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  • Writer's pictureRichard Chan

Human Guarding-why, what to do?

This is a hard topic for owners with a dog who may at times act aggressively towards someone or another dog who approaches them.

The problem and the solution of this tricky situation often lie in very tiny daily moments which usually look really innocent.

There is a fine line between when the human initiates affection to the dog vs when the dog initiates such demand by exhibiting claiming behaviours to the human.

They can be very difficult for a lot of people to differentiate or resist, and it is totally understandable.

If the dog is not exhibiting any guarding, reactivity and defensive behaviour around the human, it is probably not something the human needs to worry about; but l would recommend owners to be a lot more mindful and proactive if they start seeing display of aggression when someone or another dog approaches them or when the dog has a tendency to use their body to block other dogs or people from coming close to the human or when the dog likes to insert their body in between the human and another dog when the owner tries to pet another dog or be physically close to another human.

A simple way to look at it is by looking at it through the lens of human intimacy. I am sure we all agree that intimacy needs to be consensual. It is not a mutually respectful relationship if one party always feels very entitled to demand and expect to get it whenever regardless of how the other party may feel about it.

In the animal world, affection/attention is like that, too.

If the dog feels very entitled to demand attention whenever they want and can never wait, if the dog is always putting their head on the thigh of the human, sitting on the human’s feet, leaning on the human’s leg, staring at the human …etc, when the dog has learned that they can always invade the human’s personal space to demand affection and the human is always indulging, such a response from the human can really make the guarding behaviour worst.

Often, such a dog may act very “anxious” if they cannot get the attention they want right away. That is not an “anxiety” that is based in fear, this “anxiety” is related to a compulsive mindset — like when a human is addicted to getting intimate and gets really frustrated when the other party says no — but the difference is, with a dog, this may often look very cute and adorable.

It is a very innocent looking behaviour and is really difficult to say no to because humans love to pet their dogs and they will often regard such behaviours as a sign of “love”.

Building a solid routine is important. Our relationship with our dogs is built upon little interactions we have with them throughout the day. Little moments can snowball into big issues if we are not being mindful.

For example, if you are sitting down on a bench, and you have asked your dog to stay down. You need to enforce this down until you, the human, have released the dog. It is very easy for the human to start petting and rewarding the dog for breaking the down on their own (eg the dog gets up, puts the head on the human, stares at the human with watery eyes), especially when there is nothing else going on that warrants the dog to hold the down, right?

But there is actually a big difference to the dog in how we handle such situations.

When you think the dog does not need to hold the down anymore and you really want to pet the dog, you can release the dog and then pet the dog instead of allowing the dog to break command and demand petting at the time of their choosing.

It is the same when you have put the dog on “place”, and they slowly creep towards you and end up leaning on you instead. You should have corrected for the breaking of place as soon as it happens. You can release the dog to come to you for affection but you should not encourage the dog to make that decision on their own whenever they feel like invading your space.

You can say “Yes”, release the dog to get up, so you can take the time to give your dog as much affection as you want that makes both of you happy. You can do this very often. There is nothing wrong with it.

But the dog with a guarding tendency should not be encouraged to unilaterally initiate this without your release. Your release is like your consent to intimacy. It needs to be respected.

You should not let the dog feel that they can dictate and are entitled to invade your personal space whenever they feel like it. They need to wait for an invitation. There is a very big difference from the dog’s perspective. Who initiates this process matters to the dog.

When you are the one initiating this release>reward process, your dog will get into the habit of waiting on your invitation for intimacy patiently.

Otherwise, the dog can become compulsive to demand and get frustrated when they are not getting it whenever they want it — which will really fuel this dog’s desire to guard and defend you whenever they do not like to see other people or dogs approaching you.

Hope this makes sense.

Thank you.


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