How to Train Your Small Dog to Not Guard Toys

Medium
4-6 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

Small dogs often get away with bad behavior because of their size, but that doesn't mean they can't unlearn these bad habits or that they should get away with undesirable actions. One of the bad habits small dogs can develop is aggressively guarding toys. This behavior, often called "resource guarding," can develop for several reasons. Small dogs might be more easily frightened by larger animals and lashing out aggressively might be the way they have learned to protect their possessions, or they may be manifesting nervousness or insecurity. 

It's important to remember that guarding toys isn't a strange behavior for any dog. Before dogs were domesticated, they needed to use aggression to be sure they had enough food, a den, and to keep other dogs away. It's up to you to teach him that there is a more satisfying way to react around his toys, and if he shares he will get an even better reward.

Defining Tasks

You can use the same training techniques to reduce resource guarding on both large and small dogs, but small dogs do need certain considerations. If your small dog is guarding his toys because he's frightened, you need to make sure your body language isn't seen as aggressive. You will need to take the training down to his level by sitting down or kneeling, or elevating your dog. Make sure you don't make any swift or exaggerated movements, and always train with patience and a steady voice. Your small dog should feel safe and not intimidated when you are working with him.

It's important to train your small dog to share his toys with others because he could become dangerous, especially to small children who don't know not to touch the dog's toys. If your dog is snapping and growling at people or other dogs, you could get into a lot of trouble. It's best to stop the behavior as soon as it starts.

Getting Started

To get started, you'll want to train in a quiet space without any distractions. You might want to enlist the help of a friend who can help you recreate the stimulus in a safe space. Here are a few other items to have on hand for training your small dog not to guard his toys.
  • Low-value toys that aren't favorites for your dog.
  • Special, enticing treats like cheese or pieces of hot dog. Be sure to cut them into very small pieces.
  • A friend with another dog who is calm and well trained.
  • Lots of patience and understanding for your dog.

Teaching your small dog to stop guarding his toys won't be easy, and it won't happen overnight. However, it's extremely important to correct this habit before it grows worse. When you aren't training, try to minimize the occasions he growls or snaps by keeping his prized possessions away from him, and staying clear of him when he does have them. Check out the three methods below to see which one will work best for you. With slow and steady training, your little buddy will learn how to share his toys with you and other dogs.

The Drop It Method

Effective
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Step
1
Make a positive association
Teach your dog to associate you with good things like yummy treats. When he is near a low-value toy that he doesn't guard, walk up and drop a treat next to the toy. Do this until he begins to understand that people mean yummy food is on the way.
Step
2
Make it a game
Choose another low-value toy and sit down close to your dog. Wave it in the air and entice him to grab it with his mouth. Don't let go when he has it, so he won't run away with it.
Step
3
Introduce a treat
Take a high-value treat, cut into small pieces, and hold it under his nose.
Step
4
Give him praise
When he drops the toy to take the treat, tell him he's a good boy and shower him with praise. Keep practicing until he releases the toy easily in favor of the treat.
Step
5
Introduce a verbal cue
Now you are ready to introduce the verbal cue. When he drops the toy to take the treat, say "drop it" and give him praise. Practice this until he begins to associate "drop it" with giving up the toy in favor of the treat.
Step
6
Practice
Continue to practice this until he can drop the toy without being treated.
Step
7
Increase the value of the toy
Once he is easily releasing the low-value toy on command, try upping the value of the toy. Be sure to start by treating him each time he releases the toy and gradually weaning him off the treats. Eventually he should drop any toy when you ask him to.
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The Give and Take Method

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Step
1
Start with a low-value toy
Find a toy your dog isn't attached to and will easily give up. This might be a new toy or a toy that he hasn't spent much time playing with.
Step
2
Give him the toy
Give your dog the toy to play with. After a few seconds, offer him a treat and take the toy back when he drops it.
Step
3
Give the toy back
As soon as he is finished eating, give him the toy.
Step
4
Practice
Keep practicing the last steps for a few weeks, until he shows no sign of worry when you take the toy and he knows you are going to give it back.
Step
5
Up the value of the toys
Slowly up the value of the toys you play this trick with. Once he shows no sign of hesitation or worry with one toy, move on to a toy he likes even more. Eventually, you should be able to take his favorite toy without him even blinking.
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The Desensitizing Method

Effective
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Step
1
Observe his behavior
Before you start, observe your dog's behavior. Is he protective over a certain toy like a ball or a stuffed animal? Does he get aggressive when other dogs approach his toys? Make a note of the situations that trigger his resource guarding.
Step
2
Choose a quiet place
Find a quiet place in your house with very little to distract your dog. Make sure there are no loud noises and he feels comfortable.
Step
3
Let your dog play
Bring your dog into the room with one of the toys he guards and let him play. Have a friend waiting in the wings with a calm and well trained dog on a leash.
Step
4
Let the other dog walk in
Signal your friend to slowly walk in with the other dog. When your dog begins to tense but before he reacts, stop your friend.
Step
5
Give him treats
With the other dog stopped, treat your dog and tell him what a good boy he is, then ask your friend to leave the room. Your friend can also give the other dog a treat.
Step
6
Repeat
Keep practicing with your friend. Make sure you treat your dog before he reacts. If the other dog gets too close, just have your friend leave and try again.
Step
7
Slowly decrease the distance
As your dog gets more comfortable with the other dog coming close, you can slowly decrease the distance between the two dogs. Just make sure to stop before he reacts.
Step
8
Associate other dogs with rewards
With lots of time and practice, your dog should start to associate the presence of the other dog with treats. Eventually your dog will become desensitized to other dogs getting near his toys.
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