This is a subject I have to address once or twice every week. It can be a very serious problem with some dogs. The role of dogs in our lives has changed a great deal in the last 100 years. There was a time in the United States and many other countries when dogs were not allowed in the house. In your great-grandmother’s day most dogs were outside dogs. They may have slept in the barn or under the porch. Wealthier people kept lap dogs but most farmers and working people had dogs that had to earn their keep in some way. These dogs were expected to do some work, whether it was herding stock, killing rodents, or protecting the farm.
Today most dogs are kept as pets. Instead of having jobs to do our dogs have become virtual family members. We love our dogs so much that this is not surprising. But it is sometimes confusing for a dog. Instead of having a well-defined role in the household as a dog, your dog is caught somewhere between being a dog, a pet and an almost-human. When this happens your dog can begin to challenge you and show aggression because he doesn’t respect your role as leader.
Many people routinely allow their dogs to sleep in the same bed with them today. Is this a good idea or not? There are millions of dogs who sleep in the bed with their owners and it never results in a problem. However, experienced dog trainers point out that in cases where a dog does begin to show aggression toward family members the dog almost invariably is sleeping in the owner’s bed. In these cases, when the dog begins showing aggression toward family members, the dog MUST be kept out of the bed.
The reason for this is simple psychology. You have to return to basics with your dog. You have to remind your dog that he is a dog and you are the leader in your home. Sleeping in the bed with you is a privilege. It is not something that he, as a dog, is entitled to without your permission.
Along with removing his bed privileges you will need to take away other privileges from your dog to lower his status. He will need to wait to eat until after you have eaten. He should not enter rooms before you do, for example. If your dog is showing signs of aggression to you or other family members he is probably asserting himself over you in many small ways in the house. You will need to reassert yourself.
Don’t try to force an issue in a way that could put you in any danger. But in small ways, in interacting with your dog throughout the day, do things to remind him that you are in charge. Teach your dog some obedience lessons. Teach him to sit before feeding him. Teach him to sit at the door before letting him go out. All of these small lessons remind your dog that he is dependent on you for all the good things in his life. They help you re-establish your authority.
Keep in mind that you should not try to take a toy or food away from your dog, especially if he is having problems with aggression. Your dog may have issues with giving things up or with guarding things.
If you think that your dog’s aggression presents a danger or if making these small changes does not help, don’t hesitate to seek out a professional dog trainer. Aggression can be a serious problem and may need more help.
Remember, if your dog does begin to show aggression toward you or other family members make a bed for him on the floor or in his crate and do not let him sleep in your bed for the time being. He will need to be reminded of his role in the household. The mere physical position of him on the floor and you up higher, in the bed, makes your point.
There is no rule that says you have to allow your dog to sleep in your bed. Many longtime, devoted dog owners have dog beds in their bedroom or have their dogs sleeping in crates in the house. What’s most important is that you and your dog have a comfortable relationship that fits your lifestyle.