How can I stop my dog from guarding furniture? Why does my dog do this?
When a dog jumps up on a couch, chair, table, bed, stairs (whatever it may be) and growls when you come near him, touch him, or protest when you ask him to get down, the dog is telling you he owns it. This behavior must be stopped or this will most certainly lead to biting.
First, let’s look at what it means to the dog. When a dog behaves like this, he is telling you he owns that particular spot. A dominant dog will often seek out high places to watch over his domain, claiming the place as his own. He's communicating with you that he is the boss and he is demanding you respect his space. As anyone approaches they must ask permission to be there. The dog will growl, and eventually snap and bite, in order to correct YOU. He is telling you, as his subordinate, to leave the area, or to get his permission to be there. First comes growling, and later will surely come biting, because this is how a dominant dog communicates; they set a "rule." Your dog is not doing this because he is mean, he is doing this because he wants and/or thinks, he is the boss of your house. The top dog owns everything and makes the rules. This is a primal instinct hardwired into your dog’s brain. It is because of this instinctual behavior, when one owns a dog, the dog owns nothing. Everything must belong to the human, from the furniture to his toys to his food bowl. You, as his leader, will make all of the decisions. You, as the human, own the furniture, and you, as the human, will decide who can and cannot sit on it, and when.
When your dog, at his own free will, jumps up on a couch, chair, table, stairs, whatever he is claiming as his own, you are reinforcing his dominant state of mind. With every growl, snap or bite, the dog gets mentally stronger and more determined to KEEP his high spot and his high status in your family's hierarchy. The dog feels as if it is his throne. A status such as this cannot just be given to someone, they have to earn that seat and your dog is, in his mind, earning it. The dog is telling you he thinks the furniture is HIS and you'd better keep your place UNDER HIM. The dog needs to be shown humans are his pack leaders. He may have access to no chair, no couch, no furniture until all of his dominance issues are dealt with.
You and all other humans in the house must claim this spot as your own, making humans the pack leaders. Give the dog another spot in the room to lie on that is his own, such as a dog bed, blanket, pillow, open box or an open crate. Every time the dog walks in the room give him a command such as, "Go lie down," and direct him to his spot. Make sure the spot you are directing him to is lower (height-wise) than the area he was previously claiming.
Some very dominant dogs, particularly little dogs, just can't handle being on furniture without considering that as proof of their ownership of the space. If you have more than one dog, you need to set a no-furniture rule for all dogs. All dogs in a pack should be treated the same. You should not let one dog up on a couch and not another. Therefore if one dog needs to be kept off, all dogs must be kept off. If one of your dogs is not obeying, or is showing signs of dominance, you need to take control.
You do not necessarily have to ban your dog from the couch for life, but you must communicate to your dog when he is allowed to come up onto YOUR couch and when he cannot. If your dog, however, is already displaying this alpha role of protecting, you must ban him until he accepts you as his pack leader. After he has learned that the couch is YOURS, not HIS, then you can start inviting him back up. The most important thing to remember is, you decide when he is allowed up and you decide when he is to get off, by inviting him up and telling him to get down. You make the call, not your dog. Everything is on your terms, not his. If we humans want to live with an animal, we need to communicate like an animal.
Most dogs do not WANT to be the boss. There are very few dogs that actually want the alpha position, as the majority of puppies are not born leaders. Most are born followers. However even a born follower can assume the role of alpha dog, because a dog instinctually needs there to be an order, and if his human pack is displaying weak energy, and lack of discipline, his instincts tell him to step in and save the pack; there must be an order in the pack for the pack’s own survival.
Removing the Dog
Now YOU need to claim the furniture exactly the way your dog used to. (If you feel your dog will put you in danger by removing him, hire a professional to help you do this.)
Place yourself wherever your dog is claiming as his, for example, sit down on the couch with your arms and legs stretched out, making yourself bigger and covering more area. As the dog approaches point towards the area where he is allowed to lie (the area you chose for him) tell him to "go." Do not lean backwards, lean forwards because moving back is a sign of weakness to a dog. If he advances towards the couch, reach forward and use your hand like a claw, "biting" him in the neck. Hold the bite for a second and say, "No,” or “shhhtttt,” or “Aattttt" (whatever sound you choose). The dog should react by stopping or backing up. Snap your fingers and point away from the couch and say, "Go lie down." Do this without fear, anxiety, harshness or nervousness. Your dog can sense these emotions and will see you as weak. This will escalate your problem as it will make your dog feel an even stronger need to be your leader. Think Big and Powerful. Be calm, assertive and consistent.
If your dog jumps up on the couch while you are not sitting on it, take the dog by his collar and lead him off the furniture, with the same calm assertiveness. Say "down" and lead him to his new spot. Point to his spot and tell him to "lie down."
