Guarding Dogs

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Introduction

Your dog is this type if he:
Is large, strong, confident and likes to protect his family and home. Loyal and attentive to his family group, he is often suspicious of strangers until he knows them and sees that his family are relaxed in their company. He may also enjoy walks, retrieving games and sitting in water on warm days, even if he doesn’t go swimming.

Exercise & play

Guarding Dogs generally need a good amount of exercise but, as with most larger breeds, may tire easily especially in warm weather, and so prefer more frequent, shorter walks to occasional long ones. Your dog’s breeder or rescue centre may be able to give you more specific guidelines for his breed, but the weight and height of most Guarding Dogs means there are a number of good, general rules to follow, such as avoiding stairs and discouraging them from jumping on and off furniture, or into and out of vehicles. Free play in the garden and short but frequent on-lead walks are enjoyable and will help your dog use up his energy while seeing the big, wide world. They also give him a break from being ‘on duty’ at home guarding you and your family.

Early, thorough socialisation is crucial for Guarding Dogs because they develop adult hazard-avoidance behavours and the capacity for fear earlier than most other breeds. Before this threshold, young animals are not afraid of new experiences or people because they are learning what is ‘normal’. Afterwards, they begin to react increasingly fearfully to anything they’ve not seen before and can respond with a range of behaviours from fight to flight. Given their size, strength, natural guarding instincts and innate suspicion of unfamiliar people, it is therefore absolutely vital that they are exposed to as much of the world as possible before the window of opportunity starts to close.

For the average dog this happens at around 49 days but for German Shepherds, for example, it is about 35-38 days. This means it is essential that you choose a breeder who actively socialises their litters and raises the pups in a stimulating and varied physical environment.

Ongoing training from puppyhood, using positive reinforcement methods only, will ensure good behaviour like walking to heel and coming when called, so that even if you do encounter something unusual when out and about, you can be sure he won’t be afraid and will respond calmly to your reassurance.

Independent play

By his nature, a Guarding Dog will often want to patrol garden boundaries, ever-vigilant for intruders. Even when snoozing in the sun, he can be fully awake and barking in a split-second at any unexpected noise or movement. Make sure his boundaries are secure. Guarding Dogs may be large but some are surprisingly agile, able to scale a 6 foot fence with ease.
 
These dogs enjoy strong rubber toys that they can chew, chase and pounce on. If you have more than one Guarding Dog, they may also enjoy a tug-of-war between themselves, so provide some good-quality rope toys for them to use. It will save your arms not having to play this game, as these dogs are obviously very strong.

Hiding some loaded treat-toys around the garden to seek out on his patrols will keep your dog amused, first in the searching and then in having to extract the treats by manipulating the toy with his paws, nose and teeth. The toughest chews and toys are needed for this type of dog, as they have such powerful jaws.

If your dog likes digging – and many in this group do – hide some treat-toys in a place where he has to dig for his prize, ideally a doggie sandpit or doggie ball-pit (i.e. a digging area just for the dog and out of bounds for children). Installing one of these in your garden might just save your vegetables and prize flowers as it will help transfer his innate need to dig to his own more suitable places.

Ball-loving dogs in this group may enjoy oddly shaped dog toys that move and bounce unpredictably. Ordinary balls are fun too, and your dog will enjoy tossing them in the air and then chasing and jumping on them, but they do not move very far on their own, so the novelty may wear off unless you join in.

Playing with the owner

Guarding Dogs can be quite socially independent, particularly the Mastiff breeds, but they also enjoy human interaction. Some members of this group, particularly the Rottweiler and German Shepherd, really thrive on ‘quality time’ playing with their loved ones, and can reach the highest levels of success in dog agility classes and sports.

For these types of dog, a canine hobby-sport is recommended to keep them mentally fit. Agility courses, competitive obedience and working trials (a mixture of obedience and agility, based on police dog-type work) are ideal. Joining a suitable training club is recommended, so that you can learn how to train safely and your dog can enjoy the social aspect of mixing with other like-minded people and dogs.

If you don’t have the time for regular classes and competitions, maybe take a short ‘experience’ course and put agility equipment like jumps, a tunnel, some weave poles etc in your garden.

Guarding Dogs also enjoy tug-of-war games, but teach him to give up the toy when you ask for it while he’s still young. It’s a skill that will prove invaluable when your playful pup runs off with one of your shoes or has something that could be dangerous if swallowed.

The ‘Give’ request can also help to prevent resource guarding. In early training with the puppy, make a game of always replacing what he has with something tastier (if he has food or a treat), or otherwise more exciting (a new toy if he has hold of one of his old toys). If your dog shows any sign of guarding his bed or other possessions, or even being possessive of you or other family members, seek the immediate advice of a qualified canine behaviourist on referral from your vet.

Teaching your dog to ‘Give’

You will need:
Two size-appropriate rope toys, some treats, and, if you use this type of training, a clicker

  • Wiggle an appropriate-sized rope toy to make it appealing to your dog and let him take hold of it at one end while you hold the other end.
  • Do not pull vigorously and be especially gentle with puppies and growing youngsters.
  • After a short play, produce the second toy and wiggle it for your dog to entice him to take it. At the same time, release the first toy so it no longer holds any appeal. He will then drop it to take the second toy. At the exact moment your dog drops the toy, give him lots of praise and a treat.
  • Keep playing this game until your dog will drop the first toy when you show him the second.
  • At this point you can introduce your cue word – “Give” or “Drop” or whatever word you would like. With further practice, your dog will associate the word with the action and will eventually drop the toy when you ask him to, without you having to produce a second toy.

