How to Train Your Dog to Stop Being Protective

Medium
2-6 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

When you’ve taken your dog for a quick stroll in the evening and you see a loud and slightly intimidating group across the road, having your protective dog at your side can certainly put you at ease. As soon as someone comes within 10 feet of you he starts to growl and stares menacingly. He’s also the same when someone comes to the door. The postman must dread having to approach the steps, knowing there’s a fierce guard dog on the other side of the door. 

While this protective nature can come in handy at times, it also prevents you being able to embrace friends and family. If you can train your dog to stop being so protective you’ll no longer be known as the ‘neighbor with the terrifying dog.’ You also won’t have to worry about him going too far one day and biting somebody.

Defining Tasks

Training will be a gradual process where you socialize your dog with other people and pets. You’ll need to gradually bring his guard down and show him that it isn’t his responsibility to protect you. You will need to alter his position in the perceived pack so he won’t always leap to your defense. If he’s a puppy and the protective nature is only a recent development, then it may take just a couple of weeks to tackle. If this protective aggression has been going on for years, you may need up to 6 weeks to stamp it out entirely.

Getting this training right is essential if you want to avoid an accident one day. All it takes is a one-off when somebody accidentally gets too close and your dog bites them in a panic. That could result in serious injury or even a court order to have him put down.

Getting Started

Before you can get going, you’ll need to gather a few things. A secure leash and a body harness will be needed to ensure you retain control and to reduce strain on your dog's neck. 

Your furry companion's favorite food or some tasty treats he cannot resist will also play a vital role. These will be used to motivate and reward him throughout training. You’ll also need to set aside 10 minutes each day for training in a quiet space, away from distractions.

Once you’ve got all of that, you’re ready to get to work!

The Gradual Introduction Method

ribbon-method-3
Most Recommended
4 Votes
Step
1
Approach slowly
When your canine companion is about to meet a new person or pet, approach them very slowly. Keep him on a leash, securely at your side.
Step
2
Reward
As you approach the new person or pet, quietly praise him for as long as he remains calm. You can even give him the odd treat to reinforce that this is the behavior you want to see.
Step
3
React promptly
As soon as he does start to display signs of aggression, turn around and pull him away. Walk away from the person or pet until he has fully calmed down. Once he has, you can turn back around and slowly approach again. It may take several attempts before you can get within 10 feet.
Step
4
Stop within 10 feet
At 10 feet, you need to calm the storm again. Have him ‘sit’ or ‘drop’ and then instruct him to ‘wait.’ You then need to position yourself in between him and the strangers to show him you are pack leader, and therefore it is you that is responsible for protecting him and not the other way round.
Step
5
Be consistent
You need to use these steps whenever you approach new people and animals over the next few weeks. Each slip up you have will set back the end result. So take it slow, retain control and reinforce calm behavior constantly.
Recommend training method?

The Perception Method

ribbon-method-2
Effective
5 Votes
Step
1
Secure the leash
Whenever anybody comes to the house or an unknown person approaches, have your dog securely on a leash. Also, ensure you are in front of him. If he is between you and the approaching person, he will feel like leader of the pack and responsible for protecting you.
Step
2
Be confident
Dogs mirror their owners' behavior and pick up on their emotions. If he can sense you are worried (probably about his reaction) then he’ll be more likely to panic himself and get aggressive. So be calm, confident, and assertive and it will put him at ease.
Step
3
Always react
If he does start to bark or show any signs of aggression, quickly shout "NO". Don’t terrify your dog, but make sure he knows you mean business. At the same time, give the leash a quick pull to reinforce the point.
Step
4
Practice obedience commands
Teach your dog to ‘sit’, ‘roll over’ and any number of other things. This training will help cement your position as the pack leader and will give you the best chance of retaining control in testing situations.
Step
5
Show him you are leader
Make your dog wait for his food, make him wait a minute before you take him out for a walk. By doing this, you’re showing him who is in control. If he knows you’re always in control he won’t feel the need to be protective over you in the first place.
Recommend training method?

