Competition is very important in the human world. It helps you to get the best food, the best home, the best job, and so much more. Humans even pay to participate in or watch competitive events. We put a ton of emphasis and pour astronomical amounts of money into seeing and being the best.
Competition is also vital to survival in the animal world, but it has become less of an issue to a domesticated pet, like your dog...or has it? Some sources say, it might depend on the activity.
Signs Your Dog is Feeling Competitive
As with all things, every dog reacts differently based on their personalities and motivations. So, your dog might take a different approach. However, a few things you might notice if your dog is feeling competitive about resources with another dog, or another species of animal, might simply start off with the dog growling as a warning.
An example of this is when others touch a dog's food, the dog might become agitated and unhappy that someone might try to take their food when they’re hungry. Understandable, right? You might growl, too, if someone did this to you. Apart from the growling, some other signs you might notice include barking, putting their ears back, and in some cases, your dog may become very upset if someone tries to take something. Again, it really depends on your dog's temperament, and what makes them tick, though.
Some other signs you might notice if a dog is feeling threatened by another animal or dog include staring the person or animal down and becoming very stiff in their body language. Dogs will stand their ground if they feel threatened and want to fight for something.
You might also notice your dog going after the person, or other animal, if the situation escalates. It's important to make sure that if your dog gets this upset over someone touching their food, bed, or another object, that you warn other people and keep animals away as best you can. It's always better to be safe than sorry!
History of Dogs and Competition
Historically, dogs have descended from wolves. Wolves are wild animals, and therefore, they had to be competitive if they wanted to survive. So, they had to be somewhat competitive for food, water, territory - even their mate. Without this competition, they might go hungry or pass away before mating.
Most accounts and sources about dogs being competitive have pointed out that many humans are competitive for different reasons than dogs. We compete for jobs, possessions, and accolades. Interestingly, we also use competition as entertainment. Professional football, baseball, and basketball are all examples of this and bring in millions of dollars a year. This opens up a lot of fascinating ideas behind the differences between why humans and animals compete.
Science Behind Dogs and Competition
Many scientists disagree on this topic. Some feel dogs really don't understand competition in the sense that humans do. This meaning, if you put puppies in the Puppy Bowl, they aren't necessarily interested in winning.
They are most interested in getting a ball or toy - according to an expert interviewed by Gizmodo. Dogs are not really in it to win it when it comes to competitions humans create because they might not understand the game or rules. However, as mentioned above, dogs do sometimes compete for resources and attention. So, they might run past another dog to be fed first or fight another dog if they come into their territory.
Another source observed that dogs really understand human body language better than we give them credit for, sometimes. So, if they see how excited or happy you get when they win a game or competition of some sort, they may really want to "win" - in a sense. Rewarding behaviors that you want to see in these situations can encourage your dog as well.
Training Your Dog to be Competitive
So, can you train your dog to be competitive? In a sense. If you had your dog when they were a puppy, chances are, you potty trained them, taught them sit, stay, and everything else. Dogs can absolutely be taught tricks and games, and many of them love this.
However, competitive nature and true competition really seem to be based on the situation. Dogs at dog shows probably couldn't care less about a trophy or a title, and they probably don't understand it. However, you'll notice when you watch these events, handlers are often giving treats and praise constantly, which probably motivates the dog, or, why else would they do it? If you’re interested in having your dog do shows or other competitions, you can always hire a professional trainer to help you out, if you need support.
So, if you want your dog to learn a certain skill, you can reward the behavior with encouragement and giving treats when they do what you say. However, true competitive nature probably just depends on the dog and the situation.
By Katie Anderson
Published: 05/24/2018, edited: 04/06/2020