My dog owns me! “Help!” is the plea by many dog owners, even if it’s not those exact words. This particular distress call explanation usually sounds pretty much like what Barbara, owner of Big Boy, said: “I was greeting my friend with a hug and my wonderful, loving dog literally jumped off the couch, sailed through the air and before I knew it he had his mouth on my friend’s arm.
Wow, you’re thinking, that’s really scary- how could that happen? How did Barbara’s dog go from the nice loving, dog he was initially, to this mouthy – almost aggressive side he showed that day. A dog who in his mind, owns her! But here’s the kicker – come to find out it wasn’t the first time this had happened.
But just how did Big Boy get so possessive of Barbara? The circumstances around Big Boy’s rescue and early life with Barbara are not uncommon. It happens everywhere – every day.
Here’s Big Boy’s Story and Rescue
Before being rescued, Big Boy didn’t know where his next meal was coming from – in fact he hadn’t had a decent meal in weeks – just eating scraps wherever he can find them. With his backbone and ribs showing, his face had the look of “hopelessness.”
Barbara appeared just when things were so bad Big Boy probably would not have made it. Now Barbara had had rescue dogs before – all found on the street just like Big Boy. All had passed on except for one medium sized female who she still had. It took her a while to get Big Boy leashed up but once he got used to her, he was in the car in no time. Then it was off to her vet.
All seemed right in Barbara’s world. Barbara’s rescue girl dog now had a brother to play with. Settling into his new digs gave Big Boy a taste of the good life.
There was no shortage of food or love and affection – not to mention plenty of room on her king size bed for him – right next to his sister. What else could a guy ask for right? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard this very same story.
Big Boy was spoiled to no end. But because Barbara’s female dog was easy going – Barbara was ill-prepared for what happened next.
The Honeymoon Was Over
Three months later, the honeymoon was over. Big Boy had sized up his situation and had grown accustom to all this love and affection, having Barbara cater to his every need, jump to his every wish. She wanted to make sure he knew he was safe and loved. All wonderful things to do.
BUT His disobedience first began to surface in small things like:
Not holding a sit/stay for his food at meal times,
Jumping uncontrollably when Barbara got the leashes out for walks or
Busting through the back door into the yard for playtime.
He has also started to bully his sister and, while she can take it and give it back, he escalated the play to a scary intensity that Barbara had a hard time stopping and was actually making Barbara very anxious.
His antics had escalated to humping Barbara when she is sitting in her easy chair. He would put paws up in her lap in an attempt to sit on her any way he could and he just stare at her face. It was all she can do to muster the strength to un-wedge this 85 lb. lover dog and get him grounded again – all four on the floor.
His people possession didn’t stop with Barbara. Anyone who came over got humped and climbed on – even if they are standing up! You don’t want to know what he does when they are sitting at eye level. It was pretty intimidating and quiet scary.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the incident I spoke of earlier where he did the unspeakable – placed his mouth on her friend’s arm. Had she not intervened, it would have been more than just bruises.
What Went Wrong?
Barbara had the best intentions of maintaining structure with her female dog but that dog was just an easy going, no problem dog so all structure and routine slipped and went by the wayside. And when Big Boy came along, her strong, female nurturing instincts took over and before you know it, Big Boy’s thinking, “I’m here and you’re mine!”
Solutions At Work
I guess that’s why they say, “Hindsight is 20/20.” So in retrospect, Barbara should have done many things different – okay, everything different.
We started with throttling way back on the love and affection. No, we didn’t omit it. We have our dogs because we love them so how can you not be affectionate with your dog. But she now gave the love and affection in a way that she controlled- not him.
We also implemented rules for Big Boy with expectations of what to do and when to do it – every single day. That’s called structure and routines that happened every day.
We worked on exercises to teach Big Boy to respect personal space – “Don’t come into my space unless you are invited.” Barbara has her space back. We are now working on respecting the space of visitors too. As pushy and over-bearing Big Boy was, he had a lot of insecurities too, so we also started him on confidence-building exercises like down staying across the room from her.
Working Big Boy on obedience training gave him a strong sense of working for Barbara rather than her following his lead all the time. She had been used to catering to his every need. We have also doubled his exercise by bringing in a dog walker twice daily followed by another walk when Barbara gets home from work.
At four weeks into our program, Big Boy is shaping up nicely in his new structured life. It was just what the “doctor ordered.”
With Big Boy’s stress management program in place, it became much easier to work on his issues of guarding Barbara. He is now much more comfortable following her lead – as he no longer views her as his property to guard.
Have a similar dog problem? Fixing it does not mean you don’t get to love your dog, just love your dog in a way that’s healthy for him. Think about implementing your own Ground Rules for your dog, you’ll be glad you did.
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“Together, We Can Raise a Happy and Obedient Dog”
Jim Burwell, professional dog trainer for 25+ years, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad. Jim has the ability to not only steer dogs and puppies down the right path but to also train the owners to understand their part in having a great dog.