Depending on how aggressively your dog guards the furniture, and if you are afraid you are going to get bitten, you may opt to put a muzzle and/or a leash on your dog inside the house while you are working on this problem. When your dog jumps up on the furniture, take the authority role and move him off by using the leash to pull him by calmly approaching him, picking up the leash and popping it hard, and saying "down." Step in and use your body to block him from getting back up. Remember, lean forward, never back. Straighten up your shoulders and stand tall. Command him to the new spot you chose for him and tell him to "go lie down."
After you remove your dog, YOU guard the couch by blocking the dog with your body, using a sound such as "aatttt" or "sshht!" as a warning if he tries to move in, just as another dog would. Do not make eye contact. Look over the top of your dog’s head, not directly into his eyes. A dog will see a stare-down as a challenge and if you avert your gaze first, your dog wins. Point and send him away, "go."
When your dog is willingly lying in his new lower spot that you chose for him (such as his dog bed or blanket), you can toss him a treat. You can leave a treat on his spot once a day so he associates his spot with good things.
If you wish to have your dog up on the couch with you, and you feel like you have this problem under control, YOU may invite HIM up to YOUR spot. Call your dog by name and pat the couch, "up." The moment you see any signs of aggression or possessiveness, kick your dog back off and direct him to his spot on the floor. It's not that your dog cannot be up on the furniture, it just has to be on your terms, not his; YOU are the pack leader, not HIM. You own it, and he must earn the privilege of being on it.
Do not physically remove your dog. Your dog must move on its own.
Remember, there is no hiding our emotions from our dogs. They can, in a sense, read our minds in reading our emotions. This energy is the universal language of animals. Talk less, using more body language. Picture yourself, in your own mind, as big, powerful and very sure of yourself. Pull your shoulders back and stand up straight. Lean forward, not back. Your dog will feel this. This is your number one resource when it comes to communicating with your dog. Your dog will be happy and secure knowing he has a strong pack leader to care for him. Be consistent and strict with this rule and you will see a huge change in your dog’s behavior.
Showing your dog he is not your leader
How to correct this "Alpha Guarding" behavior in your dog, with the "Nothing in Life is Free Rule"
In the wild, dogs work for everything they have. This is instinctually built into them for their own survival. Dogs that work for what they have are happier as this instinct is being met. The only member of the pack that gets perks is the alpha dog, and since we cannot allow our dogs to be alphas, we need to make sure we communicate to our dog that we humans are the leaders. There is no other way to happily coexist with dogs than for all humans to assume this role.
Things you can do
- The number one way to communicate to a dog that you are his pack leader is to take him for a walk. Not the type of walk most humans take their dogs on but a pack walk, where the dog is made to heel beside or behind the human who is holding the lead. This is most important for all dogs, as in a dog's mind, the leader always leads the way. A dog must not be allowed to sniff or eliminate anywhere he wishes, but where you allow him. One marking against a tree is enough for male dogs. The dog should be concentrating on following the human, not worrying about leading the way. This pack-type walk should be done daily. Not only will this release built-up energy, but it will satisfy the dog's instinct to migrate which all dogs possess. Dogs that have excess energy bottled up inside them and taht do not have their migration instinct met will develop various instability issues that most people mistake for being breed traits.
- All humans must eat before the dogs, as the leader always eats first. When you give your dog its food eat a small snack first while he is watching, lay the snack near the dog’s food so that he thinks you are eating out of his bowl (the leader always eats first).
- No table scraps should be fed to the dogs during a meal.
- Feedings must be at a scheduled time. (No self-feeding dog food dispensers should be used, as this allows the dog to choose when he eats.)
- Humans must not let the dog go through any doorways first. Or up or down any stairways first. Dogs must always go through the doorways and up and down stairs after the humans, as the leader of the pack always goes first. If the dog does not stay behind the humans, the dog must be told to "stay" and given the command to "come" after all humans have passed through. (Read Training to find out the necessary basic commands all dogs should know. These commands are vital in the communication between you and your dog and should always be taught.)
- When you leave the house or the room, even for a minute, ignore the dog for a few minutes upon your return.
- A simple obedience command such as “sit” should be given before any pleasurable interaction with the dog (i.e., play session, petting, feeding, a walk, etc.). The children should give the dog commands at least once a day and reward with a treat when the command is followed. A simple “sit” will do. No treat should be awarded if the dog does not follow the command. Show your dog he does not get anything for free. His food, water, treats, even praise/love have to be earned by doing something. Even something as little as sit, come, or making him wait for the treat while you hold it in front of him. Make sure the dog takes the treat from your hands gently. Do not tolerate a mouthy dog.
