When our dog appropriates something, we must be able to reduce his desire for possession if necessary. No bullying is needed: just use your brain … To be honest, we shouldn’t be surprised nor offended.
For our friend, in fact, keeping something close to him, preventing anyone else from taking it away from him, is and always will be completely natural behavior.
The problem could arise when, among the strategies adopted as a function of maintenance, actions of threat or worse of attack emerged.
In such cases, in fact, issues of “good social living” arise and from our point of view it is not admissible that our friend could become dangerous for ourselves or for others.
Hence, it is important to find a mediation between the dog’s spontaneous inclination to “protect” what he believes to be and his willingness to divide and share.
Such an objective can be pursued by acting from the first days of coexistence, thus avoiding the onset of dangerous habits.
Furthermore, the techniques used must highlight the possible advantages of not keeping everything to oneself, excluding any idea of exclusive loss of a benefit.
If we have been consistent, with the involvement of the whole family, the fateful “level playing field” will be achieved without great difficulty.
The possessiveness of our dog is natural but must be managed. Let’s find out how.
1. Animated and non-animated objects and the beliefs that motivate the action
A possible possessive behavior occurs only towards something “tangible”, thus specifying that possessiveness, to be such, must refer to an “object” on which to devote attention.
The object in question may have an “inanimate” or “animated” character.
In the first case, the main references concern, for example, the space occupied, food, possible games and everything to which the dog attaches value.
In the second hypothesis, reference is made to “living” subjects, whether it be a conspecific, a member of the family or another animal with whom our friend has established a relationship.
All these “objects” will take the name of “resources”, since they are considered fundamental for the well-being of the person who “possesses” them.
Another aspect necessary to be able to speak of “possessiveness” refers to those who could become a “threat” with respect to maintaining a given resource.
Our dog, in fact, does not activate his state of possessiveness in the absence of danger, or fear, that someone else may steal the object of his interest.
But what are the beliefs that motivate the action (the so-called “Beliefs”)? We have explained that the dog can decide to defend what he believes to be his only if he believes that someone wants to steal it.
This is determined by a cognitive process called “beliefs”; it is a belief, correct or not, that the asset of which you think you are owner is in real danger.
Faced with this internal reflection, the “owner” will move towards a further “belief”, identifiable in believing that the adoption of a certain strategy becomes the best way to avoid possible loss.
This same “belief” will go even further, assuming the dog the awareness that the possible “thief” of the resource, in front of the claim expressed by the dog, will stop the attempt of subtraction.
It will therefore be this chain of “superstitions” that will trigger the reaction of possession, as if it were a “theatrical” show where the different actors play the part entrusted to them.
2. How it manifests itself
Aggression is often the last chance but …
Possession is manifested in different ways by dogs and the choice depends on several factors.
In general, our friend acts through that particular cognitive process called “trial and error”. That is, it will try to understand which, among the actions taken, is profitable with respect to the primary objective: to maintain control of a certain resource.
If the type of action exhibited determines a success, it will also be maintained in the future and in all situations similar to the original one.
Otherwise, if the option adopted does not work, another strategy will be proposed and this until the objective has been achieved.
In this way, possessiveness by threat will often be “The extreme ratio” following previous procedures, you are not successful, such as running away with the object, hiding in some shelter area or trying to “negotiate” with the other party.
The first technique, to escape from the possible “threat” of subtraction, will be, at least at the beginning, the preferred one: the dog believes that getting away from the “stimulus” of danger may be sufficient.
Unfortunately, in many cases, those who intend to appropriate the “good” tend to follow the dog, frustrating his choice. Even hiding in some difficult-to-access areas is not conclusive, because sooner or later that certain area will have to be abandoned.
Finally, the sophisticated “pacification” techniques, made of head movements, looks towards the unknown and blinks, are not always caught on the other side, with the inevitable passage to the last piece: the threat.
Since growls and teeth often work very well, discouraging the competitor, the dog learns that the system works... and next time he will immediately re-propose this behavior, even more so if the “resource” to be defended will be a “living” subject, a family member, a conspecific or another important animal for the dog.
3. Race also matters
Since it is instinctive, possessive behavior has a basis “ontogenetic” is “phylogenetic“, That is, linked to the development of the individual and the species to which it belongs.
