Because the dogs are so competitive with their space and their toys, if one is on the sofa with a toy, the other one is afraid to jump up there because she will get growled at and snapped at. So, when I am upstairs, I will hear one of them whining. She will keep it up until I respond. So, I peak down the stairs to see if she wants to go out. But she is usually sitting in front of the sofa and I go down and pick her up and put her up where she wants to be. Should I be “obeying” her or ignoring her?
Your dogs have figured out a system that works for them. If Gracie is on the couch and Lulu wants up, Lulu knows that Gracie will growl if she gets up there. Lulu also knows that if she whines, eventually you will come down to pick her up and put her on the couch and be her protector against Gracie. In LuLu’s mind, this system works fine and she has taught you well. In your mind, you’re probably wanting the whining to stop or maybe you feel bad for her that she can’t be on the couch when Gracie’s up there, right?
How does Gracie react when you put Lulu up on the couch? If Gracie shows any sign of aggression at this, stop putting Lulu up on the couch when Gracie’s there. Lulu will find another comfortable spot to rest. For now, though, she has no reason to since she knows her whining will always result in you putting her up on the couch.
If Gracie doesn’t have a negative reaction towards Lulu being brought up on the couch, it’s fine if you continue to put Lulu on the couch. If you are trying to stop the whining, though, you need a different tactic than what you’re currently doing.
Ignore the whining. Yes, Lulu will get frustrated and is likely to go from whining to barking. For as long as those don’t work for her (i.e. you ignore it), she will eventually move on and try something new, such as being quiet. Be ready for this moment. Keep a clicker hidden, but handy, and click the second she stops whining or barking. Toss her a treat. Do this until she stays quiet long enough for you to walk over to her and put her up on the couch (the ultimate reward). Be consistent with this and with time, she will learn that whining no longer works to get up on the couch. Rather, being quiet does.
Now, having said that, let’s assume she learns this really quickly and all of a sudden you have an angel for a dog who sits by the couch quietly while Gracie is up there. Does Lulu not want to get up on the couch? Or is Lulu practicing what she now knows will get her up on the couch (being quiet)? Chances are it’s the latter, but either way, reward her for being quiet by putting her on the couch (If she doesn’t want to be up there, she’ll get off). This is where it gets tough as an owner – to remember to reward our dogs when they’re being good! Be consistent, pay attention to the body language of both dogs when you put them together on the couch, and you should be fine.
And to answer your question of, is this dominance or needing help? Neither. It’s a dog doing what works to get her what she wants.
The Canine Clique
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March 27, 2012 at 1:38 pm
Thank you for the excellent advice. One thing I wanted to add is that whatever (and I really mean everything, toys, spots, beds, etc.), that’s the thing Gracie wants and she will wait for an opportunity OR just go and try to take it and they really fight over toys. The bed or “spot” Gracie will defend if Lulu gets close. If Gracie only has the spot without her “treasures”, she’s not so aggressive.
Thank you for listening!
The Canine Clique, LLC
March 27, 2012 at 1:50 pm
This is resource guarding – a very common, yet manageable behavior. I suggest reading our first blog entry “Ask the Trainers: Is my dog food aggressive?” for some tips on how to manage resource guarding. Also, keep in mind, many times managing the environment is easier than changing the behavior. For example, if you know the dogs will get into it over a specific toy, only let them play with that toy while you’re in control of it, instead of leaving them alone with the toy to battle over.
March 27, 2012 at 2:25 pm
I got a lot of useful information about the resource guarding/food aggression from“Ask the Trainers: Is my dog food aggressive?” In that you mentioned “click and treat” when the dog is quiet when people come in, etc., is it possible to work with two dogs on that at a time, or do I have to separate them and work with only one dog?
The Canine Clique, LLC
March 27, 2012 at 2:31 pm
It’s always best to work with one dog at a time. Trying to work with both dogs can be counterproductive. I suggest setting up practice sessions just for this instead of waiting for real life events.
April 4, 2012 at 11:54 am
Great advice as always! Thanks.