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Does your dog love their toy too much? Stop growling and nipping over toys

So you ordered a brand new toy for your dog and they love it!! But…they love it so much they don’t want to give it up? Maybe they have even growled or nipped when you try to take it off them? A new toy can be like gold for some dogs, so often they want to hold onto it for all it’s worth.

Why do dogs Resource Guard?

Guarding a resource such as a new toy is actually a normal behaviour for dogs. Resource guarding comes from a fear of loss – your dog is not trying to be mean or nasty. As humans, we resource guard our things too. We lock our cars and houses and have pin numbers on our credit cards. We don’t like it when people take things away from us, so why do we get so upset if our dog won’t share their toys with us?

What does Resource Guarding look like?

Maybe your dog likes to play ‘keep away’ or likes to be chased (which are great games), but when guarding escalates to growling and nipping, we need to address this and start to prevent and change this behaviour. Growling can be seen in both play and guarding but guarding growling is usually seen with stiffer body language, hard staring at you, freezing and protectiveness such as hovering over the toy or trying to block you from getting to the toy.

How to overcome Resource Guarding of a toy

You don’t have to ‘teach your dog a lesson’ and get the toy back off them. So the most common sense approach is to teach your dog that they will get something better in exchange for giving it up. The aim is to condition your dog to expect good things when you approach.

  • Make a list of your dog’s favourite things from 1-10 (1 being your dog’s ultimate reward). Make sure to start with lower value items and swap with higher value and work up the list.
  • Have multiple toys! Your dog can’t guard more than 1 or 2 at once. Have some to swap out and play exchange with.
  • Exchange with yummy food or treat if possible (high value such as chicken works for a lot of dogs!)
  • Have set play times where the ‘special’ toy comes out, but it’s your toy and you are nice enough to share it with your dog. Allow them to ‘win’ but swap it out with another high value toy, or snack a few times during the play.
  • Put the toy away once play has finished so your dog doesn’t get to practice the guarding behaviour.
  • Avoid chasing your dog or leaning towards them if they are under a chair for example, to get the toy back off them. Rather, encourage them to come to you to exchange it for another toy or snack. Make the toy you have more interesting! Perhaps drag it long the ground or move it around so it becomes ‘alive’.
  • Wait for your dog to drop the toy, before giving them the exchange – i.e. avoid trying to grab the toy out of their mouth. Then lots and lots of praise when they leave the other toy and come to you for the new toy. You can then toss the toy away from the old toy so they chase it, then they can have the other toy again, and repeat.

Dogs that guard toys can often have tendencies to guard other high value items such as food. We address this is our next article that you can read here.

Have fun playing with your dog, and if you need further guidance, seek the assistance from a qualified professional.

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