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Your normally sweet golden retriever suddenly starts growling when your friend comes up to talk with you. Again he growls when your son approaches to sit next to you on the sofa. Yet again he growls when your other dog seeks your attention.
Are these the signs that a dog is possessive of his owner?
What do you do?
First, you have to determine what’s really happening.
Is your dog being protective or guarding you as a resource like some dogs guard chew bones?
To your dog, you’re the source of resources like food and chew toys. You’re the source of their walks, play, and great experiences.
So you become a very valued resource to your dog. Some just appreciate you and your bond.
Whereas some other dogs feel that they must protect you against others–or even guard you as a resource to them like some dogs do with their food.
What Are the Signs that my Dog’s Being Possessive?
Some growls are playful. The body language of a playful dog usually is relaxed. His tongue may loll out of his mouth.
His face wouldn’t show tension, such as a wrinkles or a furrowed brow (unless that’s his usual facial expression, like in a Chow Chow or a Shar Pei).
He may do a play bow where his front end bows down and his rear end remains upright. Dogs who want to play may do this as their body wriggles back and forth enticing you: “Let’s Play!”
They may even let out a higher-pitched growl to indicate happiness and excitement.
But this play-with-me body language and sound are quite different from a dog who is being protective or guarding you.
Look for the following signs to determine whether your canine buddy isn’t playing, but instead being possessive of his owner (you).
1. Does your dog guard any other resources?
Does your dog tense up, growl, attempt to bite, or bite when you approach or try to take any valued items like food, toys, or chew bones?
Dogs that guard some resources are more likely to guard others like you.
When I got one of my rescued dogs, a Lhasa Apso named Linkin, he guarded toys and food and anything else he saw as valuable–including me.
He was about three or four years old when rescued.
It took months of working with his issues before I saw a lot of progress. But eventually, I managed his issues successfully.
He was my companion for almost 14 years.
2. Is your dog a “Velcro-dog?”
Dogs that constantly have to be with you may be more likely to guard you as a resource.
Although most Velcro-dogs won’t. (Some are likely though to have separation anxiety.)
3. What is your dog’s breed or mix?
The genetic make-up of some dogs may lead to them being more protective than other breeds.
The lines of Rottweilers, Dobermans, and Belgian Malinois, for example, may have been bred to protect.
So if your pup is from these lines, he will probably be more likely to guard. Of course, a dog who guards may become aggressive if he determines that there’s a threat from another person or animal.
Also, some herding dogs like border collies, Aussies, or shelties may be likely to herd family members, friends, or others away from you.
They may nip at their heels and let out a yippy bark and circle around the person to be herded. (This is usually not aggression, though. But you still have to redirect this behavior to something acceptable, such as going after a toy instead of you.)
4. Does your dog growl, snap at, lunge, whine, or bite people or animals who approach you?
Dogs who are guarding or being protective of you will have a deep-throated growl, not the playful growl of a dog being silly.
A dog who’s being aggressive will usually have some of the following traits:
- Baring teeth
- Ahard-eye stare (not the soft look of a young puppy dog eye)
- Tense body
- Raised hackles (raised hair on the back of their neck)
- A“whale eye” where the whites of his eyes show
- Leaning forward
- Lunging forward
- Ears set forward.
Such dogs will usually be fine if someone is at a distance, but will become aggressive as a person or animal approaches. The distance that a dog will become aggressive varies with the dog.
For example, some will be fine if a person or animal is seven feet away but will go over threshold and become aggressive when someone is four feet away.
So the area around you where a dog will become aggressive can greatly differ.
5. Does your dog become aggressive to you when you try to hold him back from approaching another in a threatening manner?
A dog who’s guarding you may turn on you when you attempt to stop him from going after another person or animal.
It’s called redirected aggression. Your dog’s very frustrated when he tries to correct the being he sees as a threat or to guard you. So he may turn and take out his frustration on you.
Playful dogs who are held back may jump around and have silly, loose body language. And at most they may nip you but not bite down and break skin and won’t repeatedly bite.
What Should I Do If My Dog’s Guarding or Protecting Me?
It may be somewhat flattering that your dog guards you. But it’s very hard to live with–and very dangerous.
Since you’re reading this, you probably have the problem or know someone who does.
But there are steps that you can take to help manage the situation. Real aggression is never 100-percent cured. But it can be very successfully managed.
PRO-TRAINER TIP: If you believe that your dog is guarding or protecting you, it’s best to get the help of a qualified professional like a behaviorist or positive-reinforcement trainer with experience with this issue.
