Possessive Aggression happens when a dog finds himself in a position to defend an item to prevent another individual from reaching for it.
When we think of possessive aggression, we soon remember that toy the dog defends vehemently, or those dogs that no one can get close to when they're eating.
Dogs suffering from this problem are not considered to be aggressive, but reactive under certain triggers. They can behave in a docile way throughout the day, but at feeding time, they turn into monsters. Just by bringing that special toy, the docile Lulu becomes the Tasmanian devil.
Possessive Aggression doesn't just happen when food or toys are involved. It is not rare to find dogs that behave like this towards other objects.
A few years ago, I dealt with a case of an Airdale Terrier protecting an armchair; normally a calm and quiet dog, but when someone came close to the armchair...
If we think about the scope of wild animal life, possession behavior is nothing more than primitive and natural behavior. In the wild, if I own something valuable, I will defend it no matter what, even against someone from my family.
For the domestic dog, this feeling of possession is not good and does not bring benefits. On the contrary, it only reinforces the dog's reactive behavior towards other individuals.
So, what to do? Prevention is always the best medicine! I usually say that the dog has no right to own anything in your house. He's just your dog. The bed he uses, the toys, and the food he eats all belong to the owner. Your dog only uses them when you allow him to.
As a puppy, it's important for your dog to understand that every time he fights for something, he will lose it. Snarling over a toy? Remove the toy! Growling over a treat? Remove the treat!
Many times, it’s useless to fight, scream, or say no. These attitudes have no effect if in the end your dog has access to what he was defending.
Remember the Airdale I mentioned a few paragraphs ago? The first thing I did was remove the armchair from the living room. Lost and without the reference to react in the same way, the aggressiveness stopped. During the first few days, I put a new bed in the same place where the armchair was and asked the owner to share the place by rewarding the dog for accepting someone's presence there. After three weeks I asked for the armchair to be brought back, and I put the new bed (the one that the dog now agreed to share with other people) on top of the old armchair and that was it. The dog now associated someone's presence as a positive thing and the possession behavior disappeared.
Marco Magiolo is a bestselling author, trainer, and speaker. Connect with Marco on social media and subscribe to future newsletters and updates.