Q: I have a whippet, Greta, and a Border collie, Lex. Both are rescues whom I adopted last year within a couple of months of each other. Greta about three and Lex is perhaps four years old. Whenever I rub Greta’s belly or give her any special attention, Lex seems to appear out of nowhere and starts to paw at my arm or even lets out a slight growl at Greta. Is Lex acting jealous? How can I give Greta some one-on-one time without Lex butting in?
A: You won’t find envy in the canine dictionary, but the phrase “mine, mine, mine” certainly exists. Lex’s behavior is triggered more by resource guarding than by jealousy over the attention Greta receives. Watch closely the next time Greta and Lex play with a toy and you can identify clear canine communication. Chances are that one will body block the other or lift an upper lip or make steady eye contact – signals that possession is nine-tenths of the law in the land of dogs. As hunters and pack animals, dogs have always demonstrated a “this is mine” attitude toward other canines when it comes to prized possessions, from the best part of the kill to a fuzzy chew toy.
When you rub Greta’s belly, Lex steps in because he wants to guard the most valuable of all possessions – you.
Fortunately, Lex’s actions are meant to seek you attention, not to harm Greta, and Great has not retaliated by reacting territorially. Left unchecked, however, this attention-seeking behavior might escalate and lead to tension, and perhaps even fights and injuries.
Take the time to train both your dogs to ban this resource-guarding mentality. Consider enrolling in a basic obedience course or refresher training class with them. Make sure the class uses positive, reward-based methods. At home, all members of the household need to heed the same game plan. I hope that no one is yelling or physically punishing either dog, because these actions heighten levels of stress and anxiety.
It might be necessary for a while to separte the dogs when you want to devote individual time to each, by using doggy gates or putting one dog in a closed room or outside in a fenced backyard, but you should also teach Lex to find your spot whenever he approaches you when you are engaged in one-on-one time with Greta. This command can keep a fight from occurring because you, as a leader of the pack, are giving Lex an activity to perform. Toss Lex a treat to reinforce this preferred, compliant behavior.
Greta should also learn to wait quietly for attention in her own spot, but it is important to make sure you show Lex the same amount of attention so he doesn’t feel that he needs to guard your time with him. By being consistant, you can teach both dogs to be patient.
For more tips on improving your dog’s behavior, purchase The Dog Behavior Answer Book from Your Dog.