View Full Version : Guarding

3rd August 2012, 08:34 PM
I am so incredibly frustrated right now. I know that all of this is my fault, but I don't understand where we went wrong. We have exposed Sonny to tons of different, people, places, dogs, children since he was a puppy. We took him to puppy school when he was younger. We have tried to do everything right, but somehow it doesn't seem to be enough.

Sonny recently has started growling and barking at other dogs and children. We are attending an obedience II class right now and there is one dog in the class that Sonny seems to have a problem with. Every class Sonny growls and snaps at this dog. We have ALWAYS been right there and this dog has done nothing to Sonny. Our trainer thinks that Sonny is guarding us and his treats since we have treats during class. Also the other day my friend came over with her lab. Her lab is the most laid back dog ever and Sonny seemed to do fine with him in the beginning; however as the day went on and we were in our living room Sonny started growling and snapped at the lab. The lab really didn't do anything or even growl back, but we immediately separated Sonny from the lab. I don't know if this was the right thing to do??? Or if we should have let them work it out. Part of me wonders if we have been "overprotective" with Sonny and anytime we see any discomfort between him and another dog or person we move him along or separate him. I have always been afraid of him getting hurt by another dog, but now part of me thinks that I prevented him from learning some important dog lessons.

Anyways finally the end of my story where I have had it! We were visiting a cousin at her house today and she has two kids, one of them is 3 1/2 and one of them is 8 months. Sonny has been around the toddler before and did great with her ; however this time almost immediately after we arrived he started growling at both kids. I had brought over Sonny's treats and a couple of his toys and he seemed to growl when the kids would get close to his toys. Even after we had left the house and gone to a park he still growled at the baby whenever the baby was within 4 feet of him!

Ugh so frustrated and open to suggestions. We obviously are looking into private lessons because this is a problem that has to be corrected since we plan on starting a family very soon.

4th August 2012, 12:54 AM
Hmmmm that does not sound good. When it comes to children I would remove him anytime he shows ANY aggression period. The last thing you ever want is him to harm a child. Other dogs????? My parents have one dog that hates Fletcher and Fletcher seem to enjoy agonizing him. But that dog is smaller than Fletcher and old he has hardly any teeth, so I don't worry about it :) Just distract Fletcher into doing something else.

Some dogs just don't care for children or other dogs, however if I were you I would find a good trainer. Perhaps if you work on it Sonny will not become one of those dogs. I can understand why this is troubling to you since you plan on starting a family soon.

Or I could just send you Mr. Monster, he's a cavalier whisperer or something.


4th August 2012, 11:39 AM
Find a CPDT certified trainer. If you are in a class where the trainer is simply guessing your dog is guarding you, then that trainer doesn;t know much. You need a person with better and more formal training who can actually help you. Please go for someone with CPDT certification as a lot of trainers approach this type of issue with punishment, in a way that *makes it worse* and could lead to a bite and the mandatory euthenising of your dog. I cannot stress enough the importance of getting proper, professional advice.

If you go here, you can find CPDT trainers in your area:


My own two cents: this type of issue is most oftencaused by children having had too much unsupervised access to a puppy/dog and/or the owner not realising and knowing how to recognise the pup/dog's stress signals when kids are around. No toddler should ever be running around a pup/dog and have free access, and kids should not be able to run around and play unsupervised, carry a pup, etc. There always need sto be active supervision. Puppies and dogs need plenty of time out too, at safe remove (eg in a puppy pen or crate where children have NO access including sticking fingers or arms in through the bars). Interactions with younger kids should at least initially only be with kids sitting on the ground and the puppy held or within arm's reach of an adult. Older children (NOT toddlers) should be involved in learning how to give the pup little treats at such times so the pup learns kids are fun, not scary. (see Ian Dunbar for more suggestions)

Sadly it is very easy for pups to develop a lifelong fear of kids because children tend to reach out and grab puppies, hug them, grab their heads, run around, often lots of shrieking (a terrifying noise to pups). They lean over and grab them or try to pet them from above, all really intimidating activities for dogs. It takes a lot of careful supervised time and activity to acclimate dogs to some of these behaviours and others should never be allowed at all.

