Born to Guard. Big Burden for a Family Pet.

guard dogBaloo is born to guard. His entire life centres around guarding his family. He’s ‘on duty’ all the time.

I sat down at the kitchen table and they opened the door. The most enormous dog charged towards me giving a giant rumbling WOOF.

He stopped short of me (fortunately!). He’s a lot bigger than he looks here – they say he weighs about 11 stone. Continue reading…

Sudden Aggression. Redirects Onto Other Dog

Sudden aggression seems, to Harry’s owners, to come from nowhere. They took the German Shepherd on in good faith five years ago, at the age of two, little knowing what they had let themselves into.

The couple are experienced German Shepherd owners and have stuck with it.

Sudden aggression

Harry and George

The other day, seemingly with no provocation at all. The lady was by herself and both dogs were asleep on the floor.

With no warning, Harry suddenly attacked their other Shepherd, Bomber.

He grabbed the younger dog’s neck and shook him violently.

The poor lady sat and cried

Continue reading…

Guard Dog German Shepherd. Family Pet. Compatible?

“I was born to be a guard dog. I am an entire male German Shepherd now reaching my prime – eighteen months old. I am ‘The Bodyguard’. My job is to keep my humans safe and to keep safe the environment around them.

‘Go Away!’

guard dogWhen we are out, if someone comes too close I warn them Go Away. Lunging and barking has worked so far, but I may need to take it a step further one day.

Sometimes the person will look at me and make admiring noises. A hand will come out to over me. How dare they! This is my space. I’m not here to make friends but to protect.  Continue reading…

‘Go Away’ he Barks. Often it Works. They Pass By.

Go Away!

The big dog stands on the chair looking out of the window. When someone goes past he barks ‘Go Away!’. They go. Success.

Go Away, he barkedHe prances and jumps around a jogger and they run away. Success.

Why is Einstein like this? Great name, isn’t it, probably reflecting the Poodle component of his mix which includes Rottweiler and Doberman.

There is guard dog in his genes but there is more to it. In a yard with guard dogs is where Einstein spent the formative first five months of his life. He will undoubtedly have been taught by them to bark ‘Go Away’ at anyone daring to come into the yard.

I found two-year-old Einstein’s barking at me rather curious. It’s like he wasn’t serious. It sounded quite fierce but his heart wasn’t really in it. He isn’t as emotional as he sounds. His body language didn’t back up his vocals.

If he was really intent on guard duty he wouldn’t take a break to sniff around for a bit of dropped food.

It’s tribute to the work and love of his young owners that, considering his start in life, he’s not a lot worse. He is affectionate and friendly to people he knows and okay with people when out so long as they don’t invade his space and aren’t running.

Behaviour learned from when he was a young puppy.

Experiences, particularly early ones, actually change the brain: see Changing behaviour from the neurobiological perspective.  It will be difficult to break.

The way to deal with Einstein’s Go Away barking involves a ‘jigsaw’ of pieces that, when added together, should help the situation. Here are some:

His bed is placed against the front door – the most important guarding location in the house. I suggest they move it. They will prevent him looking out of the window to bark Go Away at passing people. They will get their neighbour to throw him a ball (Einstein barks for him to go away too).

When he sees a jogger, instead of barking Go Away he will be given something different to do.

Gradually people coming to the house should become a positive thing. At present they have few visitors for obvious reasons. They now need plenty of people calling to their house.

Using myself as a guinea pig we devised a plan. When I arrive I never have a dog like this in the room. I like to sit down first and then the dog is brought in. A sitting person is less of a threat.

He soon found that his initial bout of barking brought no result. I didn’t go away. I was relaxed and casually threw a couple of bits of food away from me. He ate them. There was none of the usual fuss and comforting he might get from his lady owner who was holding his lead. 

Reinforcing him for not barking.

At each break in barking she now clicked and dropped food. She clicked when he briefly sat and settled. He was up again and barking. She clicked and fed when he stopped.

Now it was obvious that he wasn’t seriously aroused – it was like he did it out of a sense of duty, so when he started again I asked her to immediately walk him out of the room. In and out. In and out. The fifth time he no longer looked at me when he came back in. Click and treat. Settle, click and treat.

