that you’re willing to play. The only solution to this type of behavior is not to play the game. When your dog takes off with something you’d like to get back, ignore her. Turn your back, go inside, read a book, or do some gardening. Do anything except give her attention, which is what she really wanted in the first place. Keep-away is a pretty lame game with just one player, and she’ll probably lose interest and drop the object on her own.
Take away her privileges. Dogs who hover over their toys and eye you suspiciously have somehow gotten the idea that it’s acceptable to warn you away. You have to remind them that you make the rules—always and in all circumstances. Taking control is not difficult—just need to direct your pet’s behavior in a way that makes sense to her. What this means is making sure that your dog understands that all of her rewards—things such as meals, attention, and treats—are directly tied to her behavior. When she acts properly, she gets good things. When she acts possessively, she doesn’t. Dogs instinctively understand that every family has leaders and followers. To make sure that your dog understands she’s second fiddle, make her do something every time she gets something. Before you feed her, have her sit first. Make her lie down before you let her out the door. Don’t give her a treat unless she drops her toy first. When she does what you want, she gets her rewards. When she doesn’t behave, she pays for it. Your dog will see that when she does things for you, good things happen. She gets fed, the door opens, the ball gets thrown. Over time, her possessiveness—and her underlying questions about your leadership—will begin to disappear.