Dear Murphy: My Dog is Toy Possessive

Dear Murphy,
I adopted my Yorkshire Terrier, Spencer, a little over a year ago and he is absolutely wonderful. He is loving, playful, handsome and great with other dogs and people 99% of the time. He does, however, have random spurts of toy aggression where he will grab a toy, bone, treat etc. and run under furniture with it (usually the bed). When I try to approach him, he is a completely different dog; He snarls, he snaps and his body language is extremely defensive. I’ve tried both luring him out with love and force but nothing seems to curb the impulse. Do you have any advice? 

Sincerely,
New Yorker with a Cranky New Yorkie

Dear New Yorker with a Cranky New Yorkie,
I have a confession to make; I love my toys A LOT and sometimes I have the urge to protect them from potential invaders. Resource guarding is not only a natural canine behavior, it’s natural for most animals. Even you humans can be fiercely protective of  what you consider your property (Think “Black Friday” sales).

Mine!!!It sounds like Spencer is exhibiting some classic obsessive dog behaviors: Toy greed and hoarding. Obsessive dog behaviors can, sometimes, appear silly and harmless but they can often trigger aggressive responses, as you’ve already experienced with Spencer. Think of them as doggie addictions. They are bad habits and it sounds like Spencer needs an intervention 🙂 Here are some helpful tips to help break the cycle of fixation:

–  Most of the time an obsession is something that the dog has discovered can work as an outlet for anxiety, frustration, or suppressed energy so make sure your dog is getting enough exercise.

–  Learn to recognize the physical cues and energy signs that your dog is getting into an obsessive state. In his book, Be the Pack Leader, Ceasar Millan states “Your job should be at that very moment to correct the dog, to bring him to the highest level of submission, keeping the toy or object of obsession (if that’s what it is) next to him until he moves away from it voluntarily.” Do not snatch the toy away or punish.  This just makes the toy an object of  prey and, therefore, more desirable to your dog. Us dogs are pretty awesome, but we’re not very rational.

– Counterconditioning is also a good method to help diminish trigger responses. This is my personal favorite because it usually involves treats 🙂 Giving your dog something like a special food item, while he is being exposed to the object that’s triggering obsession, will often help lessen an aggressive reaction.

For more tips and tricks check out these websites:

WebMD: Dog Compulsive Behavior

Aggression in Dogs – Possessive – Toy Greed

Bark Bark,
Murphy

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