How to Train Your Dog to Protect Your Family

Medium
4-8 Weeks
Work

Introduction

Most dogs have a natural instinct to protect the members of his pack, which in this case happens to be you and your family. Often, a family dog will also protect members of your extended family and close friends. However, while this may be a natural instinct in some dogs, you may have to teach your pup to behave in accordance with these instincts. Of course, you should keep in mind that the intent here is to train your dog to protect you, not to become an attack dog, which may require special licensing or even be illegal in your town, county, or state.

The best age to start training your dog to protect you and your family is when he is still very young. This doesn't mean you can't teach an old dog to do the same. One thing to keep in mind, however, it will take longer to train an older dog than a younger one. Also worth noting is that the more loyal your pup is to you and your family, the more active his desire to protect will be; it will also make it easier for you to train him. 

Defining Tasks

While your dog is already a very important member of your family, training him to protect you will on only increase this value. Once trained, your dog will always be on the alert, checking for strangers and threats to any member of your family. Bear in mind that your dog sees you and the rest of your family as part of his pack. As such, you should be seen as the Alpha leader and the rest of your family as part of the pack, one that it is his nature to protect from strangers and other forms of danger.

How well he will protect or how easy your dog is to train is in part dependent on his breed. Some, like Doberman Pinschers, German shepherds, and Rottweilers are natural protectors and require minimal training. The idea is to train your dog to bark and act in a slightly menacing manner towards strangers, you are not teaching him to attack. You are training him to be a protector, not a killer. 

Getting Started

Before you start training your dog to protect you and your family, you must first ensure he is fully competent in the basic commands, including 'sit', 'stay', 'quiet', 'come', and 'down'. Along with this, you need to make sure your pup is fully socialized, or you will have to include this in the training. This means socialized with people and other animals.  Of course, there a few things you need to go along with the training, including:

  • Treats: As a reward for the right behavior.
  • Leash: For training and keeping your dog under control.
  • Places to train: Choose several areas where there are other people and dogs.
  • Time to train: Training your dog to be protective is going to take some time.
  • Patience: Your pup needs you to be very patient, your pup will get it figured out soon enough.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that by training your dog to protect, you are only enhancing what is a natural instinct. Take your time, be patient, and in time your efforts will pay off. 

The Panic Word Method

ribbon-method-1
Most Recommended
3 Votes
Step
1
Choose your panic word
You need to choose a panic word that can be used by any member of your family from the youngest to the oldest. Be sure you choose a single word that is not something common like "bark" or "attack", pick something like "panic" or even "help".
Step
2
Use an enthusiastic tone
When you give your pup the command word, you need to be happy and enthusiastic. Believe it or not, this works better than using an angry or frightened voice.
Step
3
When a stranger approaches
The average dog is likely to bark any time a stranger approaches. Take advantage of this behavior by having a stranger to your dog come to your front door and ring the bell. At the moment your dog first starts to bark, give him the command word. Let him bark for a few seconds and then give him the 'hush' command. When he does this, be sure to give him lots of praise and treats.
Step
4
Keep practicing
You will need to keep repeating this step using the combination of ring the bell, bark, hush, treat until he is able to associate the command with the action. This could take several days or longer.
Step
5
The outside world
Time to go for a long walk with your dog on his leash. As you walk along, arrange to have several people he knows and several he doesn't position themselves along the way. Let those he does know give him a treat and pet him. This reinforces the concept of friends. Then have those he doesn't know approach, give him the panic command. When he barks at them, gently pull back on his leash, tell him to hush, and when he does reward him. This reinforces the concept of stranger danger.
Step
6
The rest is up to you
The rest of the training program consists of lots of practice. In time, your dog will know how to discern between the good and bad guys and how to protect you on command.
Recommend training method?

The Leash Tug Method

ribbon-method-3
Effective
2 Votes
Step
1
Clip on his leash
Clip your dog on his leash and take him for a walk.
Step
2
Going down the road
Walk your dog down a predetermined path with a group of people he knows and doesn’t know scattered along the way. As he meets the "nice" people let them pet him and give them a treat.
Step
3
The "bad" people
When he comes upon the strangers, give him a gentle tug on the leash as a cue. When he barks at them, let him give three barks and tell him to 'hush'. (Your pup should already know how to follow this command, but if not, try the steps in the 'Speak' method). Praise and reward him, this helps to reinforce the behavior and will soon lead to your feeling safer with your dog there to protect you.
Step
4
Repeat
Keep practicing this step until your dog masters the concept and will bark to alert you and protect you when a stranger approaches.
Step
5
Final test
In your yard with your pup on a leash, have other members of your family hold him while "strangers" approach. Have them use the leash tug and 'hush' cues and when he acts accordingly, be sure to reward him with lots of praise and treats.
Recommend training method?

