Why Are Some Dogs Protective When Owners Get Intimate?
Why Is Rover Interfering So Much?
You are on the couch with your new significant other when things are getting quite romantic. The movie you were watching together is no longer relevant, and the bowl of popcorn is put aside. Suddenly, everything disappears and it is just about you and your loved one. You start hugging and kissing, and just as with eating the most delectable chocolates, one thing leads to another . . . suddenly Rover jumps and wedges in between you. ''Oh, Rover! Go back to your place!'' you exclaim.
''Now, where were we?''
Shortly after, the scene repeats, and you end up closing your dog in his crate or in another room. Your significant other starts asking you what's wrong with Rover and you both assume he is probably jealous.
Seeing It From a Dog's Point of View
Anthropomorphism is the term used to depict giving animals human qualities. While dogs may appear to be jealous when they get in between two lovers, there may be other motives at play behind such behaviors. Following are a few more likely suppositions:
''Splitting'' to Calm Down
Some dogs may not feel comfortable watching you hug and kiss and feel the need to intervene by wedging his way between you. Turid Rugass, a Norwegian dog expert and author of a great book I highly recommend to all dog owners called On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, reports that dogs tend to wedge themselves in between dogs that appear to be in conflict is an effort to calm the two parties.
In the dog world, dogs do not kiss or hug, so they may have a hard time clearly understanding what is going on. They may have a hard time in particular if the kissing is more on the passionate side ;) and may interpret it as something confrontational going on between you two. Wedging in between you therefore may be his way to ''calm you down.'' This may likely be what is happening if he is distinctly placing his body in between you.
Some dogs are plain and simple attention seekers. They notice something interesting is going on and they want to be part of it. In this case, you may likely find your dog joining in licking you and wagging its tails or barking. These dogs are therefore looking to get their dose of attention, sort of like when some dogs become pushy when you are on the phone or simply ignoring them. They just want to be part of the fun!
Plain Old Curiosity
If the house was dead quiet prior, and now you are kissing making smacking noises, you will certainly be attracting your dog's behavior. Your dog may have been laying down and pricked up his ears and decided to check up on you. Your smacking noises may have also been interpreted as a way to call him, if you usually use those types of noises to get his attention.
Some dogs may act protective and be wary when somebody approaches their favorite owner, but generally this would cause some barking, growling and perhaps even some snarling. Many times though, dogs perceived to be protective in reality are simply insecure and anxious. Dogs that are aloof, suspicious and wary of strangers or dogs who have not been socialized much, often seem to be ones most likely engaging in this type of behavior.
How to Stop the Behavior
I worked on a case where the dog became anxious when the owner hugged or was hugged by people. Dogs do best if when they are given an alternate behavior to engage in, rather than telling them not what to do.
Try using differential reinforcement of incompatible behaviors. So let's say you want your dog to stop putting himself in between you or barking at you, you should teach the ''go to your place'' cue. Place a rug at a distance from you and prepare a stuffed Kong. Say ''go to your mat" and toss the Kong on the rug. When your dog goes on the rug and gets the Kong, say ''good boy.'' After several repetitions, your dog will then learn what ''go to your place" means. If you stuff the Kong very well, chances are, he will be distracted by it, allowing you to finally share together some time alone. If you do this every time you want some time alone, your dog will learn to have his own favorite "time alone" too!
Another option is to desensitize and counter-condition your dog to hugs, kisses, etc.—which works best if your dog is worried about them. For instance, in the case of a dog with hugging issues, start by having the stranger place the arm slightly on the shoulder while you're tossing a treat. Then gradually step-by-step progress to a real hug and continue giving treats. If your dog reacts at any time, you're going too fast in the process. Go a few steps back. With time, your dog should look forward to hugs and smooches as great things happen every time they take place!
A Note About Safety
This article is not to be used as a substitute for professional dog behavior advice. If your dog is displaying any aggressive behavior, contact a dog behavior professional for an assessment and appropriate behavior modification program.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2011 Adrienne Farricelli