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Dogs Who Push Other Dogs Away To Get Attention, Treats, etc.

Suggested reading: FEELING OUTNUMBERED? HOW TO MANAGE & ENJOY A MULTI-DOG HOUSEHOLD by Karen London & Patricia McConnell

In a multi-dog house, often one dog will push the other dogs away to get attention, treats, toys, etc. from the owners. Many people think the dog is jealous, but jealousy is a complex emotion and there is no proof that dogs are capable of complex emotions and some proof that they are not. Resolving the problem in the same way that you would resolve a similar problem with a jealous child is not effective.

What works is teaching the pushy dog that waiting is a much better deal for the dog than pushing. The dog can learn that everything good that happens to the dog happens because of his own behavior, not the behavior of the other dogs or his relationship to the other dogs.

To start, work individually with each dog. Have the dog sit, say the dog’s name and if the dog doesn’t move, give the dog the usual small, easily swallowed, treat. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If the dog pushes his head forward or lunges for the treat, tuck the treat into your hand, put your hands under your armpits and turn away from the dog. Wait at least 5 seconds before trying again. Never give the dog the treat if the dog moves her head. Most dogs will catch on quickly, but dogs who have learned that lunging gets them what they want will take longer because they have learn that their old habits no longer work and then figure out what works.

Once the ‘sit and don’t move’ behavior is solid with each dog, then pair 2 dogs. Have them sit about 2’ away from you and about 2’ away from each other. Say “Fido” and give Fido a treat. If Fifi moves, get the treat into Fido’s mouth and cue Fido to stay. Calmly lead Fifi away and gate her off, but make sure she can see Fido. Quickly go back to Fido, say Fido’s name and give Fido a treat. Say Fido again and give Fido another treat and repeat, repeat, repeat treating Fido while Fifi watches. DO NOT CORRECT Fifi in any way or you will “poison the cue” and it will take longer for Fifi to learn the right behavior.

It will not make Fifi jealous; it will teach Fifi what happens when she moves. Then bring Fifi back out and cue her to sit, again about 2’ away from you and 2’ away from Fido and say “Fido” and give Fido a treat. If Fifi moves, then calmly lead Fifi back behind the gate again. Repeat, repeat, repeat until Fifi doesn’t move when you give Fido a treat. Be patient. If Fifi doesn’t get it in about 5 minutes, then practice more with Fifi by herself before pairing her with Fido again.

As soon as Fifi doesn’t move, say “Fifi” and give Fifi 5-10 treats fed one at a time. If Fido moves, use your body to block him while you treat Fifi. Then calmly lead Fido out of the room and gate him off, and proceed just like you did when Fifi moved. Fifi has just started to learn that sitting still gets her 5-10 treats while moving gets her gated out and Fido gets all the treats. Practice, practice, practice. It only takes 2-5 minutes a day and one day when you get the treats out, you’ll have Fifi and Fido automatically sitting without a cue and calmly waiting for you to say a name to get a treat.

If you have more than two dogs, round robin all of them in pairs before you add a third dog. If you have 4 dogs, round robin all of them in a group of 3 before you add the 4th dog, etc.

You can do the same thing with for dogs that push for attention, instead of treats, pet and praise.

If you are throwing a toy and the other dog is getting greedy, put a lead on Fido and stand on it. Cue Fido to sit/stay. Throw the toy and say “Fifi, get it” or whatever cue you use. If you are not using a cue, use one. “Get it”, “fetch”, anything is ok, but use the dog’s name with a cue.

If Fido tries to run after it, the short lead that you are standing on will keep Fido from getting the toy. Cue Fido to sit/stay again and quickly throw the toy again, cueing Fifi to “get it”. Repeat, repeat, repeat until Fido is staying when you throw the toy. Then have quick game of tuggy with Fido! WOW! If I sit still I get to play!!!!!

Put the lead on Fifi and repeat the process.

Always remember:
  • Dogs don’t generalize, so practice in lots of places.
  • Just because a dog does it once doesn’t mean the dog has learned what to do. Practice. It only takes 2-5 minutes a day and probably less than 2 weeks to have dogs with manners for the rest of their lives.
Copyright 2007 by Virginia Wind
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