Dog trains man

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I Am Watching You!

Living together with a Hovawart like Kenzo does wonders for your social life. At least, when you spent a lot of time outdoors. Receiving guests at home, not so much.

When you are new to the family, you can expect Kenzo to pay a little visit to let you know in perfect Robert de Niro style: "I Am Watching You!". If you haven't seen the movie "Meet the Fockers", it looks something like this:

In Kenzo's version, he comes in eye-height if necessary, barks, and then retreats again. It is not really harmful in itself, but Ben Stiller will agree with me, it is pretty uncomfortable when you are on the receiving end. Even when it is Kenzo, instead of Robert de Niro.

It all goes well during the whole "oh what a good doggie" greeting process coming through the door with a lot of treats. Yet as soon as the treats stop, or we settle down, Kenzo hasn't forgotten to assert himself to the guest as the man-in-the-house, and waits for the opportunity to deliver that message loud and clear, to avoid any misunderstandings.

It has been a lot of work trying to socialize a Hovawart as protective as Kenzo - his protective nature was already shown in his puppy temperament test - with new visitors from the moment they step through the door.

And I admit, somewhere down the line, in his late adolescence, I got sloppy, thinking we were ready, because we had so many visitors as I ran my company at the 1st floor of our home, and he behaved so nicely. Maybe he was not ready, or maybe it was the fact that Viva joining the family made him even more protective, but it started with his first "I Am Watching You!" demonstration when he barked at a guest of which we assumed he had already ran the gauntlet with good results.

Since then we have tried different ways to introduce new house-guests, but he never lost his goal out of sight. The one that baffled me the most was, when I tried to greet guests outside. Away from the property, before they went into the house. It still didn't help, he even developed new strategies, by sniffing out a new guest from a group of people which he already knew, being his friendly self and receiving a shower of treats, only to quickly single that person out again for his "I Am Watching You!" warning, when we moved towards the house.

Who? Moi? Really?!
With the message delivered, he keeps one eye open to watch what the guest is doing, while I continue to reward him for all his "proper" interactions, like ignoring the guest when he or she moves, or just sniffing when we pass by. I can't define it as socializing anymore what we do, but more helping Kenzo to behave as society expects.

Our guests are always supplied with a rich supply of treats too. Kenzo might be protective, he is also practical. Although it sounds like a good idea, the treats and Viva's opposite outgoing nature, sometimes made guests overconfident towards Kenzo: "he looks sooo cute", and they approached Kenzo to give him a hug, despite my clear instructions. Only to discover, he ain't their pal yet.

More than once it were exactly the people that said to know and love dogs, who can't resist that urge to connect, and I have to bite my lip not to fire a "I told you so", when they stand there in disbelief, either questioning their own dog skills, or Kenzo's character. Instead, I run my simple script again, to explain, "Kenzo will never trust any person he never met before, in his own house, the first time you'll meet."

I realize I expect a lot from our visitors, with instructions not to initiate contact in any way with Kenzo, but do give him a treat, when he comes for a sniff. I understand it is difficult, and it is almost counter-intuitive for people not to try to touch or make contact in any way. Don't we by nature, disarm others with a smile and some attention?

The reward for the visitors that do decide to come back for a second time, is to enjoy that Kenzo will approach them with a toy, as a declaration of his acceptance. I always joke, that from now on they have to be even more careful, as Kenzo will start to protect them from their own friends.

What are your experiences with a very protective Hovawart, or any other dog that protects by nature?


  1. What you describe is a carbon copy of our Boef's behavior with guest. With the main difference that you show a lot more confidence with Kenzo's guarding behavior then we with Boef. Coming from a cuddly Golden Retriever background his guarding instinct wasn't part of the expected package. So the first time he fell out to another guest at a restaurant was quite an upset to us. (Admittedly he was full in his right since a woman stepped on him when he was asleep next to me and her boyfriend thought it was a good idea to follow her by stepping over a loudly barking teenage pup with all K9s showing.) Particularly our teenage kids don't trust him to leave it at barking to their friends alone. Their friends themselves are all too impressed after he had put his pawns on their shoulders and barked an inch from their nose upon their surprise entrance of the room.
    Now we keep him for 10 minutes in his bench when guests arrive. This allows him to calm down and us to give them proper instruction and some treats. After that he indeed inspects them and gives them the 'Robert de Niro treatment' and all is well.
    We had one exception when a friend needed to wash his hands after giving him his treats. When walking back to his seat he had to walk back straight to Boef whilst looking him straight in the eyes. Boef made very clear not to like that. So I learned another lesson: to avoid that in the future.
    Another exception is my wife's mother. She managed to utterly ignore and dominate him - by doing nothing - that he has completely accepted her independent of how long it was since her prior visit. My own mother is worse of then most because she can't resist to beg for his attention.
    Again, we can very, very much relate to your story.

    1. We are not alone. I know other's as well, struggle with this, although sometimes it is hard to come forward in fear of being judged, so thank you for your honesty!
      Glad you observe Boef sharply and notice all these things, that is the first step in helping him move forward. I am sure you will manage.

      That story about your wife's mother was very recognizable for me as well. Not the mother-in-law part :) but how she by ignoring seemed to be in control. Also in Kenzo's case, he will leave the guests alone, and trust them sooner, if they will just ignore him. Unfortunately there is long between those guests, but they are perfect to train accepted behavior.

  2. Cooper guards me. When I did my year of chemo, he became VERY protective to the point that he would growl at my parents and friends who came to help during that time. Not good. Then we moved cross-country where we didn't know anyone, so we didn't have any visitors and let the whole thing go. Now that we're getting to know people, we really need to work on it. I don't have a plan yet. He doesn't guard John, so we've been having him introduce new people, or we put him on leash... We need a plan, and your post has inspired me to (finally) get to work.

    1. Touching how Cooper recognized that difficult period in your life and decided to look after you. Please don't be hard on yourself for addressing it later, you clearly had a bigger fight to be dealt with first. Good luck with the plan and putting it together. Looking forward to hear more about it, if you would like to share it.


Blogger Template Created by pipdig