Stopping Frank the Tank from Becoming Possessive

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 23, 2014

Frank (Bernese : Spaniel : Lab)This is Frank a six-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog / Spaniel / Lab mix. His owner called me for help after she noticed Frank was starting to get possessive over his rawhide bones.

Because the family includes young children, Frank’s owners wanted to make sure to stop any possessive behavior before it became an issue. If more of my clients did this, my work would be quite a bit easier 🙂

Lately my clients with possessive or resource guarding issues have gone on unabated for a log period of time. As a result, the dogs had developed an aggressive element to the behavior which can be really dangerous, especially in a large breed dog.

I started out by running through an exercise to gauge Frank’s level of possessiveness. I placed a high value meat treat on the floor and then claimed it. Frank came over to investigate the treat due to its strong aroma, so I used body language to communicate that the treat was mine. After the first correction Frank understood the boundary I wanted him to respect. Within a minute, he communicated that he did not have any desire to challenge me for the treat.

As soon as Frank surrendered, I immediately gave him permission to get the treat. Frank cautiously came over, paused to give me an opportunity to change my mind. After waiting a respectful few seconds, he very gently took the treat. I ran through the exercise a few times to make sure he understood the rules and boundaries, then I walked his owner’s through the exercise as well.

I suggested that they practice this exercise over the next week or two to make sure Frank saw them as authority figures and had the opportunity to remember to look to the human for permission to get the treat.

Because Frank picked up on the possession exercise so quickly, my goal was to help him understand that even though we may take away a bone, it doesn’t mean that he won’t get it back.

I had his owner get out a rawhide bone so I could claim it. I placed it on the floor in the middle of the living room then stood over the bone. I only had to disagree with Frank one time before he moved away and laid on the ground. As soon as he did, I turned to the side, kneeled down and gave Frank permission to take it.

As soon as Frank took the bone, he moved to a corner of a different room. I pulled out one of my high value treats and called Frank over. I held the treat out right in front of his nose. At first Frank attempted to take the treat with the bone still in his mouth. After a few tries he slowly opened his mouth to drop the bone.

I anticipated the drop and repeated the command word “drop” the second the treat left his mouth. I kept my hand still so that he could claim his treat as a reward. Its important to not immediately try to take the object after a dog drops it as this puts the dog into guarding mode. That’s the last thing you want to do when rehabilitating a possessive dog as we are trying to build up his trust.

As soon as Frank took the treat, I repeated the “drop” command work and repeated it a few times as he chewed the treat. While he was chewing, I slowly stepped on the bone with my foot. Once Frank finished chewing the treat, I slowly picked up the bone, asked Frank to sit, then gave it back to him.

Some people like to call this “trading.” This is a great way to use positive reinforcement to help the dog learn that there is something at the end of the road when he gives something up.

I repeated this exercise a few times and even incorporated a frisbee which to Frank was an even higher value object. After it was clear Frank knew what was going on, I coached the members of his family through the exercise with equal success.

I suggested that they practice the trade or drop exercise a few times a day over the next week or two. This will help condition Frank to drop the object on command and since he gets it back and a treat, it will ensure that the possessive behavior stops completely.


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This post was written by: David Codr