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I am visiting family for the holidays. One of the relatives has brought a dog that lays on the couch and barks whenever I come within, say, 10 feet of it. (For example, let's say I'm looking for the remote control or just wish to sit on the couch.) The dog behaves aggressively and barks loudly as if it were defending its territory (the couch).

My question is, how should I behave towards this dog? Specifically, should I make eye contact or avoid it? Should I let the dog have its space and stay away? Should I retreat when the dog barks at me or stand my ground?

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Typically, when a dog acts aggressively, it is feeling threatened. Looking directly at the dog will make it feel more so, but still keep a side look at the dog in case it makes a move toward you. I suggest giving it space and time to watch you. Sitting in the room, reading quietly or conversing calmly while the owner caresses the dog can help. Also, it may help if the owner can introduce you - do not pet the dog's head (dominating) but let the dog sniff your hand (giving a treat is a good thing if okay with the owner).

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    You answer is not the way dogs think. If the owner caresses the dog while the dog is barking, the owner is actually re-enforcing the dogs bad behavior. The owner is telling the dog, Good dog. I agree with you and support your behavior. Similarly, giving the dog a treat also re-enforces the dogs bad behavior. And, lastly, avoiding eye contact with a dog is seen from the dogs perspective as an act of submission. That reinforces the dog's self-perception of its status in the pack hierarchy as higher than a human (me in this case; but any human is a problem). Again. Also not a good idea.
    – Mowzer
    Dec 24 '16 at 17:06

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