Help! My Dog is Too Protective
Let’s be honest, one of the reason people get and like dogs is because they feel more confident and protected by them. It has been proven that even the bark of a Chihuahua will drive away a burglar. For most criminals it simply isn’t worth getting involved with someone with a dog, let alone an overprotective dog!
When I was 18, a requirement of marriage was getting a Rottweiler. I got 2! My female Rottie was around 100# and was the sweetest, kindest, doggie soul you could ever meet. She almost never met a person she didn’t immediately adore. I use to laugh because if you simply placed a finger on her she was thrilled by the affection.
As I walked her to the park one day, a man jumped out from around a van. I had NEVER seen her hackle or her show her teeth to a person before that moment and a growl resonated from within her belly. I was just an 18 year old kid and definitely not a dog trainer yet.
He hastily scurried around his van entered through the passenger side scooted over and his wheels screeched as he tore out of sight.
It still gives me goose bumps to remember that moment. I don’t think at that time I truly realized the danger I might have been in, but in hindsight I realize that she sensed something sinister that I did not recognize. She never showed aggression toward another human being for the rest of her life, she was too busy wagging and soliciting affection to everyone else!
I truly believe that even the most social dog would protect his owner in a crisis. The good news is that there is rarely ever a true crisis to put my theory to the test.
However, many dogs have a very strong protective instinct. These dogs feel it is their job to keep their owners safe and they take their job very seriously!
The other problem is that countless people admire and promote this behavior. When the dog is young and first growls or barks at someone not only are they praised, sometimes people actually feed and reward the dog for showing this behavior.
It usually isn’t until this overprotective dog behavior gets out of control and the dog decides EVERYONE is a threat and no one can get close that the person realizes the danger they have put themselves, their dog, and other people in by encouraging this protective instinct.
I once trained a Labrador Mix as a Service Dog. She adored everyone. She use to finagle her way around at the grocery store to turn toward the closest person and then she would begin to flirt. Those brown eyes would wink and call out to the person and her tail would wag incessantly until they gave in and asked to pet her. She was relentless about seeking attention and affection, but I liked that trait because it meant she liked people and enjoyed her work.
Then I placed her with her new owner and within several months she began getting protective. I was mystified because I had never seen even a hint of a problem. But, her new mom was easily startled and a bit prejudiced and she would scream when she was startled or caught off guard.
This screaming and fear brought out the protective instinct of the dog and she began to associate certain people and men with her new mom’s fear. Screaming showed weakness an inability to take care of herself and probably also scared the dog. Within a short amount of time the dog just decided, in her mind, if she kept all men away from her mom there would be no more drama or fear so she started to get protective. So sometimes the problem can actually be overprotective dog owners 🙂
Part of the reason she never showed this propensity with me is because I am a very dominant and strong willed person, most dogs would think never think I needed them to protect me because they can clearly see I am in control. I project an image that I can take care of myself.
- You need to take this behavior seriously! If left unattended this behavior usually only gets worse and it can rapidly become a behavioral pattern over time. Behavioral patterns are often very difficult to break. So stop this behavior as soon as possible or keep it from ever happening.
- Never praise your dog for barking or growling aggressively at another person
- Always correct your dog, by telling him NO when he shows aggression toward people (My exception is when someone first comes to the door. My dogs are allowed to bark but must be quiet when I tell them to)
- If he is nervous or unsure of people, use your clicker and make sure meeting new people is fun
- ALWAYS use a leash! A LEASH = CONTROL and when a dog shows aggression of any kind you need as much control as possible.
- If your dog is protective at home and you are having people over, ALWAYS leash your dog prior to their arrival
- Take control! Dogs takeover situations they think you cannot handle. Show your dog that you don’t need to be protected by being confident and in control at all times.
- Work tirelessly on obedience! Obedience puts you in control and your dog in the passenger seat. You need to be able to put your dog in heel position, by your side and in a “Down” position when he meets new people. This takes control away from him and gives him something to do and preoccupies his mind.
- You also need to work on the other facets of obedience. A clear leader, Mom or Dad (YOU) makes the subordinate or child accomplish tasks or listen to get the things they want in life. Rules are crucial to a good parent/child relationship. Be a kind but firm parent by having your dog listen to you and do things for you around the house; down stays, sit stays, waiting at the door, come when called, heel at your side and anything else you determine necessary.
Overprotective Dog Training If Your Dog is Fearful
If your dog is fearful, he requires a bit of a different type of treatment. Determine if he is simply scared when you both meet a new person. If his ears are down, or back or his tail is tucked, or he backs up he is probably scared.
- When a dog is scared he needs to have his confidence built.
- You can build his confidence by making sure that every time new people are around he gets lavishly praised and rewarded for good, social behavior.
- Do NOT praise and reward him when he is scared or he will think that is what you want for him to be=scared.
- Instead, back up until he is showing no signs of fear or nervousness and reward him.
- Slowly work your way toward new people by rewarding him for controlled social behavior.
- Calmly and quietly tell him No if he growls, hackles, or shows any kind of aggression. Do not compound his fears by yelling or aggressively getting in his face. Just let him know quietly and calmly that, that behavior is not what you want.
- Make sure that you lavishly reward him and praise him by giving him toys and treats only when people come over (as long as he is not possessive).
- Keep him on a leash and give him something else to do when people are over to keep his mind off of his fears.
- Never allow people to pet him when he is scared. Petting a scared dog can make the feelings and the behavior worse. If he cannot be calmed down, ask people not to pet him. This will show him that he can trust you; by forcing him to allow people to touch him, when he doesn’t want to be touched he may learn to growl or show aggression just to keep people away.
I have a dog that is nervous with people, but he has never shown possession aggression of his toys or treats. When I have people over, I put him on a leash, keep him close to me in heel position and in a down as I welcome them and tell them to enter. He lies down at my feet and chews a special peanut butter filled bone when people come to visit.
This positive interaction of people=a special treat helps him to look forward to visits from other people. Instead of getting nervous or aggressive when people come over, he is excited because he knows if he shows appropriate behavior he will get his bone!
I never force him to interact with someone if he doesn’t want to, however I do insist if he is nervous or unsure of a person that he lay at my feet on leash the whole time the person is in my home!
Good luck and try to keep this fun but take the control of your relationship back by letting your dog know you are in charge of who you socialize with!
My best advice is never to let your dog show these behaviors! Trust me, when or if you should ever need him to truly protect you he will undoubtedly be there for you in your crisis!
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.