The issue of possessiveness from the dog is one that is wide and complex to cover, and comes in many shapes and forms as well as various different degrees of taking ownership. At its worst, over-possessive tendencies in the dog can constitute a serious behavioural problem, and one that will require intensive training to tackle. Fortunately, it is entirely possible to prevent your dog from developing overtly possessive tendencies in the first place, if you can spot the warning signs of a potential problem early on before it escalates.
In this article, we will look at the various different ways in which dogs indicate their ownership or possessive tendencies over objects or people, and how you can assess them. Read on to learn more.
The eyes of the dog are very expressive, and can be used to convey a great many messages including “I am not a threat,” “you are in charge,” and “this is mine, leave it alone.” Learning to read the language of your dog’s eyes is important in order to gauge their reactions to all sorts of situations, and particularly to judge their mood and how they are apt to respond to any given stimulus.
Staring and seeking out direct eye contact without breaking their line of vision is a serious sign from the dog, which indicates that they mean business and are prepared to stand their ground. You should never stare at your dog, but on the flip side, you should expect your dog to break eye contact to indicate submission before you do if you do look directly at them.
A stare by or at another person or dog by a dog should be taken as a challenge, and an indicator that the dog is willing to stand up for the item or person they are guarding.
When it comes to indicating possession that may potentially turn to defensiveness or aggression, the dog is likely to use strong eye contact to ward off another person or animal. Prolonged, strong eye contact is sometimes referred to as “white eye,” as you can often see the whites of the eyes as your dog widens their eyes to intensify their stare. The dog will usually indicate possession by standing or sitting over the object that they are claiming possession of, while turning their head to face the person or animal that they see as a potential threat to it, and staring them down.
Dogs are very orally-oriented animals, and they use their mouths to vocalise, eat, lick and chew, and hold items that they see as theirs. They can also use their mouths in various different ways to indicate possession or “back off” from something that they see as theirs. This may manifest as defending their food, toys, bed, or even their family.
Possession that could potentially turn to snapping or aggression in the dog can be indicated by means of baring the teeth with a tense jaw line, snapping, biting, or curling of the upper lip to better show off their sharp canine teeth! Growling, rumbling and barking may also accompany it.
Many dogs will get no further than a simple curling of the lip, but even this type of possessive display should be considered as the height of bad manners, and not tolerated. It is unwise to ignore even minor oral signs of possessive aggression in the dog, as once your dog is used to getting their own way and being permitted to do this, it can soon escalate.
The position and stance that your dog stands in is one of the easiest signs to read in terms of judging your dog’s mood, and something that it is very hard for dogs to disguise. Dogs are considered to be very honest animals in terms of how they portray their intentions with their body language, and there are very few things that a dog will do without giving off several warning signs first.
A stiff, taut posture from the dog indicates that they are on point, alert and ready to make a move, indicating that they are ready to potentially snap or make other moves to defend something that is theirs. If you come into the range that the dog is defending, they are likely to react, either by snapping, lunging at you to deter you or push you away, or to warn you with a nip or graze as a fore-runner to biting.
If your dog is apt to snatch something and make off with it to hide it or bury it, this can lead to defensive aggression when the dog’s stash of booty is found and disturbed. This is a type of passive aggression where the dog never fully relaxes, as they are constantly waiting for someone to come up to them and take away their hoard. It is important to make your dog feel safe and secure without enabling overly possessive tendencies such as this, and not to let your dog hoard a pile of objects, as this will provide them with more to guard and, in their opinion, to lose, heightening their potential reactions to approach.