By Amy Y. Conry│TreeHugger│5 min
Every dog owner knows this familiar scenario. You’re sitting in your favorite chair and seconds after you get up from your seat, your four-legged friend jumps into the spot. So, what’s the deal?
There are several reasons why your favorite pooch may want to steal your seat, and its body language says it all. The two most common reasons are affection and dominance. Most of the time, dogs are eager to take your place because it represents safety.
As social animals, they want to be part of a safe and secure place in which they feel they belong. This goes back to their wolf ancestors and the pack mentality. Back then, the strength and support of the den was a matter of life and death to a wolf and they’d stop at nothing to protect it.
Another reason, and not one to encourage, is to show dominance. Many times this is the case if there are multiple dogs in the same household. In addition to taking your spot, the dog may also display other problematic behaviors. In this scenario, the body language may be more aggressive and territorial and could lead to greater behavioral problems if left ignored. This could show itself with barking, taking a defensive stance, or biting.
According to a study on dominance in domestic dogs, this could be their way of establishing their “rank” in the family, either among the humans or the other dogs they live with. Dogs that have been abused, neglected, moved from homes, or scared will often be the ones to exhibit this kind of behavior. Most of the time, however, with proper training and positive reinforcement, the dog will understand there is no need for this action and eventually quit the behavior.
To Show Affection
For most dogs, stealing your seat is a sign of affection. By jumping into your spot, they’re taking a place that represents warmth and comfort. Your scent is familiar and safe, so your dog knows instinctively that any place you’ve been is likely familiar and safe, too. This is the same reason why dogs want to be in our beds, our cars, on our furniture, and in our laps. Those are all the places we inhabit and spend the most time in and will return to time after time.
Dogs are incredibly intelligent animals and quick to pick up on the habits and routines of their humans. They know the places in and around the house that you use often. Sitting in your spot is also a way of protecting the territory as well. They’re looking out for you and waiting for you to come back to that area. Once a dog knows you’ll provide him with food and shelter, he’ll place all his loyalty and trust with you and follow you everywhere.
To Assert Dominance
Another reason a dog may want to jump into your chair after you’ve been in it is to show it wants to be in control. This could be over a human or other dogs in the household. This behavior is especially common if the dog is a fairly new addition to the family, has a history of abuse, or is part of a group of dogs. He is trying to find his place in the group, or pack, and figure out how he belongs.
Dogs are territorial, which is a good thing, but they shouldn’t be that way in the home or within their own family. While this may seem cute or harmless at first, allowing your dog to do this for extended periods of time can lead to other behavioral issues that might not be so good to reinforce. Whether the dog is a puppy or fully grown, you don’t want it to turn problematic with any family members, human or four-legged.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, this is even more important if there are young children around the dog who may get hurt as a result of the dog getting scared or upset. From the beginning, the dog needs to understand that the human is in charge. Not only does this keep the peace, but ultimately creates a dog-human relationship that is based on mutual trust and understanding.
How to Handle the Behavior
If your dog has only done this a handful of times and it’s accompanied by a wagging tail and gentle behavior, chances are there’s nothing to worry about. But, if it’s an ongoing problem and the dog shows aggression in the form of growling, bearing teeth, or biting, it’s best to get started with some training before the issue gets worse.
One option for handling the behavior is to hire a professional dog trainer or take the dog to a training school. Many trained dog handlers will be able to determine the best course of action. Getting to know the situation will help them understand exactly what’s causing the dog to react this way. Is there another dog they’re in rivalry with? Are children in the house? If the dog is a puppy, this early training will ensure that as the dog matures the behavior won’t continue.
If you feel comfortable enough to train your dog on your own, there are books and tutorials available online that can help. As long as you’re consistent, and reinforcing good behavior with praise or treats, it can be turned around in a matter of weeks or months. It doesn’t do any good to yell or shout at the dog for doing the unwanted behavior, as they won’t necessarily understand what it is exactly they’re doing wrong. Instead, buy plenty of training treats and provide positive reinforcement when they behave how you want them to. Consider a variety of options, from supplements and medications to longer walks and calming music.
If you’re the one training the dog but there are other people in the household, make sure everyone is on the same page as to what to expect and how to handle the disciplinary tactics. This will ensure the dog isn’t getting mixed messages or confusing cues and the entire family is on board.