Protective, Jealous, and Possessive Behaviors
It’s not always easy to determine if your dog is acting out because he’s trying to protect you or is a jealous or possessive dog. Sometimes it could be all three, but there is a difference between the behaviors. Just because a dog is jealous doesn’t necessarily mean he’s possessive or protective.
The jealous dog sees other people or pets as a rival for your attention and love. He tries to force himself in between you and someone else or another pet. He may challenge a spouse when they try to snuggle next to you on the couch or in bed. A jealous dog may attack another pet that gets too close to you. He’ll try to push another pet away so he can get your attention. He’s afraid of losing your love and attention.
Possessive toy behavior can be as non-threatening as a dog's avoidance when you try to take his toy away or it can be as serious as growling and snapping when you approach him. In either case, your dog is trying to send you a message that “this is mine, go get your own”. A possessive dog is trying to dominate and control. He may claim his toys, food bowl, sleeping area or owner as his own. He may growl at you if you approach his food bowl, whether it’s empty or full. The possessive dog sees a threat, but unlike a protective dog doing his job, possessive behavior keeps a dog on high alert and he won’t back down, even though there’s no real threat.
When a dog is showing possessive behavior he growls, snaps, whines or attacks another pet or person, he’s telling you he feels insecure, confused, and has a lack of confidence. He’s always on guard and stressed out. And when people tease a stressed out, insecure dog, he uses aggression to protect himself because in his mind, his owner isn’t protecting him. He’s afraid someone or another dog will take something he cherishes.
Jealous or possessive behavior can be changed once you know why your dog is acting a certain way. Both behaviors can turn into aggression if they’re not addressed and corrected. Change is not in a dog’s vocabulary and they prefer nothing changes in their lives. Unfortunately, that’s not how life works, so we need to understand that a move to a new home, a new baby, a new roommate or new pets in a dog’s life may affect him.
A protective dog is showing a natural behavior when he reacts in an aggressive way if he feels you’re in danger. Some dog breeds were specifically bred to guard their family and home. Don’t interpret a dog being protective as jealous or possessive. He focuses in on another dog, person or situation that requires his full attention. When he determines there’s no threat, he relaxes and backs down from alert mode. Protecting his pack is one of his main duties.
Aggression is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with immediately. Anytime your dog is showing aggression, have your vet check him out to make sure there’s no medical issue bothering him. You may need the help of an animal behaviorist to deal with a possessive dog’s aggression.
If you need to change an unwanted behavior, only reward your dog for acting in a way you expect him to act. When your dog tries to come between you and another person, simply ignore his behavior. If you’re sitting on the couch when he’s trying to get between you, stand up. Don’t say anything, don’t touch him, and don’t look at him – just stand up. Affection is something you give to your dog on your terms, not his. By ignoring his behavior, you’re teaching him his behavior is not acceptable and he won’t get your attention until he’s calm with all four feet on the floor. Using your body language is the best way to teach him because dogs are experts at reading even our body language. It’s important to keep your dog socialized with new people, other dogs and cats, and give him an opportunity to experience new things. Make sure he has plenty of exercise and stimulation to keep his body and mind healthy.
It’s important to be your dog’s leader and maintain a daily routine. The routine you establish with him gives your dog a sense of security when he knows what to expect throughout the day, e.g., when he will eat, go outside for potty breaks, walks and playtime. However, a spontaneous walk or playtime is always welcomed, and grabbing some treats for a training session helps him learn what you expect from him, teaches him good manners, and helps you keep him under control.
By Linda Cole