The Crack Down Method

ribbon-method-1
Least Recommended
2 Votes
Step
1
Stop over indulging
If your dog gets unlimited attention and doesn’t have to abide by any rules, then curbing his aggression will always be a challenge. Set rules to assert your position as the pack leader. It could be no climbing on furniture, only going to the toilet in specific places, etc.
Step
2
Exercise
It may sound crazy, but a lot of aggression stems from built up energy. Give your dog an extra walk each day or walk him for longer. If this isn’t possible, play fetch during the walk--the constant short sprints will tire him out. If he’s knackered, he won’t have the energy to defend you from everyone you meet each day.
Step
3
Desensitize
If your dog is going to meet a new person or pet for the first time, introduce them carefully. Keep him at a distance and show your dog that he’s got nothing to worry about by being calm and confident around that person.
Step
4
Avoid his territory
It will also help to meet new people and pets outside of his territory to start with. If they come into the room where his bed is he will feel like he needs to defend you in his area. Instead, meet people outside or in a room he’s less familiar with.
Step
5
Never punish him
If your dog does show aggression, don’t punish him. Doing this will only scare him more, increasing the chances of him being aggressive the next time. Instead, calmly remove him from the situation. Don’t give his aggressive behavior any attention.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Charlie
Cocker Spaniel
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Charlie
Cocker Spaniel
1 Year

Charlie has just turned 1 years old, he was rehomed from the breeder as his previous owner couldn’t give him the time he needed at 4 months old. He has seperation anxiety and has recently been showing some protective aggression tendencies. we would like to help reduce these as much as possible

Add a comment to Charlie's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Hattie
Chocolate labrador
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Hattie
Chocolate labrador
3 Years

She has always been a well behaved girl, sits, stays, waits etc. Super friendly, especially with her little group of friends. She is a very affectionate dog sadly but does love to lie on the bed with me when I am reading.
She has always been protective of my grand daughters, now aged 9 & 7, not aggressively,just not wanting them to climb a tree or go on a swing, roundabout or slide. Not even on their bikes. She also isnt happy if they are picked up. She jumps up and barks. Once their feet are back on the ground, she sniffs and licks them and is fine.
That was one thing, but now if we/I go out to the beach or for a picnic and sit down,she is aggressive to any dog that even looks our way. If we keep moving, she's fine. It's so sad because she was always the most friendly dog we know, submissive to dogs she didnt know and playful. I was so upset after our week away in August that I considered rehoming her but we love her so much. I will add, she is a little spoilt and OBSESSED with food.
Thank you in anticipation
Julie, Dave & Hattie Pierce

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Julie, I recommend hiring a professional trainer who specializes in behavior issues like aggression, comes well recommended by their previous training clients, and has access to other well mannered dogs for setting up controlled training scenarios. I suspect pup is possessive of the grandkids - pup views them as something that belongs to her. I would pursue building her respect for and the kids through obedience practice and having pup work for everything she gets, so she is more willing to obey your commands in situations that make her nervous about them, and trust you to take care of them, and not try to guard them (like how a dog would a bone) around other dogs. I would also want pup to work a lot on commands like Quiet, Leave It, Down, Place, Out, Down, ect... so when pup starts to get tense around other dogs, pup has the obedience training and respect and trust for you, for you to be able to instruct her how to behave, and have her listen to you. Finally, setting up training scenarios with the trainer's dogs, in a controlled setting, with safety measures to keep your kids and all the people and dogs involved safe, like a back tie leash and possibly basket muzzle, I would counter condition pup to other dogs being around when the kids are present. Rewarding pup for tolerating and ignoring the other dogs, starting from far away and decreasing distance as pup relaxes and is responding well to your commands and engaging with you and relaxing about the other dogs. Because of the safety concerns for the grandkids I would do this with professional help and safety measures to be very careful. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Hattie's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Coal
Labrador Retriever
6 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Coal
Labrador Retriever
6 Years

