Originally Posted by elsol
We have a 1-year old maltese / bichon / poodle mix (we think at least).
He really is cute and he looks very content in the picture.
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One of his personality quirks is that at night around bedtime he gets super tired and grouchy. He growls, for example, if you try to move him off his favorite pillow. He's never bitten anyone, but will gesture like he intends to. He's only done this a few times toward me, but he does it with other family members just about every night.
There are multiple things happening here. He is "claiming" you and he is "claiming" a space/pillow or whatever. The behaviour is being generated because you're not being clear about his boundaries; he doesn't know what you want him to DO, so he does what his instincts are telling him.
The good news is that you can break this very easily with a well socialized dog. All you have to do (I know it's easier said than done) is to not let him lay claim to things you don't want him to claim, including you. That's so easy to write down but it can be hard to get a grip on it in practice, especially when the dog has been "trained" or "permitted" to claim spaces, objects or people over long periods of time. In your case, you're on time. the dog is only a year old so it may only take a few sessions/corrections to teach him what you need him to know.
You're going to need to teach him a command or two. He needs to know how to "get down" without having to reach to him/touch him, to "go to your bed/crate etc" and to learn how to snap him out of his obsession to protect you (if that is, indeed what it is) with a corrective command like 'stop', 'wait' or 'sit' (whatever works).
commands will normally be taught in the current paradigm by positive reinforcement. In my experience, you may need to "show" the dog what you mean by "down", for example, by attaching a leash to him as you train him so you can "steer" him "down" at the same time you are saying "down", especially the first few times. (don't PULL, just put tension on the leash in the direction you want him to move and wait until he gets it. Be patient). Once the dog understands WHAT you want him to do then take the leash off and repeat the exercise over and over, rewarding the bejezus out of him doing it on his own after that. I taught my dog "down" when he started to claim the sofa in 2 days (4 sessions of less than an hour) using this approach. I only used the leash during the first session.
I must also point out at this juncture, that this would be MY approach and there are people who believe that "corrections" or "steering" of this type is taboo, but I can tell you that it works, that it works quickly if you need a quick result and it can improve communication with the dog early on in the process if they don't seem to understand what you want them to do. There are other approaches but any way you look at it, you're trying to "correct" behaviour, so let's call it what it is, regardless of how you approach the "correction".
If you are not comfortable using a leash for the "steering" you can try a pillow if you think he might bite you, or just push him if you don't, but I personally think that the direct tactile feel of the leash will get you the quickest result. The difference is that you're not "pushing" him away with the leash, you're "inviting him to come to you", which is something the dog will generally accept more quickly. Again, this is just my experience.
"corrections" are quite a bit trickier than reinforcement because it's SO easy to go overboard and create new issues by either being impatient or too rough. I would definitely consult a trainer to learn how to do this if you don't have any experience.
After learning those few commands you'll have a "vocabulary" at your disposal to communicate to the dog what you expect it to DO at a given moment in time. This is what you're missing and this is the goal of ALL commands, including "down", "bed" and "stop", which is the vocabulary you're missing.
The reason I believe "BED" is important to break claiming isn't because I think the dog needs to be banished to bed. A dog that is "claiming" will be easier to redirect if you give it something else to claim, namely, his own bed! My dog has a little doggie bed and a crate in the house. When he goes in either of those places it's a "no go zone" for humans. Particularly, when he is in his crate, we don't interact with him at all. The door of his crate is always open and when he goes in there, he's saying, "leave me alone" so we LEAVE HIM ALONE. The dog NEEDS a space like that, so teach him with BED that when he's claiming and he goes to his bed then you will leave him alone. Again, it is a NO GO ZONE if you teach him this. Once the coin drops you'll find that he'll calm down a lot when he can just lay in his bed/crate and "chill" while other people are there.
Think of the dog's bed like his meditation cushion. You wouldn't interrupt a human while meditating and you should create a space like that for your dog where he can go and "center" himself, as it were.
This, I believe, speaks for itself. What will help immensely when you are first teaching the dog not to claim you is to PHYSICALLY turn and face away from him when he is trying to do it. Do not look at him, do not talk to him and do not interact with him an any way, shape or form. Reward him for "calming" coming to check out what's going on but completely ignore the behaviour that you do not want to see. Just say STOP and then turn away and say NOTHING else.
This could take some training and I know it has worked with my dogs but it may not work equally well with all dogs. IN order to set yourself up for success with this, you MUST .... TOTALLY .... ignore the behaviour you want to break him of.
It will also help if you have a partner to work with. When breaking training by turning the back it helps to have someone else to "model" the behaviour you want to see from your dog. So if you say STOP and turn, and your partner stops and just calmly faces YOU (not the dog... YOU) without saying or doing anything, then the dog will catch on faster that this is what you want it to DO..... just like using the leash in the first example.... show him what you want first and then use rewards to reinforce the behaviour once the hook is in.
I know this is a long post but it gives you a rough sketch of how I would personally approach a "claiming" dog that is otherwise mentally healthy.
Finally, I will repeat again that I do not own a monopoly on approaches to this. Other people will certainly have other approaches and I would advise you to pick and choose what fits you and your dog the best.
Good luck and keep us up to date on his progress