A common concern of my client’s is that their dog is being overprotective, or guarding/owning them. This is a serious situation that should be addressed and resolved right away. Unwanted guarding or ownership of a person by a dog is a symptom of a much bigger issue – lack of leadership. This occurs when the human has inadvertently relinquished (or never was) the leader.
Some people may at first, find this type of behavior cute or be proud their dog’s ‘ownership/guarding’ behavior. The problem is, the behavior is not good for the dog. Also consider if you do not know how to control the behavior the result can be traumatic for both dog and human. When a dog is being mindfully protective of you, it is not the same as owning you.
To help you better understand the dangers inherent to allow it when your dog is dog is being overprotective or is ‘owning’ you, I am going to provide a real life example below. This happened to some one I know in an animal discussion group that I participate in.
The Other Group Member Posted The Following:
I have had a French Poodle, pitch black, of high pedigree. He was very possessive over me, nobody could pass me or come close, either animal or person. I also had another Maltese and Poodle (MaltePoo) mix at the time, who I was very fond off. One day, during my Maltese training time, I tried to pick the dog up and the French Poodle turned around attacking me. However, I still think it was because he was jealous and did not like the idea that I took noticed of my other dog. I landed in hospital and when I came out I was told that my French Poodle has been taken to the Vet and put down. I will never forget the grief. Even though this has been more that 10 years ago, I sometimes still feel sadness for him.
This person still has dogs, as do many others in the group. The need to understand and avoid this situation in the future was of concern to all. They asked my advice on how to avoid and/or treat this situation should anyone be currently dealing with it, or encounter this type of behavior in the future.
When working with clients I always start by explaining the psychology of a situation. Having a clear understanding of the root causes, effects and outcomes of behavior is vital to understanding the solution and preventing the development of the same situation in the future.
Part One: Understanding the Psychology of the Situation
This dog was dominating and owning his human. To teach personal space boundaries you have to show them by ‘owning’ space. By moving into the space the dog occupies, you take the space back from him. If your reaction to him being in your personal space has always been for you to withdraw from the space (even fractionally) you have not taught him. If your reaction has always been to allow your dog to remain in your personal, close space and own you, you have enabled the behavior.
Human jealousy exemplifies itself in many forms – an insecure partner will often jealously dominate and own their spouse. If you used this specific instance/description of jealousy you would be – pretty close – to describing what was going on between yourself and your dog. Your dog is owning you and your space.
Most people do not realize what is happening, and think that the dog is simply being protective or even cute. This is not protective – it is ownership of the human exemplified by dominating behavior. When a dog is being protective of you it is not the same as ‘owning’ you.
Missing The Root Cause
The mistake most people unknowingly/unintentionally make is in not understanding the true root of of why the dog is being overprotective.
Ownership/dominating behavior is not the issue, it is a symptom of the issue. The issue (the root cause) is that the dog is taking the leadership role, not the human. Most dogs do not want to be leaders – there are very few dogs born to lead. Most dogs prefer to have structure, rules, boundaries and a leader to coach and mentor them.
If the human asserts and/or reasserts themselves as leader, (on all symptoms, not just this one) immediately disagrees (in the right way) with the dog’s behavior each and every time it occurs the behavior will stop.
Left unchecked the dog will continue to take over, their behavior will escalate and eventually it is likely that the dog will attack – either another dog or a human. This type of behavior and its potentially dangerous outcome is completely avoidable. The dog that had been euthanized was not a bad dog, it just hadn’t been told the right way at the right time not to ‘own’ its human. The dog did not have a Pack Leader. In the absence of proper coaching and mentoring, rules and boundaries – the dog made its own rules.
Part Two: Understanding the Psychology of How to Deliver Corrective Direction to your Dog
First and foremost you must emotionally disengage. You cannot be a Leader when you are emotional. Instead engage your ‘leadership working’ mode. Remember that you must lead by example.
When the dog is being overprotective, never EVER try to correct your dog when your mind and energy is aggressive, angry, frustrated etc. Why?
- a) Because at best you are being hypocritical – your state of being is no better than your dogs. Your dog will know this and not listen to you.