And in the case of dogs, also of the breed. A behavior, in fact, may have been selected to a greater extent in some breeds, while in others it may have been weakened or absent.
This is why retrieving, stationary and hunting dogs, which in addition to finding game have also been selected to bring it back, will be less inclined to control resources.
On the contrary, breeds destined for the management of spaces, for the defense of goods or herds, may show a marked propensity to maintain possession.
In all these hypotheses, the “Possessive pattern” it becomes a more or less developed character trait and the best solution in the management of each individual will be precisely to understand its “species-specific” characteristics which, in the case of the dog, become “breed-specific”.
In addition, if we find ourselves in front of a person in charge of claiming ownership of what he believes to be a resource, we will immediately have to introduce methods of intervention aimed at mitigating such a predisposition: the settings correctly introduced in the first months of life, in fact, they produce medium and long term results.
On the contrary, moving the prevention work to the post-childhood periods reduces the chances of complete success. But if it is our dog is already possessive how can we fix it?
If our friend has had the opportunity to develop a certain possessiveness, we must act with exercises based on the axiom “from least to most”. Initially, we will leave objects of little importance at his disposal, then making the exchange with very coveted things.
For example, if the episode of possessiveness had occurred towards a succulent bone found on the street, it is better to act as follows, but later: we offer the dog a not very attractive food, for example a slice of apple, and we propose in change … a nice piece of bacon!
Gradually, we will be able to raise the stakes, always keeping a more valuable “exchange currency” available.
If possessive behavior occurs towards a living subject, for example a family member or another dog, the goal will be to make the dog understand that the presence of other people will in no way lead to a loss of that “social resource”.
It is about reinforcing your dog in the face of acceptance behaviors of the one or those originally intended as a threat, teaching specific control actions such as sitting next to us without saying a word. If the dog does it … praise and bite!
4. All winners
Because possessiveness does not emerge as constant behavior or to avoid it, the method is very effective “Subtraction / addition”.
It aims to make it clear that the eventual release of what is considered “proper” will result in an advantage previously not present, whose value is equal to or greater than the “lost” benefit.
For example, if our friend grabs something inadequate, such as the classic dirty paper tissue found on the street, to make him give it up (“subtraction“), We will have to offer him something coveted, like a tasty bite (“addition“).
If, on the other hand, he has not grasped something “dangerous”, for example a game, we can add to the exchange pact the subsequent making available of the game itself. The procedure therefore consists in subtracting the “resource”, in re-proposing the resource itself.
In all these cases, our dog builds a new “belief”: the momentary loss of what is considered important determines the obtaining of something else tempting, or the return to possession of the original asset.
These “compensation” techniques are effective mainly as a preventive measure, when the ownership mechanism has not yet been activated. If, however, the behavior is already present, we must act differently.
5. An interesting formula
The preventive and resolutive techniques to be applied to possessive behavior have produced real “formulas” of intervention over time.
The widest, called “Formula of dominance”, takes into consideration three different parameters:
1) the “maintenance potential” of the resource
2) the “value” of the resource
3) the “cost” of the resource.
For “maintenance potential” we refer to what the dog is willing to do to defend a “good”, while the “value” of the resource concerns the importance that the same individual attributes to his “property”; the “cost” of the resource indicates what our friend will have to do to obtain the desired “good”.
It follows that the greater the cost, the lower the maintenance potential and the value and, as a final result, the lower the level of dominance expressed by the dog towards that specific stimulus. And viceversa.
This model is also related to the importance of psychophysical activity to be carried out by each individual: the destination of energies towards actions and behaviors of different types reduces the interest in defending a specific resource.
In other words, the dog will be so satisfied with what he has accomplished within each day that the idea and the will to dedicate himself to the “guard” of a “good” will become superfluous!
Another possible technique of reduction and elimination of possessiveness behavior refers to the concept of “Specific activity fatigue”, according to which the multiplication of the object deemed of extreme importance will result, precisely because of its abundance, in a reduction of interest in it.
This setting is effective especially with the use of food or games, according to the assumption that having a high degree, by number and type, prevents polarizing attention on a single element.
We will therefore find ourselves faced with the extinction of possessive behavior by “habituation to the stimulus”. Ultimately, the equation of adding to what you have will always apply.
No dog will continue to guard the bowl if it understands that our approach to it will lead to the introduction of other food, even tastier.