My Dog Attacks Other Dogs in Doorways: Spatial Resource Guarding

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Resource guarding and dog-dog aggression can take many forms. One of the more challenging presentations of this problem is “space guarding” or “spatial resource guarding.”

What that means is one or more dogs in a home growls, snarls, lip-curls, snaps, bites, or lunges when the other dog, the cat, or even people pass through high-value areas or constrictions.

We often see this sort of problem behavior around doorways, narrow hallways, or favorite sleeping spots.

Here’s how to teach your dog not to attack other dogs in doorways:

  1. Reduce stress. Many dogs get more persnickety when they’re stressed out (don’t we all?). For example, my border collie will occasionally lip-lift at other dogs when they get to close to me or his toys if he’s already stressed out. This often happens after a long day, when we’re at the vet, or when he’s overwhelmed by multiple new dogs in a small space.
    • Here’s how: focus on your dog’s behavioral wellness. Add in puzzle toys, long-line nature walks and “sniffaris,” reduce stressful events (like walking during peak hours when the neighbor’s dog is likely to bark AT you), and/or hire a midday dog walker. What some dogs consider fun may be stressful for others, so there’s no one-size-fits-all here.
  2. Teach dogs to pass each other politely. Often, fights break out in doorways or hallways because both dogs are too excited. Simply not allowing more than one dog to be excited in a doorway at a time is a great solution. You might want to let the more excitable dog out first, or let the non-problem-dog out first. This isn’t about dominance or pack rank – it’s just a manner of letting the “crazier” dog out first so that she doesn’t bowl over the other dog!
    • Here’s how: you might just want to teach both dogs to stay, then lead one dog at a time on a leash. You could put both dogs in crates and release them one at a time. You could teach the dogs that when you say their name, they can go (but not before). There are lots of options!
  3. Remind the dogs that the other dog is pretty cool. If you notice some tension or the dogs are in a high-risk area, call them apart. Then reward them heavily! Try to remember to “jolly them up” rather than chastising them. I use a high, happy, relaxed voice when interrupting Barley’s resource guarding behaviors. Then he gets cookies! You want to teach the “problem” dog that being near the other dog makes AWESOME stuff happen.
  4. Avoid scolding and punishment. By yelling, swatting, or startling the dogs, you may accidentally teach the dogs that yes, this IS a stressful problem! If your dog often gets yelled at when he’s in the hallway next to the other dog, that’s going to make him feel worse, not better! Uh-oh.

A Real-Life Example of Managing Spatial Resource Guarding

When I shared a small RV with three high-energy working dogs last month, I had to get creative to avoid fights between these intense dogs!

Barley tends to growl at other dogs near food (even if there’s no food present – he’ll growl in front of the cabinet if he’s stressed enough). Archie bowls over other dogs. Fred doesn’t like being stepped over by me.

Phase One: Management and Learning Basic Skills

I taught all 3 dogs to lie on mats – Barley in the kitchen, Archie in the bedroom corner, and Fred near my feet.

At first, Archie and Fred didn’t know how to lie on mats or really hold a sit-stay. While I taught them that over a few days, I used baby gates and exercise pens to prevent fights.

I also made sure to spend time with each dog alone AND to take all three dogs out for fun activities together (read: hiking).

Just like with our human roommates or romantic partners, it’s important to do fun things together to keep the friendship alive (or make up after a squabble).

Phase Two: Introducing Complexity

As the dogs got better and better at mat training and sit-stays, I started practicing in pairs: Fred and Barley, Archie and Barley, finally Archie and Fred. Only after Fred and Archie were good at performing their new skills together did I practice with all 3.

If I needed a break, I’d put one or two dogs in a crate in the truck (it’s nice and cool, don’t worry).

Phase 3: The Final Product

All three dogs got treats tossed to them during high-intensity times (like while I was preparing food or eating). They all were far enough apart not to fight, and they all got fed.

When I wanted to take them outside, I put them all in sit-stays. Then I released them one at a time – prioritizing the dog who was struggling the most with the sit-stay.

That means Barley usually went last, Archie went first, and Fred was in the middle.

Remember, I was VERY liberal with treats. In fact, all 3 dogs earned their breakfast and dinner during these training sessions. If the dogs got tense, I called them apart in a happy, relaxed tone and fed them all.

If you notice other fights and arguments breaking out in other areas or the fights are causing damage (bites break skin), get help. If there’s no one near you who can help, book video training calls with me.

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