Help, my dog is always on patrol/guarding!

A really common behaviour that I see in many households that I visit is dogs who patrol or guard the house and, in particular, the garden.  In fact, some people have track marks around the edge of the garden from their dog’s frequent use of the same path to keep an eye, ear and nose out for unwanted intruders.

Why do dogs feel the need to guard/patrol?

The answer to this question is two-fold:

  1. Their understanding of the world and dangers.
  2. Their understanding of their responsibilities.

I’ll address these points one at a time.

Patrolling and guarding from dangers

A dog has a very different understanding of the world to us.  We live our lives in relative peace and harmony, knowing that we aren’t really in any danger.  A dog lives by their instincts.  Anyone who has watched any animal/nature programme will understand that all animals have an instinctive desire to protect themselves from danger.  In fact this need to look out for danger is a constant thing.

For our dogs, survival is the priority, so they often will guard windows/doors and patrol the garden, even when there is a nice bit of play or fuss available for them. Some even find it hard to prioritise eating over keeping an ear out for problems.

dog guarding the gate
Dog guarding its territory

They have a deep understanding of having a territory.  A dogs territory would usually be much bigger than the house and garden the average British dog owner can offer, so anything passing close by (your neighbour’s cat, your friendly post office worker) can be considered a bit close for comfort.  The appearance of these kind of characters are pretty frequent, so many dogs can find it difficult to let their guard down.

The responsibility of patrolling and guarding

Dogs also have a deep understanding of being a pack.  That pack would have a form of hierarchy, and without us showing them otherwise a dog will naturally get on with any jobs that they don’t see us doing.  As we are not concerned about the appearance of cats and the post, we do not respond to these things – nor do we stay on watchful guard for them.

Taking responsibility for dangers is one of the fundamental roles of the leader.  If your dog is on patrol/on guard that means that he or she is thinking that their responsibility is to keep the pack safe.  Sadly this is quite a big burden for them to carry, especially when the things they are worrying about really aren’t a problem.

How to stop your dog patrolling or guarding.

This sub-heading is a bit of a red-herring because the priority isn’t to stop them from patrolling or guarding.  The priority is to show your dog that they aren’t responsible for you, and it’s okay for them to just relax.

How do to that is what I teach my clients, and is far too lengthy to describe in an article like this.  If you’re looking to get some help there are 2 approaches you can take (and you can combine them).

  • Get some 121 support from a Dog Listener like myself.  I cover Essex and the surrounding area.  I’m based in Leigh on Sea, but travel far and wide!  Colchester, Romford etc.
  • Read or watch “The Dog Listener” by Jan Fennell.

You might also be interested to read some articles on barking.


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