Fixing Jealous, Over-Protective, and Possessive Behaviour

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In part 1 of this article I talked about how to identify the behaviours that demonstrate that your Husky may be displaying Jealous, Over-Protective, Possessive behaviours.

In today’s article I will talk about how this behaviour was created, what you can do about it, and how to prevent it from ever becoming an issue with your dog.

Why Is My Dog Doing This Behaviour?

For the most part, Jealousy, Over-protectiveness, Possessiveness, and Resource Guarding (especially of people) is a learned and reinforced behaviour that owners have fostered, rewarded, or allowed their dogs to do because:

They misinterpreted their dog’s behaviours

Many owners never recognized the dog’s initial behaviours to be problematic so they never stopped or corrected the dog from doing the behaviour. By not stopping the behaviours, the behaviours continued, grew worse, and then it spread into other aspects of the dog’s functioning.

Accepted behaviour

Some owners think that their dog being overly protective of them is an acceptable thing for them to do. They even secretly like the “special attention” they get from their dog. These owners do not understand that they are grooming a dog to be a biting hazard and an out of control ticking time bomb. Once you allow a dog to control humans, unlike in Schutzhund training, you will have no control over when, how, and whom he controls.

Lack of supervision

Sometimes owners have not been very good about providing consistent supervision, leadership, and guidance where their dog’s behaviour is concerned. If dogs are not clearly shown which behaviours are acceptable, if the problem behaviours are not corrected, then the dogs will assume that what they are doing is acceptable behaviour.

Parameters and limits for acceptable behaviours must be made by the owners or the dogs will choose and set their own limits. Also, if dogs are missing critical socialization skills they may lack the understanding of how they should politely interact with humans. The human/dog relationship is not entirely a natural partnership. It is a learned/taught behaviour so make sure that you teach the rules that go along with this relationship.

Rewarding bad behaviour

Sometimes owners don’t understand that they unwittingly reward the dog’s bad behaviour. All behaviour is purposeful and for a dog to keep doing the behaviour it means that the behaviour is being reinforced at some level. That means that the dog is getting a payoff for exhibiting the behaviours.

Dogs, by nature, are reward driven. The dog has learned that he can make humans do what he wants, that he can affect his environment, or he has learned to get attention, even if it is negative attention from the owners by doing the behaviour. As long as there is a reinforcement for the behaviour (sometimes the payoff is that he is allowed to do the behaviour), the dog will continue the behaviours. Removing the reward is the first step toward changing the behaviour.

Overindulged dog

The Dog has been overindulged, allowed to do as he pleases, with no real rules, limits, or consequences for his actions and now he views the house, the contents, and the people in the house as HIS possession. People have good intentions when they shower their dogs with excessive love and attention but it seldom ends well for either of them. The dog has been led to believe by the actions of the owners that everything belongs to him. This is sometimes called the Princess (or Prince) Syndrome.

Applying human social rules to a dog, placing no limits on the dog’s behaviour, not correcting a dog’s behaviour or correcting him inconsistently, and not providing solid leadership for the dog does not convey love to a dog. It sends the message that you are not able or unwilling to provide leadership and most often the dog steps up to the plate not because he WANTS the job, but because in his understanding, there is no one currently filling this position.

For dogs, strong leadership is equated with safety and survival of the pack so if the human is not displaying recognizable leadership skills then the dog feels it has no choice but to step in and do it. As a rule, most dogs are not laying in wait just itching to step in to take over the leadership role.

Most dogs would prefer that someone else filled this position. Dogs that are thrust into the leadership role left vacant by unaware or unmotivated humans are very often nervous, anxious, and generally unhappy about being forced into this role.

Dominant temperaments

Sometimes dogs are born with a naturally dominant temperament. The temperament of the dog is determined 50% by nature and 50% by nurture. One only need look at a litter of puppies to see natural pack order at work. Some puppies will be naturally laid back and submissive and some puppies will be naturally dominant.

