Q. My dog “Sweetie” always growls at my cousin when she comes over to the house because she insists on sitting on my dog’s chair.  No one, including myself, is allowed on that chair, and I’m o.k. with that.  My feeling is that if she would just go sit on the floor for a few minutes, like everyone else does, and let Sweetie lick her face, everything would be just fine. 

A. This question feels loaded with subtext, and makes me want to ask “why do you allow your dog to dictate who is allowed to do anything in your house?”   Here’s a short quiz to determine who’s allowed to call the shots in your home:  Who pays the mortgage?  Who buys the food?  If the answer to both of these questions is you, then congratulations, you get to decide what the rules are in your home.  Although you don’t mind not sitting in “her” chair, you’re making a huge error by letting her guard that space.  Today it’s your cousin, but one day it may be an unsuspecting toddler or a friend who forgets the rules.  At that point Sweetie could make the dangerous switch from being growler into a biter, and that’s when people’s lives get changed forever.

To extinguish her chair guarding behavior, restrict her access to high places, especially the chair.  We always tell our students that “elevation = status” in a dog’s world, so when a dog’s eye line is the same or higher than family member’s, their tendencies to be aggressive may increase. To prevent her from getting up on it, gate the room so she can’t access it, put something on the chair that prevents her from climbing on, and be vigilant that when you see her begin her ascent, you immediately suggest otherwise. Be sure to monitor her whereabouts at all times, and if you catch her on it, guide her off.

Next, either begin or advance her obedience training.  A good solid “come” and “off” command will help control her behavior around the house with or without visitors present. And while we’re on the subject, keep her on a leash when you have company, in order to enforce her obedience training and prevent her from jumping up on her “precious”.

One final word – never, ever encourage anyone to sit on the floor and let your (previously growling) dog lick their face. The cold hard reality is that the damage that a dog’s bite can do is irreversible and, if you had prior knowledge of the problem, irresponsible.