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. 

Whilst 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 then 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 his neck. A muzzle will also be needed during training to prevent any accidents.

His favorite food or some tasty treats 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 Perception Method

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Step
1
Secure him to a leash
Whenever anybody comes to the house or an unknown person approaches, have him 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 him, 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 him 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’re leader
Make him 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

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Step
1
Stop over indulging
If he 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 him 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 he’s 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 he 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?

The Gradual Introduction Method

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Step
1
Approach slowly
When he’s about to meet a new person or pet, approach them very slowly. Keep him on a leash and in a muzzle, securely at your side.
Step
2
Reward
As you approach them, 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. When he’s finally broken the protective habit you can lose the muzzle.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Stella
Australian Shepherd
7 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Stella
Australian Shepherd
7 Months

Hello, my puppy turns 7 months next week. She has started this barking behavior. She barks at anything in the yard even if she hears the slightest noise. If we see people while walking she will bark, I can get her to calm down eventually. She also barks at scooters, skateboards, strollers. It is hard to calm her down when she sees those objects.

Apart from that she is a great dog. I feel like she is trying to protect me from everything.
I take her for walks and dog parks. She does very well with other dogs and people inside the dog park. But if she sees somebody outside the park or walking around she goes nuts.

Please help.
We are enrolling her in an obidenamce class next month. I am hoping maybe that will help her.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
113 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jennifer, It sounds like Stella is in need of a lot of socialization. She is likely barking at things because she feels suspicious and insecure about those things. If it is happening when things are at a distance and when you are not right beside her, then it is likely not protectiveness but insecurity. To help her, load up your pockets with treats and take her everywhere with you. If she is over-reacting and barking and growling whenever she sees people and you cannot get close, then start this exercise at a distance from people and whenever she sees a person, have her "Heel" very attentively. Move quickly and turn very frequently so that she does not have time to focus on anything other than staying with you. When she is focused on you and not reacting to the people or dogs, then reward her. As she improves, then get closer to the people and dogs and reward her for focusing on you and remaining calm. Be firm and work on her respect toward you in general, so that she will depend on you to handle situations instead of trying to handle them for herself. Check out this Wag! article to teach respect. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you When she can get close to other people and dogs in the environments where she tends to struggle, then recruit lots of friends to pose as strangers, and when they approach tell her to "Say Hi", and have them toss her treats. At first when they toss her treats, have them ignore her afterwards. When she begins to want to go say hi, then have them feed her the treats directly out of their hands. If he reacts aggressively toward them, then correct her. She needs to learn what is not acceptable behavior but she also needs the root fear behind the behavior addressed with socialization and rewards for her calm behavior. If you feel unsure about how to deal with any of this on your own, then look into hiring a Private Trainer to help you. If you can find a G.R.O.W.L. class in your area, that type of class for reactive dogs would be very helpful for her too. A class environment with the right trainer would be great for her in general if the class is setup to accommodate her reactions. Some classes will be and some will not be. You will simply need to ask the trainer to find out. She may also have protective tendencies that need to be addressed also, but the current issues sound mostly like fear aggression. Throughout the first eighteen months of their lives dogs go through multiple fear periods, where they are learning new things and are extra insecure and suspicious of things. This period helps them to learn what is safe and what is not safe among other things, and many need help learning what to accept as normal. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Ari
Rhodesian Ridgeback
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Ari
Rhodesian Ridgeback
1 Year

Sometimes when my daughters and I come into an area and get near my husband, Ari will growl and bark at us. This just started about 2 weeks ago and is frightening because we are never sure when Ari will do this.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
113 Dog owners recommended

Hello Beth, I suggest hiring a professional trainer to work with you at your home right away. It sounds like Ari is actually being possessive of your husband and not protective. Ari likely views herself as above you, your daughter, and possibly your husband too, and she thinks she is in charge and she needs to be given a lot of structure and boundaries to address the issue. She also needs to work on doing her obedience for you and your daughter, and interaction with your husband needs to be changed, so that she is not allowed to be demanding of his attention, space, or time, unless he initiates the interactions. Essentially she needs a doggie bootcamp at home, to safely give her an attitude adjustment in a way that does not put you in harms way. One to two years of age is typically when more serious temperament issues crop up. Dog's mature mentally, hormones change, even in sprayed and neutered dogs, and instincts get stronger. All of these things can lead to strong personality traits causing issues when your dog does not understand the rules of his environment or lacks something like boundaries or socialization. She likely had less obvious indicators when younger but is more confident about displaying it now. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Mizzen
Portuguese Water Dog
5 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Mizzen
Portuguese Water Dog
5 Years

Miz is fine on a leash, meeting people, she is an AKC Champion, CGC, RN, where the problem is she believes she is the protector of our property at home, when she is at out property in the California delta, as soon as she knows the people are ok, she’s fine. But she does not want strangers on our home property, she fine once she meets them but not as they leave mail or walk up the steps to the porch, we have the porch gated off but a barking dog rushing you is scary to people, she has nipped, no blood 2 people that have come to close to the porch and fenced odd area. I am aware these dogs protected the fisherman’s boats, she is my 2nd Porty, any suggestions.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
113 Dog owners recommended

