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"Hands off my toys!"

I have owned my two-year-old female Chihuahua since she was eight weeks of age. Generally, she’s a delightful little dog, but for the past six months or so she has had a tendency to hoard her toys, and is very protective of them. She becomes stiff as you approach her and even growls a little if you persist and try to remove the toy. She hasn’t actually bitten me, but I’d like to stop this behaviour before it gets any worse.

Nick Jones advises...

Regardless of the dog’s size, when an animal begins to show aggressive behaviour towards items in the way that you’re describing, the first step is to remove all of these items and put them out of reach. Go round the house and garden, remove all toys, chews and bones, and put them away somewhere secure. This dramatic first step will at least allow you to see a dramatic reduction, if not cessation, of the behaviour. In the meantime, you can set about a more thoughtful process of how to reintroduce the items. Keep your Chihuahua’s toys out of reach for a couple of weeks before you begin to reintroduce them. We’re aiming to teach her that you are able to take these items away, and there’s no need for her to feel threatened in the process. From her toy box, pick out six items that you can grade from low to very high interest.

Over the coming days, you can work your way through them, starting with the item of lowest interest. To begin, sit on the floor with your dog next to you. Have her on her lead and attach it to something secure, such as a sofa leg, so that you’re hands-free. With a bowl of very high-value treats nearby (but placed out of her reach), let her play with the lowest interest toy, maybe holding it in her mouth in the process.

When you’re ready to take the toy from her, present her with a treat and issue the “Give” command. In essence, you’re just swapping the toy for a treat. Once she has taken the treat and the toy is out of her reach, warmly praise her and then repeat the exercise again. As a suggestion, I’d stick with the same item for at least a couple of days before you move on to the next, more interesting, item. Carry out two or three sessions per day, for five to 10 minutes at a time. When you feel that she’s successfully able to let you take a particular toy at will, then that toy can remain freely available in her toy box.

If you feel she’s more reluctant to let go of a certain toy, then keep working at it until you see a more relaxed behaviour. Once you have successfully worked your way through the chosen items and feel confident that she’s not displaying possessive behaviour over them, you can leave them in her toy box as you did before. I go to some homes where, in my view, there are too many toys and this in itself can sometimes lead to possessive behaviour. Half a dozen toys should be quite adequate for her.