Some of the things that you can do to help manage the situation are as follows.
- Obedience train your dog. All dogs should have obedience training. It helps them to know what the rules are as well as furthers our bond with them.
All dogs should know basic commands like pay attention (“look”), sit, down, come, and stay–as well as many others.
If you have voice control of your dog, you’ll have better control in all situations.
- Teach your dog impulse control exercises. Some dogs have very little impulse control and, instead, will react–often not the way we want them to behave–in many situations.
In my opinion, all dogs should learn such exercises. It makes them better to live with and makes their lives more pleasurable than being out-of-control.
Some great impulse control exercises are: sit, down, stay, leave it, wait, and settle.
Also, have your dog wait for his food and only eat when you release him to eat.
It also helps to do “mat training” in which your dog learns to go to a bed or may and remain there until released. This will help him not guard space around you.
Of course, all of these commands take time for the dog to learn. And even more time for him to become reliable in more distracting, stressful settings.
See the following link for how to train these obedience commands.
- Consult your veterinarian to be sure that there’s no physical issue. It’s important to rule out any physical issues such as pain or a thyroid problem when aggression is involved.
- Don’t allow dogs who guard you on furniture. Many dogs who guard do so while they’re on a sofa or bed with their owners.
The usual scenario is that the female owner’s relaxing on the couch with her furry companion alongside being petted.
Suddenly, someone appears and wants to sit on the couch and join the party.
But the dog won’t have any of that. He wants his owner all to himself. And that’s when things escalate.
The dog starts baring teeth and growling. If the person coming towards you doesn’t back off, the dog may lunge and bite.
If your dog’s been permitted on the furniture up until now, it will take time to teach him not to be. But there are training exercises you can do to teach him to get off on command and to stay off.
If he knows to go to a place like a bed, mat, or crate on command and remain there, it will help train him not to be on the furniture.
See the above link for obedience commands regarding how to train these exercises.
- Give your dog attention on your terms. Say your dog comes up to you and nose bops your hand or leg demanding: “Pet me!” When you don’t, he may keep bopping you, putting his head under your hand–and maybe even jump on you for attention.
A dog who calls the shots may not follow cues from you, which can be devastating if a dog guards you.
If your dog does this, you can turn away, not looking at him. Or you can get up and leave the room for 20 to 30 seconds then return.
Just do this two or three times at most. If it works, he’ll stop pushing for attention.
Then, you can call him to you and give him attention. By doing this on your terms, he’ll realize that he has to listen to your cues to get what he wants: your attention.
- Socialize your dog to new people, dogs, noises, environments, and situations.
It’s important that all dogs be socialized to the extent that they can handle it.
Let’s face it: not all dogs are going to be Lassie, loving all other creatures.
That doesn’t make them bad dogs. All dogs are individuals and should be respected as such.
Socialization means exposing your pup to the above things and making it positive.
So one training exercise you can do is conditioning your dog that good things happen when people or dogs (or cats, if they’re reactive to them) are in the environment.
You want to have your dog on a loose leash no more than six feet in length. No long-lines or flexi leads, please.
He should be in a secure harness that he can’t get out of. A tight collar can convey to him that something’s wrong and make him reactive or aggressive. (You can leave his ID collar on, just don’t use it in this situation.)
If there’s any doubt whether he’ll get out of a harness, you can attach a second leash to his collar; just don’t yank on or tighten it.
Keep him far enough away that he’s calm and doesn’t show signs of stress or reactivity. You want to keep him “under threshold.”
You can do a set-up training exercise where the person or dog held on a leash by a handler stays at one place. (If a dog is involved to help train your dog, the test dog should NOT be aggressive or reactive.)
They should remain motionless and not look in your direction. They should also be at a distance at which your dog isn’t stressed or reactive.
Then, when your dog’s calm and sees the person or dog or cat, give him very high-value treats. They should be pea-sized treats that he gets only for this training.
Use something that his stomach will tolerate and that he goes wild for. (It’s like giving me a great steak–which I’ll work hard for!)
Some suggestions are: small cubes of cheese, small pieces of hot dogs, small pieces of cooked chicken, or even a purchased treat, such as Happy Howie’s meat roll cut up in small pieces.
I cut the loaf into slices, then cut the slices into cubes. I then put baggies of the cubed treats in the freezer so that I can reach for them when needed.
Give your dog a stream of 10 or 12 treats in a row (not all at once). Then turn and walk him away with him, happily saying “let’s go.”
