Why does Cocker Spaniel Ronnie’s guarding of his bed or wherever he’s lying happen mostly in the evening?

During the daytime Ronnie is generally active, affectionate and funny.

He has a tendency to guard certain resources usually associated with food, but this extends to guarding his personal space as the day wears on.

They wonder whether it’s something to do with it being dark. 

During the daytime Ronnie is generally active, affectionate and funny. I believe the evening guarding is something Ronnie does when he’s become over-aroused and stressed and needs to rest.

The day’s events stress him and this builds up – ‘trigger stacking’.

Ronnie has been going through a phase of being vigilant and jumpy during the day. This is not helped by the fact that the young couple are moving shortly and have been sorting through and packing up their belongings.

As he’s not been sleeping enough, sleep deprivation will also have added to his stress levels. By evening time he is really tired and wants to sleep and to be left alone. See trigger stacking.

Evening guarding

Ronnie may growl and show aggression if they go over to his bed or anywhere he is lying – it could be on their own bed (he doesn’t sleep there at night). He may also growl as they enter the room where he’s sleeping or resting.

They are unable to give him high-value chews as this also triggers guarding behaviour which is a shame, as chewing is such a great way for a dog to relieve stress.

To change the dog’s behaviour, they need to change their own

They will now do some things a bit differently, starting by rewarding him a lot more with food when he does anything they ask. They will now become generous ‘Givers’ (never ‘takers’).

If he’s on their bed when they walk through the door, they will call him to them and reward him rather than saying ‘off’ after the event. There should then be no growling – he’s very motivated by food fortunately.

When they want him to go to his bed, they will go beside the empty bed and call him over – then reward him as he gets in. This is better for a bed-guarder than ‘sending’ him there.

Let sleeping dogs lie

This leads onto the number one rule for a bed guarder, whether it’s evening guarding or at any other time of day. ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie’. Avoid going over to or touching the dog when he’s in his bed – or resting anywhere else.

If he’s lying peacefully near them on the sofa and they want to touch him, they should say his name and get some participation from him first – even a small lean in their direction.

Positive associations with being approached

They will do lots of swap games along with ‘give and return’ games. They will also leak high value food if they have to walk past him when he’s eating or chewing. He should then begin to feel a lot more positive about being approached.

With a few weeks of this he will become less on guard. Keeping Ronnie’s general stress levels as low as possible is key and we discussed various ways they can do this including avoiding frustration on walks.

The evening guarding of his personal space should become a thing of the past because it won’t be necessary. He can relax, knowing his space won’t be invaded. Then if someone occasionally forgets themselves he will probably not react with a growl.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ and is always written with permission of the client. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help