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Ask A Dog Trainer: What Do I Do If My Dog Is Possessive With Her Toys?

| Published on August 15, 2023

Some dogs are not good at sharing. Once they get possession of a toy, it’s theirs and they do not want you to take it. This can result in growls and, if the owner is not careful, bites.

Toy guarding is a fairly common problem that plagues those who were hoping for a nice family dog.

Why Some Dogs Growl When You Try To Take Their Toys

Behaviorists are not actually certain why dogs do this. On the surface, it’s quite simple: the dog sees their toys as “theirs” and they do not want anyone else (human or canine) to have them. But why some dogs feel they need to keep items from others is not clear. Lead behaviorists such as Robin Bennett, CPD-KA and Dr. Patricia McConnell, PhD, CAAB (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist) have researched to see if it’s genetic, but there is no clear answer.

In a litter of puppies, you can have pups that guard and ones that don’t. This doesn’t prove one way or the other that it’s genetic. Of course dogs that grew up on the street and had to literally fight other animals for food to survive may guard because that’s what life taught them they had to do to survive. Would that same dog, raised in a safe home environment still have guarded? There is no way to know.

What To Do If Your Dog Is Protective Over His Toys

First – seek professional help!

This is a serious behavioral issue that needs immediate attention. A certified professional dog trainer who uses positive methods is the way to go. Ask them about their background and experience in helping dogs with these types of issues, as not all dog trainers work with these types of issues. Search for a certified dog trainer near you on the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) website.

Busy dog parents may find it easier to choose an online training course.

Second –  play safely.

Training will take time and in the interim you will obviously want to keep playing with your dog, but just be sure to do so safely. This means playing with multiple toys so you can “trade.” For example, play fetch with two tennis balls. When he brings the one back, show him the second one. Wait until he drops the first, then throw the second. When he goes to retrieve that one, you can pick up the first.

If your dog will not play in this manner, find ways to exercise that do not involve toys, like going on walks, runs or bike rides. Playing “come games” such as hide and seek where you hide and your dog has to find you, or puppy ping pong where people take turns calling the dog to them are great games that do not involve toys.


Third – If your dog has something, it’s hers!

At this point, while you are training, do not try and take something from your dog. If she bites you (or a child!) you have just escalated the situation. If your dog takes something, like a child’s toy or your cell phone, try to trade with her by throwing a toy for her to fetch, so you can safely get the other item. The video below from SpiritDog Training is a great one that shows how to properly take something away from a dog that guards:

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