Last month, we talked about some of the reasons why dogs become aggressive, so this month, we thought we’d delve a little deeper into one particular reason: overprotectiveness.
We all want our dogs to be a little protective because that behavior keeps our families and property safe from intruders and other harmful things. However, protectiveness can become a problem when it gets in the way of normal activities like going on walks or visiting with friends. Left unchecked, it can be downright dangerous for you, your dog, and anyone you’re around.
While all dogs can benefit from dog obedience training, we’ve created a list of things that you can do at home to help curb some of the overprotective behaviors before they start hampering both your and your dog’s quality of life.
Reasons Behind Overprotective Behaviors
All dogs, personalities, and life experiences are different, so there’s no catch-all reason for overprotectiveness. Sometimes it may even be a combination of several factors that makes your dog seem like he’s been possessed whenever the doorbell rings. Before you can address the behaviors, you should try to figure out the causes behind them:
- Poor Socialization: There are two schools of thought where socialization is concerned. Some dogs never get the chance to socialize appropriately when they’re puppies because they live as strays until they are picked up and put into a shelter. Getting no or negative socialization as a puppy can have long-lasting impacts on how your dog acts around unfamiliar people and other dogs. Rescue dogs aren’t hopeless, however – it just takes a little bit longer to socialize them as adult dogs.
The other side of socialization is dogs that were around other dogs – or even professionally trained – as puppies, but slowly grew overprotective due to a lack of continued socialization. If you are the only person your dog sees and interacts with, he will likely become overprotective just because you are his entire world.
- Fear/Jealousy: Fear and jealousy are real emotions that can lead to overprotectiveness.
- Attention Seeking: The phrase, “Negative attention is still attention,” plays a big part in overprotective behaviors. If you don’t stop other negative behaviors or if you overindulge, your dog may start being overprotective just because it gets him attention.
- Disposition: Some dogs are naturally more protective than others (German Shepherd compared to a Golden Retriever), but it’s important to remember that overprotectiveness is a behavior, not a trait. If your dog is overprotective now, that doesn’t mean he has to stay that way.
- Hierarchy in the Home: All dogs want structure, so if you let them rule the roost, they will think they are the top dog in your home. This way of thinking can lead to overprotective behaviors.
Some Things You Can Do
Wait, isn’t socialization when most of the behaviors show up? Unfortunately, yes, but in order to overcome them, you need to socialize more. Start by taking things slow and being purposeful – rushing into socialization can be scary and potentially dangerous for you or other people or dogs.
Introduce new people and animals at a distance, and offer earned treats or encouragement as you get closer to the individual. It’s crucial that you remain confident because your dog will pick up on your social cues and respond accordingly.
If it’s a new dog or family member that’s causing the overprotective behavior, be sure to socialize with both of them in each other’s presence. It’s tempting to give lots of love and affection when the other individual isn’t around, but try to resist that urge. If you interact with each separately, they’ll think that the other person or dog is “stealing” you away from them, which can exacerbate overprotective behaviors.
Lastly, try to let other people help you with daily things like feeding, watering, walking, and playing. If you are the only person doing those things with your dog, he can become obsessed with your attention. By letting someone else help, you not only socialize your dog, but you teach him that other people can make him happy, too.
- Exercise More
One way to work on curbing overprotective tendencies is to exercise more – but do it purposefully. A well-exercised dog won’t have extra energy to snap and snarl at everything that moves. Next, when you’re exercising, don’t allow the dog to lead you – instead, you need to be the one making the decisions. Keep the dog on a lead or harness, and every time he pulls you, make him stop and wait until you are ready to go again. It will be slow going at first, but if you’re consistent, he’ll learn.
- Reposition Yourself as the Leader
There are many different ways to reestablish yourself as the household leader, but it begins by not letting yourself be bullied by your dog. Start by ignoring negative behaviors as much as possible, and try to avoid getting angry at bad behaviors. If all else fails and a behavior is destructive or distracting, remove the dog from your attention completely as a “time out” of sorts. The most important thing is that you set consequences for when your dog follows or breaks rules, and be consistent as you dole out rewards and punishments.
- Make Him Work for It
Your dog craves your attention as much as he wants structure, so instead of showering him with praise and affection, make him work for it. Don’t reward bad behavior like begging, pestering, or lunging at the door or the food bowl. Instead, weave in little ways of making him work for your response. Ways to do that include:
- When you give him his food, make him wait until you give him a signal to eat.
- If he wants to play with a toy, make him do a trick.
- Have toys for a specific playtime, and take them away when playtime is over.
It may seem harsh and stingy, but dogs need to understand that nothing comes free and that you are in charge. Once they understand the hierarchy and rules of the home, they will become less possessive.
If you’ve found yourself with an overprotective dog, call our professional dog training specialists in Salt Lake City to set up an appointment today. We will train both you and your precious pup on how to behave, so everyone stays safe and happy.