I think I posted before the very important set of links on kids and cavaliers but this is also pinned to to the top of the training section.Please read this and the links thoroughly as that will give some guidelines that will help as you can start to implement this immediately. :)

At your cousin's -- I would not leave a dog out on the floor where a toddler or especially baby can go up to him at will and vice versa. He should have a safe and separate place to be and the toddler should only be interacting as noted above, extremely controlled. Toddlers are generally a real concern around dogs -- they do not know any better than to view a dog as a large stuffed toy and will squeeze, pinch, hit, even step on, kick or sit on a pup. They need constant watching and absolutely no way should a toddler be in a situation where they can just wander over and around a puppy without direct (eg active, not background) supervision. Generally it is some poor and scary experiences in the past that owners and adults have missed seeing that start to cause the problems you are seeing. Training a puppy early for positive interactions, carefully supervised, with kids of various ages (VERY limited access always for toddlers!) and activities that gradually introduce more noise etc helps make puppies happy to be in noisy child company. :D But this does take time and effort from owners!

To be honest I have seen this issue in so many of my rescue cavaliers that came in over the years from families -- often who themselves did not even notice that their child-friendly dog was actually pretty stressed out every time it was near kids. (I once watched a 5 year old try to kick a cavalier that was barking -- these were people who had come with their own cavalier to enquire about adopting a rescue!!). It takes a lot of good management to make interaction with kids a positive experience for any puppy or dog especially as the dog gets a bit older and more inclined to be fear aggressive or start guarding behaviour. As a reminder on how big an issue this is -- the majority of all dog bite are to the face of children, by a dog they already know -- because kids handle dogs like toys and hug and do other actions dogs see as threatening.

The links to the Diamondintheruff pages are especially good on kids and dogs and I highly recommend checking those out. :)

On both guarding, and mixing dogs and kids appropriately --are you using Ian Dunbar's book we suggested to you a couple of times in the past? Do you do the activities every day, to prevent guarding behaviour? Have you tried his suggestions for introducing kids and puppies? For most dogs actively training in this way will prevent any guarding issues or problems with kids arising -- as long as kids behave respectfully towards the dog and know how to be good with dogs. It's a two way street.

Given where you are -- be sure to read the Dunbar book on these issues and the other links, and also please aim to work with a CPDT trainer. I do not think you are really at a point here you need private lessons -- your dog would do better in a group class with a trainer who knows how to use this setting to help address these new issues with kids and dogs. But you could supplement with private lessons.

Dogs and puppies in particular, are hard work and do take time and effort. Many of us experience these issues and that's why I do so strongly promote GOOD group classes with properly certified trainers who have actual education in the area of dog behaviour as well as training (amateur trainers can be OK but also can totally screw up a dog through poor guidance to owners and it is just so much better to have someone with more complete knowledge). And it's why I also so strongly promote Ian Dunbar's free books and other training materials, videos etc on Dogstardaily.com. :)

PS I have two dogs that are fearful of kids under about 5. With such dogs, management is the main (and pretty simple) issue -- giving them safe space away from kids. But I also know they will do little more than bark or growl and once they get to know a child, are happy to play fetch etc. I have kids sit on the ground with some treats to offer, as a starter intro. Two of my others are extremely social with kids and are happy to be picked up and held (properly by responsible kids :) ). But in the more timid dogs' case, none of this behaviour is related to guarding, a separate issue that must be addressed properly as it can accelerate into a serious risk.

I would not be that concerned that he has an issue with just one dog however. Dogs are like kids in that they have friends and they have dogs they really dislike. Sounds to me as if he just needed time away from having a dog around all day long in his own home -- and perhaps the other dog was doing things he saw as threatening. Snapping and growling can be pretty meaningless. Again -- it's why seeing a CPDT trainer would be good; they can go through this kind of thing if your class trainer isn;t sure about such things. If I had my own dog getting stressed with a visiting dog I'd take them out for a walk together to remove the stress. It's not unlike kids who play together at first then often the kid who lives in the house starts to get crabby and defensive of his toys with the visiting child. Not necessarily an issue; not all dogs want to always play with newcomer dogs (mine don't generally, but they are generally indifferent to dogs in the house as I;ve so often had visitors or rescue fosters around).

Best of luck and let us know how you get on.

4th August 2012, 03:36 PM
Yes my trainer is definitely a CCPDT certified trainer and also a member of APDT. She is one of the best in our area and actually uses Ian Dunbar for examples on a lot of things.

