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How to Prevent Possessive Aggression in Dogs

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Possessive Aggression in DogsPossessive 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:

  1. When your dog is engaged with a toy they don’t care about much, walk up to them praising happily.
  2. Continue to praise as you hand him an excellent, delicious, over-the-top treat.
  3. 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.

Author: Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson, Dog Expert, offers experienced-based dog info with humor. Author of 8 books, seen on PBS, Sarah knows all about dogs. {Pip} is her rescue dog.

3 Comments

  1. Hello Sarah, I am friends with you on Facebook and you used to live near me in NH! My good friend Deb Richards sold her home to you in Auburn. I have a question that I am hoping you can assist me on.

    I rescued a Black & Tan Coon Hound from Manchester Animal Shelter about 6 months ago. He is a great dog and loves me to pieces. The issue is when someone comes to the house for a visit. He may stare at them with a cold dead look like he will attack at any moment. Then if they get up, he will go after the leg and feet areas. I feel like it is a possessiveness in my dog, like he is the king of his castle and doesn’t want to share me or his home, or doesn’t think its ok to share. Not too sure about why he does it. He seems to have an issue with a man’s boots too. He will stare at them and then go after with his mouth open. I make the noise that Ceaser Milan makes when you want to correct your dog… letting him know that it is wrong. He is also aggressive when he is in the car and if someone else gets in the car, I have to hold him or the other person may get a bite. Any ideas would be very helpful Sarah!! Thank you so much!! Barb

    • Hi Barb – Glad you’re seeking help with this and this is a “hands on help” situation. While you’re looking for a good local pro, start working on his basic obedience as common language will be key. And crate him or keep him on leash when people are visiting so you can prevent further practice.

      As for the car, for now crate him, while you build the tools you need to be effective at such high excitement times.

      Has he bitten anyone yet? Drawn blood?

  2. Thank you for this information. I have been doing this prevention exercise with our dog who turns one this month since he was about 12 weeks old. He wasn’t having this ssue but with kids in the house prevention seemed like a wise plan. I am happy to report that I gave our guy a new antler tonight and he was super excited about it. As I prepped dinner he chewed happily near me. I approached him and he disengaged immediately and looked just like you described happy and relaxed. I slipped him some grilled chicken with warm praise for being such a good dog. Really glad we’ve worked on this and will continue to practice through his life!!

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