By Marika Bell, Director of Behavior & Training
Dogs live by predictions. They go through life with learned associations about their environment that allow them to “predict” what will likely happen next. They have no real control over what happens. Dogs are fed, walked, played with, left alone, and paid attention to on a schedule that the owner chooses. Dogs will learn to associate environmental cues with each activity and will expect certain outcomes from those cues. Predicting outcomes gives dogs a sense of stability and safety.
Dad puts on his shoes + Grabs the leash = Walk time
Some dogs are allowed to sleep on their family’s beds; some sleep on their own beds; some sleep in the hallway; some sleep in a crate. Is one of these dogs more likely than another to show aggression or guarding? No.
If you teach the dog to get “up” or “off” on cue, you will have a dog that gets up or off the bed, whenever you ask. Your dog may also learn to associate times of day or situations when they are allowed on the bed and when they are not.
My dogs know that they are allowed on the bed after 6 a.m. They don’t always wait for an invitation; however, if they get on the bed in the evening, they will consistently be given an “off” cue. They learn it isn’t worth even trying.
Suzanne Clothier writes about her dog’s bed manners in Bones Would Rain From the Sky. Ian Dunbar allows his dogs to lay on him while on the couch. Neither of these trainers has issues with pet aggression.
So why are some dogs that sleep on the bed aggressive and others are not? It’s a matter of positive training, association, and communication.
Many dogs have never learned the cues for “up” or “off.” Some dogs have been told “off” but with confrontational body language that provokes fear. Some owners will continue to tell the dog “off,” even after he has left the comfortable spot, which adds confusion to fear.
Some dogs may become frightened and will show appeasement behavior, i.e. looking guilty, slinking, or rolling over to show their belly with their tail tucked up. Some will urinate a little bit to show how puppy-like they are. Other more confident dogs will react aggressively. They learn that by growling, they are able to avert your aggression. As a bonus, they usually get to stay on the bed. If you don’t back down, they will go farther, snapping or biting. This behavior can spread to other confrontational situations.
Confrontations with your dog can be stressful, frustrating, and sometimes dangerous. If you aren’t sure that you can start training safely, you should consult a professional, positive-reinforcement trainer. Make sure their methods are force-free and focus on communication and trust building.
You can have a safe and happy relationship with a dog that has shown these behaviors, but you need the proper training for both your dog and yourself.
My Motto? Define what you want. Be specific. Be consistent. Be kind.
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