Does your pet rule the roost? Read stories of owner-pet power struggles and how to alter this behavior.
Peanut bullies Beverly. She's nuts about him anyway.
The Miniature Pinscher is a dozen years old weighing a dozen pounds--but he really knows how to throw his weight around with Beverly Green and her husband Richard of Palm Harbor, Florida.
"Peanut demands to go on a walk as soon as I get home from work," explains the middle school guidance counselor. The pint-d pooch barks and grumbles until Beverly grabs the leash and heads for the door. "He won't even wait for me to change my shoes!"
Even more a-paw-ling, Peanut insists on sleeping between the couple in bed each night. And if Beverly gets up in the middle of the night to answer a nature call, Peanut commandeers the pillow! Beverly returns to bed and chooses to sleep with her head below the pillow rather than disturb him.
But Peanut might not be the bossy bowzer Beverly thinks he is.
"This is not about Peanut, it's about Beverly," according to E'Lise Christensen, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist at NYC Veterinary Specialists in Manhattan. "Peanut doesn't move to the pillow because he's 'in charge' of Beverly. He likely moves there because the pillow is warm and it's more comfortable than the mattress."
As for Peanuts' demand for dog walks, Christensen has another logical explanation. "Peanut has learned that barking causes a walk. For all we know, Peanut may think he supposed to bark in order to get to go on a walk."
Michele Clary of Clearwater, Florida, has double trouble. When asked if her two dogs and two cats rule the house, her reply, "Is the Pope Catholic?"
"I'm a big pushover," she admits. "If you want the best seat in my house, you have to move a dog!"
She means it literally. Toby and Wilson, both five-year-old Rottweiler mixes, like to sleep on the sofa -- or anywhere else they please. If Michele tells them to move, they rarely will, and then she'll choose an unoccupied seat in the room.
Christensen repeats the logical explanation -- if they haven't been taught to get off the couch on cue, they may have no idea what she wants.
"Even if Michele initially taught them this, they certainly realize she's not serious about it by now because she asks them to get off, and then she goes to sit somewhere else. That's very educational for a dog."
Michele's two cats wake her up well before the alarm clock each morning, demanding to be fed. She obliges then crawls back into bed.
Could it be that the cats think this is how they are supposed to act to elicit a meal? Are you beginning to see the pattern here?
While many pet owners like Beverly and Michele describe their pet's behavior as bossy or domineering (smiling all the while), Christensen's explains a more likely scenario.
"It's not magic. It's often not a power struggle. It's learned behavior," says Christensen. "Dogs are not diabolical and most are not looking to control their owners' every movement, rather these owners have accidentally taught their pets to perform these behaviors."
Christensen goes on to explain that as long as the owners don't care about these behavior issues and don't punish their dogs for acting on them, then they can just have a great time. After all, the owners taught their pets these behavior patterns.
"I guess I do it to make him happy -- he's our baby," admits Beverly when asked why she succumbs to Peanut's demand for milk bones with Cheese Whiz.
Michele confesses that she wants Toby, Wilson, Ohno and Perry to feel like they "rank" in the .
"Even though it seems crazy to some people, many pet owners really relish this kind of interaction and routine," Christensen says. "And the dogs appear perfectly comfortable with it as well in many cases."
It seems the bottom line is that we spoil our pets because it makes us feel good --and it's usually harmless. But Christensen, a notable expert in animal behavior, cautions that sometimes these interactions can become problematic.
"If your dog growls, snarls, snaps or bites at you, other people or other animals, or if he/she is fearful or anxious, get help from a veterinary behaviorist."
A board-certified veterinary behaviorist can help families understand which activities can perpetuate negative behaviors in our pets and which "spoiling" activities are innocuous.
Does your pet boss you around? Leave a comment and tell us your story!