How to Train Your Dog to Not Guard Toys

Medium
3-6 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

For a usually well- behaved dog, a growl or snap is reserved for the really annoying or scary things. Aggressive behavior is not what you might expect from your dog on the best of days and especially not when you’d been looking forward to playing with him and his favorite toy. Instead, your dog is hunkered down, protecting that toy as if it were his own puppy. While this sort of behavior is not uncommon, it’s almost always unwanted and sometimes it can escalate into dangerous.

Known as ‘resource guarding’, this behavior occurs in dogs who feel as though their ‘resources’-- for example, food or a nice to--are at risk of being stolen or taken away at any moment. Your dog is merely protecting what he believes should be rightfully his, calling back to behavior that his ancestors would rely on to protect the food and other resources they needed for survival. However, while it may have benefited his ancestors, there’s typically no reason for a domesticated dog with a comfortable home and a regular feeding time to guard his resources.

Defining Tasks

Resource guarding can go from bad to worse if not handled appropriately and what may start off as a growl can quickly escalate into a snap or outright bite. It’s best to stop resource guarding in the earliest stages of growth during the puppy stages, but that may not always be possible. Luckily, there are ways to ensure your dog that he doesn’t need to fight for survival and adjust him to being open to sharing his food and toys with you. It can take some time for him to understand that he can trust you, but a little bit of patience and repetition can go a long way.

If your dog’s resource guarding has already escalated to the point where he is likely to cause injury to someone with a bite, it’s always recommended to see a vet or a professional trainer. Your safety is always the most important thing when dealing with a dog with any sort of aggressive behavior issues.

Getting Started

Dogs often pursue things with most value to them, generally in the form of tasty food. To start with, you’ll need to find something much more valuable to your dog than whatever it is that he’s guarding. Food will almost always be worth more than a toy to a dog, so it’s recommended to use treats that are exceptionally rare for him like little bits of cooked chicken or beef. The smellier the treat is, the better.

Besides this, the only other thing you’ll need is a lot of patience and a bit of bravery. It can be scary to face a growling or snarling dog, so practice this training when you’re in a good mood or relatively relaxed. Stress will easily get passed to your dog, so making sure you’re in the right environment and you’re mentally prepared is key.

The Conditioning Method

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Step
1
Find a new area for toys
If your dog is used to playing with his toys in a certain space, relocate this space to another, less familiar area of the home. This will help break him of any habits that are associated with the area in particular.
Step
2
Find a treat more valuable than the toy
If he’s dead set on guarding his toy, gather up some smelly treats that are sure to catch his attention. Have them on hand and ready to go when you start training.
Step
3
Keep your distance
A key component of conditioning your dog to more positive responses to positive interactions is to not push him past his threshold. At the beginning, stay at a distance where you know he won’t growl at you.
Step
4
Toss the treats
Don’t approach him, but instead, throw the treats from your position at a distance. Do this a few times and then walk away.
Step
5
Repeat throughout the day
At random times of day, walk over to where your dog is playing and toss him some treats.
Step
6
Get closer over time
Over a period of the next few days or weeks, gradually step closer to your dog’s play area, tossing treats at him as you do so. If he starts to growl, take some steps back to where he was last successful and try again.
Step
7
Train your family
If you don’t live alone, involve the people who live with you to reinforce the training by tossing treats at your dog when he is playing with his toys. Ensure that any and all children participating only do so under adult supervision.
Step
8
Be patient
Resource guarding is sometimes a deeply ingrained habit and can take a long time to break. Be patient and continue working with your dog every day. If necessary, consult a behaviorist for additional help.
Recommend training method?

The Trade Method

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Step
1
Offer your dog a low value toy
Find a toy that your dog is not really into and only plays with occasionally. Give it to him to play with.
Step
2
Find a much higher value toy
Find the toy which your dog highly values and hold it in your hand where he can see it.
Step
3
Wait for your dog to drop the first toy
Do not offer your dog the new toy until he releases the initial one.
Step
4
Give the act a verbal cue
As you practice having him drop the toy, start anticipating when he will release it and use a verbal command to go with it. Something like ‘give’ or ‘trade’ will work well. Eventually he will associate the word with the behavior.
Step
5
Practice
Continue to practice the act of trading toys for things of higher value like another toy or a tasty treat. Always use the verbal command. This process may take several days or weeks for him to willingly offer you his toys.
Step
6
Always be cautious
This process is best done with the person who your dog is least defensive with or growls the least with. Do not allow children to participate without heavy adult supervision.
Recommend training method?

