How to stop your dog from “guarding” you from other dogs at the dog park.
Does your dog do this?
Does he growl or bark or nip (or worse) at other dogs that approach you?
While your dog might think he’s “protecting” you from these “threats,” those other dogs are NOT real threats and he should trust you to handle them.
I’m going to go over some of my general thoughts and ideas for managing this problem. Keep in mind every dog is an individual and it’s best to consult with a professional trainer who can observe your actual dog.
These tips are to help you brainstorm.
How to stop a dog from guarding you at the dog park or beach
As always, it helps to look at why the dog might be guarding you.
- Resource guarding (where YOU are the resource)
- Protective instincts (feels the need to protect you or your other dog)
- Fear (I’ll get you so you don’t hurt us!)
- Not really guarding but a lack of social skills
- Reacting to the “excited” energy of the oncoming dog (does he react the same way to calm dogs?)
- Trying to control excited, nervous or inappropriate energy of other dogs
I realize sometimes it’s hard to tell why your dog is acting a certain way, so I recommend you get an experienced friend to observe your dog’s behavior (and YOUR behavior!) or hire a professional trainer. Even a single one-on-one session with a trainer can be a big help.
My 5 tips for getting control of this problem
*Obviously, avoid dog parks if your dog is aggressive. Some dogs just can’t visit dog parks ever and that’s OK. These tips are geared towards dogs that are still able to visit the park but are pushing their limits.
Also see my post: Dog possessiveness aggression
Tip #1 – Desensitization
It can work really well to come up with a desensitization plan for your dog. What I mean by that is you would slowly change your dog’s emotional response to other dogs approaching you so he eventually over time begins to view this as a positive thing or at least neutral.
Of course, a dog park is not a good place to practice this plan because there’s too much going on and too much is out of your control. It’s best to work with a professional trainer and come up with a step-by-step plan.
This would likely involve setting up some controlled situations with one or two calm, easygoing dogs and showering your dog with highly valued treats like hot dogs as the dogs approach you. When the dogs leave, the treats end too. You want your dog to think, “I love when that dog approaches! It means I get hot dogs!”
Obviously this type of training takes a lot of time, patience and having a trainer to help as well as having access to some seriously easygoing, mild-mannered dogs.
Tip #2 – When approached by dogs, keep moving!
If you’re at the dog park with your dog and another dog is approaching, don’t just stand there like you’re waiting for your dog to defend you. If you stand there anticipating a reaction, you’ll likely get one!
Just keep things light and moving. When another dog comes bounding up, just keep on walking to the side to avoid head-on confrontations. Ignore the other dog and call your dog along as you keep walking. Your dog will likely follow. Plus, you’re putting your dog in a following position vs. out in front “protecting” you.
Tip #3 – Defuse the energy of both dogs
When there’s a dog bounding up, it helps to quickly address your dog with “stay” and then face the other dog and give a quick “hey!” This will usually pause the oncoming dog for a split-second, which will defuse the initial energy of both dogs and decrease the chances of an “outburst.”
Then you would calmly keep moving in the same direction but to the side, calling your dog along as described above.
Tip #4 – Work on some serious obedience with your dog
If your dog is showing mild aggression and he doesn’t follow basic obedience commands, he has no business being in a dog park for now.
On the other hand, if he will stay when told, come when called and look at you when asked, you’re going to have much more success getting his attention and guiding him on appropriate behavior in general.
There is no “quick fix” to most dog behavioral issues but a solid first step is to increase your dog’s level of training overall.
Some goals all dog owners should reach with their dogs at an absolute minimum:
- The dog will sit and remain sitting for 5 minutes at home until released with “Free!” or “OK!”
- The dog will remain in a down position for 5 minutes with mild distractions such as outside on a walk until released.
- The dog makes eye contact with a “watch me!” command on walks.
- The dog comes when called 99 percent of the time in the back yard or in the house after the first command.
Tip #5 – Sign up for an obedience class
These types of classes are generally affordable and it gives your dog a chance to work in a controlled setting around other dogs.
No, resource guarding is generally not addressed in these classes, but it helps to build a solid foundation for your dog’s training. Advanced classes will work on skills like leaving your dog in a “down/stay” while you walk around the room petting the other dogs.
Dogs with a high level of self-control are going to be much better behaved and manageable in general.
Does your dog tend to guard you at the dog park?
If you still have questions or maybe a similar problem that’s not quite like this one, leave a comment below and I’ll help you brainstorm.