Q: I have a three-year-old Shepherd mix that is a rescue. Sam is a wonderful dog except he gets very protective of me around other large dogs. How can I correct this behavior?
A: It is not uncommon for dogs to become “possessive” of objects or people when around other dogs, and is called resource guarding. The term refers to a dog displaying behavior such as growling, snapping and lunging intended to convince other dogs or humans to stay away from a particular treasure or “resource.” In this case, you.
There is a training technique called BAT – or Behavioral Adjustment Training – that involves working with a calm dog at a distance from Sam to help him overcome this possessive behavior. With this technique you can use your dog’s desired outcome (moving away from the other dog) as the reinforcer to learn an alternative behavior.
See if you have a friend with a calm non-reactive dog who would be willing to help you with structured training sessions.
First try and find a quiet area where you and your friend can meet with the dogs both on leads. Start off with Sam at a distance from the calm dog and then move in closer until he notices the other dog but has not had a chance to react.
Immediately and calmly say “Let’s go” and walk him away from the helper dog. When you are far enough away for Sam to focus on you, praise him and give some treats. Repeat this exercise several times, keeping it fun and positive. When Sam begins looking to you in anticipation of moving away after approaching the calm dog you can use this behavior (looking away from the other dog) as a cue for moving away.
As Sam builds positive experiences with the other dog you can begin decreasing the distance between the dogs on approaches. The object is to be able to get closer and closer to the other dog without your canine reacting. This will be possible because Sam should feel more relaxed and confident in his new solution to the stressful situation.
While this technique can take some time, it can help your canine to learn other dogs are not a threat to you or him. I would suggest reading or watching some YouTube videos for more information on this type of training or contacting a trainer with further advice and techniques.
Sally Salopek is the owner and operator of Attend-A-Pet pet sitting services in northern Door County. She has also worked professionally with animals in health care, pet grooming, training, wildlife rehab and rescue. Send your pet-related questions to her at [email protected].