Tips to Stop a Small Dog from Guarding the Bedroom Door

By: Sam Kanouse

Published Date: July 10, 2017

- Tips to Stop a Small Dog from Guarding the Bedroom Door

Max (left) is a five-year-old Chihuahua mix who lives with Lucy, an eight-month-old Chihuahua puppy in Malvern, Iowa. Their guardians set up a dog and puppy behavior training session with us to get Max to stop guarding the door, stop resource guarding, and train both dogs to listen to commands.

Max and Lucy started barking at me immediately when I knocked on the door, demonstrating how they guard the door. You can see how Max and Lucy greeted me in the video below.

When I sat down the the guardians to discuss their dog behavior issues, I learned that Max and Lucy didn’t have any rules in place. When dogs do not have rules to follow, it can confuse them into thinking that there is no leader in the house and they often try to assume that role themselves. It is possible that this lack of rules is what caused Max to start guarding the front door and the bedroom door from other members in the house.

But Max’s guarding behavior did not stop there. As we continued our discussion I learned that Max also guarded one of his guardians. This resulted in other family members keeping their distance from Max when he was with his human so they wouldn’t get nipped by him.

Upon reflecting on this session, a method that I did not cover that the guardians should incorporate is to use negative reinforcement when Max starts resource guarding.

To do this they would have a leash tethered to a piece of furniture in the middle of the room away from doors (such as the piano in the living room). When he starts his guarding behavior, the person he is guarding should immediately take him over, tether him to this leash and then promptly exit the room for a couple of minutes.

A negative punishment is one of the four quadrants of Operant Conditioning that we use in Dog Psychology. Basically it involves removing something the dog finds desirable when the dog does something unwanted. With god timing and enough repetition, this approach stops the dog’s guarding behavior as each time they engage in it, the thing they think they need to guard goes away.

Max’s resource guarding extends to locations too. He has a tendency to attack anyone who approaches the bedroom door when either of his primary guardians are in it. I wanted to capture Max’s behavior in this scenario so I coached the guardian through the approach I was going to use before actually filming. However when I was discussing this with the guardian, I approach her while she was in her bedroom. Max promptly attacked my foot when I approached the bedroom door.

As a dog behaviorist you need to be able to improvise and this encounter is a great example of that. Normally I would have used high value training treats and a counterconditioning exercise, but because Max was accustomed to eating people food, the high value training treats that I tried to introduce were not sufficient.

I improvised a new technique using some of the elements of the escalating consequences that we share with our clients. My goal was to have the guardian move the dog away from the thing that it was guarding; the door to the bedroom. It is important that the primary guardian are the ones to move Max away from them or the bedroom door.

This is important to note. If anyone else tries this approach, there is a good chance Max will nip or bite them. You can check out the results by watching the video below.

This was dramatically different behavior than what I saw the first time that we ran through this exercise. Max bit at my feet so hard he punctured the boots I was wearing, yet literally a few minutes later he was fine, walking away with no protesting at his guardian’s lead. It was great to see how quickly Max modified his behavior.

Once the guardians stop giving Max people food, the high value training treats that I suggested should appealing to him and allow them to use a counterconditioning technique to stop him from guarding the door. You can watch my mentor David apply this counterconditiong approach by clicking this link.

While the primary focus for this session was on getting Max to stop guarding the door, another behavioral concern the guardians had was Lucy urinating in the house. This is a result of lack of control and something we call submissive urination.

Here are a couple of dog training tips they can use to stop Lucy from excitedly or submissively urinating in the house:

  • Do not pet her when they first get home if she is at all excited. Instead stop and walk away without saying anything to her. Once she settles down, they can try again.
  • Do not pet Lucy when she immediately rolls over in a submissive position with her belly up; wait for her to roll back over with her belly on the floor before petting her.
  • Start Petting Lucy with a Purpose.
  • Look for a few commands or tricks that require Lucy to develop self control, such as balancing a treat on her nose or having to sit before being given permission to go out the door.
  • Avoid yelling or speaking to Lucy in too strong of a tone since she is a sensitive dog.

When I first arrived, Max and Lucy thought that it was their job to protect their guardians from guests and control where the family members could go within the house. By the end of the session Max and Lucy were not guarding the front door, Max had stopped guarding the bedroom door and Lucy was building her confidence, which should stop her submissive urination as her confidence grows (and they stop petting her when she rolls onto her back).

To keep up this new, desired behavior the guardians will need to practice the exercises daily, implement structure and the rules that we covered during the session. I highlight these instructions in the Roadmap to Success video below.

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This post was written by: Sam Kanouse

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