The naturally dominant dog in the hands of an unaware or novice dog handler can quickly turn into a behaviour nightmare. Couple the naturally dominant personality of the puppy, the challenging time of hormone fuelled adolescence when rules and boundaries are being tested, and add to that the unskilled or unaware owner who gives the dog insufficient guidance, rules, or structure and you have all the ingredients for the perfect behavioural storm to be brewing.

Owning and living with a dominant dog is only a problem when the human owners of this kind of dog do not have the proper skill set to know how to work dominance or if they are unmotivated to sufficiently train the dog. Early obedience training and firm rules are a must for the naturally dominant dog otherwise he will be running the household in no time.

Now That I Helped Create This Behaviour, How Do I Stop It?

The key to stopping the behaviours is to address the power balance within this relationship. Currently the dog feels like it has superior social ranking to the human because the behaviours of the humans have demonstrated to him that he is indeed “top dog”. Since in nature it is perfectly acceptable for a dominantly ranked dog to own, possess, or take a resource, the social ranking of the dog must be addressed and changed by the humans. In order to do this the humans must reorder and restructure their own behaviours and choices.

Umbilical training

Use the Umbilical technique as described in the article, Establish Leadership With Your Husky Using The Umbilical. This technique helps to shift the dog from “me” thinking to “we” thinking. Naturally dominant dogs and dogs that have been created to be dominant by their owners think and make choices for themselves. They think for themselves and they make the rules for themselves. In this state of mind, there really is no partnership between human and dog.

The Umbilical process forces the dog to follow the owner’s moves. It makes them aware that they are not in charge and it gets them in the habit of looking at the owner and watching them for their next cue. Be prepared, that dominant dogs are initially not very happy about losing their “throne”. The task of re-balancing power and re-establishing yourself as one who is in charge is a process and it takes time. But really when you think about it, your dog did not suddenly become a dominant tyrant overnight. His behavioural issues were created over time and it was a process too.

Obedience classes

Sign up for obedience classes. Obedience training for these dogs is a MUST. Training work helps to drive home the message that there is a clear leader and a follower. A good trainer or behaviour specialist can help you help you develop better dog handling skills. Obedience training helps establish much needed and previously lacking rules, boundaries, and behaviour limits for the dog.

Teach your dog the LEAVE IT cue. Whether your dog is resource guarding an item, you, bullying a guest, or demanding attention from a human, the LEAVE IT cue helps to reinforce the message that he cannot have or get what he wants from this situation. LEAVE IT, DROP IT and PLACE (GO TO) are all great tools to redirect a dog’s controlling behaviour and to put the control back into your own hands.

Corrective training

Make a commitment to correct the behaviours consistently and immediately. If you are inconstant with your corrections, you are teaching the dog to be more persistent with his bad behaviour. A dog’s world is very black and white. Rules are ALWAYS or NEVER. Unless you ALWAYS correct the behaviour, the dog will assume that rules need NEVER be followed.

Constructive love and affection

Learn a more constructive way to show your dog love and affection other than indulging him to the point of neurosis.Over indulged dogs are not happy. They end up being out of control, neurotic, anxious, and a hazard to bite. Please, it is okay to show love to your dog. Just make sure that your actions benefit your dog.

Far too often the things that people do to their dogs and for their dogs in the name of “love” serve to make themselves feel better in the moment. They don’t correct their dog because they don’t want to be the “bad guy”. They think that by letting their dog do whatever he wants that this will somehow make the dog happy. It does not make them happy at all. Dogs value structure, order, and knowing what to expect.

Without the security of these things dogs feel anxious and afraid. Please, if you love your dog (and I know that you do), love him enough to do what supports his needs. Don’t assign him human values. Do not try and meet his needs by trying to apply human social values on him. These social values really do not translate well to dogs. They have their own set of hierarchical social values.

