Toy Aggression

brenda taulbee

New Member
Hey all,
So things have generally been coming along nicely with Kenzii's training. She's been getting better with men and strangers, and interacting well with other dogs. Generally.

Lately we've been noticing some aggressive behavior in regards to toys/food and other dogs. She will let me walk up and take a toy out of her mouth, or food out from under her nose, no problem. But as soon as another dog looks at her goodies her hackles are up and she gets very defensive. Just the hackles didn't seem like too much of a problem, but today she started actually dropping whatever toy she had and actively chasing off the other dog. Also, when the other dog had a toy in his mouth, she approached and blatantly, aggressively attacked him for it (they were both fine, but I was definitely a bit shaken by her behavior).

So I guess I have two questions. First, what are possible causes to this behavior? Is it just a dominant attitude or her personality, or could there be underlying factors? And second, what can I do to prevent it? Today when she attacked the dog she was immediately taken into the house and the toy was given to the dog who had it originally. Is there any possibility my behavior is enabling her behavior?

Any advice would help! Thanks again guys. You make my puppy owning easier.


Experienced Member
I don't really know the answer to your question, but I will try to share what I at least think I know :)

First of all, I generally don't interfere a whole lot when dogs resource guard against other dogs. I just think that they have a right to whatever they have and the right to prevent another dog from stealing it. However, if a dog is completely overreacting and is doing more then just warning the other dog, it can become dangerous and you do have to step in. Secondly, I believe that dogs who resource guard are generally the more unconfident anxious dogs. A confident dog knows that the bone is his and he can keep possession of it with subtle body language. It is the dog who's anxious that someone else is going to sweep in at any second that has to escalate their warnings.

Relating to Kenzi I'm not sure if you need to step in or not. It could be that the dog she is guarding against is not reading her more subtle cues so she feels she has to get up and chase them off. If you do feel that it is inappropriate it's hard to know what to do. On one side, you don't want to ever punish a growl or warning snap because the underlying anxiety will still be there, so if you teach the dog it's not ok to growl, they will go straight to higher level of warning or straight to a bite. I know in some resource guarding cases, trainers have taught their dogs that whenever the other dog approaches when they have something, it means to drop it and run to mom for a really really treat. Basically you start by having another dog on leash when Kenzi has a bone and giving Kenzi really really good treats so she learns other dog=treats not anxiety. A lot of people simply feed dogs in separate rooms, including bone time as well. As for the charging other dogs when they have something, I have no idea!


Experienced Member
the why is not necessarily dominance, it could also be fear or aggression or anxiety. she may not know how to react appropriately and is guessing. obv you don't like her guess of aggression so it is important to stop it now. do not scold or punish her since it will likely make it worse.

remove any chance that she is able to interact with the other dogs this way immediately. pick up all the toys and anything that could be considered a resource like beds blankets food bowls etc. in my house i control the food, toys, and resources and i use them as rewards for behavior i like. loads of toys lying around often do cause issues with multi dog house holds.

i would start working with her every day 1-5 minutes on teaching a trade, leave-it, and drop. working with very very low value things, ideally that she has never seen before trade for very very high value treats such as very stinky meaty treats like beef, chicken, tripe, cheese etc. tripe is very very very interesting to dogs and it comes canned so that a cold can could be spooned out in little balls and fed in pea sized bites.

don't take things from her like toys or food always trade and always use higher value things to trade with. if low value is a stick or boring toy that's fine. get her to take it and offer the tripe, the second she drops the stick click and give the tripe. when u get to about 80% success add a word cue like drop or trade. then give the stick back to her. do this over a period of weeks working toward higher value toys to start with and don't give her tripe any other time but in trade training for now.

for leave-it start with boring kibble or something she only sort of likes drop it on the floor by your food with her standing a couple of feet away. say leave-it. if she goes to get it cover it with ur foot. it is imperative she not get that kibble or be rewarded for grabbing what you want her to leave. pretend it's a poison pill. do this in a small room where she can't wander off or leashed if you need to. she'll quit digging ur shoe and look up like "what the?" and at that moment you click and treat.