I just brought my dog to my new house. My daughter and I now live with my boyfriend and his 2 kids and their dog. My boyfriend and I were sitting on the couch, my dog, Coal, was sitting next to me, my boyfriends nephew came over and was petting Coal on his head, Coal made a soft growl sound and nipped the hand of my boyfriends nephew. He left a little tooth mark on his hand. Was Coal being protective? What can I do to help my dog?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jillian, It sounds like pup was being possessive. Possessiveness is similar to resource guarding, where the dog is acting like they own what they are guarding. Coal was likely either being possessive of you or of the couch. Pup may also not be very tolerant of kiddos other than your own, especially if the nephew was in his face. I would work on desensitizing pup to other kiddos also, especially your boyfriend's kids and those who will be around often. Check out these videos below of desensitizing around kiddos. Notice the back tie leash for safety though, so that pup cannot get to a kid to potentially bite at any point. Be very careful and consider hiring a trainer to help with this. The dog is attached to the pole with a secure leash while on Place - notice the tape on the ground the kid knows not to cross - to keep the kid out of the dog's reach in case the dog lunges: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gblDgIkyAKU Teaching dog to move away from kids when uncomfortable: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYs76puesAE Later stage, up close desensitization - even though kids are close, there is still a line and pup is still on a back-tie leash so that pup can't actually get to kids to bite if they tried...This is a later stage exercise for pup once they can do well with the other above scenarios: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIJoEJfTS-E I also suggest you and your boyfriend work on building pup's respect for you both, but especially for you. You may need to desensitize pup to wearing a basket muzzle, depending on how much does with the other kids who are there all the time. It's a useful skill for any dog to have even if you end up not needing it very often. If pup responds aggressively at any point, no body should react angrily or by petting and soothing pup - angry can encourage a defensive fear response, and petting and soothing pup when they behave that way rewards the aggressive behavior - simply make pup leave the room abruptly, keeping a drag leash and basket muzzle on pup if needed, then keep pup from returning until they are willing to do a couple commands like Sit and Down and return with your permission. Don't allow pup to be pushy at other times either. No standing on laps, climbing onto you uninvited, nudging or barking for attention or food, ect...Anytime pup wants something, even petting, command pup to do something like Down first before giving it to them - have them work for everything they get right now. I would have pup loose all couch and bed privileges too right now. Pup is not allowed up on the couch, especially next to you. Follow the Working and Consistency methods https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Commands that are good for respect building - Out, Leave It and Off are especially important for giving pup directions right now. Place, Down and Heel are especially good for respect building. 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: 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/ To introduce the muzzle, first place it on the ground and sprinkle his meal kibble around it. Do this until he is comfortable eating around it. Next, when he is comfortable with it being on the floor with food, hold it up and reward him with a piece of kibble every time he touches or sniffs it in your hand. Feed him his whole meal this way. Practice this until he is comfortable touching it. Next, hold a treat inside of it through the muzzle's holes, so that he has to poke his face into it to get the treat. As he gets comfortable doing that, gradually hold the treat further down into the muzzle, so that he has to poke his face all the way into the muzzle to get the treat. Practice until he is comfortable having his face in it. Next, feed several treats in a row through the muzzle's holes while he holds his face in the muzzle for longer. Practice this until he can hold his face in it for at least ten seconds while being fed treats. Next, when he can hold his face in the muzzle for ten seconds while remaining calm, while his face is in the muzzle move the muzzle's buckles together briefly, then feed him a treat through the muzzle. Practice this until he is not bothered by the buckles moving back and forth. Next, while he is wearing the muzzle buckle it and unbuckle it briefly, then feed a treat. As he gets comfortable with this step, gradually keep the muzzle buckled for longer and longer while feeding treats through the muzzle occasionally. Next, gradually increase how long he wears the muzzle for and decrease how often you give him a treat, until he can calmly wear the muzzle for at least an hour without receiving treats more than two treats during that hour. Muzzle introduction video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s The silver lining is that pup does appear to have bite inhibition since the mark left was minor. Aggression is a lot more dangerous when there is a lack of bite inhibition. I would still consider hiring a professional trainer though, especially because of safety concerns for kiddos involved in interactions with the dog, and training. I would want any training around kids to be supervised by a professional to ensure proper safety and counter conditioning is present. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Coal's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Makita
Chihuahua
10 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Makita
Chihuahua
10 Months

