My dog is possessive of toys at the dog park

Dog steals toys at dog park

If your dog steals toys at the dog park, my best advice is to teach the dog commands for “drop” and “leave it.” Practice at home and in different environments, slowly increasing the distractions.

Here are some more ideas:

What to do if your dog steals toys at the dog park

Hire a professional dog trainer.

My dog steals toys at the dog park and gets aggressive

People seem hesitant to hire dog trainers, yet they are not hesitant to complain about their dog-training problems. But even if you “know everything” about dogs, it’s nice to get a second opinion.

Is your dog’s behavior aggressive?

If your dog has possessive aggression at the dog park, then the park is not a good place to take him (for now). Look at this as a challenge to find more appropriate ways to exercise, train and socialize your dog for now.

Teach a solid “leave it” command.

The second we get to the dog park, my Lab mix Ace searches for tennis balls. He is more obsessed with BALLS than any other dog, yet I have successfully taught him to “leave it” no matter what. If your dog is obsessed with a toy, there’s hope!

You’ll want to start small, telling your dog to “leave it” around lesser-valued toys or food in exchange for higher-valued items. A sock for some chicken. Dog food for hamburger. Slowly increase the challenges as your dog is successful, but progress slowly.

Eventually, you should practice “leave it” in different environments, with other dogs around and when your dog is in an excited state of mind. Most dogs can easily learn to “leave it” in the living room, but it’s another story once running wild at the dog park. Practice the command in “exciting” environments like Grandma’s backyard, in the front doorway or outside on a hike.

Practice “leave it” during play.

You know those moments when you’re crawling around on all fours playing with your dog? And he’s super excited, running around like a maniac? During those exciting moments, your dog should learn that “leave it” still applies. If he doesn’t obey this command while playing with you, he won’t obey the command while playing with other dogs.

Don’t be afraid to correct your dog.

It’s good to set clear boundaries when dealing with possessive aggression in dogs. If I tell my dog “leave it” and I see him eyeing the toy like he might take it, I step forward, point at him, look him in the eyes and say “No! Leave it!”

Sometimes dogs need to hear the word “no.” It triggers them to stop what they’re doing. And by all means, reward your dog when he does well!

Teach a “drop” command.

“Drop” is not the same as “leave it” because the object is already in the dog’s mouth. This makes the command even harder for the dog to learn and obey, but teaching a dog the drop command is just as important.

A good method for teaching “drop” is to give your dog something even better than what he has. If he drops the ball, he gets some ham. He drops the raw hide, he gets some real chicken. Make it impossible for your dog to fail. Practice in controlled settings with the dog on a leash so you can always enforce the command. Eventually, you won’t need to use a food reward every single time.

Increase your dog’s general obedience.

All the basic obedience commands are important – sit, stay, come, heel, down. But your dog needs to have more than a basic understanding. He needs to obey you 99 percent of the time, even with distractions. If he doesn’t, then he is not under control, and he shouldn’t be at the dog park.

The most important basic commands for the dog park setting are come and sit/stay. You need to be able to call your dog to you, and you need him to remain sitting at your side if necessary. If your dog can do these two things, even with distractions and even under stress, you can handle almost any situation.

Socialize in small groups.

Once your dog has some solid obedience skills and is reliably responding to leave it and drop, you may be comfortable enough to let him play with toys around another dog. You should not start with the dog park. You should invite one or two calm, well-socialized, submissive dogs over to play. Hopefully one of your friends or family members owns a dog that would be a good match. Explain what you are working on so the other dog owner knows ahead of time.

It is always best to walk the two dogs together side by side before they play off leash. And allow them to play for a bit before you bring out the toys. Start with toys that are typically boring to your dog so he is less likely to become possessive. You may want to keep a leash on your dog so you can regain control if needed, but make sure you’re not creating more tension. Keep the situation relaxed.

If you see some tension or potential aggression about to happen, distract the dogs with a high-pitched sound. Make a whistling noise or click your tongue or say “look here!” Reward your dog for making eye contact.

If you see your dog sharing the toys or showing calm behavior, tell him what a good boy he is. Remember to practice your commands for leave it, drop, come and stay with the other dog around.