Institute a “work for it” program

Most dogs with behaviour issues are under the impression that they are entitled to own everything because everything has been always given to them. Food, toys, treats, choice of sleeping spots; they have it all given to them. Especially in the case of naturally dominant dog, they should be given nothing for free.They should have to “work” for every meal, every treat, and every toy they get to play with. Working for it teaches them self control as well as it reinforces that there are no free rides. At the same time it also teaches them that having patience is rewarding.

Also, these dogs should never be allowed to think they own anything. You, the owner, should be the only one who owns anything in the house, yard, car etc. You own all food, toys, beds and furniture. The dog gets it because you ALLOW him to use or have it. By human social values this sounds horrible and mean but dogs have a totally different view of ownership.

Humans give and share to show care, affection, and social acceptance.Dogs either own it, want it, are trying find a way to keep it, or they accept that someone else owns it. Many jealousy and resource guarding issues are about dogs owning, wanting what someone else has, or being afraid of losing what they have.

If there is nothing for a dog own, there is nothing for him to worry about losing, and then there is nothing for him to fight to keep. In multi-dog households dogs should not being allowed to own anything. This becomes crucial to keeping the peace in the household.

So gather up all the toys and dispense them sparingly. No more free flowing dog treats or free feeding. Give treats only during training and for compliance. No more letting dogs up on the furniture or on the bed while you are re-establishing your social rank. In multi dog households, all dogs must be relegated to a lower social ranking than you. That means the dogs must ALL have the same rules. Every dog must have the same consistent expectations for behaviour.

Up the physical exercise for the dog

A physically tired dog is much less likely to have the energy to be a bully or a dictator. You can address two issues at once by umbilical training your dog using a waist leash while you walk or run. Exercise for the dog and umbilical training to re-establish leadership all in one activity.

Consider spaying and neutering the dog. While intact dogs are not always automatically going to be behaviour problem, the combination of a naturally dominant dog combined with rampant hormone fueled cocky behaviour and you have the recipe for disaster. Add to this mix a dog that an owner that does not train or sets limits on his behaviour and you the makings of a dog that will surely end up being given up to a shelter and eventually put down because he was not adoptable. This outcome is absolutely avoidable.

What If The Problem Is The Addition Of A New Person Or Dog Into The Household?

Quite often the addition of a new family member in the household can really get a dog’s nose out of joint. The green eyed jealousy monster will often rear its ugly head when a new member of the household is suddenly in the picture. Your dog, who may have been behaving fine, suddenly resorts to being destructive, peeing in the house, resource guarding, growling at the new member, or just generally behaving really badly. Many people are at a loss of what to do with these behaviours.There are few things that you can do to make this time better and regain control of the dog.

Often when a new person enters the relationship, a relations dyad now becomes a triad. Your dog may see the other person as an interloper or a rival for your affection and attention. People usually try to address this issue by giving the dog lots of affection and attention when the person is not there, or in the case of infants, when they are sleeping. But this only reinforces that it is the presence of the person that CAUSES the dog to feel neglected or ignored.

So to fix this issue, give the dog treats and attention when the new person is there so they begin to associate the presence of the person with pleasant things. In the case of an infant, have the dog nearby and toss treats to it while you are feeding the baby or changing a diaper. You can also have the new person give the treats to help the dog to associate new positive feelings with the new person.

Do not respond any aggressive behaviour with physically aggressive or aversive methods of correction or you will only escalate the behaviours of the dog. Aggression against aggression does not serve to eliminate the problem. Manage the behaviour for the short term and the long term. For the sake of safety you may need to muzzle the dog for the short term until long term plans for desensitization and counterconditioning are implemented.

Also, if you give the dog dramatic attention when he acts aggressively to the new person, this attention will only serve to reinforce the dog’s behaviour. Do not reward his behaviour with your attention. Instead of getting angry, shouting, or having a lot of drama, quietly remove the dog from the area for the time being. This is not a long term solution to the problem. This is simply managing the problem in this moment and not rewarding his bad behaviour with your attention.

