Possessive aggression in dogs can range from worrisome to dangerous. Preventing it is much easier than dealing with it after it shows its teeth so I am prevention-focused with every dog; even though most may never have a thought in that direction.
But since you cannot know ahead of time exactly which dogs may try this, doing it with every dog is time well spent.
Let’s spend a second on what not to do. There is advice out there to simply walk up and take whatever it is away from a growling dog. This advice is almost always given by an experienced dog person with a strong personality. What they take for granted—their experience and force of will—pet people do not have. When a novice person attempts this advice they can make matters worse and could get bitten.
From the dog’s perspective, what is the message? “I want the item and, when the human gets near, they take the item.” That’s not good.
Instead, let’s change the dog’s thinking so we make our idea their idea. Let’s change it so they want us to approach them. Here’s what you do:
- When your dog is engaged with a toy they don’t care about much, walk up to them praising happily.
- Continue to praise as you hand him an excellent, delicious, over-the-top treat.
- Walk away quietly.
Well done. Now, repeat, repeat, repeat.
Soon your dog should stop chewing and look up at you happily. “You again?” will be his expression. “Excellent!”
If your dog tenses up, freezes, snarls or in anyway makes you nervous/exhibits any aggression stop! Seek qualified professional help ASAP. If your dog becomes possessive over certain items, throw those items away then get help changing your dog’s behavior. Do not allow your dog to practice aggression just because he enjoys some toy or chew.
If you and your dog are both relaxed, good work!
Are you wondering why didn’t I say something like “Leave it”? Because of the dog trainer who wrote about how she was bitten by her own dog (!!) because she didn’t say “Leave it” when he had a toy. That was acceptable to her; it is unacceptable to me.
If you teach this on a verbal command, your dog will do it on a verbal command and that is no help to the child or adult guest who doesn’t know that command.
In my world, you approaching the dog is the “command” for them to disengage immediately and happily.
In fact, I take it a step further, which I explain in this video clip.
My goal is to lessen possessive aggression in dogs with this simple pre-training regime. Let me know how it goes in your house.