5 Helpful Techniques to Train Your Possessive Dog

Aug 16, 2021     |      Sophie's Circle

Is your dog exhibiting possessive traits? These three training techniques can help you reduce anxiety in both dogs and humans while redirecting your dog's energy and focus. Discover the right combination of tools and methods that works to calm your dog’s possessive tendencies and enjoy more time with your dog starting today!

Signs your dog is displaying possessive traits
Are there moments your dog changes in behavior, such as around food, other dogs, or toys? Perhaps you notice the change when your dog appears to be protecting your children against strangers on the street. Maybe he or she growls and snaps at other dogs when it’s time to eat or play. Another time one commonly experiences possessive behavior is when a dog refuses to release a toy or food item to a human.

Keep in mind, some light growling sounds and mouthing without breaking the skin is normal play behavior, especially for puppies that are teething. However, if your dog’s normally calm and friendly behavior shifts into an intimidating growl, snarl, snap, or full-out attack in certain situations, he or she is displaying possessive behavior. Such acts stem from fear and insecurity and should be treated with caution and proper training as quickly as possible to help your dog feel relaxed and enjoy his or her time with you more.

“Trade Ya” Training
Are the issues surrounding food, a toy, bedding, or some other object you can take away? The first thing one should never do is reward this behavior or think it’s cute. This can be dangerous behavior both for the dog and those around him or her. Your fur baby may love his or her new puzzle toy, which is good news to the human that bought it, but it is important for him or her to learn that the toy belongs to humans and the home. The item should be released into your hand or dropped on the floor the moment the “Release” or “Drop It” commands are given. If not, “Trade Ya” may be the fastest way to remove the fear of losing something he or she loves by replacing it with something else equally awesome.

An example might be telling the dog to “Drop It” when he or she has found Mom’s shoe to chew on. If this command does not work, do not pull on the item. That will make your dog clamp down harder and perhaps escalate the dog’s possessive behavior. Instead, find something like a favorite treat to trade. Show the dog your new item, give him or her the “Sit” command followed by the "Trade Ya" command while the dog is sitting, and wait for him or her to release or drop the shoe in a calm manner before issuing the treat or toy. Provide praise for this calm and desirable behavior when the dog complies. Then, remove the shoe to an out-of-reach location.

The Nothing in Life is Free Method
Another effective technique is called the “Nothing in Life is Free” or NLF technique. Here, your dog learns early on that everything he or she loves is a reward for good behavior, not a possession. This includes praise, food and treats, toys, and playtime fun.

To practice this technique, try making your dog sit for a couple of minutes before being released with an “Okay” command to eat at mealtimes. Then, if you feel it is safe, try lifting the food in the middle of the meal and asking him or her to “Sit” again and wait for you to put the food back down. He or she must wait until released once more with the “Okay” command.

You can use this method for food, treats, toys, and attention from humans. Remember, never praise or reward your dog until he or she is calm and comfortable. Otherwise, you are encouraging the negative behavior.

Desensitization Technique
Desensitization takes patience and scheduled practice. However, this technique is well worth the added effort when working with possessive or aggressive dogs. If you know your dog’s trigger situation or event when he or she begins to seem nervous, scared, or protective, you can slowly show your fur baby everything is alright through consistent training using this technique.

The basic idea is to lead your dog on leash to the stimulus. Find out how close he or she needs to be before the behavior shifts. Then, stay just out of that range yet within sight of the stimulus for an extended period of time. This is a great chance to catch up with your family member or friend. As long as your dog is calm, you can act as if it’s just another day and occasionally offer praise or treats as you normally would. Each day, try the same technique and, when your dog is more comfortable a little closer, stay there for a while and let your dog relax before offering praise or treats. The key is not to rush him or her with this technique. It could take months for some dogs to become completely comfortable with a trigger for their fear or anxiety.

Show Your Dog the Ropes
Once you have begun training your possessive dog, it may be time to show him how it’s done. By adopting a well-trained adult dog or a dog that could become that well-trained example within a short time of working with him or her, your new addition will be showing the pack how it’s done. From walking on a leash to sharing food and toys, your dog can learn a lot from a seasoned pro. Ready to start your search? Browse our list of eligible canine teachers who will work for food, shelter, and lots of praise on our adoption page. They can’t wait to meet you!