Interrupt before play escalates.

Sometimes dogs play nicely at first, but then they get aggressive when the energy escalates. If this is the case with your dog, make sure to call him to you before the playing gets to that point. This will allow him to take a quick break and tone it down before returning to playing. Short breaks like this in a positive way will help your dog be successful.

Exercise your dog before socializing.

Walk your dog for a good 45 minutes before play dates and before going to the dog park. The less energy your dog has before entering the park, the better. Sometimes that initial burst of energy upon entering the park is what causes fights. Keep your dog calm when you enter the park. Practice obedience commands as you bring your dog in.

Visit a different dog park.

Sometimes dogs make associations with certain parks. People do the same thing. We like a routine, and we act differently in our favorite bar or coffee shop than we would in a new place. If your dog is a bully at one park, he may not act the same way at a new park.

The dog park is not for all dogs.

Some possessive dogs should never visit the dog park, even after serious training. It’s just too overwhelming, frightening, challenging or exciting for some dogs. If this is the case for your dog, perhaps you can try again in a few months after your dog has had more training, socialization and time to mature. But perhaps not.

What are some problems you’ve come across at the dog park?

15 thoughts on “My dog is possessive of toys at the dog park”

  1. My Pierson is one who can not visit a dog park. He does not like other dogs and I am working with him on that. Yep, I am one of the ones that complains about his dog training problems and refuses to hire a dog trainer. Why? I don’t really have the money, for one. For another, it isn’t about knowing what to do and what not to do. There are a lot of different dog training opinions online for free. It is about actually doing it and not procrastinating. So if I do manage to train Pierson myself to behave better around other dogs, he still won’t go to the dog park. Why make him go if he doesn’t care for it? My Maya, on the other hand, loves the dog park. I don’t have to worry about her stealing toys. But the drop it and leave it commands are still good commands to teach. Thanks for the training tips! 🙂

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Hi Dawn. Good points about why people might not hire a dog trainer. And it is definitely about not procrastinating – for most of us anyway! 🙂

  2. This is exactly what I am trying to work on right now! My dog steals toys and becomes anti-social at the dog park, so I wonder what is the point of going right now when he doesn’t get any good socialization out of it.

    I have been teaching drop it though the issue I have is he won’t be interested in toys if he knows I have food, so I have to be stealthy about the food and engage him to play with me before I can practice the command.

    I have a question: how do you know when the energy is escalating before the dog actually gets possessive / aggressive? I know how to tell when my dog is guarding (dropped head over the toy, staring directly at dogs approaching, no tail wagging). I guess I haven’t paid attention to what happens before or I don’t know what to look for.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I guess what I meant is that when a dog is calm and relaxed, he’s more likely to obey commands in general. But once his state of mind gets excited, nervous, fearful or whatever it might be, then the dog has difficulty obeying even basic commands. The dog park is a place where energy is overall very high, so more fights are likely to break out in general, dogs are less likely to obey, etc.

      So trying to set up scenarios where your dog is in an excited state of mind and then working on the drop command will help him learn that drop still applies in those more exciting situations. You just have to start small and slowly increase the challenges.

  3. Hi! I know it’s been a while since you’ve probably looked at this post, but I’ve been reading up as much as I can to try to get a handle on my 9 month old Boxer mix’s you aggression at the dog park. He won’t steal other dogs’ toys, but he will pick out one toy that he focuses on as ‘his,’ (especially when I bring his rubber ball into the park) and sometimes he gets too posessive over it. He’ll do a warning growl sometimes if a dog he doesn’t like tries to come in and take his ball, and if they persist he often starts fights. Half to two-thirds of the time, he has no problem sharing (especially with dogs he already knows and gets along with). If he starts a fight, he goes straight to bellies (our version of belly-up pose) and is made to stay in the naturally submissive posture for a few minutes until he’s calm. If he tries to start something after that, it’s back to bellies for a few minutes and then out of the park. If he starts growling at a dog getting too close to his ball, I usually will take the ball away and hide it until he forgets about it. Do you have any advice? He’s young and we’re still working on a lot of training, but this bothers me. He’s a perfect gentleman at the dog park except for this. Help!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Which of the tips in this post have you tried already? Does your dog obey a “drop” and “leave it” command from you? Does he do OK in small playgroups at home?

