My dog, Rusty, has a problem of toy-guarding against my other dog, Rosie. Whenever Rusty has a toy and Rosie gets close, he growls and snaps at her until she leaves him alone. I want to keep giving my dogs toys, but I’m afraid they’ll start actually fighting one day. What can I do to stop Rusty from being so mean to Rosie?
The good news here is that there is a lot you can do to create doggy-harmony in a toy-guarding home! Before we begin, however, if Rusty also toy-guards with you and shows aggressive signs when you try to take a toy away from him, please consult a professional dog trainer and keep the toys out of your dogs’ reach for now.
Toy-Guarding comes from a natural canine instinct to guard resources. In a dog’s mind, if he loses that toy to another dog, he may never get it back. The goal will be to show Rusty that if he chooses to guard his toy, he will lose it (but will get it back after showing appropriate behavior). If the following protocol is followed with his toys 100% of the time, he will eventually learn that if he toy guards, he will lose his toy, and if he does not, he will keep it.
To begin, make sure Rusty has a strong understanding of the “Give” command. If he does not, work on that for at least one week until he will drop the toy every time you ask him to. To do this, wait until Rusty is involved in playing with his toy. Tell him “Give” and trade him a treat for the toy. Be sure to always give the toy back to him after he finishes the treat so that the “Give” command won’t mean, in his mind, that he loses the toy for good.
The next step is to wait for Rusty to display his toy-guarding behaviors around Rosie. A problem can’t be solved until it actually occurs.
When Rusty starts growling, approach both dogs and have Rosie move away from Rusty. Once Rosie is away, say “Give” to Rusty, take the toy place it near Rusty on the couch or floor. Do NOT allow Rusty or Rosie to get close to the toy, and do not hold the toy yourself. Rosie and Rusty will be learning to ignore the toy and will see that the other dog is not going to make a move or take it (Rusty’s biggest fear!).
The reason behind having Rosie back off is to advocate for Rusty, who becomes nervous due to her presence. Rusty will start to see that you understand that he is nervous and that you are willing to step in and help him. He is also learning, however, that toy-guarding is not the answer! Rosie is learning that you will advocate for her as well, which will decrease the possibility of a future fight.
Once both dogs have stopped fixating on the toy, give the toy back to Rusty. This part is crucial. In the dog world, a fair leader would not say “Since you can’t play nicely with this toy, your sister is going to get it.” If the toy were to go to Rosie after Rusty displays toy-guarding, Rusty’s mind would tell him that he was right to toy-guard! Afterall, Rosie would have just gotten the toy, which is what he feared in the first place would happen.
Be sure to keep another toy available to Rosie, and to advocate for Rosie in the same manner – by keeping Rusty away from her while she is playing with her toy. If the dogs can play nicely when Rosie controls the toy, no problem. If, however, Rusty has a habit of stealing her toy, or if Rosie becomes noticeably uncomfortable when Rusty approaches, you will need to step in for awhile and keep Rusty at a distance.
After a couple of weeks of advocating for each dog, and of following through with taking Rusty’s toy, keeping it near him, and giving it back to him when he calms down, both dogs should calm down considerably around toys. You will be showing them that there is no need to fight, because you now control who plays when, and you will have shown them what behaviors are and are not acceptable in your household.
I’m very glad that you see the importance of toys and that you wish to keep them around for your dogs to play with. Keeping the toys out reassures the dogs that they will indeed still be there and that toy-guarding is not necessary. Also, with dogs, it is important to face their issues head-on. Removing toys for good will do nothing but increase their frustration levels the next time a toy, or something resembling a toy, makes an appearance in their lives.
If you have any questions you would like to ask a Certified Dog Trainer, you can submit them right here at Naptown Buzz. Every week, Elizabeth Wilhelm, Certified Dog Trainer, will tackle one of the submitted questions. For more information about Elizabeth, you may visit her website at www.TrainingKarma.com.