Help for Dogs that Control Their Owners Relationships
Recently I was out dog training with a middle aged couple that had acquired a lovely, but wild Maltese/Terrier mix. Admittedly she has many problems some of which include aggression towards the toilet (when it flushes) and vacuum and also the possessive guarding of her human “Mother”.
“Mom” is her main care giver. She gets up in the morning feeds and waters her, takes her for walks, plays with and trains her. Although there is an adult son that also lives in the home and her human “Dad” they mostly only interact with her when Mom is gone and they NEVER train with her.
She is definitely spoiled and gets almost everything she wants, from everyone. When she demands that her humans pet her; they do. When she wants to play ball, she initiates and insists someone throw it for her; non-compliance will be met with barking and an escalation from nipping to hurtful biting. When she doesn’t want to be picked up, she flashes her teeth and is hastily left alone. She has to be tricked to enter her crate when it is time for her owners to work.
Mom makes her listen and obey commands most of the time, but gives in to her “cuteness” and has trouble truly enforcing commands, but no one else even asks her to obey or adhere to any rules.
AND, “Dad” is not allowed to affectionately touch “Mom” in her presence without the threat of significant bodily harm and damage (thank goodness she is not a Rottweiler!).
I had my plate full for sure! “Princess” was quite displeased to see the emergence of a dog trainer at her door! We had lots of work to do for sure and Princess had to learn boundaries and adhere to rules, but due to her possessive owner behavior and recent admittance of like behavior out there with many of my readers, I thought it was time to tackle this problem and help you to get on the way to recognizing it and solving it! Protective behavior which was recently misunderstood in my article Help! My Dog is Too Protective is usually not possessive behavior.
I once worked with a friend very early in my career (I was 18) who swore animals did not have “human” emotions. I don’t know whether she was yanking my chain to watch me get fired up about the subject or whether she truly believed that dogs didn’t have emotions. Unfortunately she is not the only person I have heard make such a ridiculous claim.
I am here to attest to the fact that animals DO DO, DO, DO, DO, have emotions! Did I make that clear? Yes, they DO! What I don’t believe they have is the ability to “punish” or get back at us. They are not by nature “sneaky” post behavior. Sneaky, conniving behavior is a human trait. But that is for another article!
Jealousy is a nasty trait! Wikipedia defines jealousy as a secondary emotion, typically referring to negative thoughts and feelings of insecurity, fear and anxiety over an anticipated loss of something that the “person” (dog) values, particularly in reference to a human connection. Jealousy often consists of a combination of presenting emotions such as anger, sadness, resentment and disgust. Not to be confused with envy.
We have all seen and suffered from jealousy to some degree. It has been observed in infants 5 months and older! Whether it is a sibling, a stepmother/father, or a friend we have all had these feelings.
When I was born, my sister (who was 3) used to sneak into my crib every night and pinch me as hard as she could until I screamed! She definitely had some jealousy issues, that thankfully we have worked out now 🙂 ha ha!
Dogs, especially those dogs that don’t have siblings or other dogs to compete with, often suffer from jealousy. This single dog phenomenon sets them up to be a little more selfish and much less apt to “share”; similarly to single child homes.
Although I believe it is most common in single dog homes, it can also happen in homes with multiple dogs but usually the aggression and jealousy and possessiveness is shown toward the other dogs in the family (this would be another article).
The “Princess” phenomenon is very common; the dog usually bonds to one person and simply doesn’t want to share this person or his/her affection with anyone else. Other people are seen as possible competitors and treated as such when they cross the boundaries set by the dog and ask for affection from “the dog’s” person.
Most often these dogs are spoiled!! Spoiled dogs like spoiled children are much more demanding and feel much more entitled to whatever they seek. Whereas the object of the dog’s affection may demand some form of obedience and adherence to some rules, most often the other people in the family or friends do not interact with the dog on an obedience level. When a person, adult, or parent is only “fun” they are often not respected!
What to Do?
The first thing is to make sure everyone in the family is safe. These possessive tyrants are often willing to issue a bite and in large dogs these bites can be quite severe! Never use negative or nasty training techniques or the aggression is liable to escalate! Always keep the dog on a leash and use lots of positive reinforcement! This type of training may take time, it is okay for everyone to move slowly in their training to ensure safety.