Like many dogs with this behaviour, if he is out of the room for a few minutes it’s like he’s forgotten the person is there so he starts again. They can take advantage of this with their guinea-pig guests by leaving him out for five minutes and bringing him back in, then going through the whole procedure again.

Interestingly, he is fine at a couple of other houses where he spends time. The only occasion when there was an incident with a person arriving there was when the lady owner was present. Very possibly he’s protective of her also. She will no longer ‘pander’ to his barking at people with fuss and comfort. He’s not scared after all. It’s like she’s in cahoots with him. She should act cool and unconcerned!

Einstein should be left to work out for himself what works (quiet – click and food) and what doesn’t work (you want ‘Go Away’? Ok, but it’s you who leaves).

This two-year-old big teddy bear really is a gorgeous dog. He has so many good qualities. He’s great with other dogs, he is biddable, he comes back when called. He is cuddly and affectionate.

They just don’t want or need a guard dog, that’s all.


NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Einstein and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. As in this case, it’s could be very easy to jump to the wrong conclusions.  One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)


Guard Dog. Protective German Shepherd

I am sometimes contacted by people wanting to make their dog be a guard dog. These people aren’t happy because their friendly or fearful dog is useless at protecting them or their property.

Training dogs to behave with aggression isn’t my bag at all.

Taking the ‘guard’ out of the guard dog.

guard dogI do however often go to dogs with guard dog in their genes and that are excelling at the job, but whose owners don’t want this behaviour. We’re trying to take the ‘guard’ out of the guard dog, if you like. These are often, but by no means always, a Shepherd breed.

I have just met a beautiful year-old German Shepherd called Dexter who morphs from an affectionate pet into a fearsome guard dog if a person comes near the house. Particularly if they enter.

The couple took him in at nine months old and despite diligent hard work this behaviour has escalated over the past three months.

A confident dog bred to guard.

I see Dexter as a confident dog doing what he’s been bred to do – to guard. Understandably, this guarding behaviour has become stronger both as he has settled into his new home and as he’s matured.

The work on socialising him with lots of different people and other dogs should have begun at a few weeks old and been ongoing. If this had been the case, the couple, his second owners, would probably not be having problems now.

Dexter was even more highly aroused than usual when I met him. In order to get him as calm as possible when I came, they had taken him out for some vigorous exercise earlier which probably had the reverse effect. My arrival and the first attempts to find the best way of working with him will have caused him extra frustration and stress, so much so that he redirected onto poor Max. Max is their very easy-going young Labrador.

Keeping his stress levels as low as possible will help Dexter to exercise more restraint, be less reactive. Training alone hasn’t worked – they’ve worked with an excellent trainer. It’s the emotions driving the aggressive behaviour that need addressing.

If Dexter were scared of people, then because fear was driving the behavior we would be working on his becoming less scared of them.

Dexter isn’t scared. He seems supremely confident, at home anyway. He simply doesn’t want other people near him, particularly not in his house. He will try to do whatever it takes to send them away.

It took me a while to see clearly how best to approach this, then I had a light-bulb moment. Instead of our aim being for him to just tolerate people coming to his house, we need to get Dexter to positively welcome them.

What might Pavlov do?

Pavlov used a bell. Whenever he gave food to the dog, he also rang a bell. After a large number of repetitions of this procedure, he tried the bell on its own. As you might expect, the bell on its own now caused the dog to salivate.

So the dog had learned an association between the bell and the food and a new behavior had been learnt. His body reacted automatically. (To be all technical, because this response was learned – or conditioned, it’s called a conditioned response. The neutral stimulus, the bell, became a conditioned stimulus).

Why can’t we use a bell too, a wireless doorbell with two buttons? On bell push can be on the front door, the other somewhere in the house. They both trigger the same plug-in bell. Instead of food, Dexter can have fun. He’s much more motivated by play anyway.

They can repeatedly over time pair the sound of the bell with a short game of tug or throw him a ball. They can introduce new toys for extra impact and rotate them.

