All Things Dog

Preventing Possessiveness

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Ever wonder why some dogs develop highly possessive, or territorial, behavior patterns? That behavior is often a result of your dog asserting himself. A possessive dog is usually trying to show he's "top dog" by guarding something that he values. It could be food, a toy, a tasty bone, or even you, your child, or another family pet.

When dealing with your dog's possessive streak, the potential for positive change depends on a variety of factors including gender, age, breed, temperament, and the quality of his training sessions.

Dog's domain

If your dog is showing strong possessive, protective, or territorial tendencies—like trying to come between you and a visitor—it's critical to deal with the problem quickly, before it gets unsafe and out of hand.

Tips on dealing with your dog's possessive tendencies:

  • Check with your vet to rule out medical causes for the behavior. For example, if problems with possessiveness suddenly appear later in life, it may be a sign of another condition, such as early senility.
  • Consider having your dog spayed or neutered, especially if her or she is young, to eliminate hormonal influences. Unfixed dogs are more likely to display dominant, territorial, and protective/aggressive behavior.
  • If your dog is possessive of toys or treats—or becomes territorial in certain locations—you can avoid the problem by denying him access to those items or places.
  • Enroll your dog in obedience classes or review commands learned previously.
  • Avoid reinforcing the undesirable behavior. Attempting to calm your dog with a soothing voice may actually reinforce the possessive behavior.
  • Get professional advice. Consult a veterinary behaviorist or an in-home animal behavior specialist.

Language barrier

Since humans and dogs have different communication systems, confusion can easily take place. It helps to keep in mind that, from a dog's-eye view, there's always a reason for his behavior. He doesn't have words to express himself and what few communication tools he does have may be misinterpreted. So it falls to you, your vet, and your trainer to bridge the doggie divide.

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