Handling toy and treat possessiveness when present in our furry friends requires a different approach from the one we use with food possessiveness. I generally employ one of two options when my clients come to me with a dog that is resource guarding his toys or treats.
The first is what I like to call the 'All-Or-Nothing' method, with a heavy emphasis on the nothing. With this approach, the dog is never permitted to have any treats or special treats for the rest of his natural life. Seem a little extreme? I'm inclined to agree, but for some clients who do not have the resources, either in available time or finances, to train these habitual behaviors into extinction (see my blog on extinction bursts and spontaneous recovery here www.alldogstoronto.com/the-all-dogs-blog/why-things-seem-to-get-worse-before-they-get-better), it's the only viable option.
Let's talk about method two, my personal favorite and the one I suggest first to any client with a dog that is resource guarding treats or toys.
We call it the "Exchange Game". Here's how it works:
Start with a hungry dog, some really stinky, tasty treats that you know he loves, and a toy that he plays with sometimes but is definitely not his favorite.
Offer your dog the lesser-valued toy (it helps if your dog knows "take it", and then immediately follow this up by offering one of those stinky, yummy treats in front of his nose. Your dog will invariably drop the toy in hopes of getting the treat. This is good! Offer your dog a string of these treats quickly enough that he does not go to pick up the toy again right away.
Note: If the resource guarding behavior is particularly severe and he will not allow you to get close to the toy, toss the treats to him from a safe distance one at a time.
It's really as simple as this, to start. Practice this repeatedly over many days. It is extremely important to never take the toy away from your dog by force until he's abandoned it himself and is in a calm, relaxed state of mine. When you're able to do the exchange many times in a row and your dog remains relaxed, progress to actually taking the toy yourself.
Holding the toy in one hand, wait for your dog to finish eating the treat you've delivered to him. Hold still until he says "please" by sitting (see my previous blog, www.alldogstoronto.com/the-all-dogs-blog/mine-mine-mine-part-one-food-possessiveness, for how this is done). Once he sits and looks at you, give the toy back.
Practice this literally hundreds of times over the weeks and months to come, implementing different objects your dog loves in different settings (for example, different rooms in the house, the backyard, the front yard, and during your daily walks together). In time, your dog will learn that life is much more enjoyable when he shares his toys and treats with you, because he always gets them back.
Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, Decoding the Dog Park, and the Big Book of Dog Training.