As far as Sonny's behavior with other dogs, I am so angry because this is completely my fault. I have never had a small dog and I am always concerned about him getting hurt therefore I have been overprotective. I recently reread some of Ian Dunbar's stuff and that is why I realize what I have done wrong. Dunbar says that during adolescence, fighting is really important and that growling is a normal developmental behavior; HOWEVER any time Sonny has growled or another dog has looked like it might be too rough I have swooped in and separated them, and I have especially done this with larger dogs. Coicidentally Sonny tends to have more of a problem with larger dogs (maybe ones he feels less confident around???) I fear that I have now set a precedent that Sonny thinks he can act like that and then I will scoop in and save him. Kind of like a child acting bratty and the parent basically letting the kid get away with and telling him he did nothing wrong. Does this sound like this might be what happened??? Ian Dunbar talks about "growl classes" where dogs can relearn their confidence, so maybe I will look into those.

As far as the children stuff, I completely agree that dogs and children should ALWAYS be supervised and that children should not be allowed to touch the dog without permission. At my cousin's house Sonny was still on his leash and neither of the children had been allowed to touch him, but I gave the toddler a treat to feed him, which went fine, but then when he saw the baby was near his toy that was when the growling and snarling started and from there on out it didn't stop. My trainer said that there is a special group of trainers that work on integrating children and dogs and she was going to try to research to find me a name. Has anyone ever heard of this program? She didn't give me the name. There are apparently none in my area, but she said that maybe doing phone consult would be helpful or I am willing to drive. In the meantime I will look at the Diamondinthe ruff links, review Ian Dunbar stuff and try to start creating positive interactions for Sonny around children. Like maybe giving him a treat on our walk when we pass by a child. He usually never growls or barks at children on our walks. (except he barks when a kid is on a skateboard, he doesn't like this).

Thank you for the advice. I truly appreciate it. I was really upset yesterday because I know that Sonny is such a good dog and so sweet, but somehow I have conditioned him to be fearful of other dogs and maybe not exposed him to enough positive interactions with children.

4th August 2012, 04:01 PM
That's great --then she should be able to work through all these issues with you -- that's the wonderful thing about taking a class, you have access to an expert if you work with a qualified teacher and any decent trainer will of course be happy to take all the questions you have asked here and can give you a far more accurate and appropriate response than we can here where we can't see what is actually going on, and in what circumstances..

Maybe the best approach is to use her for some private classes in addition to raising all these questions n your next class, then she can figure out if this is guarding behaviour, see your home set-up, and make some training and management suggestions. Maybe she doesn't have the time to really assess a dog properly in class but assessing guarding behaviour is really pretty easy to do -- have sat in on many such assessments myself. Any trainer who thinks a dog has begun guarding behaviour especially around children will wnt to have that very urgently addressed through some appropriate daily exercises that are fun for owner and dog, and also can advise you on reading dog body language to get a sense of what to do in the case of the visiting lab.

But again all these things are also noted in Dunbar's book so if you have that, have been working on guarding for a while (the basic stuff to prevent it like 'leave it' commands etc), and still have a dog that is doing it, then Sonny may need assessment. There can be temperament issues that are not related to training and could be more difficult (then the situation is rally one of management and extra caution around children) and a qualified trainer will also be able to do a temperament assessment (have done several on rescue dogs with my trainers friends in the past). But with cavaliers the issue is very rarely a temperament problem, thankfully. It will be one of training and management with guidance from a good trainer, and daily reinforcement through fun practice. Guarding is easy to stop early on. And I'd prevent kids from having too much access to a dog if the dog is showing signs of stress (eg growling, barking etc).

Don't blame yourself -- you haven't really conditioned Sonny to be this way at all; you also have done many of the things any responsible and caring owner wants to do! Some dogs can be more prone to having issues and then this needs work. I have barkers/growlers with small kids but as long as kids aren;t trying to move towards the dogs they are fine. I know from experience that it is not active aggression, it is just anxious warning. They will always move away from small kids if they are able. If those kids then get a ball for them to chase they are happy to play with them. Context and reassurance is all. :) Having him in a group class is a great chance for him to continue to interact normally with other dogs. :thmbsup:

One answer in management is not to give him high value toys and treats when kids are around. If you know what triggers the guarding, don;t have those things around. A dog doesn't need constant access to toys or treats. Many dogs are defensive around treats or favourite toys. The fact that a baby could crawl over near a dog to trigger the guarding response though is itself an indication that the kids are getting too close, he feels anxious and threatened, and either kids or dogs should not be able to move this close while the dog has items (or at all, really, with a baby).

Personally I am not sure why the trainer would feel you need something as involved as a children and dogs class -- there are easy management approaches and training exercises that can be done that a trainer should be able to work through with you. On the other hand a class can be a nice friendly context and it can be helpful to have a regular session. :)

4th August 2012, 04:25 PM
Thanks again for all of the advice. Hopefully I will have good things to report the next time I update about this. :)