First the dynamics of all the relationships in the family need to change! That includes the person that is the object of the dog’s affection! I have seen people who come to me for help with this problem, but deep down they are delighted that their dog “loves” them so much that they are willing to bite or protect them from anyone. I can’t help people or their dogs when they are unwilling to make some very drastic changes! This is not a cute behavior for any dog!
The other people in the family need to be willing to safely step up to a new relationship. This person, who is always feeling like they may be bitten for showing affection to someone they love can be angry and feel vengeful toward the dog. I find that sometimes they seek help, just because they love the person in the middle but they detest the dog and are unwilling to make significant changes. This will not work if everyone is not willing to create new relationships and let the past go!
Not only does the person that has been threatened need to bring some obedience and rules to the equation, they also need to be a center of fun, treats, and food for the dog. Positive reinforcement is the only way to win the hearts of these little or big bullies.
The dog’s life needs to go from centering on “his chosen person” to centering on the person he has been jealous of. In the new restructuring of the household this person needs to now take charge of feeding the dog, walking the dog, and generally playing with the dog. All good things should come from this person and very little interaction should come from the person the dog already loves.
The former object of the dog’s affection needs to take a backseat to the new relationship and let family and friends be the center of the dog’s life. Although this is difficult for this person, it is essential and I guarantee the dog will still love you! Sneaking love, snuggling and affection will only undermine the dog’s ability to form a loving relationship with the other person!
I recommend the person who has been threatened by the dog take an obedience class where he/she can take the dog alone to a new environment and begin to shape a new relationship. Even if the dog has good obedience skills, taking your dog to a class builds a bond of trust and companionship and if done with a good trainer is fun.
I recommend getting these little green monsters (because green is the color of jealousy) off of your furniture. These dogs do not need to be sitting in the laps or sleeping with those they are guarding; this only makes change more difficult and more dangerous.
Put a leash on your dog and pluck him off of the furniture when he jumps up. Being on the furniture is a privilege at my house and has to be earned. If you show good behavior and listen to commands and don’t have aggression or possession issues toward anyone in the house, you can lie on the furniture, if you do have any of those issues…you aren’t allowed.
The person being guarded can tell the dog he doesn’t like the possessive behavior by plucking the dog off or leading it away but should otherwise not get involved in the relationship of the dog and other family member. It is detrimental to have this person shouting second commands or coming in and making the dog adhere. When the dog is possessive this person should get up and leave the room. Possessive behavior=the loss of the person the dog loves or a time out so to speak.
As the first love of the dog’s life steps out and lets the other person begin to form a loving, bond, built on positive reinforcement, obedience, and fun and the dog begins to love this new person it is time to add the positive reinforcement of affection into the scenario.
I do not recommend doing this until the tide of the relationship has definitely changed and is apparent to everyone involved. Flaunting affection with another person when your dog is being possessive may very well make the behavior much worse and more dangerous! The dog must first love and listen to both people.
Now put your dog on a leash, so that you can control any naughty behavior and keep everyone safe, and start showing mild forms of affection toward that person. Pats on the back, holding hands, resting a hand on the person for a short time is mild. Hugging, kissing or laying on the person may be too much for the dog to handle at first because it can be seen as aggression on one person’s part to the other.
Pair this light affection with clicks and treats for good behavior. If the dog shows no possessive behavior click and treat or jackpot for a good response. Watch for any signs of possessive behavior such as stiffening, growling, showing teeth, or even putting himself in between you. If there are signs of aggression, back up in your training and relationship forming; person number 2 needs to work harder on positive reinforcement training and fun alone with the dog before moving forward.
If the dog accepts this affection between two people readily with no signs of distress you may move on with your canoodling! Be sure to keep him on a leash and click
and treat! The dog needs to associate people on people affection with getting really great treats!
As the relationships change and the dog no longer shows ANY form of possession, the original object of affection can again start to show more love, snuggling and cuddling with the dog while making sure rules are adhered to and the dog respects and loves everyone involved.
As always FUN and safety are the most important aspects in making changes in your dog’s life!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.