I frequently get asked for help by owners of Huskies, because their dogs have turned their households into a war zone. They lunge, snap, and snarl at their owners when they don’t want to comply with a given cue, they have become a menace in their community because they try to attack other dogs and people who approach them. They have become very untrustworthy because they try to control family members’ movements (other family dogs included).
These dogs have become little furry dictators “barking” out the orders to everyone. Dominant dictator dogs like to determine where they sleep, who comes and goes from the house, and even claimed ownership of all toys, food, and humans. Does this sound familiar? Has your dog turned into a jealous, over-protective tyrant who fiercely guards his possessions …. including YOU? Is this a problem? Yes, this is a severe problem.
Understanding How Dogs View Resources And Ownership
Before we attempt to “fix” this problem, it helps to understand the problem’s nature. In the dog world’s natural social order, it is perfectly reasonable and typical for a dog with social ranking to get “preferred access” to viewed and understood resources to be scarce or valuable. While this behaviour fits our human definition of resource guarding, within the context of a canine pack’s environment and societal rules, this behaviour is viewed neither as a problem nor an issue.
Only when this behaviour is removed from its original environment and placed into a foreign and incompatible environment does this behaviour become a problem. A dog that resource guards and manipulates humans to guard “his” property is a very volatile and dangerous dog in human society. But we humans have to understand that from a dog’s point of view, by resource guarding, he is not doing anything wrong or unnatural. Unfortunately, trying to convince a dog to stop natural behaviour can be a long and challenging process.
Stopping The Behaviour
We cannot fix a problem unless we understand it and how it was created. Albert Einstein wisely pointed out that a problem could not be fixed on the same level where it was first made. So that means that to improve the dog’s behaviour issues, owners must first recognise and define the problem, understand how this situation came to be, what part they played in its creation, and how they continue to reinforce the behaviour.
Then, owners commit to their dog and themselves to think, believe, act, and choose differently. If they do not, they only serve to continue nurturing the very behaviours that created this problem in the first place. Sadly, many owners are in complete denial about how they could have possibly contributed to this problem. No one is thrilled to hear that they created a mess (consciously or unconsciously) with their dog. While understanding why this happens is essential, it is equally important to focus on what you can do to fix this problem.
Defining These Issues
When it comes to these behavioural issues, jealousy, resource guarding, and over-protectiveness are not interchangeable terms. The basis for their existence is related and rooted in commonality, but they are separate issues. There is a point where these different issues do overlap and intersect with each other. At times this can make it challenging to know which behaviour issue you are dealing with.
The Jealous Dog
Can a dog be jealous? Yes, it can. As it applies to dogs, jealousy can be defined as envy or coveting something or someone (“You have it, and I want it” OR “You have it and I don’t like that you have it.”). Dogs can be jealous of new people or other dogs entering into “their” territory, home, or family unit. They can be jealous and demand your undivided attention if they feel that they do not have it or no longer have it.
Jealous dogs do feel like they should be the main focus of your attention because most likely at some point, they were initially the centre of all of your attention. If you lavished and indulged your dog with disproportionate amounts of constant attention and then you stopped for some reason, your dog now resents this. If you brought a new person or dog into the home that now also get your attention, your dog might show jealousy. The basis for this behaviour is rooted in Dominance and Resource Guarding, and the dog’s belief system that goes along with this situation is he believes that OWNS you, and no one else should have access to you.
The Over Protective Dog
Unless there is a real physical threat of danger, like a charging dog or an actual physical threat from a human, there is nothing in your environment that would require your dog to protect you. Generally, dogs that are believed to be Over Protective are actually displaying Dominant, Possessive, and Jealous behaviours. What these dogs are actually doing is Resource Guarding you.