Most breeds in this group can be taught to retrieve a thrown toy, too, but some, such as the Neapolitan Mastiff, are less naturally biddable because their breed was never bred for co-operative work like herding livestock. Great enthusiasm, patience and super-tasty treats will all help!

Emotional Bonding

Guarding Dogs can sometimes seem aloof and reserved, but they form close bonds with their family and have been known to defend them with great vigour. Strangers will often be viewed with suspicion, but friends and visitors, once introduced and accepted, will be accepted as part of the group. These are not the type of dogs who will happily go off with anyone who gives them a treat and a smile.

some guarding dogs are more demonstrative in their affection than others. Rottweilers, Dobermanns and German Shepherds are generally devoted to their owners, hanging on their every word, but some of the guarding breeds, particularly the mastiff types, are more independent.

If your dog tends towards dependence, make sure he doesn’t become too attached – to the point of being unable to cope on his own. It is important that your dog is taught self-reliance from an early age so as to avoid separation-related behaviour issues. Provide a comfy den-like indoor kennel (sometimes called a crate) or a cosy bed in a dog-proofed room where he can snooze or chew a favoutrite toy on his own. Exercise him before you need to leave him alone in the house, so that he is toileted and ready to relax, and hide a treat-filled chew-toy for him to find and then work on to keep himself busy in your absence.

Guarding Dogs are often particularly close to one individual in the group. To safeguard against over-reliance on the one person, ensure that all adult family members feed, train, walk and play with the dog, with older children also being involved in some of these tasks under the close supervision of an adult.

Relaxing in the house with their owners in their line of sight, these dogs will remain alert to anything unusual in the environment – a car alarm sounding, footsteps outside – and will often bark to ward away the potential threat and to alert you. Some are more reactive and persistent than others, and teaching a good response to the requests of ‘Speak’ and ‘Shush’ is very useful for a quiet life. If you teach your dog to bark when asked, it will not only mean he can have a good ‘shout’ when it’s convenient for you both, such as outside on a walk when there are no neighbours to annoy. Teaching him to bark, and to stop when you ask him to also means that you can silence him more easily when he barks indoors, for example if the postman arrives or someone walks past the house.

Teaching your dog ‘Speak!’ and ‘Shush!’
It may sound strange, but to teach your dog to stop barking on command, you should first teach him to bark on command.
• Ask your dog to sit and then show him a tasty treat, but keep it out of reach.
• As he gets frustrated, he should eventually bark, at which point you should immediately say “Speak” and then give him the treat and lots of praise.
• Repeat and your dog should soon learn that he should bark whenever you look at him and say “Speak”.
• Practise little and often, in various locations, in order to generalise his learning.

Now that he’ll bark on request, you can train him to stop when asked.
 
• Ask your dog to “Speak” and reward him as usual.
• Next tell him to “Shush” and distract him with a high-value treat, such as a new squeaky toy or a very tasty treat. When he stops barking, praise him and give him the treat.
• Repeat little and often, and you’ll soon be able to control your dog’s barking.

Given their power, it’s also really important to get Guarding Dogs used to being physically handled in different ways by different people, including strangers, while they are young. Your dog’s vet, groomer, walker or sitter will certainly thank you for it when they don’t have to wrestle him back into his lead or to take a blood sample. Starting him young with daily relaxed grooming sessions whether his coat needs the attention or not will produce best results.

Feeding

You can make mealtimes more interesting for your Guarding Dog by feeding him around 30 per cent of his daily dry food ration in a variety of food-dispensing toys indoors, or empty cereal boxes outdoors. Around 15 per cent of his ration can also be used as training rewards, and another 15 per cent can be scattered in the garden on concrete or short, dry grass for him to seek out and find. The remaining amount can be split into two meals fed in a bowl, morning and evening, to provide a predictable routine and so that he continues to see you as a parental food provider.

Feeding in a variety of different ways has many benefits: it adds a level of rewarding unpredictability to your dog’s day, encourages him to work for his food and to be mentally and physically active. It also helps to ensure that one of the highlights of his day – mealtime – isn’t all over in a few seconds.

With some large and giant breeds, feeding smaller portions by varying means of delivery may also reduce the chance of a bloat attack. Bloat – or gastric dilatation volvulus – occurs when the stomach bloats with gas and twists, and some giant breeds can be prone to this life-threatening condition. Two possible predisposing factors for bloat are eating one large meal a day and wolfing down food too quickly. For Guarding Dogs, who will often do this given a choice, intelligent feeding is also healthy feeding.

Key Facts: Guarding Dogs

Your dog is this type if he:
Is large, strong, confident and likes to protect his family and home. Loyal and attentive to his family group, he is often suspicious of strangers until he knows them and sees that his family are relaxed in their company. He may also enjoy walks, retrieving games and sitting in water on warm days, even if he doesn’t go swimming.

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