Friday, July 10, 2009
By Linda Cole
Possessive behavior in dogs is actually quite common. We often see them guarding their favorite toy or sleeping spot, or making sure other pets in the house stay away from their feeding bowl or treat “cookie jar.” In a way, it's hard to blame them for protecting what they believe belongs to them, and that includes their human. After all, we display the same tendencies toward other people. Being possessive of a toy or favorite resting area is one thing, but if your dog is jealous, that's another ballgame that can quickly get out of control.
Jealousy in dogs is not cute, and we unknowingly encourage bad behavior each time the dog is allowed to display this emotion with no correction from us. Jealousy can occur when you bring in a new pet, start a new relationship, have a baby or when there is any other change in your life which takes your attention away from your dog. In his mind, he has stood by you through thick and thin, and given unconditional love— and now you are giving your attention to someone else. How rude.
Kelly is my alpha female. She’s an adorable 14 year old terrier/mix who has eyes only for me. As far as she is concerned, I belong to her and it's her duty to protect me. I didn't realize she had taken on the role as my protector until the day she actually nipped at a friend who took one step too close to me. With my eyes opened, I began to notice it wasn't just my friend. Kelly was also protecting me from the other dogs and cats in my pack. The change in our household was a job that required a lot of overtime. I also was caring for my father who had fallen and was recovering from a broken hip. They did not get along; his walker scared her, and he was afraid of her. I had to confine Kelly when I was at work, and her little heart was broken.
Jealousy and possessive behavior in dogs can be a serious behavior problem. Some dogs will exhibit signs of depression or a loss of appetite. They may be withdrawn or show signs of aggression that you've never seen before. Kelly would lie beside me on the couch, and if another dog or cat came too close, she would leap at them with a high pitched warning bark. She was like a rattlesnake lashing out. This stressed out not only her, but the other pets and me as well.
So how do you deal with jealousy and possessive behavior in dogs? The solution isn't as difficult as it may seem, but it requires consistent dedication and a calm steady hand. Whether you know it or not, before your dog became jealous, the two of you had a daily routine. Perhaps it was a morning walk before going to work, playing ball after work, or a relaxing ear scratching session while watching TV. To a dog, routine is important because he sees any change as him losing his place by your side and in your heart.
Reassure him with extra attention and maintain a daily schedule of walking, feeding, talking to and playing with him. Encourage positive interaction between him and any new member of the pack, whether it is human or another pet.
Reestablish basic training ground rules. Your dog may need to be reminded who the boss is. A jealous or possessive dog needs to be watched and as the pack leader, you need to step in and control any signs of aggression or negative behavior before they get out of control. Make sure to reward desired behavior with a yummy treat (like CANIDAE® Snap-Bits™) or extra back scratching time. Your dog is just looking for reassurance that you still value him.
Kelly is still jealous of the other pets, but she has realized her role in the pack has not changed. I started a new routine: walks with other members of the pack, special time set aside just for her which included head scratching and girl talk, along with appropriate pack leader discipline from me when needed.
Dealing with jealousy and possessive behavior in dogs is ongoing. It's worth the effort to maintain peace in the family for their well being as well as our own. Besides, our dogs think we are the most wonderful creatures around and want to please us. The least we can do is be responsible pack leaders and set rules that are consistent and clear. In doing so, our dogs will understand their place in the pack and know what we expect from them.
Read more articles by Linda Cole