Every pet owner wants to have well-behaved dogs that happily share their food and toys with other pets and family members. However, not all dogs will act this way. Some dogs show signs of aggression like growling, snapping, or baring their teeth the moment another dog or person touches their customizable plush dog toys, dog bed, or other objects that they consider as theirs. They might also start to eat faster when another dog approaches them while they are eating. This type of reaction isn’t limited to being possessive of objects. Sometimes, dogs can also display such behaviors when another pet or person that they perceive to be a competitor comes close to their owner.
As a pet parent, seeing your precious pup behave aggressively can be upsetting. It can also hold you back from taking your dog to socialize with other friendly canines and your loved ones. It can even stop you from getting another pet because you fear that your first fur baby will become upset.
Making the effort to understand your pet’s behavior can also help you to gently correct it and encourage a calmer response when they’re around other people and animals. Read on to learn about the three main reasons why your pup refuses to share with others.
It’s Part of Their Natural Instinct
One of the reasons your dog isn’t keen on sharing is due to their natural reaction to a threat or competition, called resource guarding. Canines in the wild would guard their most precious things and safest spaces so that they could survive. But in a domestic setting where they’re being taken care of and provided with ample amounts of food, toys, tasty treats, and a comfy bed, resource guarding is unnecessary.
Protecting their food and space is a common behavior that experts have observed among the domestic canine’s ancestors, the wolves. Wolves have something called an "ownership zone," which is the immediate area near their mouths or within their lunging distance. Any food within the ownership zone of a wolf is off-limits to others. Other wolves also recognize this invisible boundary line and generally respect it, so this helps them to maintain order in the wolf pack.
Although dogs aren’t wolves, your pet may still retain traits they’ve inherited from their wolf ancestors and display resource guarding behavior. If this isn’t addressed properly, your pet may end up hurting other animals or people. As such, consider getting the help of a dog behavior professional to safely and correctly apply behavior modification.
They Learned to Be Competitive as Puppies
Another reason your furry friend refuses to share is that they learned to be competitive as a puppy. Breeders and puppy owners often feed puppies from a single bowl since it’s more practical to have the whole litter use one feeding bowl rather than having to prepare and clean several containers. They may also think that this practice will help teach the puppies to share, but in fact it seems to have the opposite result.
This kind of feeding setup is fine for pups with few littermates or if they have a large bowl to feed from. But as they grow, having bigger bodies will mean needing to push each other and invade each other’s space just to eat. As a result, single-bowl feedings can encourage a competitive mentality that the dog could carry with them into adulthood. When this happens, the dog may constantly initiate unnecessary conflicts because they insist on being in another dog’s space or preempt retaliation by lashing out first.
If you are caring for puppies and want to prevent them from learning this type of behavior, make sure to provide multiple food bowls and to add more than the number of pups. By providing unlimited supplies of food and feeding containers, you give each puppy the opportunity to eat as much as they want without needing to push others, eat fast, or steal food. It’s also an effective method to teach your pups polite eating habits, which they can maintain until they reach adulthood.
They’re Reacting to Being in a New Environment
Sometimes, pups learn to guard their resources after being introduced to a hostile dog. For example, bringing home a new puppy to a household that already has an adult dog can cause the older dog to suddenly exhibit possessive behaviors. They may growl whenever the puppy comes close to their food, toys, or bed. While you might mistake this for bad behavior, this could actually be your old dog’s parenting process. The adult dog may be teaching the puppy about respecting boundaries and avoiding conflict.
While the pup will probably be intimidated enough to follow the older dog, their behavior can change as they mature and learn to set their own boundaries. You might notice them growling or acting aggressively towards the other canines as a way of communicating their own need for space. Typically, the issue will be resolved once the older dog begins to respect the younger one’s needs as well.
If you want to ensure your home fosters a harmonious environment for all your pets, provide resources like treats, toys, and anything your dogs seem to fight over in different areas. You can also use crates and doors to separate their spaces and supplies.
Additionally, don’t punish either dog if they refuse to share, because it may only exacerbate their need to defend their resources. Instead, make sure to train them to obey your cues, like to leave things or to retreat to their crate on command. Avoid conflict between dogs by using this technique to redirect them as soon as they begin to show signs of aggression.
Understanding the root cause of your dog’s resource guarding will make it easier to correct your pet’s behavior. While there are things that you can do to encourage good behavior and discourage aggressive ones, it’s best to consult with a professional to manage dog behavior effectively. Address any behavioral issues as soon as you notice them so that you and your pets can all share and enjoy a happy home together.