My Pet World: ‘Our dog growls at me when she’s with my husband!’

June 24th, 2021

Plus a cat couch mess and more poop bag chatter

Man holding small dog and Beware of the Dog sign. For article on "Dog growling at owner to ‘guard’ another owner"

Animal expert Cathy M. Rosenthal discusses how to stop a dog growling at one owner to guard the other owner (called “resource guarding”). She also suggests a couch-cleaning product and poop bag carriers (yes, really!).

Dear Cathy: We have had our beloved Morkie (Maltese/Yorkie), Mimi, since she was 4 months old. She is the smartest dog we have ever had.

Mimi was mostly my responsibility until she was 8 months old. My husband was not feeling well, and since Mimi was so small and it was winter, my husband carried her around in the pocket of his robe. They became extremely attached. During this time, she witnessed our 13-year-old dog growling at me when I approached my husband in the evening to watch TV.

She is now 8 years old. A few years ago, Mimi started the same bad behavior. The only solution that our dog trainer has come up with is that Mimi can no longer sit with my husband at night if I am still awake. Both my husband and Mimi do not like it, but after a few weeks, she seemed to get it, and the behavior mostly stopped. But when my husband lets her back up in the recliner, the behavior returns.

I know she is “guarding” him, but she knows I live here and take care of and love her too. The behavior is even worse when I have to go in and wake my husband up from sleeping. She has growled, jumped off the bed, and nipped me. This behavior happens every morning. Any suggestions?

– Janice, Tinley Park, Illinois

Dear Janice: Resource guarding is a behavior by which dogs protect their valuables like toys, food, and sometimes people. When the behavior involves resource guarding owners against other owners, then it’s time for a trainer, animal behaviorist, or veterinary behaviorist (a veterinarian who specializes in animal behavior) to help.

The dog trainer gave you good advice that Mimi shouldn’t be allowed to “guard” your husband all evening. While your husband may be flattered by this, he is the one who needs to set new expectations for acceptable behavior. That means Mimi doesn’t get to sit in his lap or by his side and she should definitely not be allowed to sleep in bed with him if she growls at you. The minute she growls at you, he should tell her “no” in a firm voice and show his displeasure by putting her on the floor and ignoring her.

‘Is my in-law’s dog racist? He always growls at me!’

We also need to change what Mimi thinks of you. Step into the doorway when he and Mimi are in the recliner and begin tossing high-value treats like pieces of cheese or chicken. Keep showering her with treats and talking nicely to her as you enter the room. If she growls at you, your husband needs to immediately say “no” and put her on the ground. These sessions should only last a few minutes at a time.

While the steps to stopping this behavior are basically the same, the timing of your actions is what is so critical. The moment she growls, your husband must respond. If a behaviorist observes the interaction, they can tweak your responses and timing much more quickly and you will be on the way to a more harmonious household.

Dear Cathy: My granddaughter’s cat urinated on my couch. I used the 50/50 method (baking soda/bleach), but now l am left with a big white patch where the urine was. What can l do?

– Jane, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Dear Jane: You will need to consult a fabric expert about your current dilemma, but I can tell you what to do next time this happens. The best products for cleaning up pet messes are biological enzymatic cleaners (available at the pet store). They gobble up the biologicals (urine and feces) and eliminate odors. But please test a product like this out on your fabric first to ensure it won’t ruin your furniture.

Dear Cathy: I have seen many people commenting in your column about dog poop bags being left on the side of the road. The easy solution and something you should recommend is to have a pet waste carrying bag attached to the dog’s leash or the harness. It has a poop bag container along with a pocket for hand cleaner. There’s lots of room inside to carry the filled poop bags until you come home or to a waste receptacle.

– Joan, Glastonbury, Connecticut

Dear Joan: I searched online and found dog poop bag holders that attach to the leash, including some with charcoal filters to reduce the odor. I have had so many letters about this topic, and you Joan, may have solved the problem for everyone. Thank you for sharing your idea!

Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist, and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories, and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.

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