with leave it work ur way up to throwing chicken on floor or setting it in front of her or holding out in your hand and closing ur hand if she goes for it. what ur teaching is patience, self control, self restraint, that giving up isn't always losing, and that trades are always for something better. i don't ever let the dog have the item off the floor--since i'm pretending poison pill b/c i never want her to eat off the floor if she's a service dog. i pick up the treat on the floor and hand it to her or pick it up and hand her another. i do give a word cue take-it for treats in my hand and let her have those.

if you really want to go for the home run you can also hand feed her all of her food for two weeks. yes put hands in bowl, sit on the floor and feed her a mouthful at a time. make sure she takes it nicely and doesn't snark bite. if she does just close ur hand. this providing you don't think she'll hurt you.

in a multi dog house i do not give high value treats unless the dogs are gated apart and i do not leave high value toys out unless supervised. all of my dogs get individual play and training time and any dog can benefit and calm down from more exercise.

if you work with all of this-don't take things from her or allow other dogs to do so, trade for everything you'll end up with a dog that doesn't have problems with giving up anything to you. as a 3 mo puppy my now 4 yo golden went nuclear on me one day when i picked up a bully stick she was chewing-i planned to give it right back and was thinking i was training her that i could take things and give them back. what i was training was that humans mean i lose my neat stuff and i don't like that.

i also do drive by's and drop great tidbits in their bowls with no bugging or petting them. just drop in some chicken and keep going. this teaches that human hands near bowl = good.

now the 4yo gives me anything i ask for---and i do ask want to trade? she brings me the item and i give her something better. i don't ever take anything forcibly from either dog unless it's really dangerous like pills or razor blades etc. i trade. my 4yo is a very submissive and shy dog that was a bit of a fearful puppy. so had i treated her attack on me as dominance i would have made her fear me and probably more fear aggressive?

so when you asked if this could be dominance-sure it could. but the approach i would use to correct it would still be the same and still be positive. if you do this positively you really have nothing to lose and no potential damage to your relationship as you might with aversive techniques.

best of luck on this...i know how scary and upsetting it is when ur sweetie turns shark on you or your other dogs. a training class or two would do wonders for socializing her too if you find a good positive trainer. :dogrolleyes: you might also try patricia mcconnell's books how to be leader of the pack & feeling outnumbered: how to enjoy a multi dog household.


Honored Member
Staff member
If I remember right you found the pup, and quite skinny.

The food aggression is definitely to be expected---but certainly not to be allowed. Mud was a rescue, and had been extremely malnourished. When I got her, she would snarl in an almost terrified manner if people were very close to her food(with her in her kennel for the safety of everyone), and dogs couldn't get within 6-8 feet of her kennel without her lunging at the bars in a snarling frenzy. The more she learned the trust me, the better she was with people...but I still worked just in case. I would pass by randomly and drop a really tasty treat into her kennel. Pretty soon she went from thinking, "This person could steal my food!" to "Hey, everytime a person passes, the ceiling spits GREAT treats!!!" From here I opened the kennel and would toss a treat into the kennel--my hand was much closer to the entrance here, so boundaries were much less defined. This went on until I trusted her enough to stick my whole hand in her bowl, move her food around, move the bowl around, etc. It only took a day or so, as she wasn't too worried about people after she trusted them.

