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Apologies for the long post in advance!

After our beloved Dobermann passed away some time ago, we decided to get a new dog. We picked a cute 5-month mixed race puppy from a local shelter. In the shelter she looked lovely: active, curious, loving of human interaction, very good relationship with the rest of dogs, etc. She did look like the perfect dog for us.

Today we picked her up from the shelter and took her home. She was great, very excited all the way, and very loving. But after 30 minutes of snooping around the house, she jumped on the couch.

I thought 'here we go', and simply picked her up and put her down on the floor, saying 'Off'. Same thing we did with our previous dog when she was a puppy, and it wasn't a big deal. It just takes some repetition and conviction.

So down she went to the floor, and 5 minutes later she jumped again. So i picked her up again, and then she growled a bit. I thought 'wow, this one's bold'. After 3 or 4 more attempts, the growling started to become serious. I remained calm and kept putting her down on the floor, saying 'Off'. A little bit later, I was in the kitchen when I heard my wife yell at the dog. The dog had snapped at her and she was quite upset and afraid to pick her up. So I grabbed the dog again, she growled very menacingly and tried to bite me too.

The situation got worse progressively. After 3 or 4 more attempts, the puppy would growl at us just by getting anywhere near the sofa. I knew we had to stand our ground, or else she would just be reinforced in her behaviour. So I tried sitting in the couch as close as possible so that she wouldn't growl, then slowly inch towards her, trying to 'claim' the space back by spreading my legs, square shoulders, and so on. When I was close enough I just picked her up again and tried to put her on the floor and then she bit me in the arm. The teeth didn't get past the thick sweater I was wearing but it was a bite nonetheless.

After some hesitation, I was determined to take the dog away from the couch. So I wrapped my arm with a thick blanket and picked her up and put her down again, and she tried to bite me, a lot. After she was on the floor we took her out to the garden and waited til she was calm, then i put her on leash and let her free again.

Now we're just sitting on the couch and every time she jumps on the couch, I just pull the leash and put her down. Oddly enough, this does not seem to upset her and she goes back to her dog bed after that. She's now sleeping in her bed looking all cute and innocent, waiting for the next opening... This has been going on for about 1 hour now and I'm writing during this break in the hostilities to ask you people, how weird is this? I've been reading online and this seems to be a common problem with dogs, but it seems to happen with people who start by letting the dogs on the furniture, and then the dogs become possessive/dominant over time and etc. This also usually happens with teenage dogs, not puppies.

This dog has been with us for a total of 6 hours, and I know for a fact she's never ever seen a couch before in her life, since she was abandoned when she was days old and left at the shelter together with her brothers. She hasn't been abused or had any incidents that might explain this.

It's also strange that she seems to click out of this behaviour as soon as she touches the floor. 5 minutes after biting me, she was all sweet and licking my hand and following me around the house like nothing ever happened.

Do you think this is just her testing the waters and trying to find her place, and will go away soon? Or is it an indication of some kind of problem? We plan to have children soon and I'm not having an unstable / nippy dog around the house when that happens.

UPDATE: as per suggestions in comments, we tried putting some unwashed clothes on the dog bed. This seemed to work for a while. After an uneventful night, we are now more or less back to the situation of yesterday, minus the biting because we use the leash to pull her off the couch, but the growling continues. We will now seek advice from an ethologist to try to find a solution for this. In the meantime, any suggestions or thoughts are very welcome.

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    There's no correlation between "letting your dog on the furniture" and them being possessive or dominant. Almost everything you read about "dominance" when it comes to dog behavior is an old wives' tale. Some dogs are resource guarders (food, toys, etc.), which may be what yours is doing with the couch. – cimmanon Dec 20 '13 at 21:56
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    I wouldn't say a 5 months old dog is still a puppy. That is pretty much what I'd consider a youngster, even though big dogs still look younger at that age. From my experience, dogs love elevated places to sit on, it gives them a better surround view. Or maybe she tries to imitate your behavior (sitting on the couch). – Baarn Dec 20 '13 at 22:02
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    @axel_c - Your dog choose the couch as her place, and now she is trying to defend it. Try giving her some place else. Also in my experience a dog that is a guarder will also guard their toys and their food. They tend not to be good around small children who also want to play with and stick everything in their mouth. – user9 Dec 20 '13 at 22:08
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    it might also be scent based, the couch was likely the place which smelt strongest of the 2 beings that took her there and was more comforting in the stressful period of moving, maybe put a unwashed shirt on the warm blanket. either way claim the couch as yours; sit on it and deny him access – ratchet freak Dec 20 '13 at 23:01
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    Thanks for the scent tip @ratchet freak, we put a couple of t-shirts on her bed and she seems to like it, went straight and laid on them. Will report progress... – axel_c Dec 20 '13 at 23:15
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Things to remember/think about:

  • You just got her from her usual environment.
  • The binding phase where dogs learn to interact and live with humans is long over. It sounds like she had not much interactions with humans?
  • 5 months is rather a teenager than a puppy. Prepare for a hard time measured in weeks/months, not in hours/days.

Things to do:

  • Stay calm.
  • Don't allow her to enter the couch once you have decided this way (IMHO unfortunate decision, but too late), while avoiding violence.
  • Make sure there are other games besides "who can enter the couch" so that she can have positive experiences with you and your partner. Avoid that "they wont let me onto the couch" is the only or dominant experience she makes.
  • Reinforce/reward each and every good behaviour.
  • Make sure she doesn't get any success whatsoever by biting.
  • Feed her at fixed times and out of the hand only until you have build up a relation. Feeding needs to stop on continued misbehaviour (i.e. biting, trying to get the food by force). You can make it good by giving more next time, or feeding more often.

From my experience I can tell that dogs at this age seem to have unlimited energy, meaning, she can do that couch game for hours. The measures I told above are thought a) to steer this energy in a positive direction b) make it clear that you control the most important ressource - food. Dogs love people that give them food. Dogs learn very very fast the conditions that must be met to get food.

P.S. Unlimited access to food at all times is not somehow a natural right for dogs.

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