There are 3 primary means by which dogs take ownership of things. First, dogs are known to express ownership by standing over objects. For instance, if they want to possess a ball, they will hover directly over the ball to occupy that space. This is a physical type of ownership that is fairly obvious to the naked eye. Dogs will then block, push, growl, or snap to repel anyone who comes near. Or they might manage the situation by grabbing the object and running off.
The second form of possession is shown through marking objects with urine. If you have ever seen a dog walk around and urinate in multiple areas, they are showing possession of these areas. It can be roughly compared to a human gang member with a can of spay paint tagging walls with gang signs to claim it as their "turf." Another reason they mark is for navigational purposes, but we'll cover that one later.
Marking is a problem many people face inside of their homes. These dogs walk around and sprinkle urine onto the corners of sofas, cabinets, etc. Some might even jump onto the bed to pee there. I have even seen dogs pee on people -- myself included -- to claim us as their possessions! Contrary to popular belief, both male and female dogs are given to this behavior.
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The third form of possession is not currently part of the canine behavior discussion. The most important means by which dogs take ownership is through decision-making. Dogs own what they decide.
Decision-making is the deepest form of ownership as it underlies and supports all of the other forms of ownership. When a dog marks their territory, they have decided to do so. When they stand over an object this also involves a decision.
When a dog makes a decision in a particular space, they have taken ownership of that area. So, if a dog decides to jump onto the sofa, they have taken ownership of the sofa. If a they decide to lay in the foyer by the front door, they have taken ownership of the foyer. If they decide to walk down a hallway, they have taken ownership of the hallway.
Decision-making is more abstract and is less visible to humans, so it does not get the attention that it deserves. I recommend watching your dog's behavior closely. With every move they make ask yourself this question, "Who made that decision?" If the dog made the decision, they have taken ownership of some aspect of your life. Great dog parents will intervene early to interrupt unwanted decisions before it branches into other unwanted behaviors. This means the dog should be assigned a boundary -- heel, wait, or "bed." The leash should be used for enforcement of these boundaries.
To learn more about this topic and canine cognition order Three Dimensional Dog, A Unified Theory of Canine Behavior, and learn to see dog behavior in a new way.
Aaron McDonald is a canine behaviorist, cognitive theorist, and author. He can be reached at www.ThreeDimensionalDog.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.