When on walks, leashed, or off leash, if another dog approaches, she starts barking. If the dog comes close to her to exchange sniffs, she barks in a terrified way. Is more prone to this behaviour when I am present than when my husband takes her out for walks. Will bark at my neighbors children when they are just playing in their yards.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Susan, I recommend working on calmness, the barking specifically, and more socialization. If pup seems fearful, also check out this video series on counter conditioning and desensitizing. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAA4pob0Wl0W2agO7frSjia1hG85IyA6a For the calmness, I suggest working on the structure of your walk first. You want pup to be working during the walk - having to stay behind you, focus on you, perform commands periodically, and not have his mind on scanning the area in search of other dogs. The walk should start with her having to exit your home very calmly, performing obedience commands at the door if she isn't calm. She should wait for permission ("Okay" or "Free" or "Let's Go") before going through the door instead of bolting through if that's an issue. When you walk she should be in the heel position - with her head behind your leg. That position decreases her arousal, reduces stress because she isn't the one in charge and the one encountering things first. It prevents her from scanning for other dogs, staring dogs down or being stared down, and ignoring you behind her. It also requires him to be in a more submissive, structured, focused, calmer mindset - which has a direct effect on how aroused, stressed, and reactive she is. Additionally, when you do pass other dogs, as soon as she starts staring them down, interrupt her. Remind her with a gentle correction that you are leading the walk and she is not allowed to break her heel or stare another dog down. It is far easier to deal with reactivity when you interrupt a dog early in the process - before they are highly aroused and full of adrenaline and cortisol, and to keep the dog in a less aroused/calmer state to begin with. Staying in a calmer mindset also makes the walk more pleasant for her in the long-run. Once pup can walk past other dogs more calmly, you can carry small, soft treats hidden in a treat pouch or plastic bag in your pocket. When pup's body language stays calm, they remain focused on you, or are very obedient when other dogs are within sight, reward pup with a treat and very calm - almost monotone praise (too much excitement can make the situation harder for pup). Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel First, you need a way to communicate with her so I suggest teaching the Quiet command from the Quiet method in the article I have linked below - don't expect this alone to work but it will be part of the puzzle for what I will suggest next. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Next, once pup understands what Quiet means you will choose an interrupter - neither too harsh nor ineffective. A Pet Convincer is one example of an interrupter. A pet convincer is a small canister of pressurized, unscented air that you can spray a quick puff of at the dog's side to surprise them enough to help them calm back down. (Don't use citronella and avoid spraying in the face!). In situations where you know pup will bark or is already barking (catch them before they bark if you can), command "Quiet". If they obey, reward with a treat and very calm praise. If they bark anyway or continue to bark, say "Ah Ah" firmly but calmly and give a brief correction. Repeat the correction each time they bark until you get a brief pause in the barking. When they pause, praise and reward then. The combination of communication, correction, and rewarding - with the "Ah Ah" and praise to mark their good and bad behavior with the right timing, is very important. Once pup is calmer in general after the initial training, practice exposing her a lot to the things that trigger the barking normally (make a list - even if it's long). Whenever she DOESN'T bark around something that she normally would have, calmly praise and reward her to continue the desensitization process. Finally, work on calm socialization, and don't skip rewarding pup or calmness around other dogs once she is doing better on walk and is calm enough to reward it! That can help ultimately. Do things like joining obedience classes, trainings clubs, group dog hikes and walks, canine sports, ect...Your goal right now should be interactions with other dogs that have structure and encourage focus on you, calmness around the other dogs, and a pleasant activity with other dogs around - opposed to roughhousing or tense environments with tons of unpredictable dogs loose which increases adrenaline. If pup does really well playing with other dogs, have one-on-one play dates with a friend and their well socialized dog and intermittently practice obedience with them together so they learn how to also be calm and responsive to you around another dog. Recruit some friends with well mannered dogs to go on walks with you and your dog, following the Passing Approach method and Walking Together method to help the dogs learn how to be calm around each other, while also continuing socialization. Passing Approach and Walking Together methods: https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Makita's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Boris
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
10 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Boris
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
10 Months

Boris has always been well socialised with other dogs, being walked with groups of dogs with a dog Walker.
A couple of months ago he growled at another male puppy, similar age to himself. This has since escalated to growling and barking at all other male dogs. Weirdly he is absolutely fine with female dogs. Under the advice from the vets we had Boris done 3 weeks ago.
unfortunately this as far doesn’t seem to have made the slightest difference. I have to cross the road if I see another dog.
strangely his dog Walker states that he has never shown any signs of aggression whilst out with her and other dogs. He has also stayed with a dog sitter twice whilst we have been away, where she has been looking after other male dogs and she says she also has never seen any aggression from him.
I fear I am doing something very wrong and causing his aggression.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
946 Dog owners recommended

