How to Change a Possessive Dog’s Behavior

By Linda Cole

When I was a kid, a friend of my parents had a Chihuahua that would snarl and try to bite us if we got too close to her owner or her toys. One time when we were visiting, the dog bit me because I had gotten too close to a toy she had hidden under a bush outside. Possessive behavior in dogs can easily turn into aggression if it’s not corrected.

A possessive dog is trying to control and dominate people and other pets in the home by claiming things like his toys, sleeping area, food bowl, and even his owner. He sees threats all around him and it makes him uncomfortable, so he reacts in an aggressive way. The possessive dog is always on high alert and refuses to give up what he thinks is his and won’t back down.

Possessive behavior says your dog believes you can’t and won’t protect him, so he has to do it himself. He’s confused, stressed out and insecure from always being on guard. Small dogs that display possessive behavior are often laughed at by their owners who think their dog’s aggression is cute, but it’s not. He’s a very stressed out and extremely unhappy little dog.

The best way to keep your dog from developing a possessive behavior is to establish yourself as his leader from day one. Your interactions with your dog tell him where he stands in your pack, and you need to be the one holding the top spot. You don’t become the leader by trying to dominate a dog, you prove yourself as a fair, compassionate and understanding leader, and earn it. Most behavior problems can be avoided when the dog is allowed to be just a dog while you make all of the decisions and show him you will protect all members of your pack, including him.

Food aggression and guarding the food bowl

You are the one who controls the food, not him. Food aggression is a serious behavior that needs to be dealt with immediately. Growling at you, the kids or other pets that come too close to his bowl is food aggression. Instead of putting your dog’s full bowl on the floor, have him sit in front of you and keep his food up away from him. Hand feed him his meals for three or four days.

When you put his bowl on the floor, sit beside him and drop little tidbits of his favorite food or add a few CANIDAE dog treats to his bowl of food a little at a time. If he growls with you near him or as you try to drop extra treats in his bowl, remove the bowl and go back to hand feeding. You can also take a cup filled with his kibble, put the empty bowl on the floor and then add just a little kibble, wait for him to eat and look up at you, then add another small amount and keep repeating this process until he’s had his meal. Randomly drop special treats into his bowl as he eats.

Giving your dog a job to do before giving him his food puts you in charge. I ask my dogs to sit and wait until I give them permission to eat. I’m giving them a job they have to do before they can have their food. When you control their food, they understand you are the one telling them when they can or can’t eat. I pick up their food while they’re eating once in awhile and ask them to sit, and then give it back to them. This is how I “claim” everything I give them, including their toys and sleeping area.

Possessive behavior with toys

Basic commands help you control your dog. Teaching him how to “drop it” and “leave it” helps prevent possessive behavior when you can take what he’s trying to claim. A sit/stay command keeps him from trying to guard what he dropped while you pick it up. Give a toy back to him when he sits and politely takes it from your hand. Whether it’s food or toys, never take anything away and then refuse to give it back to him. If he thinks you’re taking it without giving him something of equal or greater value, it teaches him to be possessive. Always praise him for doing what you ask. Changing a behavior takes time, so be patient, stay calm, and be consistent.

You should be able to “claim” everything you give to your dog, including his sleeping area. Breaking a possessive attitude is more a matter of you being your dog’s leader and preventing this unacceptable behavior in the first place. By asking your dog to work for what he wants, he learns you are the one in control, and that’s how he likes it.

Photo by David Shankbone

Read more articles by Linda Cole

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® All Natural Pet Foods.

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2 thoughts on “How to Change a Possessive Dog’s Behavior

  1. I think it is so important to establish that you are the chief dog in the house. The dogs need to respect you. Then there shouldn’t be a problem. I have never had an aggressive dog. Take care

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