The Speak Method

ribbon-method-2
Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Train your dog to be a socialite
If you are going to teach your dog to protect you and your family, the first step is to train your dog to be social. This means taking him out to the park where there are lots of people and other dogs. Let your dog get used to "good" people who will fuss over him, pet him, and even give him treats. While you are out, run the gamut of basic commands and each time he obeys, give him a treat. This lets him know who is the Alpha leader in the pack.
Step
2
Train the panic command
Have someone your pup doesn't know come to the door and knock or ring the bell. The moment (as close as you can) your pup starts to bark, use a "panic" command. Choose a word that you don't normally use and that is very simple. For example, you could use "panic" or "now." Repeat this process until you can anticipate his barking and make your pup bark using only the command word. Be sure to treat him for getting this one right.
Step
3
Train the hush command
Once your dog will bark on command, the next trick is to teach him to stop barking on command. To do this, allow your pup to bark no more than three times than give him a 'hush' command. Use "hush" or "stop" and instantly reward him when he stops barking. Repeat both of these steps until you have full control of when and how he barks.
Step
4
Become a barking coach
It is quite natural for your dog to bark at strangers. The goal here is to take what is a natural response and put it to use by teaching him to bark and protect you. When your dog barks at a stranger, allow him to bark no more than 3 times. Give him the 'hush' command and when he stops, give him a treat.
Step
5
Repeat for success
Repeat training will teach your dog the right time to bark and the right time to be quiet.
Step
6
On the leash
Clip your dog on his leash and stand inside your front door. Have a friend ring the bell. The instant your dog starts to bark, give your panic command word. Give him three barks and then tell him to be quiet. When he does, reward him with a treat.
Step
7
Out in the yard
Time to head out in the yard, starting with your dog on his leash. Have someone your dog doesn't know approach. Once again when your dog gets ready to bark, give the 'panic' command and give him the same three barks. Tell him to 'hush' and when he does, praise him and give him a treat. Practice makes perfect, just be patient and in time your dog will learn to protect you and the rest of your family when strangers approach.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Kizzy Dior
Pit bull
2 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Kizzy Dior
Pit bull
2 Months

I just want her to be protective and not so timid

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
961 Dog owners recommended

Hello Gina, At this age, what pup needs is thorough socialization to build confidence. You want her to think the world is a wonderful place. Once she is an adult and has matured mentally and sexually, protection skills are then taught on top of the socialization, so pup is performing protection work as a job, and not due to aggression or fear. For example, I know someone who's German Shepherd competes in Schlutzhund and IPO - protection type training groups. This dog is also a Service Dog, who is extremely well behaved and well trained to tolerate all types of interactions in every day life. He has been taught when it's time to do each job and responds to her commands incredibly well. That's an extreme case, but socialization should be included for future protection dogs. Check out the section on shy dogs and humans from this article. I also recommend enrolling pup in a good puppy kindergarten class, where things like classmates handling each other's puppies while feeding treats is encouraged. Not all classes emphasize socialization, so ask questions. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-socialize-a-shy-dog/ Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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coby
German Shepherd
2 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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coby
German Shepherd
2 Months

