Guarding behaviour – how to spot it and manage it

Guarding behaviour – when is it a problem?

Guarding behaviour here relates to a dog being protective, specifically in this post I am talking about when walking with your dog and being approached by another dog.  It is a problem when your dog becomes aggressive because they are trying to guard you.

I confess; I don’t like everyone I meet.  Sometimes I get to know someone and decide they are not really my kind of person.  And occasionally, though I hate to admit it, I dislike someone straight away.  Call me prejudiced if you like.  I think it is a natural human trait.  We are naturally unsure of people we don’t know and if we have a bad experience with someone, this might ‘colour’ our judgement when meeting someone similar.

guarding behaviourDogs do this too, believe it or not.  If they have a bad experience with one breed or type of dog, they carry this over to other examples of that breed, or type.  So you will very often hear people say “my dog doesn’t like Dalmatians” or “my dog hates small dogs”.  Racist?  Surely not.  But it’s true.

The other day someone said to me that her collie was “a real snob.  She only likes other collies.”  This is also true.  Border Collies in particular, in my experience, are very fixed on their own breed.  They almost universally dislike other breeds of dog.

Reading signals from other dogs

What does this have to do with guarding behaviour?  Well it’s about how dogs form relationships with others.  This in turn is related to how well a dog is able to ‘read’ another dog.  So dogs are usually fine to interact with other dogs who are open and friendly when they approach.

Not all dogs like their space to be invaded, as I have said many times.  This relates to how they interact with children but also how they are around other dogs.

guarding behaviourDogs also have a problem reading some body language from other dogs.  This might be because of their markings – Dalmatians being the prime example.  Or it might be due to their shape – anything with a tail that curls over their back can be problematic, as it is harder for the dog to show submissive behaviour (tail between legs).  Dogs also struggle to read all-black dogs.  Bearing in mind that dogs are not able to communicate through language, being able to read posture and subtle facial expressions is the key to effective communication.

Misunderstandings lead to guarding

Once you appreciate that dogs are not always that great at understanding each other, (due in the main to the differences we have bred into them,) it becomes easier to see why problems can occur.  So a lovely, friendly, open dog may not always be quick enough to see that the dog they are enthusiastically bounding over to greet is less than impressed.

What then happens is that the dog being approached becomes cautious and wary.  We then get into a cycle of behaviour with our dog:

  • dog reacts to being approached by another dog
  • we react to our dog being upset and become protective of our dog
  • we put their dog on lead when they see another dog
  • dog gets put on lead and thinks something is wrong
  • dog feels us being fearful and wants to protect them
  • GUARDING behaviour: dog attacks approaching dog
  • we react to our dog being upset…

Can you see how this can quickly escalate?  You then have a problem.  You have a dog labelled as ‘reactive’ and an owner who lives in a state of constant anxiety.

guarding behaviourHow to deal with guarding behaviour

Let’s take a step back here.  If your dog is off lead, running around and another dog approaches to say hello – so what?  If your dog doesn’t like it, they can say so.  Usually – of course you may need to watch this if you have a large, strong dog being approached by a cheeky and annoying dog.

If you feel that you don’t want your dog getting into a discussion with other dogs, catch their attention.  NOT their body – in other words, please DON’T rush to put them on the lead.  Just call them and either hold their attention to you with a treat, or play with a toy.  Your dog should be focused on you, not the boring other dog.

Give it a go?  Try not to grab your dog.  Please remember to reward all the behaviour you want and try to ignore the stuff you don’t want.  If they look at you, say ‘yes!’ and reward.

Over friendliness in your dog

Sometimes you have the goofy dog who just loves to say hello to ALL dogs, regardless of how they are behaving.  Please try to manage this behaviour too?

Don’t say “oh he just wants to play!” or “he loves other dogs” “he’s just being friendly”  IT IS NOT WANTED!  Be aware that your dog is being the loud-mothed lout that you turn and walk away from at the office.

Yes I know that sounds boring and mean-spirited, but really you are just being polite and respectful.  Your dog won’t get attacked and you won’t get shouted at.  If you teach your dog to be well behaved, you can then allow it to play with familiar friends.

Ask for help?

You are very welcome to CONTACT ME to ask for my advice.  I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues.  Go to the What Dog? page for more information on my new service.

Please let me know if you have found this post helpful?


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