- b) Worst case scenario – you can evoke the ire of your dog and be the cause of aggression.
To engage your ‘leadership working’ mode you must first attain a balanced state-of-being:
- a) Calm. No excess emotion, no tension, no fear, no frustration
- b) Confident.
- c) Patient.
- d) Persistent. Dogs are often persistent, so you must be even more so.
- e) Your will to succeed must be stronger than your dog’s will to succeed!
So to sum this up – be 100% committed to calm, confident, patient, persistence = have a stronger will than your dog – never give-in, never let any of this behavior pass without disagreeing, correcting, directing & following through.
And lastly, remember never, ever match your dogs unbalanced state – your state must be the polar opposite. But you do need to match the intensity of your dog’s energy. Mild, gentle but firm mentoring for low intensity behavior, more intense but calm-confident firm mentoring for more intense behavior.
Part Three: How to Prevent ‘Ownership’
Directions to dogs should always be provide in three parts – get their attention, disagree if you do not like what they are doing and follow through by showing them what to do instead.
I run into this situation often with my clients. I teach my clients how to instantaneously disagree – I train them to be the pack leader, and show them how to coach and mentor their dog.
So, should this ‘ownership’ situation ever happen between you and your dog:
- 1) Never, ever let it pass without notice and correction.
- 2) Catch the behavior as early on in its development as you can. Open your ‘spidey’ senses and if you feel that the behavior (ownership, domination) is present in even a small amount, address it right away.
- 3) Then immediately review other aspects of your human-dog relationship and ensure that you are the Leader. If you find gaps step up your leadership.
Stay Ahead of the Problem Early
It is really important to catch this behavior as early on as you can: First and foremost, because it indicates that you need to ramp-up your leadership position. Your leadership skills may already be very solid but just need a little more attention when it comes to your dog trying to own you, or it may indicate that your overall performance as leader needs a review and boost.
If the behavior is in the EARLY stages of development, you can use the techniques I provide below to address and correct this behavior.
When You Need To Contact A Professional
If the behavior has become ‘well-ingrained’ and has escalated to a more intense degree, unless you have experience with this kind of thing you need to engage professional help. Do not attempt the techniques provided below you. Engage a professional – but make sure that the professional you engage really understands the psychology of the situation.
To assess the professionals ability to properly address this situation when the dog is being overprotective, ask the person how they intend to resolve the issue. If they say that they will use tools such as (e-collars, pinch collars, treats, etc) as their primary method of intervention, this person is not the one you want to engage. If they say that they will use a combination of methods – human & dog psychology first and foremost you are on the right track. They should ask you questions that indicate to you that they understand that this type of behavior does not exist in isolation – it is only one symptom of a bigger issue – lack of leadership.
Remember, with well trained dogs it’s always easier to correct an issue/behavior in its early stages than when it is fully and completely ingrained and escalated. Never ignore or avoid – address early. So if your dog is the early stages of developing this ‘ownership’ (dominating) behavior, see below.
When the Behavior Happens:
1) Get Your Dogs Attention
You can quickly calmly (without emotion), firmly touch them (at the side of their neck, waist), snap your fingers, say ‘hey’ (make sure your tone is calm, low, clear and strong), etc. Whatever you find works to get their attention.
2) Tell Them ‘No’
First, use the same tone of voice as above. Second, back the dog out of your space. Do this by walking into the space they occupy or use your body by just leaning in or toward the dog, or use your hand/arm to point them away. The technique you choose just depends on what works well for you and your dog;
3) Follow Through
Make sure your dog stays out of your private space. When your dog is being overprotective, and he is moving back in to your personal space, just back him out. Be more persistent and committed than he is – this is a psychological test of wills – your will to succeed must be stronger than your dog’s.
Then tell your dog what you want it to do (i.e. sit, lie down or leave the space and go elsewhere, etc.).
Once you have accomplished this – sit back and access your leadership – is the gap just over this behavior or is the gap in your leadership deeper. If your leadership is not prevalent enough in other ways take immediate measures to strengthen it ASAP.
Reprint courtesy of Karen the Ottawa Valley Dog Whisperer