  4. Lindsay,

    My dog has the exact problem that Lei mentioned above. She is a 10 month old mutt. I’m guessing she is a German shepherd mix, yet smaller and white. She is extremely well behaved at home. All commands are obeyed almost instantly. Sit, leave it, and drop it are all common place in her vocabulary. This is a very new behavior with her. When she gets obsessed with a tennis ball she shreds them if left alone. When another dog comes around she is perfectly fine most of the time. Some times she gets aggresive. Skye (my dog) drops the ball and places her head low over it (showing possession). I have tried all of your suggestions above, except hire a professional, as I do not have the money. Any suggestions for me? If not, then do you have a trainer that you suggest in the North Dallas, TX/Lewisville, TX area? Please let me know as she has instigated 3 small dog fights (no injuries yet) and I want to stop this before it gets worse. Thanks!

  5. Hi,

    I have a somewhat similar problem. My dog loves the dog park! Like absolutely loves it! But he steals other dogs toys all the time. Or if a dog comes over to him he growls, but sometimes its not a bad growl and hes playing. The real issue I’m having is when he goes to take other dogs balls and they don’t want to give it to him but they arent being aggressive, this is when he starts a fight.

  6. Would you bring steak to a dog park? No, and you shouldn’t bring toys that you care about either.

    No aggressive dogs; beyond that you can’t expect every owner to have the same rules for their dogs and if you’re going to be possessive about a certain toy don’t bring it.

    Also, don’t bring treats.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      My dog stole another dog’s toy last week and it was frustrating for me but I also had the same thoughts as you … don’t bring a toy to the park if you don’t want to lose it. Whenever we bring anything to the dog park like toys, bowls, etc., I accept that we could lose it and that’s fine. I don’t care. My dog’s behavior wasn’t acceptable though, so we have some work to do. He wasn’t aggressive, just wouldn’t drop the toy.

  7. my dog always finds that one ball that becomes his at the park. if another even gets close he barks at them an if they get too close he will start a fight. if i hide it he finds another and does the same. if someone throws a ball hes gotta be the one to get it and will bark and start a fight if he doesnt get it. hes always been posessive with balls but ive noticed this year alot more aggresion.i may give him a chance but i usualy leave if i feel hes still agressive. any advice hes 5

    1. I’m having a similar issue with my 10 month old border collie mix. I’ve taken her and her sister to the dog park.a dog came and stole her ball so she started a fight. Her sister jumped in, too. Dog rolled to show his belly and it was over in seconds, she took her ball back and was fine. Played well with other dogs as long as they didn’t take her ball. Another dog plowed over her and she dropped her ball and he took it, she started another fight. But it ended quick again and she went along happy to have her ball back. I got called a stupid b#!^*, was yelled at and berated and told to get my “effing dogs and get the eff out as I was not wanted there with my aggressive dog.” I tried to explain she’s still a puppy and possessive over her ball, that she wasn’t just out there attacking dogs. Pointless. I started to leave and one lady came at me yelling and cursing, which made my dogs both on edge, but they heeled when I told them and reluctantly left. I had one gentleman come up to me and say he understands shes just a pup and said most people can’t understand. He told me to take care and was super sweet. I left crying. My girl will steal balls if I dont bring one and starts fights with any dog that takes it from her. Shes faster than the rest if a ball is thrown for another dog and usually beats them to it and starts a fight to be sure she gets it. Then shes happy as a clam and runs with other dogs and is fine wrestling etc as long as they DONT TOUCH HER BALL. Shes fine if her sister does though. Idk how to fix this issue. Shes great at the drop it command if it is anything other than a ball.

      1. Lindsay Stordahl

        I hate to say it, but I don’t think the dog park is a good place for her right now. I would work with her at home on dropping the ball with few distractions and then around maybe one dog in a controlled environment. Patricia McConnell gas a good article on dog to dog resource guarding:

        I know it’s more challenging if you don’t have another dog at home that triggers her but hopefully that will give you some ideas.

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