I what basic skills to the puppy aggressive

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
961 Dog owners recommended

Hello Colin, Work on commands that build impulse control and respect for you at this age - that will lay a great foundation for more formal protection training later. Continue to pursue socialization with pup even though that can seem counter-intuitive, because a good protection and guard dog needs to know what's normal in the world, especially around people, so that they can tell when something is wrong correctly and not just react to everything and be unreliable. Good socialization also boosts confidence. Getting pup around a lot of people and places is great, but also work on pup's manners and obedience in those settings so pup is learning to focus on you around those exposures - like practicing heeling past people at a park, a Down-Stay at an outdoor shopping area, sitting for being petted, ect... To help pup learn better self-control and focus, practice the following commands over the next few months. Work up to pup gradually being able to do these things around distractions and for longer periods of time. For example, work up to an hour long Place command, heeling past people at the park, holding a Down-Stay while you walk away at the park while pup is on a long training leash and harness. Those types of commands can also help with respect and trust for you - which is important for guarding work later. Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method - good for the mouthing too: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Place command: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Heel- Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Off- section on The Off command: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-train-dog-stay-off-couch/ Come - Reel in method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall Check out the article linked below for good respect building tips: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Many dogs will naturally guard if it's in their genetics and you have laid a good foundation of respect and obedience, once they mature mentally between 1-2 years of age. If pup doesn't, you can also teach pup to bark automatically when someone enters the property and be more watchful in general using reward based training. For alerting, first teach pup the Speak command. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-to-speak Once pup knows the speak command, recruit friends pup doesn't know to step onto the property or come to the door while pup watches from a window or inside somewhere. Command speak and reward with a treat when they do. Practice with telling pup to speak each time the person is there, until pup barks on their own when the person tries to enter without saying speak. At that point, have the person come onto the property, wait seven seconds to see if pup will bark on their own, reward if they do, and command speak if they don't - then reward but give a smaller reward when you tell pup opposed to when pup does it on their own. Practice until pup will bark each time someone enters the property. Practice with different people you can recruit, that pup doesn't know so that pup will learn to do this with anyone who enters the property and not just that one person. Draw pup's attention to people outside or people on your property, and reward pup when you see them watching someone in general - so that pup will begin watching people and staying more alert as a habit. Pup doesn't have to bark to reward this one - just reward when pup is watching someone and you notice that. I also recommend teaching the Quiet command, so that you can tell pup when to stop barking after they alert. Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark For the protection training with bite work you need to hire a professional protection dog trainer. Done wrong, you can create a dog who is fear aggressive and will not be under voice control and will be more of a liability to you than protection. True protection training requires a high level of off-leash obedience around high distractions, working with a dog's natural defense drive using positive reinforcement - via bite bags and the tug response, and building a dog's confidence rather than instilling fear. This requires a lot of knowledge about dogs and this type of training, staff to practice bites and holds with, and equipment like body suites and arm pads. This should only be done by a professional who knows how to accomplish those things without creating unwanted issues. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Pepper
Pit bull
3 Years
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Pepper
Pit bull
3 Years

My wife and I adopted our love, she is a blue pit 3 yrs old. When we first got her she was very protective and would bark and lunge at people when they came anywhere near us. Now we have had her a few months and she is now the most docile pitbull I’ve ever seen. She isn’t nearly as protective she doesn’t bark at all, she just watches people walk by, like she knows no stranger. It’s kind of frightening knowing that the main reason we got a pitbull besides their loving, cuddling and silly ness, was to be very protective of my wife since I’m gone at work all day long and she is at home all day without me. We live in a not so good neighborhood and we want good protection for my wife

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
244 Dog owners recommended

Hi there! I am going to give you some tips that will build her overall confidence. I have heard this a lot over the years from my personal customers... they raise a protective breed who ends up being a giant sweetheart! But in times where the dog has needed to step up, the dog absolutely has. They know when there is a threat. And it is good that she isn't reactive to non threatening strangers. You would have a whole other set of difficult habits to break. But for general confidence, I have some tips for you to follow. 1. Work on obedience training. Daily obedience work, even when it is only for a short time, provides submissive dogs with a lot of confidence. Family members are proud of dogs that perform on command and dogs pick up on this feeling. If the obedience training is harsh, though, a submissive dog will just get worse. Find a positive reinforcement and reward-based training class in your area. If the trainer works with a discipline-based system, it is not appropriate for a submissive dog. 2. Socialize your dog as much as possible to make them adaptable. The sensitive socialization period for your dog ended when she was a puppy, about 15 weeks of age, but she can still be socialized as an older dog, it is just going to take a lot more work. To socialize your dog, take her out as much as possible, let her meet new people, let her meet your friends dogs (if they are friendly with other dogs), and let her run free at the dog park so that she will meet new dogs. (Some dogs will be too nervous to play at the dog park so this phase may only come later.) 3. Give your dog a job or get her involved in a canine sport. Most dogs are not able to "work", however, so in order to give them an activity to build their confidence, it is a good idea to get them involved in one of the canine sports. Flyball, agility, Frisbee, dock diving, and other activities may be available in your area. 4. Use counter-conditioning techniques to help her overcome fear. This is the best but also the hardest (for you!) of the methods available to treat a submissive dog. For each thing that your dog is afraid of, you have to train her to have a pleasant feeling. When a dog is no longer afraid of the situation, he is confident and no longer going to be submissive. If you decide to try to build her confidence through counter-conditioning, the first thing you have to identify is the trigger. What is stimulating your dog to be so submissive? If she is only afraid of one thing it is easier to train her; unfortunately, most submissive dogs are afraid of almost everything. Spend some time with your dog to become familiar with her fears. The next step is to teach him that the scary thing is actually a good thing. When she is exposed to the scary object, give her a tasty treat and let her relax around the object without any pressure. The final step in counter-conditioning your dog to face her fears is to expose her and not provide a treat or even notice that he is being exposed. If you need more help on using counter-conditioning, the animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell has a book that I have found to be useful. The techniques are great and will help your dog develop confidence but as with most behavior modification, takes patience and persistence. Please let me know if you have additional questions. Thanks for writing in!

