Q: I've a three year old Jack Russell Terrier. Since a year or so ago, he's been grouchy at times. Most of the time, he would be happily coming to sit beside me on the sofa or my bed. But as soon as he has settled down, in a matter of minutes, he would be growling when I touch him or when he senses something moving near him. Sometimes, he might even suddenly snap at my hand. I'm really unsure what caused him to develop this attitude. What can I do about this?

Your dog has developed an aggression problem, which is among the most common issues faced by dog owners. Strange as it may sound to you, aggression in a dog is not natural and most of the times it develops because dog owners unknowingly cause it.

Your dog is a pack animal which means it follows the same order as a pack in the wild. Pack animals have only one leader and the rest are followers. Pack leaders set rules, boundaries and limitations that are followed by all its members. Hence, it is a dog's natural instinct to be seeking a leader. In the absence of leadership, he will try to assume the role of the pack leader. This is where the problems begin.

By allowing your dog to sleep on the bed and sofa, the dog has begun to claim the bed/sofa as part of his territory and this translates to Territorial Aggression. He is now defending his territory by growling and snapping when you approach him at these places. A dog that is allowed to sleep on the bed expands this behaviour to all the furniture in the home. It is imperative to make certain changes in the relationship with your dog in order to restore the natural order of you as leader and dog as follower.

  1. Ideally, the dog should have a bed of its own, which can be placed in a cozy corner of the kitchen or living room. No sleeping in the bedroom or other rooms for now.
  2. Establish rules, boundaries and limitations for the dog! This means that he can no longer sit on the sofa or bed until you call or allow him to.
  3. Restrict your dog's free and unlimited access to the house by crating him for periods of time. Again, this is to discipline and set rules for the dog.
  4. Redirect your dog's negative energy by giving him a good one hour of exercise daily. He will be far happier this way compared to just lying on the sofa the whole day.
  5. Lastly, I suggest you that you consult a professional in this matter. Aggression is a serious problem and we would not want it to develop any further in your dog.