Hello Katie, Since the behavior is only happening with you present, pup may be possessive of you around the other dogs. I suggest working on the structure of your walk first. You want pup to be working during the walk - having to stay behind you, focus on you, perform commands periodically, and not have his mind on scanning the area in search of other dogs. The walk should start with him having to exit your home very calmly, performing obedience commands at the door if he isn't calm. He should wait for permission ("Okay" or "Free" or "Let's Go") before going through the door instead of bolting through if that's an issue. When you walk he should be in the heel position - with his head behind your leg. That position decreases his arousal, reduces stress because he isn't the one in charge and the one encountering things first. It prevents him from scanning for other dogs, staring dogs down or being stared down, and ignoring you behind him. It also requires him to be in a more submissive, structured, focused, calmer mindset - which has a direct effect on how aroused, stressed, and aggressive he is - it makes him feel like the responsibility is on your shoulders not his around other dogs. Additionally, when you do pass other dogs, as soon as he starts staring them down, interrupt him. Don't tolerate challenging stares at other dogs. Remind him with a fair correction that you are leading the walk and he is not allowed to break his heel or stare another dog down. It is far easier to deal with reactivity when you interrupt a dog early in the process - before they are highly aroused and full of adrenaline and cortisol, and to keep the dog in a less aroused/calmer state to begin with. This also makes the walk more pleasant for him in the long-run. Leading the walk this way can actually boost a dog's confidence in the long run around other dogs because the dog feels like you will handle the situation so they can relax. Be picky about which dogs he greets. Avoid nose-to-nose greetings dogs who lack manners. A simple "He's in training" tends to work well. Be picky about who and how he meets other dogs. Avoid dogs that don't respect his space, pull their owners over to her, and generally are not listening well - those dogs are often friendly but they are rude and difficult for some to meet on leash. Also, avoid greeting dogs who look very tense around your dog, who stare him down, who give warning signs like a low growl or lip lift, who look very puffed up and proud - that type greeting with a dog is likely to end in a fight since your dog doesn't know how to diffuse that situation. A stiff wag is also a bad sign. A friendly wag looks relaxed and loose with relaxed body language overall. A tense dog with a very stiff wag, especially with a tail held high is a sign of arousal and not always a good thing. Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Reactive dog - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XY8s_MlqDNE Outside of the walk you can work on building pup's trust and respect for you in other ways too. The following commands and exercises are also good for that: Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Respect and trust building: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M A long down stay around distractions is a good thing to practice during walks periodically. When pup is doing well enough to safely interact with other dogs with you more, a good way to do introductions with other dogs is to recruit friends with calm dogs and use the Passing Approach and the Walking together methods from the article linked below. After a few practice session of this, when the dogs can calmly walk side by side finally, take pups on walks together with both in a structured, focused heel. This gives both dogs something other than each other to focus on, keeps their energy calm, and helps them associate each other with the pleasant experience of a walk. Repeat this with lots of different dogs, one or two dogs at a time - you want other dogs to be associated with calmness, pleasant experiences, and boring things - not roughhousing, wrestling, nose-to-nose interactions always, or being rushed by them. Early on, you may need pup to wear a basket muzzle for safety - which you have introduced using food rewards ahead of time. Always be mindful of safety when training. https://wagwalking.com/training/greet-other-dogs Muzzle introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJTucFnmAbw&list=PLXtcKXk-QWojGYcl1NCg5UA5geEnmpx4a&index=6&t=0s When he can safely be around other dogs again, when he does greet another dog nose-to-nose, give slack in the leash, relax yourself, and keep the greeting to a max of 3 seconds, then happily tell him "Let's Go" or "Heel" and start walking away, giving him a treat when he follows so that she will learn to quickly respond to that command in the future. Keeping the greeting relaxed and short can diffuse tension and give the dogs enough time to say hi before competing starts. Another option is to see if there is a G.R.O.W.L. class in your area, which is a class for dog reactive/aggressive dogs you would attend with pup. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Boris's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Book me a walkiee?
Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd