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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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Perception Method
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Crack Down Method
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By James Barra
Published: 11/07/2017, edited: 01/08/2021