First off, I think we should look at the dog's point of view in this. I find it makes it much easier to be understanding and avoid getting het up and cross.
So you're out walking with your human family, happily playing with a toy - and then another dog rushes up and tries to interfere your nice walk by stealing your toy. You quite rightly object by growling or barking at the other dog who has ignored doggy etiquette about who the toy belongs to. But then you get told off for doing so and find yourself on the lead. Huh?!
Now from the human perspective. You're out enjoying a lovely walk with your dog, throwing them their toy and generally feeling life it pretty good. Then another dog and owner come along and your dog growls or barks at them to back away from your toy. Cue embarrassment and the need to issue some sort of punishment in front of the other owner. You remove toy and put your dog on the lead, amid profuse apologies to the other owner.
Interesting to look at the situation from all sides isn't it? So how could you look to avoid a problem occurring in the first place. Here's my ideas on the subject.
- Remove the toy when other dogs are about - this removes the stress of defending it for your dog, and means that there is no danger of the problem occurring in the first place.
- Personally, I rarely take a toy out on walks for my dogs. Am I a big meanie? Possibly, but actually the reasons behind my decision might make you think otherwise. My feeling is that dogs need to be dogs - perform doggy behaviours like sniffing, seeking out scents, enjoying their opportunity to be off the lead and investigate their environment. If they're constantly dashing around after a toy or thinking about where it is, they're in a heightened state with high adrenalin levels. These will continue long after your walk and can make it difficult for them to settle down, even if they're physically quite tired.
- Give the dog an alternative to guarding their toy - if you see another dog approaching, before your dog has a chance to react call them to you and reward them with a treat. They can't be guarding their toy and coming back to you when called at the same time. This does mean working hard on perfecting your dog's recall, but it's worth it for so many reasons that it'll be time well spent.
I feel strongly that when I'm out walking with my dogs, my first responsibility it to making sure that they are safe and happy. I love stopping for a chat with other owners who I might meet when out and about, but if their dog is upsetting or bothering my dogs I'm not worried or embarrassed to walk away. After all it's my dogs I live with and have to answer to, not people I only meet briefly in passing.