Hello Suzanne, Since your front porch has a gate to protect visitors I suggest recruiting as many of your friends and neighbors as you can to come to your porch, one at a time, to pretend to be strangers or mailmen. When he or she gets close enough for Mizzen to notice him, and before she begins to act aggressively if the person can get that close first, then have the person toss her treats over and over until she quiets down, and then have the person leave while she is being quiet. If she reacts while the person is still coming up the yard, before he or she has approached the porch, then have him toss her the treats when he gets about five feet from where she is in the gate, and then leave when she becomes quiet again. Have as many people as you can do this, one at a time on different days. When the person comes, do what you normally do when mailmen come during this time. You want her to associate the treats with the strange person and not just your response in this case. If you normally stay inside, then stay inside and watch through the window, or hide somewhere out of sight outside. Leave treats somewhere outside for the visitor to grab when he arrives without you having to go out to the person to give him the treats. Do this so that your dog does not think that your visitors are people you know before they approach the porch. If you wish to visit with the person after, then after Miz has been given treats, quieted down, and the person has walked away, then have the person come back and you tell Miz to "Say hi" and do what you normally do to indicate to her that the person is someone acceptable, since you said she is fine by that point. Have that be a separate part of the training though, so that you are not present when the person first approaches. You want to convince her that all strangers coming to your home are wonderful and might be treat bearing so that she will relax more around visitors. This should not decrease her guard dog abilities. If someone were to attack you or break through a window she should still recognize that that is not normal behavior, even though she is more comfortable with strangers approaching your home in general at that point. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Honey and Joe
Boxer
8 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Honey and Joe
Boxer
8 Years

I have two boxers. One has always been protective of her food and they will fight if they get close during eating. I just separate them for meals and they are fine. But they have started fighting now around my son. He is 16m old. My son or either of the dogs never get hurt but it has to be stopped. I'm afraid it's because they are being possessive of my son. Like he's mine! But other then that they are great with him. My son can tug on them for hours and they will let him. I don't want to get rid of my dogs. They are family! But I'm afraid my husband will put his foot down if it doesn't stop. Help!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
113 Dog owners recommended

Hello Trista, This is a very dangerous situation and is not something that can be safely addressed over text. I highly suggest hiring a location profession trainer or behaviorist, with a solid reputation for dealing with aggression, to help you. Your dogs need to learn to respect you better, so that they will not via for the most dominant position. A trainer needs to show you how to "Claim" your son, teaching the dogs that they are not allowed to claim him. He belongs to you. They need to learn tolerance for one another. This is a dangerous situation and you need professional help right away, so that your son does not get caught in the middle of one of their fights. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Wren
Australian Cattle
4 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Wren
Australian Cattle
4 Years

Wren has never acted out towards people until two weeks ago. She quietly growled when a friend (whom she has met many times) scratched her face, and has barked at two strangers after they've come into the house. Both times this happened, we corrected her and she immediately stopped and treated them normally afterwards. We are having someone stay in our house while we are on vacation next month, and are worried she might be overprotective of her house when the housesitter enters the home without us there (after meeting the sitter once before, with us present). How can we train our dog not to growl or bark at strangers once they are inside the house?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
113 Dog owners recommended

Hello Maddy, If at all possible I suggest hiring that person to take Wren on a structured, heeling walk or do thirty-minute training session with him at least twice a week leading up to your vacation, more is even better. If you can gently establish Wren's respect and trust for the person through structured walks or training sessions, where he practices his obedience like "Heel", "Down", and "sit", then that will decrease the chances of him reacting poorly toward that person when you are gone. You can also recruit as many friends as you can to come over to your home one at a time. Have each visitor grab lots of small, soft treats that you have left for her on your porch before she enters your home. When she gets inside, tell your dog to "Say Hi!" in a cheerful tone of voice, then have the person toss your dog several treats on the floor. After your dog finishes eating the treats, then have the person instruct him to "Sit" and reward him with more treats from her hand. Do this with as many different people as you can. When Wren acts happy and relaxed whenever a new person comes to your door, in anticipation of rewards and fun, then hide somewhere in your home, leave the door unlocked, and have the person let himself in after knocking and doing the usual routine. As soon as the person steps inside have him toss out lots of treats toward your dog before your dog reaches him. The first time that you test this after Wren has learned to like people coming to your home, have Wren wear a soft silicone basket muzzle to ensure the person's safety, since you will not know for sure how he will react the first time that you are out of sight. If he does well, then you can enter the room right after, take the muzzle off him, let him eat the treats off the floor, and then finish the visit with the person. Have him wear the muzzle around briefly during the day for several days in general before doing this visit with the visitor. Do this so that he will not associate the muzzle with the visitor and get tense. You can get him used to wearing a muzzle by feeding him a treat every time that you show it to him. As he gets more comfortable around it, then feed him a treat every time that he touches it, then every time that you hold it against him briefly, then every time that you put it on him while feeding him treats through the muzzle's holes. Go slow enough over a period of days for him to remain relax and happy about the treats during the training sessions. Even though you will not need the muzzle immediately I suggest starting that training as soon as you start the training with guests coming while you are present, to make sure that he is completely comfortable by the time that you need it. You can also use his entire meal kibble, one piece at a time, to teach this with. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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