Happy hormones.

When play is triggered by the bell, Dexter’s brain should flood with ‘happy hormones’ like serotonin.

I quote from the article Canine Emotion by Victoria Stilwell: ‘Serotonin, for example, has a profound affect over emotions and is responsible for regulating mood, enhancing a positive feeling and inhibiting aggressive response. Dopamine helps to focus attention, promoting feelings of satisfaction….’

After a great may repetitions over time, Dexter should feel happy and think of play at the sound of the bell, even when no play follows (although it would be a good idea to keep topping it up). His brain will automatically fill with happy hormones at the sound of the bell.

Eventually, when there is a delivery person at the door, instead of thinking ‘Invader’, guard dog Dexter should think ‘Fun’!

When a friend visits, instead of thinking ‘terrorist’, our guard dog should be thinking ‘Tug Toy’!

To give this the best chance of success, Dexter’s underlying arousal levels need to be as low as possible. Long walks and vigorous exercise such as he’s getting now may surprisingly have the opposite effect to what is required, as beautifully explained by Stacy Greer.

The main areas that need working on are Dexter’s hostility towards people and other dogs when out, and people coming to their house.

Avoiding altogether both people coming to the house and seeing people and dogs on walks as they are doing now will get them nowhere. However, putting the dog over threshold (too close, too soon or too intense) will probably make things even worse.

It’s a delicate balance.


NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Dexter. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression or fear of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Rottweillers, Guard Duty, Puppy, Children.

Rottie Jake is a mellow character


I went to Rottie Jake and 11-week-old Bert yesterday. Jake is a very mellow character who, despite being given the free run of many unfenced acres day and night and is a formidable guard dog, encouraged to chase visiting cars down the track as they leave,  is also a gentle family pet with their children, something I found really surprising.

And now they have Bert who so far was behaving like the perfect puppy! I was considering calling the meeting off.

Bert was so far behaving like the perfect puppy


Soon I discovered that Bert was an altogether different personality to Jake. He is allowed to give Jake grief and they leave Jake to ‘teach’ him. If all Jake’s quite scary warnings continue to be ignored he may eventually crack and hurt Bert. Despite Jake being extremely self-controlled, Bert is learning that aggression, growling and snapping is acceptable as is his own pushy, rough behaviour with Jake. He has been hit for doing the usual puppy things of grabbing and nipping the girls’ clothes and skin – and apart from anything else, this can’t be the way to teach him to be gentle. He has already started to growl at the children if they touch him when he’s resting.

Don’t get me wrong – the dogs are greatly loved, and little Bert is given plenty of time in training and being taught manners. The children play an active part.

The overall situation could well become difficult when Bert is bigger, with two large male Rottweillers running free outside, especially if the two dogs ‘pack up’. I hope the relationship between the two dogs doesn’t become a problem when Bert, a much more dominant character, grows able to physically assert himself over Jake. For an environment that includes children, the dogs in my opinion have far too much freedom and ‘ownership’ of territory. Jake has never run off, but who knows what a bigger Bert might do if he sees a deer or a hare?

Some of my forebodings were justified as I was leaving and saw just how stressed Jake was and how he very nearly redirected onto the man – one step further and he would have bitten him. This was due to a build up of stressors. Jake was surrounded by people as he lay on his bed – enough to make any dog uneasy. I had been taking a photo of him which also made him uneasy. He was licking his lips and nose – a sure sign of anxiety. Bert was then on top of him giving him grief. The man then knelt down and stroked him on the head which, with Bert all over him, would have been the last thing he wanted. His warnings to Bert (and possibly the man too) went unheeded and nobody helped him out, so it quickly escalated. The wonderful boy did his very best to keep himself calm, but there is a breaking point.

Poor Jake is now living under a lot more pressure and I would worry if the children were alone with the dogs when stressors build up as they did just before I left. Family pets need parenting/leadership, and this means physical boundaries with owners making the decisions as to where the dogs go and when, to take responsibility for protection and guard duty along with control over how their dogs behave towards one another.

All this freedom day and night may be okay for guard dogs, but not good for family pets.