Possessiveness is not unusual behavior in a dog. Your dog may be possessive over his toys, his bed, his food, any treats you give him, but potentially also over you or his other owners. Some dogs are more prone to possessiveness than others, but most family dogs want to protect their family members to some extent.
There are other possible causes of possessive behavior, but having your dog bark, growl, or even attack people or other animals that get near you is an activity that should be discouraged. Fortunately, you can prevent it. Follow these steps to help reduce possessiveness and the negative behaviors that it encourages.
Recognize Possessive Behavior
Possessiveness can start small and grow to become a major problem. You should identify these small signs before it has a chance to develop into something bigger. Your dog is showing these early signs if he:
If you identify any of these behaviors, you should take action before it becomes a much larger issue. You may not really mind your dog being protective over his toy, but it can and often does, progress.
Don’t Overparent The Dog
You may be causing or exacerbating your dog’s possessiveness through no fault of your own. Dogs naturally bark and growl at people when they come to the door. If your attitude is to pick them up and hold them, or to stroke them and tell them they’re a good boy, you are effectively rewarding them for protecting you. They are learning that this is a desirable action, and not an undesirable one.
Ignore The Behavior
As long as your dog isn’t snapping or likely to snap, you should ignore the behavior as much as possible. If he barks when somebody comes to the door, ignore him. When he eventually stops barking and leaves the visitor alone, you can give him a treat and praise him, because he is then being rewarded for desirable behavior.
Most dogs will take a dominant role if they do not recognize you as being the dominant position in the pack. Some breeds enjoy the dominant position more than others, and may actively seek it. In these cases, you will have to assert your dominance in everything you do.
When you walk the dog, ensure that you are at the front and that your dog walks behind your foot line. You can also show dominance by making him wait before giving him his food. Don’t simply let your dog get what he wants, when he wants it. Show him that you are in control. If they see you as being the dominant leader, they will not feel the need to protect you.
Obedience training is another way of asserting your dominance, and it will also provide you with some basic commands that will help prevent your dog from displaying possessiveness. Enroll in obedience classes, if you need to. These can be especially beneficial because they will allow you to meet other people and other animals in a safe environment and with people in a similar situation to you.
Learn and teach commands like “sit”, “stay”, and “leave”. You can command your dog with “sit” when people come to the door. The command “stay” will be beneficial if you want to discourage them from taking toys and other items. You can use “leave it” to encourage your dog to drop a toy or other item that they are being possessive over.
Determine and Teach Boundaries
You need to determine and set boundaries. For example, you may want to stop them from getting on the bed or even on the sofa. It is common for dogs to get possessive over their owners when somebody approaches them while sitting down. It is down to you to show that this is acceptable. If your dog is not allowed on the sofa, they will not be able to display possessive behavior.
Reduce Separation Anxiety
One possible cause of this possessive behavior is that they are afraid of being left. This is more common in rescue dogs, but may also occur in dogs with separation anxiety. Separation anxiety means that your dog will bark, howl, and even show destructive behavior while you are out of the house. But you can’t be expected to stay home with him all day, every day.
Put them in a crate, or tie their leash away from you. Go about your typical routine and ignore the barking and howling for some time. It may feel cruel, but when you return, it shows them that you won’t leave them.
Possessiveness is common in dogs that are used to having a single owner. They spend all day with you and nobody else is around. They get all the attention and enjoy your time. When another person comes along, they have to share your attention.
Encourage your dog to form bonds with other people or other animals. They won’t be forced to rely on you so heavily for emotional support. You should take care to ensure that they won’t snap at the person during the first meeting. And don’t forget to avoid the temptation of over mothering your dog when you make the introduction.
Teaching a dog a new behavior, or correcting existing behavior, takes time and effort. You will need to commit to the cause and be persistent in your training. If you’re teaching them not to get on the sofa with you, you shouldn’t relent just because they sit and stare at you and certainly not because they are barking. This teaches them that they can get what they want through certain actions and activities.
Possessiveness can become a major problem if it is left unchecked. Don’t be overprotective of your dog, discourage minor possessive behavior, and be persistent in all of your training and behavioral techniques. Also, remember that training and correction do not equate to physical reprimands. Never hit or be physical with your dog. It teaches them that this kind of behavior is accepted and it may encourage them to be physical to get what they want.
Featured Image Credit: Piotr Wawrzyniuk, Shutterstock