I’m The Bully at My House
I’m the bully at my house, and I actually mean that in a good way.
I was thinking the other day after someone asked me why their dog has become so aggressive and won’t let anyone come in the home or come near them while they are out with him.
Their dog is the bully in their house.
Let me Explain
I think about it in terms of the playground bully. You know the playground bully that takes the weak kids lunch or lunch money but in return he defends that kid from the other bullies?
Well, I’m not taking my dog’s lunch money 😉 but my dogs do trust me that I have their backs.
My dogs also know that I am pretty capable of taking care of myself.
Instead of my dogs having an overwhelming desire to defend me, they expect to be defended by me!
It is my job to take care of myself and them.
This thought process keeps them from being overly protective of me with people or other dogs.
Doesn’t Everyone Want a Protective Dog?
So doesn’t everyone want a protective dog? A dog that will attack an intruder, an attacker, or anyone that would do their owners harm?
Yes, yes, most people do want a protective dog.
The problem is that people get wrapped up in rewarding what seems like protective behavior but can be the product of fear.
The dog then learns to put on aggressive, yet somewhat fearful displays toward other people and other dogs because not only does it keep these things away, they are often praised, petted and rewarded by their owners for doing such.
But many of these dogs are not overly confident with themselves or their behaviors, they are hiding fear behind these aggressive displays.
Defensive behavior (snarling, growling, barking, hackling and lunging) is often a result of the dog being fearful of the stimulus (like a person or a dog).
And, sometimes these dogs can get out of control with their aggression; especially when an unknowing owner is rewarding and praising it.
They may even escalate these fearful or aggressive behaviors to the point of an attack or a bite because their owner has rewarded the defensive aggressive behaviors.
Let Me Paint a Better Picture
So in order for you to better understand what I mean, let me paint a better picture for you.
The owner of (let’s just say a Doberman Pinscher) a Doberman puppy that is 9 months old is upset because the dog doesn’t “protect” the house or bark at people who come to the door.
So one day, as the mailman drops off the mail in his winter coat and hat, the dog hackles, growls, backs up and barks lightly as he stares out the window.
His owners lavishly praise, and pet him. They may even give him a tasty treat for finally “protecting” the house.
This tells the dog that his fearful display of aggressive behavior is desired by the owner, and the dog sees that his behavior chased off the mailman (even though it didn’t… the mailman left simply because his work at the home was done, not because he saw or could even hear the beginning of this behavior).
So each day thereafter the dog escalates his behavior, more growling, barking, hackling and lunging at the window; and all of these behaviors are warmly received and rewarded by the owner.
And although the dog is still showing defensive/fearful behaviors (growling and hackling are often signs of fear and stress) his confidence is built a little bit each time he successfully shows these behaviors and the mailman leaves.
After a few months, the mailman needs to deliver a package and so he knocks on the door.
The dog intensifies his displays of aggression, leaping up at the door and trying to scare the mailman away as he has in the past. But this time it is not seeming to work. No matter what the dog does, the mailman stands there not retreating and waiting to deliver the package.
Now the owner is a little nervous. The dog’s behavior has gotten out of hand. He needs to accept the package and doesn’t want the dog to be aggressive.
But it is too late: the dog has been continuously rewarded for these aggressive displays.
So as the dog’s owner opens the dog to take and sign for the package; the dog (completely dismayed that the mailman has not run away) feels compelled to push out, bite the mailman and force his retreat with more aggression.
And, so he slips out and bites the mailman.
As soon as the bite has occurred the dog is terrified, let’s go and retreats into the home where he is seemingly scared and inconsolable; as is the owner who is terrified and now has to deal with animal control and the police department.
A dangerous dog status; if not worse is around the corner.
Now the owner wants a dog that can be safe around people.
In my opinion we should all strive for a dog that can be safe around people right from the beginning.
That is not to say that you can force a dog that doesn’t like people to enjoy petting and interaction with them but you can give them the tools to contain their anxiety and show acceptable behaviors.
When I had a dog that didn’t like people; he was always on a leash and on a command when people were near.
He trusted ME his “playground BULLY” to keep people from wanting to pet his adorable furry face. And, I never did. I always kept him safe and people at bay because I knew he would go into a fit of anxiety if someone reached to pet him.
As his bully, I used whatever means necessary to make sure this didn’t happen. At first I was kind and gentle and asked people to leave him alone… eventually if I needed to I escalated with some hostility and an aggressive body stance.
You see it is better for people to think I am unkind than it is to deal with animals control and the police.
And, by me showing my dog I am competent of taking care of myself he doesn’t worry about defending himself or me, he then can concentrate on building his confidence with the things that bother him.
But I Know There are a Few of You
But I know there are a few of you who still want that “protective dog”, the one that spews fire at the sound of a pin drop or at the sight of a “bad guy”.
But the problem is… your dog doesn’t have the rational skills to know who the “bad guy” is. Is it the guy with the Mohawk, the guy with tattoos, the teenage girl, the mail man, or the guy in a business suit that comes to your door?
I think Ted Bundy taught us all that we can’t tell, who is a serial killer just by looking. Do you really expect your dog to know?
Google “handsome serial killers” and you will be amazed!
I Have Dogs That Bite
I have dogs that bite on command. And, I pray, pray, pray that they will NEVER bite anyone when it is not on a training field and expected!
I don’t recommend this type of training for many people, because it is so hard to attain, and it is such a liability. Only after several months or years of training can you expect to call your dog off or out on someone who is fighting or yelling or making threatening gestures.
And, my dogs don’t actively protect me because they trust that I can handle myself.
I am no shrinking violet and they know that! I take care of a would be attacker until I need their help… not the other way around.
There is nothing mousey or needy about me in their minds; so they aren’t always in “protect mom” mode.
You must exude confidence to a dog that has a tendency to want to over protect. Allow that dog to see you can take care of yourself and squash any attempt by them to take over a situation they feel uncomfortable in!
My dogs gain confidence as they see me conquer things that might bother them. They gain confidence in me and then in themselves.
If I squealed in fear every time something or someone startled or scared me; my dogs would be full of anxiety and undoubtedly overly aggressive/protective; then they would bite and I would be forced to euthanize them.
You Know What Does Work as Effectively
Teach your dog to bark on command for more on that click here.
A dog that you can give a small hand signal to, who goes crazy barking will always scare a would-be thief or bad guy off. No one wants to have to deal with an aggressive dog AND subdue a person.
So all of my dogs throughout time have always had a small hand signal to make them bark. That doesn’t mean they know they are barking AT the person (again this is bad… we don’t want our dog making choices about people), I want a dog that just barks!
Controlling your dog’s bark is important in so many ways!
Want to Alleviate These Problems?
- Don’t encourage your dog to bark at people or when he is or you are nervous.
- Teach him to bark on command.
- Shush him or tell him to be quiet if his default is to bark at people or dogs (but know that his bark tells you he is not comfortable with them so don’t force interaction.)
- Step up and be a leader in his life.
- Take over when he feels scared or nervous, but don’t coddle and coo to him; instead use commands that he knows to help him think about something else this builds his confidence.
- Make sure he thinks you are his bully or better yet… his superhero and you will have a happy well adjusted dog that with the show of a hand signal will bark his head off! No one with any kind of self preservation will bother someone with a barking dog, even if it is a chihuahua because barking makes people notice.
And, he will still be friendly! BONUS!!!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.