An issue that can cause issues and friction between people and their dogs is resource guarding.
This is something that happens when a dog has a resource that they see as valuable and do not want others to have access to, such as a favourite human or the dog guarding toys. It is also sometimes known as possessive aggression. The signs of resource guarding can be subtle in the beginning, as the dog may become very still right next to or over the object of desire, with hard eyes and perhaps a growl as a warning to all that they should stay away. If the perceived threat moves closer, the dog may move on to lifting their lips to display their teeth or snapping to make their point.
One thing resource guarding is definitely not is a sign of dominance. A dog guarding toys or any other resource is worried that they are going to lose access to this important thing in their mind, and using the tools at their disposal to make sure this does not happen and they can keep the object of their desire.
A dog guarding toys needs careful management while working to overcome the problem. Care is especially required if there are children in the home to be sure that they understand as much canine body language as possible, and are taught when to leave a dog alone. Children and dogs should never be left together unsupervised, especially if there is a history of the dog guarding toys or other resources as the consequences can be dire, particularly for the dog.
Resource guarding of any object, including a dog guarding toys, is better prevented from starting than attempting to remedy later on, although this is not always possible if rehoming an older dog from a rescue for example. Resource guarding in an adult dog is something that often requires the assistance of a canine behaviour professional, to put in place a program to desensitise the dog to humans near the items they find valuable while keeping everybody safe from harm.
To prevent guarding becoming an issue in a puppy, the best thing is to teach them to ‘trade’ with us. When they have hold of a toy, offer them something better – whether that is a new toy or a nice tasty treat. The puppy will drop the item they are holding to investigate and take the new toy or eat the treat, allowing us quietly and safely to pick up the original toy. In this way, the puppy never learns to think of us approaching while they have hold of a resource as something to be worried by, but learn instead that they can gain access to something even better by handing over what they have, so that the dog guarding toys never becomes an issue.