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Rani
German Shepherd
18 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Rani
German Shepherd
18 Months

How to how to train attack and protect my family

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
961 Dog owners recommended

Hello Mugappa, I would start by laying a foundation of trust and respect through obedience command practice. Protection work requires a high level of off-leash training and self-control for the dog. To help pup learn better self-control and focus, practice the following commands over the next few months. Work up to pup gradually being able to do these things around distractions and for longer periods of time. For example, work up to an hour long Place command, heeling past people on leash, holding a Down-Stay while you walk away while pup is on a long training leash and harness. Those types of commands can also help with respect and trust for you - which is important for guarding work later. Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method - good for the mouthing too: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Place command: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Heel- Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Off- section on The Off command: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-train-dog-stay-off-couch/ Come - Reel in method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall Check out the article linked below for good respect building tips: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Many dogs will naturally guard if it's in their genetics and you have laid a good foundation of respect and obedience, once they mature mentally between 1-2 years of age. If pup doesn't, you can also teach pup to bark automatically when someone enters the property and be more watchful in general using reward based training. For anything that would involve bite work, you would need to pursue training with a professional protection trainer who knows how to utilize pup's defense drive, build confidence, utilize rewards like a bite bag and tug, and have the right staff and equipment to practice things like arms holds - this training should only be done with a professionals help and should not encourage fear or true aggression when done correctly - it's more like teaching pup a task, teaching alertness, obedience, building confidence, and encouraging a natural defense drive - opposed to poorly done training that encourages suspicion and fear to get a bite from the dog. I recommend looking into how Schlutzhund French ring and IPO training is done. The control, bites, holds, and practice for those sports and professional protection training are very similar. Good protection training utilizes things like bite bags and body suits to teach pup to bite those things on command first, utilizing a dog's defense drive to grab those things like a game of tug, hold and handle the pressure of the person moving and acting weird. Pup is taught from there to target something like an arm - to hold onto when commanded or when approached certain ways. Other commands like barking and holding their ground should also be taught, so pup isn't always going to bite unless told to in an emergency. To teach pup to bark and be more alert, first, teach pup the Speak command. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-to-speak With pup on leash or in a secure fence they can't get over for the safety of your guests, recruit friends pup doesn't know to step onto the property while pup watches from a window or fence. Command speak and reward with a treat when they do. Practice with telling pup to speak each time the person is on the property, until pup barks on their own when the person enters without saying speak. At that point, have the person step onto the property, wait seven seconds to see if pup will bark on their own, reward if they do, and command speak if they don't - then reward but give a smaller reward when you tell pup opposed to when pup does it on their own. Practice until pup will bark each time someone enters the property. Practice with different people you can recruit, that pup doesn't know so that pup will learn to do this with anyone who enters the property and not just that one person. Draw pup's attention to people outside in general, and reward pup when you see them watching someone in general - so that pup will begin watching people and staying more alert as a habit. Pup doesn't have to bark to reward this one - just reward when pup is watching someone and you notice that. Make sure you are equally working on recall, staying within boundaries on your property, the Quiet command, and being able to call pup off of something with complete reliability; otherwise, pup is also not useful as a protection or guard dog because they become a liability and bite risk for the general public and your guests. Again, I recommend hiring a professional trainer to help you in person, or joining a canine sport with bite work like Schlutzhund or IPO. This type of training needs to be done carefully with safety measures like body suits. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Pepper/Cinnamon
Lab-pit
3 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Pepper/Cinnamon
Lab-pit
3 Months

How would I train both of them? Separate or at the same time? Should I give them each a different 'panic' word?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
961 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brandalyn, I would train each individually until that pup is obeying consistently, then once both are trained individually, practice more with both pup's together. The second puppy will be a large distraction so you want to work pup up to being able to obey around the other puppy without making the training too hard with the second puppy at the beginning. Whether you teach two words or one depends a lot on whether you would want both dog reacting in a protection situation or would want only one dog responding at a time. If you teach the same word for both, both will react most likely. If you teach a separate word, then you would tell them to react one at a time by saying one or both words, depending on what response you wanted. Either way, I would make sure they learn that their individual name means look at me, so you can get the attention of whichever pup you want to before giving a command, when you need the dogs to differentiate who you are talking too. For example, a friend with four hunting dogs has taught each dog to respond to "Stella, Fetch", "Tina, Fetch", ect...So each dog goes one at a time, not all together when he needs them too. The training works similarly for other special tasks you train too. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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