View Full Version : Issues with possessiveness?

4th December 2011, 01:45 AM
Hello ladies & gents :)

By the way, before I begin. I would like to say that Harvey my Tricolor Cavalier has been a real pleasure to be around with, for the only exception to regarding, for what I am about to ask.

Harvey is just touching to be six months old now (How that has flew over!) And is a happy/healthy/excitable puppy to be around with. Especially when he is outside. My Fam, along with myself is over the moon to have him.

Now getting down to the one and only issue with Harvey. When he has a "new" toy Or, something that he isn't suppose to have in his possession, he will growl quite aggressively. then begin to shake, When somebody approaches him. He has bitten me, more then a few times. Straight after I have place him into his crate/cage for a 10 minute time-out, from then saying "No-Naughty!" This has been going on now for about two months.

Any tips would be greatly appreciated. Thank you :)

murphy's mum
4th December 2011, 11:13 AM
Hmm, when we first got Misty she was very possessive of bones or chews etc. She would fly for Murphy if he got within a metre of her, and would growl at us too.

The way we worked round it was to offer something even better to her, and remove the chew/bone. To start with it was only for a second or two, and the we built the time up, and we always returned it too her, so that she knew we weren't taking it away, but she learned we could touch it if we wanted too. We offered sausage, cheese or chicken in return, and said "drop it" as the same time. Once she had dropped it we picked it up at the same time we offered the higher value treat, and went crazy with the praise :)

It's so important that dogs get used to use taking their possessions away, especially if you have children, or children visit. Misty's now fine with us touching her, or removing a treat from her. The only things I can get her to "drop" are dead things she snatches on walks:yuk:

4th December 2011, 12:07 PM
This is not an uncommon issue but of course, shouldn't be happening.

Have you worked at all to train him not to be possessive (as part of the daily, fun training sessions every young dog should have?) :thmbsup: If you haven't done this -- and it should begin immediately on acquiring any puppy or dog -- then he really has no idea that he isn't supposed to guard and keep items, which is a natural but highly undesireable behaviour. Owners have to train dogs to understand there is no risk in willingly surrendering an item. Forcefully taking an item away and then punishing a dog only tends to reinforce the problem as you confirm to the dog that indeed, he always loses out and nothing good happens when you want something he has. A crate should never be used as a punishment space as you always want positive associations with a crate. :thmbsup:

I would very strongly recommend downloading Ian Dunbar's free book, After You Get Your Puppy, as it has tons of advice for raising any pup (or adult newcomer!) in a positive and highly productive way, dealing with very common problems like this and setting up a new routine where you work with him daily to happily relinquish items (which you often are going to give him back, as part of training).


Guarding is very important to deal with though as it quickly can become a serious issue -- the fact that he has bitten you several times is already quite worrying, and means this has already accelerated-- if positive training at home cannot address it, may need professional help. Have you done a group obedience class with a positive methods trainer (ideally APDT or CPDT qualified?)? By 6 months he is right at the age where this is really needed and helpful in shaping the dog you want -- and a good trainer can give lots of help on managing this. Waiting much longer means setting unwanted behaviours such as possessiveness -- it is considerably harder (and not always possible) to change behaviours rather than establish what you want thru training at the very start of a dog's life.

Guarding truly can be one of the most serious issues in behaviour so I cannot over-emphasise how critical dealing with it right away, in a positive way, is. The only dogs I ever got into rescue that I had to consider putting to sleep were three cavaliers that had guarding issues that had escalated to biting -- a child could easily be bitten by such dogs in which case, a warden may require the dog be euthenised, so in every way, this is a serious issue.

The basic approach is never to grab things off a dog, but to do some fun training episodes where he learns a command to drop or give an item *in exchange for something of higher value* -- eg a loved toy or excellent food treat. And never punish. :)

Some more resources:

Jean Donaldson's excellent book on this problem: http://www.dogwise.com/itemdetails.cfm?ID=DTB740

Also, if you look at the post I have pinned at the top of the Training section on recommended training sites, all those trainers have guides on managing possessiveness.

Also this website has fantastic training resources from a trainer who occasionally stops in here on the board:


see: http://www.dogspelledforward.com/my-dog-keeps-taking-stuff/ and http://www.scribd.com/doc/19004331/Dog-Training-Give

Also see:


Best of luck with the training! :)

4th December 2011, 01:04 PM
The posts above give very, very good advice.