Increase the exercise for the dog. A tired dog is far less likely to have the energy to be so rebellious. If you know that you have guests coming over, make sure that you exercise the dog before hand. If you have a new live in person or baby, go out for a walk as a group. It helps to reinforce the “we” mentality and demonstrates the cohesiveness of the group.

During this time of readjustment for the dog, make sure that games like tug of war or overly exciting games are not being played. The last thing you want is for the dog to become more excited and more volatile than he already is. Opt for quiet calm games.

How Can I Prevent This From Happening With My Dog Again?

If it has already happened, then use the tools I gave you to eliminate these behaviours. Then to make sure that these behaviours never return, apply what you have learned.

  • Don’t over indulge the dog.
  • Set limits and rules for behaviours.
  • Know what strong leadership looks like from your dog’s perspective. Be a strong leader for your dog so that you do not get relegated to lower social ranking position again.
  • Take your dog to obedience classes to forge a relationship with your dog. Make sure that everyone in the household participates in the training of the dog. It helps the dog to understand that all the humans have equal ranking over the dog.
  • Make sure that your dog receives adequate breed specific exercise and mental stimulation daily to keep your dog from become bored and unhappy.
  • Before a new person moves it, desensitize the dog to the new person.
  • Before bringing in a new dog, make sure that dog are compatible to each other.
  • Be willing to be honest about your dog’s behaviours. If you see the dog beginning slide back into bad habits, that means that you have done the same. Don’t make excuses. Make a commitment to address the problem right away.

If you are fortunate in that you do not see these behaviours in your dog, then congratulations. You must be doing it right. If you have not done things quite right, then take comfort in the thought that when you know better, it allows you to do better.

As always we welcome your questions, comment, and stories regarding this topic. When we share our stories, we may well be helping someone who is currently struggling with their Snow Dog.

Helping all Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.

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35 Comments

  1. LORI JESSING on

    I have a 4 year old rescue Husky (not fixed) , we recently moved into a house that has another dog living there as well. My husky has been here before with the other dog, playing etc. However, he continuously urinates in that dogs room on his stuff (bedding etc.). How can I stop him from doing this?

  2. My dog is very obedient – with me only. She sits, stays, follows me and listens to me well but she is overprotective of me for other people, specifically when I am laying down on the couch or bed and someone approaches. In open areas she is fine, it’s mostly the house or familiar places that she “guards me”. I would really like to get that under control – along with re-establishing myself as alpha over her, are there any other tips you have to get her to stop nipping at people in her territory? I only fear it will get worse and just recently noticed the behavior in the last 6 months or so.

    My gambler is as follows (a few added from your article)
    – not allowed on any furniture
    – must sit when anyone enters and be calm before being pet (the reward)
    – I am going to make her follow me around the house on a very short leash for a while
    – at intervals, make her go to her bed and stay until released
    – put all the toys away, reward her with one when asked and once a day for at least 15 minutes make her release the toy and walk away/lay on her bed
    – reward all good behavior with training treats
    – she can only be pet when we want to pet her. Meaning if she comes and invades our space without sitting and asking first, she will be sent away.
    – make her walk beside or behind us on walks

  3. Christine Davies on

    Hi my bf and I just rescued a 9 yr old female min pin. We have no background information. She’s displaying some possesive/protective behaviour over me in a couple different circumstances. One….my bf comes at me making noises to play and show affection, our dog snaps, tries to bite him….two….i was at a friends place who has a dog that we introduced and they seemed fine until we were sitting on the floor, my dog was napping in front of me, friends dog came over to sniff and say hello and my dog lunged at him barking and like she wanted to bite him. I do show a lot of affection towards her, and am probably not showing enough boundaries or dominant behavior. How can I fix this?

  4. My three year old husky has just started to be protective and guarding every toy, shoe or household item she can get. When she takes the toy, for example, she goes into a corner and will growl when I try to take the toy away. How do I correct this behavior?

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