The Drop Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Offer a toy that is hard
Toys like Kongs or hard rubber chew toys work well for this. You’ll want a toy that is hard to get a good grasp on with your dog’s teeth.
Step
2
Allow your dog to chew but don’t let go
With one hand on the toy, allow her to mouth at the other end but do not allow her to take it from you.
Step
3
Hold a treat near your dog’s nose
With your free hand, wave a tasty treat near your dog’s nose so she can get a good scent on it but do not offer it just yet.
Step
4
Offer the treat for an open mouth
The second your dog releases the toy to try to take the treat, retrieve the toy and offer the treat right away.
Step
5
Use a verbal command
As soon as your dog releases the toy, use a command such as ‘drop it’ or ‘let go’ and then you may reward with the treat.
Step
6
Repeat
Do this multiple times with different toys that have various values for your dog. This may take several days or weeks for her to start releasing for the verbal command alone.
Step
7
Keep treats around for a quick release
Have treats in an easily accessible place for you or your family members to reward your dog for dropping her toys for you.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Zorro
Sprocker Spaniel
6 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Zorro
Sprocker Spaniel
6 Months

Hi, He is doing great with training related to waiting for treats, toilet training and is fairly ok with accepting that some areas (like beds) are not for him. We are family of 4, with 2 kids; 5 and 10 year old. Recently Zorro has started to growl when on the couch, protecting that place, we arrange big cage, which is always open for him and train him that he cannot go on the couch with no invitation. He was fine for a while, then started to guard some toys and pieces of clothing he would steal, if it wasnt anything dangerous we would just leave him be, after a while he would stop and ignore thing he stole. Few days ago he stole a piece of plastic, bit it into small sharp parts, as I was concerned he would swallow it, i tried to swap for some meat, he was leaving plastic bits to come for a treat, but at some point he realized its far from him and jumped on me (I didnt try to take said plastic) growl, bark and caught my arm with his teeth - quite hard, not to break skin). I started to train with him more, but yesterday when he was looking to steal something from the table, my 10y.o daughter went up to him to tell him 'no' and he jumped on her, doing the same. This morning he did the same with my younger son, just because he went pass him. Normally he would attend puppy classes for long time now but its not possible, so I am looking for advice because I dont have much experience, and the last thing I want him to become dangerous for kids.
My husband (he never had a dog, I was raised with two) says he cant trust Zorro, and he is stressed around the dog recently, what doesnt help either. We will be looking for video chat lessons/training to find solution to help Zorro, we dont want to see him stressed to the point he want to attack us.
Thank you.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
621 Dog owners recommended

Hello Karolina, First, pup needs to be desensitized to wearing a basket muzzle and needs to be wearing that at all times while the kids are around during the day - and sleep in a crate at night. To introduce the muzzle, first place it on the ground and sprinkle his meal kibble around it. Do this until he is comfortable eating around it. Next, when he is comfortable with it being on the floor with food, hold it up and reward him with a piece of kibble every time he touches or sniffs it in your hand. Feed him his whole meal this way. Practice this until he is comfortable touching it. Next, hold a treat inside of it through the muzzle's holes, so that he has to poke his face into it to get the treat. As he gets comfortable doing that, gradually hold the treat further down into the muzzle, so that he has to poke his face all the way into the muzzle to get the treat. Practice until he is comfortable having his face in it. Next, feed several treats in a row through the muzzle's holes while he holds his face in the muzzle for longer. Practice this until he can hold his face in it for at least ten seconds while being fed treats. Next, when he can hold his face in the muzzle for ten seconds while remaining calm, while his face is in the muzzle move the muzzle's buckles together briefly, then feed him a treat through the muzzle. Practice this until he is not bothered by the buckles moving back and forth. Next, while he is wearing the muzzle buckle it and unbuckle it briefly, then feed a treat. As he gets comfortable with this step, gradually keep the muzzle buckled for longer and longer while feeding treats through the muzzle occasionally. Next, gradually increase how long he wears the muzzle for and decrease how often you give him a treat, until he can calmly wear the muzzle for at least an hour without receiving treats more than two treats during that hour. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s What you are describing is pretty severe behavior for such a young dog. You definitely need to have pup evaluated by someone who you can work with remotely. Check out Sean O' Shea from the Good Dog and Jeff Gellman from SolidK9Training. Both specialize in aggression and many times offer Skype training. I wouldn't recommend tackling this on your own, and pup absolutely needs to be wearing a muzzle during the day. The fact that pup is jumping onto you to latch on at only six months of age goes beyond what I would recommend addressing without the direct supervision of a trainer who specializes in aggression - many trainers are not experienced with aggression, so ask a lot of questions to ensure they have the experience you need before hiring someone. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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