As for the dogs...again, for her safety and since I didn't have a helper, I kept her in the kennel. Since she lost it with a dog 6-8 feet away, I leashed one of my others and paced 10 feet away. I'd play with this dog and walk back and forth, watching out of the corner of my eye to check her body language. She wasn't concerned, and if she was completely relaxed then my canine helper and I casually eased in a bit closer(a few inches, maybe half a foot). If she wasn't quite happy but still calm, then we continued to ignore her, playing and walking at this distance only. When she relaxed and was staying relaxed, we came in a little closer, still not paying attention to her and just off in our own little world. Again I waited for her to stay relaxed, and we continued this process until we could circle her kennel with her completely happy.
When she was consistently calm with other dogs all around her kennel, I took her out, and leashed her. I was confident that I could handle two dogs(if you're not sure she won't have an outburst, then have another helper with her on a short but loose leash so no accidents happen), so I leashed her, left her in the kennel, and lead the other dog past the open door(not entering, just passing). I continued this, making sure that she was completely calm and relaxed, and then lead her out. I led the other dog to the entrance, then back to me, to the entrance, then back to me, then in...if she was still calm, then I lead the other dog out and then back in her kennel. She was doing marvelous at this point so I shut the other dog in her kennel with her sitting outside of it. After this I took her food bowl out and let the other dog poke around it, sniff it, stick their nose in it...etc. This way there was only the bowl to worry about, rather than bowl and kennel. (She had become rather kennel aggressive because her fosters had fed her only in the kennel for obvious reasons...but it had caused her to worry about dogs near her kennel with or without food.) Any signs of aggression were corrected with a gentle but stern, "Ah-ah!"

Once she's doing well, you can repeat the random treat dropping trick, but this time with your canine helper. Soon she will associate people and dogs with positive things, rather than fearing her food will be taken.

You can use this same method with the toys. Her behavior could be for a variety of reasons. In former neglect cases, it is usually fear aggression. They've never had regular meals before and they worry that this could end, and feel threatened by other dogs and many times also people. Sadly, COUNTLESS dogs are put down in shelters because of severe food aggression. If she will allow you to handle her food, IMMEDIATELY remove it if she shows aggression. Give her time to calm down and then give her a good relaxing massage or just wait until she's relaxed and happy. Then and only then does she get her meal back. Never feed her in an unstable state. Make sure she is relaxed and calm before feeding.

If it is not a fear-aggressive type response to her food and toys, it could be a dominance issue. In the wild, the alpha ALWAYS eats first. When the others come near, they're insulting her alpha position(if she's dominant in nature). From the sounds of it, to me it sounds more like a fear aggression response.

You mentioned that the hackle raising didn't seem like a big deal. DO NOT let her get by with ANY signs of aggression. It's very important to stop the behavior at the very first sign, or before. Pay very close attention to her body language. The sharp, "Ah-ah!" could either stop the behavior or set her off in that situation. Since I can't see for myself that's hard to say.

But, it's okay for her to have her own toys. My dogs have designated toys for other reasons, though. Zeke's a snuggler and loves stuffed animals and tennis balls. He's not a tough chewer and toys usually last him forever. Rusty's an incredibly rough chewer however, as is Mudflap. Their toys are expensive and it's really hard to find ones they can't destroy in a few days or a week. Nick's a teacup chihuahua, so his toys are very small and he's like Zeke--not a tough chewer. Not only would they destroy his toys, but the squeakers and size of the toys would be dangerous for the 3 bigger dogs. Therefore, my dogs have designated toys. They know to only chew their toys and leave the others alone. I taught this by "leave it" and also by simply a firm "Ah-ah!" when they went for the wrong toy and rewarding them with their own when they left the wrong one alone. They aren't possessive at all, and they are happy to play with their own toys. It's worked out quite well and no one bothers anyone. :)

If you choose to use the "Ah-ah!" remember that it is not supposed to be yelled or snapped at the dog. It's just a quick sound that usually gets the dog's attention. I use it at a low-normal volume and it's all I need to discontinue any unwanted behavior if the dog is doing something a distance away. Let's say Mud was about to pounce on a yummy hydrocodeine pill and I was just coming out of the next room a good distance away...with a simple, "Ahh, leave it." she would immediately stop and leave it alone so that I could come get it.


Experienced Member
btw the toy pick up is temporary. after things are established and calmer they can always return. the one good thing about picking them up is that they become so much more interesting after they return. new once again. :)

brenda taulbee

New Member
Thanks everybody, for the advice.

Yes, tx_cowgirl we did find her as a stray, and had to do some food aggression work early on, but she was so young that it seemed pretty easy to catch it before it became a problem.