- You should not lie on the floor to watch TV when the dog is around and no one should roll around the floor playing with the dog, as a human should never put himself in an equal or lesser height position than the dog.
- You are the one who greets newcomers first, the dog is the last to get attention (the pack leader is the one who greets newcomers and lets the rest know when it is safe to greet the newcomer).
- If a dog is lying in your path, do not walk around the dog, either make the dog move or step over the dog.
- During the time you are establishing your higher pack position, no hugs should be given to the dog by you, as a dominant dog may consider this a challenge of power.
- If you establish eye contact with the dog, the dog must avert his gaze first. If the human averts first this reinforces the dog’s higher power position. Tell the children not to have staring contests with the dog, as if they avert or blink first, it will only reinforce, in the dog’s mind, that he is Top Dog.
- Ideally, dogs should not sleep in your bed. In the dog world the most comfortable place to sleep is reserved for the higher members of the pack. If a dog is allowed to sleep on the bed, the dog must be invited up and not be allowed to push the humans out of the way. Making them sleep at the foot of the bed rather than, for example, on your pillow is best.
- Dogs must never be allowed to mouth or bite anyone at any time, including in play.
- Any attention given to the dog, including petting, should be given when the human decides attention is to be given (absolutely no petting when the dog nudges or paws you or your hand. This would be letting the dog decide and reinforcing, in his mind, that he is higher on the scale than the human.)
- Games of fetch or play with toys must be started and ended by the human.
- Very dominant dogs that have a problem with growling should not be allowed to lie on your furniture, as the leader of the pack always gets the most comfortable spot. Dogs belong on the floor. If you do decide to allow your dog on the furniture, you must be the one who decides when he is allowed up and you must be the one who decides when he is to get off, by inviting him up, and telling him to get down.
- No tug-of-war, as this is a game of power and you may lose the game, giving the dog a reinforcement (in the dog's mind) of top dog.
- Dogs need to be taught a “drop it” or release command. Any objects the dog has in his possession should be able to be taken away by all humans.
- Dogs own no possessions, everything belongs to the humans. They are all on "loan" from the human family. You should be able to handle or remove any item at all times from the dog with no problems from the dog. Even if you are taking a chicken bone out of the dog's mouth.
- Dogs should not be allowed to pull on the leash. When they do this they are leading the way and it is the humans that need to lead the way and show they're higher up in the pack order. (In the wild, the leader of the pack always leads the way; the leader leads the hunt.)
- When you put his food dish down, he must wait until you give the "OK" to eat it. Place his food on the ground and tell him to wait. If he darts at the food, block him with your body. You can point at him and tell him, "No, wait," however do not speak much. Dogs are, for the most part, silent communicators. They feel one another's energy and your dog can feel yours. Yes, your dog can read your emotions. So stand tall and think "big" and stay confident. Do not be nervous, your dog will sense this and assume you are weak. It is this weakness that triggers a dog to try and take over (for the good of the pack; the pack needs a strong leader). Give the dog a command before giving the food. If a dog does not follow the command (i.e. to sit), he does not eat. Try again in about 20 minutes or longer. Repeat this until the dog listens to the command. When your dog calms down and waits patiently, (ears set back, head lowered even slightly, lying down is good if he is relaxed with his ears back, no signs of growling on his face) invite him to eat his food. The people in the family the dog growls at should feed the dog the majority of the time.
- Small dogs or puppies that demand to be picked up or put down should not get what they want until they sit or do another acceptable quiet behavior. They should not be put down unless they are settled quietly in your arms.
- Dogs should never be left unsupervised with children or anyone who cannot maintain leadership over the dog.
- To reinforce your position even more, you can make your dog lie down and stay there for 20 to 30 minutes a day. Tell him to lie down, then tell him to stay. If he tries to get up, correct him.
- Last but certainly not least...when you are around your dog avoid emotions such as fear, anxiety, harshness or nervousness. Your dog can sense these emotions and will see you as weak. This will escalate your problem as your dog feels an even stronger need to be your leader. Think Big and Powerful and be calm, assertive, and consistent. Remember, there is no hiding our emotions from our dogs. They can, in a sense, read our minds in reading our emotions. This energy is the universal language of animals. Talk less, using more body language. Picture yourself, in your own mind, as big, powerful and very sure of yourself. Pull your shoulders back and stand up straight. Your dog will feel this. This is your number one resource when it comes to communicating with your dog. Your dog will be happy and secure knowing he has a strong pack leader to care for him.
By incorporating all these behaviors in his normal day your dog will realize that you, the human, are alpha over him and he is beneath you. Obedience exercises and classes are great and very useful, however, obedience training alone does not address pack behavior problems.
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