When these dogs keep other dogs or people away from you, this is not done from feelings of great love or affection for you as much as it is done from guarding something they consider to be a valuable or scarce resource. In a nutshell, these dogs send a message to all interlopers to stay away from you because you are their PROPERTY and they “own” you. The thought shapes Their behaviour, “ I have this resource, and I am afraid that you will take it away from me” or “ This is mine, and I will not allow you take this resource away from me.”.
The Resource Guarding Dog
As already mentioned, in nature, it is perfectly natural and normal for a dominant dog to take and keep possession of items regarded as having high value without there needing to be a fight over it—the attention and affection of a human being considered by dogs to be a valuable resource. The UNDIVIDED attention and affection of a human become even more valuable to dogs (this overlaps into the area of Jealousy). While natural Resource Guarding may be considered a naturally occurring situation within wild dog packs, it should not be encouraged or allowed in the dynamics of human society or within the human family unit.
This Is Not Love
Sadly, many people really have a hard time coming to terms with the idea that their behaviours and choices have helped create this problem in their dogs. Countless people have made up epic stories of love, loyalty, and heroism displayed by their dogs to explain their behaviours. Worse yet, many people, while they admit that their dog’s “protective” behaviours cause them no end of problems, are still quick to reinforce the behaviours because they secretly are enamoured by or enjoy the idea of their dog protecting them out of a sense of great love or loyalty.
Some people thrive on the feeling of the special attention they get from their dogs. Unfortunately, this kind of attention is not healthy or balanced and unless it is corrected and re-balanced, will end badly for you both you and your dog. These guarding and aggressive behaviours will not remain contained in isolated situations and spread to other areas of your dog’s functioning. The reality is that dogs can respect you, be loyal toward you, and even “love you” without needing to keep everyone and everything away from you.
Resource Guarding, Jealousy, and Possessiveness have nothing to do with affection. This is an issue of being in an unbalanced relationship with your dog, where he does not see you or respect you as his leader. Instead of being respected as a leader, you have been relegated to a lower social rank, and you have been allocated to be one of your dog’s possessions.
Behavioural Signs That Your Dog May Be Possessive, Jealous, or Dominant
It is important to be able to interpret the signs of these behavioural issues. Many people misinterpret them and miss the signs. As a result, they do not realise the seriousness of their dog’s behaviours.
Situational Aggression against:
- Humans ( children, partners or guests).
- Other family dogs or pets.
- Approaching dogs.
Generalised aggression or guarding of:
- Food (resource guarding including empty bowls).
- Fear (fear causes him to resort to aggression automatically).
- Toys. (resource guarding)
- Furniture and sleeping places. ( resource guarding)
- Territorial aggression ( guards yard, house, crate against anyone entering his territory).
The dog also:
- Is overprotective, possessive, jealous or guards a particular human against other people or dogs.
- Has no respect or regard for other family members.
- Defies or rebels against cues issued by owners.
- Does not observe humans’ personal space by repeatedly jumping on them, climbing on them, stepping on them, pushing against them, or leaning hard on them to control them or their movements.
- Uses their body, muzzle, or teeth on humans to move them, herd them, or control their movements.
- Steals food off human’s plate, hands, or off counters surfaces.
- Tries to control people and his immediate environment by excessive whining, growling, snarling, snapping or biting.
- Uses demanding, pushy, or obnoxious behaviours to get his way.
- Marks his territory outside and inside the house using urine or faeces.
- Domination of humans and dogs by mounting them.
While it is true that all dogs can display one or two of these behaviours at one time or another, especially while they are young and still learning. Also, recently adopted dogs may be totally lacking in training and may also initially display these behaviours. But if you often see your dog displaying a number of these behaviours, you may well be dealing with a Jealous, Over-Protective, Possessive, and Guarding Husky.
Tomorrow, in part 2 of this article, I will be discussing how humans created these behaviours, how to fix the behaviours, and how to prevent these behaviours from ever happening. As always, we welcome your comments, questions, and stories regarding this topic. When we share our stories, we may well be helping someone struggling with their Snow Dog. Helping all Snow Dogs … one owner at a time.