Your dog, Princess, is always stealing your spot. There is this great spot on the couch that is the best view of the TV, and it is your seat. Princess knows it is your seat, but this does not deter her from trying to claim it as soon as you leave. Sometimes she even tries to nudge you out of your own seat! It’s during these moments when you wonder if you should have given her a different name. Why does she do this? You feel that you should probably put an end to it, but how? After all, you just want to sit in your comfy space and watch The Bachelor in peace.
The Root of the Behavior
There is not just one reason as to why dogs steal their owner’s spots. Although there are some negative reasons why, such as dominance, and disrespect, there are also positive reasons, such as showing loyalty and love. It’s important to look at the context of the situation. For example, if Princess is nudging you roughly and growling to get you to move, this is obviously a problem, but if she takes your spot when you leave, and then moves when you come back, she might actually be showing you respect. When you get up, and your dog takes your spot, it could also be a sign of disrespect, but it also could be a sign that she knows you’re valuing it, and she is actually saving it for you. Just like humans, dogs have some complex ways of showing their emotions. Dogs that let you sit down first and then find a spot beside you, acknowledge that you are the “alpha dog”. Dogs are pack animals and have been showing respect to dominant dogs for generations. Owners have become the new “alpha dogs” within the home. If Princess constantly takes your spot and/or tries to push you away from your cozy spot, she may not be respecting the fact that you are the leader of the pack, and she might actually be trying to challenge your authority. She also may be exerting territorial aggression, although this is not always the case. Many dogs may lightly nudge you when you are sitting down in your spot or try to sit very close to you. A lot of times, this just means they are seeking your attention and expressing their cuddly love. Dogs also may have received scratches or snuggles when they have leaned into your seat; this positive reinforcement makes them do it more, and they might just be trying to get close to you, instead of stealing your spot. If there is an unfamiliar dog or person in the room, and your dog seems to be getting all in your business, she may be just trying to protect you. This could also become easily mistaken for trying to move you out of your spot.
Encouraging the Behavior
It is essential to let Princess know that you are the alpha dog in this relationship. You do not want her stealing your spot because she thinks that she is the one in charge. If Princess snaps at you when you try to move her or growls/bares her tiny canine teeth, she may be trying to exert her dominance, and you want to nip this right away. You can let Princess know that you are the leader of the pack by teaching her basic commands, such as, “Move!!” this is quite explanatory, and when she moves, provide her with a treat and back rub. Also, provide her with her own comfy spot and set limits that she needs to go to her own designated space. Maybe get her a nice, fluffy blanket and put it by you, or get her a mini dog bed that can go at the end of the couch. Put treats and toys on this space, and make it appealing, so Princess will want to go there—instead of to your space. This may take a bit of patience and training, but soon Princess will get the idea that her space is not yours, and you are the dominant one, not her. This will be a step closer to respect and loyalty.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Pack animals, like dogs, enjoy sleeping in big, comfy, warm piles, and may not be trying to steal your spot rather than cuddle and be near you. They might also just be trying to seek attention by leaning in. If your dog has received scratches and snuggles for leaning in your space, she will continue to do it. However, if your dog seems agitated and roughly tries to move you, you need to be clear about what is on and off limits. Back in the day, the alpha dog chose the best place to lie down. You, the owner, are now the alpha dog, and you want Princess to know this too. Even if she just wants to cuddle, you should teach her to wait and let you sit down first. When you ask her to move, she should also obey. She also should know which spots around the house are hers, and which are yours. This is also important if you let Princess sleep in your bed. She should have a designated spot at the end of the bed that is marked by either a dog bed or her own special blanket. She should not be taking over your whole left side where you usually sleep.
You have decided to put your foot down and make sure Princess knows that your spot is your spot, and she needs to lay on her favorite fluffy blanket at the end of the couch. You have taken action and used treats to let her know that her blanket is her new spot, and she cannot take your comfy seat anymore. You also have taught her the command, “Move!” which seems to be working well, when she is still too close to your seat. Because of these changes, Princess seems less agitated and even seems to listen to you more. She seems to finally realize that even though she is still your little princess, you are the alpha dog after all.