Guarding Valued Objects

A dog can become very possessive about certain objects. Guarding (also called possessive aggression) occurs with food and variety of objects valued by the dog, including favorite toys. It also may guard inappropriate objects such as shoes or a piece of trash. Attempts to remove the object from the pet may be met with an aggressive response. It may stand over its food dish, for example, and growl when approached. The warning must not be ignored because the dog could bite.

Early signs

Guarding behavior may begin as an attention-seeking game when the dog is a puppy. You may no longer enjoy the game, however, when it persists in your adult dog. Your dog may guard objects during play to attraction your attention. This is typical of dogs that “steal” objects, often in plain view, and run off. If your dog fails to engage your attention with a particular object, it may continue to test your reaction until it discovers one that works. Though playful guarding may not progress to aggressive guarding, it should not be encouraged. Many pet owners believe that guarding food indicates a dog was deprived of food as a puppy. However, this behavior is seen in dogs that have never experienced starvation. Guarding behavior must be distinguished from social dominance because it can intensely displayed even by submissive dogs. Dominant dogs that also guard may be more intensely possessive, but many dominant dogs can be unconcerned with guarding any object of value to them.


The best way to deal with guarding behavior is to prevent it. If your dog tends to stay in the same corner or under a bed with its favorite object, block access to these hiding places. Teach your dog that giving up a possession is actually fun in the form of a game. Train it to “fetch” neutral objects (of no value to the dog) , and teach it to retrieve and return them to you. Command the dog to “sit” and “stay.” As you gently remove the object from its mouth, introduce a new command, such as “drop it” or “let go.” If you practice this frequently and offer lots of praise, the dog will associate the new phrase with relinquishing an object. After several weeks of practice, when the dog has learned the basic rules of the game, practice with a variety of objects of increasing value to the dog. Eventually, include objects that were previously guarded.

Another obedience exercise is to train the dog not to touch an object until you instruct it to do so. Place your dog in a “sit/stay” position, for example, with a food treat or toy just out of reach. Say “leave it!” as the dog maintains its position. Release the dog from this position with a command such as “okay.” You may incorporate this training as a daily ritual at meal time.

Challenge Situations

A dog will bite to guard its valued object and should not be challenged. Not matter how secure you feel with your dog under normal circumstances, do not risk injury to yourself by putting your hand or face in biting range. It may be necessary to leave the dog alone until it loses interest in the object, even if the dog may be in some danger. If your dog steals something before retraining is completed, two responses are advised:

  1. If the object is of no danger to the dog, ignore it. In this way, you are not reinforcing the behavior by paying attention to it.
  2. If the object is an obvious hazard to your dog’s health, do not panic. Calmly and without directly looking at the dog, find something of equal or greater value to the dog, such as a special food treat or even its leash. Call the dog to “come” to you and away from the object. Give no hint of anger or concern in your voice. When the dog begins to approach you, give it immediate encouragement even before it arrives at your feet. Put your dog in a “sit” position and give it a reward.

In some cases it may be effective to simply stop what you are doing and leave the room. The dog’s curiosity in your activity might exceed its interest in guarding. Be sure to remove the object, hazardous or not, as soon as possible. Place it in an inaccessible location or discard it.

Young children must never be left unattended during a dog’s feeding time or allowed to approach a dog when it is enjoying a favorite toy or treat. In such instances, you may be able to exert some control (at least long enough to remove the child or halt its progress) by applying the training you have practiced with a “leave it” command or perhaps simply calling the dog to “come” to you.

Source: "Canine and Feline Behavior Problems," Stefanie Schwartz; ASPCA

Escaping and Roaming

Young dogs with strong territorial drives commonly attempt to escape the confines of your home or yard. Inadequate attention and exercise, such as regular walks or play, contribute to the urge to escape. Social isolation (from people and other dogs) and separation anxiety also promote escape attempts. Roaming usually subsides as general levels of activity decrease toward the age of five or six years and is less common in older dogs.

A single escape substantially increases the probability that more attempts will follow, unless the dog has an overwhelmingly negative experience while it is roaming, such as being hit by a car. Roaming gives a dog mental and physical gratification. It enables a dog to locate sources of food (even if these are in trash bins), potential mates, or rivals.

Finders Keepers

Your dog’s roaming behavior does not mean it does not appreciate you. It is easy to become frustrated by this behavior, particularly when it is inconvenient to retrieve your roaming dog. When at least you locate your pet, do not scold it! Your dog will associate punishment with you and its home. As difficult as it may be, never command a dog to “come” in angry tones. It may quickly learn to run in the opposite direction. When you find your dog, convey a positive attitude. You may find it helpful to bring along a treat to reward the dog for approaching you. Make sure to bring a leash with you.

If the dog hesitates to approach you, command it to “sit/stay” instead. Give plenty of verbal praise before approaching the dog or repeating the command to “come.” Turn any further hesitation into a game by running away from the dog. Calling it to “come” in a playful tone will encourage it to chase you. Your anxiety is best forgotten and directed instead toward preventing further escapes.


  • The best way to control roaming is to prevent escape and minimize the desire to roam. Increase your dog’s physical activity with frequent leash walks. This also allows it to safely patrol its territory. Play with your dog every day, engaging in activities that incorporate obedience skills.
  • Apply obedience skills at every opportunity during your daily schedule, so that your dog’s attention does not wander. If your dog is well exercised and mentally stimulated by you, it is less likely to attempt escape.
  • Neutering may help to control escape attempts. A dog that roams, however, should be neutered anyway to prevent any contribution it might make to pet overpopulation during its escapades.
  • Teach your dog to strongly associate your yard with positive experiences. Withhold your dog’s food for 24 hours. Resume feeding in your yard at frequent intervals and in small portions. On subsequent days, gradually increase the time between meals and resume feeding the normal portion at each meal. The time of feeding should remain inconsistent for an extended period of time. In this way, your dog will associate food with the yard but will not be able to anticipate when it will be fed and will be less tempted to escape.
  • Install a permanent and sturdy fence to enclose your yard. If your dog learns to dig under or jump over it, you may need to extend it in depth or in height. Electric fences and collars should be used only under close direct supervision of a qualified veterinary behaviorist who feels comfortable with their use. Otherwise, they may injure your dog and cause unintended behavioral consequences.

PRINTABLE Escaping and Roaming.pdf


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