Do you have a dog who is constantly invading your space? They seem to be in your way, under your feet, blocking your path, nudging their nose under your hand while you are reading or typing, pressing up against you on your sofa or too close to you while you are on a walk. These dogs are often sweet attention-loving snugglers and it can be hard to discourage the behaviors because you may consider it cute or loving but at the same time it can become annoying.
Despite what you have heard, space invaders are not motivated by dominance. Your dog is not taking your space in a pre-emptive strike to take over your world. Usually dogs are simply seeking your attention, and have discovered the best ways to get it and that involves being in your space.
Although it can be annoying, at times it can be endearing and the dog gets reinforced for it. I am guilty as the next dog owner; I often pet Ziva when she nudges my hand or when Tank squeezes himself as closely to me on my sofa.
Since the behaviors sometimes get reinforced – behavior geeks call this an “intermittent schedule of reinforcement” – it’s really hard to stop them, because your dog knows that sooner or later the behaviors will, indeed, succeed in gaining your attention. When it’s hard to make a behavior go away, behavior geeks call this “resistant to extinction”. So the dog keeps trying until it finally works.
The great news is that you don’t have to make the behaviors go away. Instead, just teach your dog to respond to “incompatible behaviors” on cue – that is, behaviors she/he can’t do at the same time when she or he is hogging space. Your goal is to teach your dog several incompatible behaviors, and you will get along just fine: I can indulge in giving my dog attention when I feel like it, and ask her/him to do something else when I don’t.
I have listed several behaviors you can teach your dog when they are invading your space.
- Back Up: This cue is useful for space-hog dogs who like to park themselves directly in your path. You can “capture” the behavior with clicker training, the use of a lure or toy to entice the dog into backing up. To lure, hold a treat at your dog’s breastbone. As the dog leans or steps backward to follow it, click and treat. Let the dog back up on their own and add “Back” cue. Gradually, reduce the amount of luring, giving the dog time to figure out what you asked for with your cue, until the dog will back up on cue alone.
- Touch: Teaching your dog to target their nose to your hand is to position your dog without having to physically move them.
- Off: If the dog is on the furniture and you want them to get off this is a helpful exercise to get your dog to vacate your space.
- Go to Your rug or dog bed: By teaching your dog a cue that means to go lie down on your bed you can get your dog to move to a specific location.
- Wait, Stop or Stay: Are other training exercises to can help you with providing space between you and your dog.
When teaching your dog an exercise remember to set the exercise in a pattern, practice every day and be persistent in accomplishing your goals. Make the training fun and rewarding and in no time you will be well on your way to getting your dog to understand that space is good.
If you have a dog who is a space invader and you need help with training please don’t hesitate and contact me at Angel Dogs.