First thing--don't use the crate as a time-out. You want the crate to be associated with positive things, not negative ones. Don't take his toy/treat away while he has it and not offer something in return. It'll only tell him "be careful, don't let the humans take this away, you'll never get it back and get punished for it!"

You need to teach him the "trading game". Whenever you want to take a toy or treat away from him, offer him something in return--a yummy treat, a toy he likes even better, etc., so that he learns that whenever someone wants to take away what he has, they'll give him something in return for it. This will let him know that he doesn't have to worry or be afraid that you're going to take his toy/treat away and punish him.

Dogs guard because they're afraid that someone is going to take away what they have--what you're doing is making it worse; it's reinforcing his belief that he needs to guard his things if not, he'll lose them. You need to teach him that humans approaching while I'm playing with my toys = a good thing because they'll give me yummy treats or more toys in return!

4th December 2011, 05:34 PM
Thank you, for all of your feedback/advise, and especially those links :)

I shall put pen to paper, as it were..and do what you guys have advised me to do.

Yes Karlin. We started to train little Harvey at the age of 14 weeks. (Ourselves), No other professional classes were involved. He's normally a well behaved Pup, apart from what we have discussed upon.

Once again, thank you. :)

I will document his behavior and let you all know how he is coming along.

4th December 2011, 11:59 PM
Max has some resource guarding issues and I would concur with all the advice you have been given. What I have done with Max in addition to the above suggestions is taught him a solid retrieve. I make a conscious effort to rarely take anything from him when he is in his crate or his bed (which is where he generally takes his treasures) but if I see his has something he shouldn't (usually a dirty sock) I will ask him to "bring me" for which he gets rewarded. This way he is making the choice to give me the item. The other day he found a bag of dog treats that I had left in a shopping bag. The bag was closed with a zip but given enough time he could have chewed through. I asked him to "bring me" and he happily brought me the entire bag. Far better than me chasing him and forcibly taking it away. It was my fault anyway for leaving the bag where he could get it.

I have Jean Donaldson's book and also highly recommend it.

7th December 2011, 07:55 PM
When he becomes too obsessed, you can try to distract him with a loud noise like shaking a can with coins in it. The second he looks up say "drop it" (in a voice of excitement) and give him a treat. Take one step at a time until he understands he doesn't need to be defensive or afraid of what will happen next.

8th December 2011, 12:20 AM
On training -- I meant home training specifically not to resource guard -- but also later meant training in a class rather than at home, more generally (where you would have done 'give', 'leave it' etc as a matter of course). :thmbsup: A training class is much more helpful and meaningful for real world desireable behaviours than training alone at home. Most of the time we want dogs to be good citizens and also to be able to respond to commands when distracted out in the real world -- by surroundings, other dogs, people. Training at home means a dog generally will not reliably respond out in the real world where distractions are far more interesting. People often complain that their dog disobeys/ignores their commands/has little recall etc when on walks when really it is simply that the dog only ever learned in an isolated environment at home. Classes also give critical socialisation with lots of dogs and lots of people -- extremely helpful to dogs under 1. Plus it is more fun in a class -- and a good qualified trainer can do a lot to help with other problems owners have at home (like resource guarding) and also can easily spot when people are unintentionally giving dogs mixed messages in training and really improve response. The benefits are really significant -- a big study in the US showed that people who do a training course are far less likely to ever want to rehome their dog, for example. :) I still learn things every time I sit in on a basic training course run by good trainers even though I've done basic courses or sat in on them many many times.

Personally I wouldn't recommend scaring and distracting to frighten a dog out of an item -- it can of course work in an individual instance but fails to address the underlying issue -- simply training a dog to gladly give up an item and not even think about guarding it in the first place. :) Rattling cans etc are a form of punishment/scolding that would reinforce to the dog that people do untrustworthy things to steal what they have -- and thus reinforce the unwanted guarding behaviour.

It is actually lots of fun to train a pup to give up and leave items. :D And also to allow a food bowl to be taken in exchange for something tasty, then return it and so on -- these are all fun games for owner and pup/dog to do and regularly reinforce with practice. The big reward for the human is -- a dog that never resource guards! :D