I commonly have clients write on their intake form or tell me during our initial consult that they think their dog is “protecting them.” Maybe their dog barks at, growls or bites strangers so people jump to the conclusion their dog is guarding them. Maybe that’s an easier pill to swallow: the dog is guarding because they love us so much that they want to protect us rather than coming to terms with the fact that maybe the dog is afraid of unfamiliar people.
Stranger danger, fear of unfamiliar people, is a far more common issue, often resulting from lack of proper socialization, than people guarding. Sometimes dogs will guard their favorite person and growl or show signs of discomfort when someone approaches their person. Sometimes dogs will guard their person from other dogs. When we suspect guarding of their favorite person, especially when this happens with strangers, we first need to do a rule out for stranger danger. We also need to rule out for barrier frustration. Sometimes dogs are actually so friendly that when they’re on leash or prevented from having access that they get frustrated and often that presents looking very much like what we think aggression looks like: lunging, growling, barking. I simply cannot rely on people self-diagnosing their dog as “guarding them” because more often than not, after doing a consult, the dog isn’t guarding at all – the dog has stranger danger or some other issue.
So where do I most commonly see person guarding? Almost always against a family member. The scenario usually looks something like, dog and favorite person are sitting on the couch or in bed together and the family member comes to sit on the couch or get into the bed, and the dog growls or lunges at the partner. Even in this situation where the dog may be guarding a person, it’s not because the dog is “protecting” the favorite person. It’s because the dog sees that person as a valuable resource that they don’t want to share. It’s not for the person’s benefit at all. It’s the dog not wanting to lose or share possession, just like they may not want to share a bully stick or bone.
If you are struggling with any behavioral issues please reach out to me for help. Sessions are easily done via remote video so it doesn’t matter where you are in world – I can help you!