Guarding the House

Many people get dogs both for the love that they give us and because they are such natural guardians of their home and family. I love all dogs, but I tend to gravitate towards the guarding breeds for those very reasons. I enjoy having a dog that is great with children, friendly towards all adults, but will also guard my family if needed.

Unfortunately many people have issues with their dogs guarding or becoming possessive when they should be acting friendly. First we need to make a distinction between protective and possessive behaviors. Socializing a dog is the process of showing a dog what is normal in a human world and what isn’t. When we socialize a dog we are teaching them that it is normal for a strange person to come up and say hi to us and maybe reach out and pet them. Through time they realize what is normal and they start to read our body language and our emotions in these situations. As they age we ensure that they never show aggression in these situations but they will naturally be on guard for something different. If a stranger were to run at you screaming and you became agitated and scared your dog should realize that something is different and will probably react by barking and growling. This is one of the few times when a dog is acting protective, and doing it in the proper way.

Many dog owners see their dog acting possessive and mistake it for protective behavior. Possessive behavior is when a dog acts aggressive to claim their owner, house, yard, or any other object. Claiming something is when a dog is asserting his dominance to tell someone that this belongs to him and not to touch it. This behavior is never acceptable for your pet dog to be showing. The dog is not reacting to a dangerous situation where he should be on guard, he is simply becoming aggressive because he is the alpha at this point in time. If a stranger rings the doorbell and you let him into the house, the dog should not be barking or growling due to the fact that you let the person in and are not showing any fear or anxiety yourself. If your dog is acting aggressive then one of two things is going on. If your dog hasn’t been properly socialized then he may be trying to protect you due to his incomplete knowledge of the human world. If he has been properly socialized and he is acting in this manner then he is probably acting possessive and is telling the person to stay out of HIS house.

In my own house I have very specific rules about when my dogs can and cannot guard our property. It is never acceptable to bark or growl at children even if they walk all the way up to the screen door. I cannot see any reason why someone would need protected from a child, so I don’t ever allow this. It is also never allowed to bark at people or dogs when they are out on the street or sidewalk; it’s not our property so they can’t guard it. If an adult stranger is in our yard or knocking at the door I do want my dogs to bark to alert me. In this situation barking is a good thing to me as long as it is under control. I don’t want jumping or scratching at the windows and I don’t want vicious barking. The purpose of the barking is for the dog to tell me that someone is there so that I can make the decision. Once I have seen the person, I then ask the dogs to quiet down. The goal is that the dog alerts you to a potential issue, you evaluate it, and you then tell the dog what to do.

Of course with dogs there is an exception to every rule. A dog could be socialized and could still react aggressively towards a man in a big coat with a hat on due to fear of his outfit. In that situation you should then continue socializing with new people and outfits until his fear is gone. To fully explain how to socialize a dog, help ease his fears, and correct him when he becomes aggressive would take an entire book. Hopefully from reading this article you get enough knowledge to know what is acceptable, what isn’t, and when to call in a professional if you need help.

Matt Covey
Suburban K9
Elgin, Il