You can go back to your original point and have the people remain in place too. Just go back one or two times, then depart.
The training session is then over. Always end on a successful note.
At first, do this with only one person or handler/animal team at a time so that there’s only one variable in the equation. The other person or animal should not approach you or your dog.
Over time (weeks or months), if done correctly at your dog’s pace, you can get closer, or you can have the people move toward you slightly or they can look in your direction.
You get the idea. Change only one variable at a time.
If at any point your dog becomes reactive and goes over threshold becoming anxious or reactive, end the training session.
In your next training session, go back to the step at which your dog was successful. Then, move forward in subsequent sessions as he’s able to handle the progression.
It’s usually advisable to have an appropriate specialist like an experienced, positive-reinforcement dog trainer or behaviorist guide you through these steps.
Timing and not progressing too quickly are crucial to success.
And remember: you move at the pace your dog’s able to handle it–whether it’s weeks or months.
- Have a friend toss high-value treats to your dog. If your dog isn’t threatened at a distance at which the other person can toss him treats, have your friend toss a handful (about eight or so) treats his way.
The friend shouldn’t appear threatening and should toss the treats underhanded. No staring at your dog. And the friend should stand sideways to him.
I even have the friend say the cue “hi” as she tosses the treats. (But don’t if this makes your dog reactive.)
If your dog is alright with this greeting, he’ll eventually generalize that others aren’t threatening if they perform this exercise with him.
- Keep your dog in a regular routine. Like us, dogs are creatures of habit. A dog with a daily routine is less likely to be stressed. And stress can lead to reactivity and aggression.
As much as possible, feed him at the same times, exercise him at the same times, and keep his daily life as constant as possible
Of course, there will be times the routine is broken because of your circumstances. Life happens.
But, as much as possible, keep a constant routine.
- Exercise your dog’s body and mind regularly. This relieves his stress and strengthens his bond with you.
A dog who’s bonded to you is more likely to listen to commands and trust you.
You can do walks together or play fetch–whatever is appropriate for your pup. Of course working, sporting, herding, hound, and terrier breeds generally need more physical exercise than toy breeds do.
If you’re not sure how much exercise your dog should have, ask your veterinarian.
Mental exercise is as important as physical exercise. Do activity games and puzzle toys.
Is Your Dog Jealous of the Other Person or Dog?
Experts have various opinions on this. Some believe that a dog is being rude, assertive, or pushy when guarding you.
Whereas other experts conducted a study in which it appeared that a dog’s jealous when an owner displays affectionate behavior towards another dog.
By extension, this may be true also when an owner displays affection toward another person.
Don’t Try This at Home: What NOT To Do
There are some actions that you shouldn’t take when dealing with your dog guarding you. They could make the situation much worse.
- Don’t correct your dog for the behavior. If you scold your dog for guarding behavior, it may make it even worse.
He didn’t learn what behavior you want and will probably be more stressed and escalate the behavior.
- Don’t suppress the behavior. If you attempt to stop the behavior by correcting him in some way, sometimes the behavior may stop temporarily.
But it’s likely to recur. And even to escalate.
There are no temporary or quick fixes.
- Don’t flood your dog with people or animals he’s guarding you from. Doing so will most likely make the situation much worse.
Some dogs may temporarily shut down when flooded with overwhelming experiences. But they really didn’t learn anything and will be extremely stressed.
Flooding essentially means putting too many stimuli in the situation. So you don’t want to have two people come up to you. Or have a dog or cat–whatever he’s guarding you from–too close or have more than one even at a distance if it stresses him.
Being too close to you that sets him off is flooding; having too many people or animals from which he’s guarding you is flooding.
But, if you’re successful at working with and managing his issues, you’ll probably get to the point that he’ll be able to handle more exposure to the above situations.
- Don’t use harsh methods to deal with the situation. Don’t hit or physically correct your dog or pin him or alpha roll him. Don’t spray water or use a shock or prong collar. And don’t use any other such methods.
They would inevitably escalate the situation–and even make your dog aggressive towards you.
If you believe that your dog is guarding you, look at the above symptoms.
If he’s shown any aggression, it’s best to get help from an expert such as a behaviorist.
Guarding can escalate quickly and be very hard to manage.
But, if handled properly, guarding can often be very successfully managed.
Does your dog show signs of being possessive toward you or other family members?
If so, tell us what you did to remedy the situation.
Tell us your experiences in the comment section below.
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