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Dog owners need to be open to change

Small dog’s possessiveness

A woman named Ellie wrote a comment on this blog where she explained how her Yorkie named Gemma was acting aggressive towards other dogs.

I wanted to share Ellie’s example because it tells a lot about the complex relationships we form with our dogs and how this is not necessarily good.

Ellie explained how every time she tries to pet another dog, Gemma growls and snaps at that dog. This is a problem because Ellie wants to get a second dog, and Gemma’s behavior would make that difficult.

She asked for advice on how to fix this problem.

I wrote back and told Ellie that it doesn’t sound like Gemma has an issue with other dogs. Instead, it sounds like Gemma has an issue with possessiveness. Gemma may be a bit insecure or fearful, but she feels secure and safe near Ellie. So, like many small dogs, she wants to guard her “power source.”

I told Ellie to take more control of the situation. She should learn to block Gemma from getting in between her and another dog by putting her arm out or giving a firm voice correction. I told her that she gets to decide which dogs she gets to  pet or hold. Gemma does not get to decide.

I told Ellie that she should consider putting a leash on Gemma, tethering her to a chair and ignoring her while she pets another dog. I told her to invite Gemma back once she is calm and quiet.

This is the kind of advice I give out all the time.

In these situations where a small dog has total control, the owners are usually offended by my suggestions and never visit my site again or they thank me for my tremendous help. It’s an even split.

Ellie did neither.

Here’s what she said (I edited her comment for grammar and length):

Thanks for your reply. Sounds like good advise, but don’t think I could do it. Gemma is a proper baby and absolutely adorable. Everyone loves her. I’m worried that with this method she will feel pushed out. She’s like that with my hubby as well, but not so nasty. I may just have to resign myself to just her. I can’t have her upset. Thanks so much again. 

You can read the whole conversation here.

It’s too bad, really. Gemma would probably feel much better if her owner would take more control. And it’s a shame if Ellie can’t get another dog.

But I don’t see this kind of honesty often, and it was a nice surprise.

I appreciate when someone admits she is the only one standing in the way of change. This is rare.

I also appreciate when someone disagrees with me but delivers her argument with genuine kindness. Also rare.

Most people choose to blame others – in this case, it would be the dog. Or, they get angry and deny the problem exists (forgetting they found my blog while searching for advice).

I get to hear about people’s “dog problems” all the time.

These problems are rarely “dog” problems at all. They are almost always human problems.

Maggie

Sunday 2nd of December 2012

Ha ha, you should have told her the "Ruffles and Muffles" story written by James Herriot. Nobody really likes a spoiled rotten dog, not even the owners!

Heidi P

Thursday 15th of December 2011

I think many people are afraid of hurting their dog's feelings by being assertive, stern, or even giving a quick yank on the leash. Dogs are very forgiving!!! Abused, neglected and mistreated shelter dogs are so sweet and loving - it's proof-positive that your dog will forgive you for merely enforcing commands.

Dogs DO pick up on your mood. If my dog disobeys (like not coming when called, ie Doggie Cardinal Sin!), she KNOWS I'm angry, I don't have to say anything or even change the expression on my face, she KNOWS I mean business. I don't punish her, I give her one "BAD DOG!", snap the leash back on and walkies are over. She'll be 3 come April and she is learning that not coming when called is absolutely verboten, so I'm beginning to trust her a bit more and giving her more liberties off the leash. I think she realizes disobedient doggies get their privileges revoked!

I've never been one to fall under the spell of the "overwhelming cuteness charm" in any of my dogs (and of course, every parent thinks their child is cute) but with Esme... it's easy to let her get away with things... even when she's being bad, she's still cute. ('cept running away when I tell her to come back... thankfully, hopefully, those days are gone).

Dogs are much smarter than we give them credit for. Look how many of them have their owners perfectly trained!

Lindsay Stordahl

Thursday 15th of December 2011

Yes. People are definitely afraid of hurting their dogs' feelings. My dog is good at looking so hurt and sad when he feels bad. And then I feel so guilty. Still, I'm stern with him when I need to be. And, I'll have to admit he gets away with quite a bit, too. But I accept the consequences, and I know it's my fault.

Tess

Sunday 11th of December 2011

On the subject of change, I wanted to get your thoughts about crate-training a dog I've had for about two months now. Arlo is a rescue who is just over a year old. He was in a shelter for a long time and I don't think he was every properly housebroken. I intended to start him with crate training, but he would cry and whine when left in the crate, so I did exactly what I now know I'm not supposed to do and stopped crating him. Now I have some time off of work and would like to properly house train him with a crate. I've purchased a crate of appropriate size and placed his bedding in there. For about the past week now he's been in and out of the crate of his own accord, sleeping in there, and generally seems to think of it as his "den," which is what I want. My question is when I can I start leaving him alone in there with the door closed? When I did this before (to run errands, go to work, etc) he would bark and cry during the day, but I think it was because I never introduced the crate properly and he viewed it as punishment (i.e. mom's gone, and I'm stuck here). Now I think he views the crate more positively, but I left him in there today to go to the grocery and came home to him barking. This may have been because of something else (another dog on the street barking, not being able to greet me at the door, or not having a Kong to play with because mom left it in the freezer), but I just want to make sure I'm pacing this right and not forcing him to adapt to the crate too quickly. My plan over the Christmas holidays is to gradually leave him in the crate while I'm gone for longer and longer increments, but if he's feeling at all unsafe about being in there I don't want to rush him.

Any thoughts you might have on this would be greatly appreciated! He's sleeping soundly in the crate now so I feel like we're on the right track, but I'm no expert.

Best,

Tess

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 12th of December 2011

It sounds like you are doing everything right. These things take time. I'm so glad to hear you are being so patient with your dog. I've written a few posts on crate training and separation anxiety if you'd like to check those out. I don't know if your dog has separation anxiety or if he just doesn't like the crate. Sounds like his issue is the crate.

http://www.thatmutt.com/2009/01/06/kennel-train-your-dog-to-prevent-behavioral-issues/

http://www.thatmutt.com/2011/02/02/how-to-prevent-separation-anxiety-in-dogs/

Elizabeth

Friday 9th of December 2011

I would agree that most of my dogs issues are because I have been too lazy to work on fixing them. I know she doesn't get enough steady walking so that we can work on our leash manners. However she never ceases to amaze me sometimes.

Last night I made a shooing motion with my hands and she moved back and sat down. I was schocked that it actually worked. Sometimes I think I have to realize that I train every moment of the day with her. Wether its telling her to lie down, sit, stay, paw. She is always training and teaching me new things.

I think the nice thing, and I think you see this more with dogs who have not had the best past, is their ability to change and become part of your family. Belle has come such a long way in two years and I am so blessed to have her in my life. And if she has her faults we all do. Most of them are from my own laziness but I am certainly amazed at how far she has become to being a good doggy citizen.

Lindsay Stordahl

Saturday 10th of December 2011

Very good points! Our dogs are always looking to us for information. They are always learning from us and we are always learning from them.

Nancy

Thursday 8th of December 2011

Your last two sentences really sum it up well. I agree, generally the problem lies with the owners. It's always easier to blame something or someone else. I bet you've seen and heard it all, never a dull moment in your work!

Lindsay Stordahl

Friday 9th of December 2011

Never a dull moment! :)