A dog that snatches or grabs at toys is a danger, as he may inadvertently nip a person’s hand. This behavior should be discouraged for two reasons. There is a risk of injury to you and the failure to change this behavior can encourage the dog to take items how and when he chooses. It’s essential for all dogs to understand that toys are earned privileges, not unassailable rights.
When a dog grabs at a toy, it can be a sign of resource-based aggression. Resource-based aggression, typically arising from a desire to guard perceived resources, drives a dog to act protectively -- sometimes aggressively -- over items around the house. Dogs typically behave this way around food, but the behavior can extend to toys as well. The trick to lowering the chances of this happening is to demonstrate, from as early an age as possible, that toys are to be given at the owners’ discretion. Collect up toys after a predefined period of play and never just leave them out. Granting unrestricted access to any item may cause the dog to believe the item is his to guard.
While it’s important to tackle the root cause of the problem by attempting to lower the likelihood of resource guarding, it’s equally as important not to encourage your dog to do the very thing you don’t want. Don’t hold the toy in your hand while stroking the dog, unless it is as part of a structured play session. As with any unwanted behavior, removing the opportunity to perform the behavior is just as useful as demonstrating to the dog that bad behavior is undesirable.
When your dog grabs at the toy, for example if you are picking it up after the play session, immediately put your dog in isolation. The act of putting your dog in isolation, for example by shutting him in a room on his own, is to demonstrate that his behavior has a definite and obvious consequence. With sufficient repetition, he’ll learn that grabbing at the toy has an unpleasant result. This process is called operant conditioning.
Similarly, when you’re confident that the dog is learning not to grab, you can try and test him. Hold the toy in your hand, close to his mouth. If he resists the temptation to grab, give verbal praise and let him have the toy. If he grabs, remove the toy from his mouth then put him in isolation.
- Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images