Possession and Communication

Dogs who are possessive over toys, food and areas are often thought to be ‘guarding’.  They are viewed as being unsociable. When in fact, it is almost always the opposite.


Dogs use possession as a form of communication. 


If a dog has a toy, when someone approaches, they may growl.  This is usually seen as aggression and therefore unsociable. But this behaviour is due to either the dog feeling insecure and/or a lack of mutual understanding regarding possession.


If your dog has a toy and does not want you to take it, you can offer a treat as an exchange.  This is a good way to train them to offer up articles but it does not involve any real communication. It simply says to them that if they give up something they value, you’ll give them something in it’s place.


If a dog has an article and another dog approaches, they may react in one of two ways.  They may become possessive resulting in the other dog moving away.  Or the other dog continues to try and take it.  The approaching dog does not offer a treat or another toy as an exchange!


If both dogs understand their own language, a conversation will take place resulting in one of them taking possession of the toy without friction or stress.


If you approach your dog using the same approach as another dog would, they will happily allow you to take an article, should you need to, your dog will understand what your intentions are, therefore eliminating stress for both of you.


It may seem as your dog only wants the toy that you have. The dogs do not necessarily have their own toys, as such. The toy belongs to the dog who has it at that time.


Remember the toy itself, is not important in this situation.  It is simply a means of communication.


By following the guidelines below, you will be able to use these situations to improve communication with your dog, therefore enhancing your relationship with them.


Let’s use possession of a toy as an example.


1)         Give your dog a toy, if they don't already have one


2)        Approach them calmly and when you see the very first sign that they are not              comfortable, turn and move away immediately. It is essential  that you turn                when you move away.  This makes it clear to your dog that respect and                      accept what they are asking of you.


Your dog may be very subtle in asking you to move away.  Here are some signals they may use :


i)         Stand over it

ii)        Put a paw on it

iii)       Lower his head over or towards the toy but not necessarily

            make  contact with it.

iv)        Simply stop chewing


3)        Calmly approach your dog again and turn and move away if they ask you to.


If you turn and move away when asked, your dog will remain relaxed with you closer to the toy.


Eventually, your dog will move away from the toy at which point, you should move away from it.


4)        After a minute or so, place a toy that your dog is likely to want under your                foot.  Ignore any attempts of trying to take the toy.  It is advisable to wear                  sturdy shoes as some dogs may attempt to take the toy by digging at your                  feet.


5)        When your dog turns and moves away, respond by turning and walking away             from the toy.

Do not turn and walk away if they sit, lie down or walk backwards away from you as this is NOT a training situation. 


If your dog is too strong to stop them taking a toy from under your foot, you can use another approach.


Using the same principles as above, hold a toy that your dog is likely to want. If they approach you for the toy, hold it in folded arms and lower your head over it. When they turn and move away, place toy on the floor, turn and move away.


It is essential to recognise this is an opportunity to communicate with your dog in a way they will naturally understand. This is NOT a training exercise.


Hence, if they offer a sit/down or walk backwards looking at you, do not turn and move away from the toy.  Only when they turn and move away, do you then turn and walk away from the toy.

The Dog Partnership 2011

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