Training Dogs And Humans For A More Enjoyable Life Together

By Susan Smith, East Valley Dog Training

Answers to questions are based on the information provided. It’s always a good idea to have your pet thoroughly examined by a veterinarian when having behavior problems. Although I can give general information and management suggestions on serious behavior problems such as aggression, issues such as these can be a very serious problem and a certified dog trainer should be consulted.

Charlie is seven years old and well trained. He loves people and is fine with other dogs. In seven years he’s snapped twice. The first was when someone I knew poked their head inside my van. He stuck his face right up to Charlie’s face and Charlie snapped quite aggressively at him. The second happened the other day when the mail lady came into my office. Charlie knows her. He was preoccupied eating his dinner when she bent down to him to say goodbye and put her face very close to his. Do I muzzle him or is this a total overreaction?

I would say muzzling is an over-reaction. For a dog that has been provoked to snap (not bite) only twice in seven years seems a pretty good track record, to me. However, it sounds like Charlie is a bit of a resource guarder. It is very normal for a dog to guard the car when he is in it, and it’s wise to train our children not to reach our hands in to pet the dog (adults should know better!). And, to stick your face right up to a dog while he’s eating is equally ill-advised. 

Like every other species including humans, dogs have a natural tendency to guard their stuff. Children are not born wanting to share – we teach them to share. This is a normal survival behavior. If humans and animals simply allowed others to take their stuff, they wouldn’t survive long. Sometimes, if you imagine yourself in their position, it’s easier to understand where they’re coming from.

Dogs can be trained not to guard their stuff. However, it seems to me that Charlie is already a pretty tolerant dog, so I wouldn’t worry about muzzling him – I would worry about how you protect him from these invasive encounters. It’s not reasonable to expect your dog to tolerate things we would not tolerate, simply because he’s a dog.

If you have questions for the trainer, please send them to:

Susan Smith, CDBC, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer in San Tan Valley, AZ, specializing in pet dog training as well as cat and parrot training—from obedience behaviors to serious problems such as aggression. She can be contacted at:

Sue is also the owner of Raising Canine, LLC which provides professional education to animal trainers.