One thing that I probably should have mentioned is that the dog she snaps at doesn't actually belong to us. He's the neighbors' dog who jumps the fence every time she's outside. We've spoken with his owner, but they haven't done anything to keep their dog at home. He's a big, floppy one year old English Setter who rarely (if ever) gets walked, so you can imagine what havoc he wreaks when he comes into contact with another dog.

However, most of the toys they're fighting over are not hers. They are toys he has brought over the fence from his own yard. Still, I'm sure the advice given here will work in managing the problem, especially the idea of her having designated toys.

So far it has only been in relation to Winston (the Setter) that she gets aggressive, and one of my biggest concerns is that the behavior will start working its way into her interactions with other dogs.

I guess it's time to bust out the treat bag, and make big crazy Winston into a good thing in her life.


Experienced Member
oh what a huge pain. have you tried talking to them? you are right to worry, it could generalize to all dogs or all toys. good luck. it doesn't sound so much like a training problem as it is an irresponsible neighbor problem. hopefully you're on good terms with them. you could still work on trading and leaving things. maybe a supervised play date where you can demonstrate to your dog and reward what you do want???


Honored Member
Staff member
LOL funny that you mention that...

My neighbors are the same way, except their dogs simply are LET out the front door rather than the large, fenced backyard. Their dogs are normally covered in ticks, malnourished, and one has some kind of skin condition. He's about 5 months old and looks like a shepherd/cattle dog mix. Rather than have another of their dogs become aggressive and unruly....I've started training him when he visits. He's thin as a rail and recently he developed signs of roundworms, so I've wormed him. Granted I'm hindering the terrible care of their dogs, but I've already asked all my coworkers to keep an eye out for anyone wanting a puppy. I won't hesitate a bit to take the dog to another home.
My neighbors have been reported to the police, their worst dog has attacked AT LEAST 2 dogs in the neighborhood, and tries to attack you in your own yard.

Her aggression is probably due in part to him invading her yard and pouncing over the fence without warning. If he's startling her by his unruly sneak attack, then she's probably a bit threatened by him. You could invest in some kind of deterrent. There are electronic deterrents that use ultrasonic sounds to deter the dog, and there are deterrents in liquids or powders that you can use.

Petsmart carries a dog/cat deterrant that comes in a purple carton. Can't remember the name, but it's the only one with this description so it will be very easy to find. You could use this heavily along the edge of the fence, and if you can reach over their fence, then by golly pour it on over! It typically works very well, and perhaps if you keep re-applying he should learn to stay away permenantly. It's not harmful to them, but does repel them.

If you don't really mind the unscheduled playdate, then I see nothing wrong with training the pup as well as your dog so that they can coexist happily. This way everyone wins---you, Winston, his owners, and Kenzii. Best of luck!


Experienced Member
motion activated sprinklers are a great way to nicely and secretly discourage behavior. they work great for all the loose dogs and deer here and don't hurt anything. just another thought.

it kills me to see neglected dogs. i have a neighbor whose bc is constantly trying to come in my house, which would cause a riot. she's been an inside dog all her life and now they have an allergic baby. poor pup. they rehomed the cat but just stuck the dog outside to roam with the packs of coyotes and mountain lions. despite being very against rules I have several times rescued her from being run over. sigh. i would steal her if they wouldn’t immediately know who took her. poor baby is desperately lonely and doesn't understand.

i've asked but no luck. :msncry:


Honored Member
Staff member
Awwwww. That breaks my heart. BCs love people so much...I bet she gets next to no attention now. I want to snuggle her up just hearing about it! Lol. Mud would just be beside herself if I stuck her outside and ignored her. Z had separation anxiety when he was a pup as it is. Perhaps your neighbors will realize sooner or later that she deserves better.


New Member
I have to say, if I was a dog and some other dog was inviting himself into my space, I'd get snippy, too.
Have you tried bringing her around other dogs in a neutral area like a park? She might react a little better if she doesn't feel the need to assert her ownership of both her space and her toys, and might bring that more confident mindset home with her.