Overprotective Dogs: Why You Don’t Want One
I get variations of this question all the time:
“Why isn’t my dog protective of me and my things?”
Husband or wife; “How can I make him protect me, my family and my things?”
People who have a friendly or docile dog, are often disappointed because they naively want a protective dog.
And, people with overprotective dogs (often caused, by them and their behaviors, from scenario one) just want to be able to manage their dog and have friends and family over to their home without worrying that someone will be bitten.
Let me be the first to tell you that you really don’t want an overprotective dog! Overprotective dogs are a HUGE liability. Ninety five percent aren’t trust worthy and are dangerous. Even a veterinary behaviorist may not be able to help if the dog’s behavior is too aggressive or protective. Many get labeled as dangerous dogs after a bite and are forcibly euthanized, without a chance or behavioral rescue or management. This can be earth shattering for all involved. Many of these dog owners love their pet dogs but don’t know how to manage the problem that they have created.
I feel sorry for them when their loving (to them) pet is caught on a rabies pole and taken to the shelter or even shot in the street. I feel sorry for the dog too; this must be a terrible way to feel about life. And, I feel sorry for their victim, who probably didn’t deserve the bite in the first place.
I understand, the basic sentiment! We live in a scary world full of scary people, so people by default, want an overprotective dog that they think will take that bullet for them. But ninety nine percent of the people that come into your life and into your home or car are friends and family. How do you expect your dog to know the difference from strangers or uncle Andy who is coming to visit from 1,000 miles away? Most dogs especially pet dogs have horrible reasoning and deductive skills.
Also, most dogs who seem “overprotective” actually feel fearful. If only these dog owners knew, that aggression you are seeing, is because he is scared of the strangers and not actually protecting YOU. I have worked with dogs like this and if an actual, aggressive intruder comes into your home, these dogs run for cover. But if Uncle Andy seems even a bit nervous the dog feeds off it and is likely to be more confident about biting. Let us agree, most of us aren’t wearing bite suits and ready for a brawl; most people are intimidated by or interact with these dogs completely incorrectly.
Trust me on this, you want a social and friendly pet dog! You want a dog that you don’t have to worry about when the neighbor children come into your home. Husbands, wives and kids should all be able to come and go with whomever they want without concern. You don’t want to have to find a boarded veterinary behaviorist in your location because your dog determines who can and can’t come into your life.
You do not want anyone attacked or bit.
Let Us Break This Down
Pet dogs in and of themselves are a deterrent.
It doesn’t matter if you have a German Shepherd, Border Collie or a Chihuahua; a pet dog that barks will keep people from wanting to enter your house. He doesn’t have to lunge or attack or show blatantly aggressive behavior, he just needs to bark and alert the neighbors that something is wrong in or around your home.
Remember that barking at EVERYTHING creates the opposite affect for at least your neighbors. It may keep others at bay but it won’t alert anyone that anything is wrong. For help with barking problems click here.
Growling often indicates a lack of confidence and is not easy for others to hear. A good confident bark can be easily taught and controlled. Watch This
I remember watching some daytime television and a talk show, years ago. The host was interviewing a man who had gone to prison for many things but burglary and robbery were among many on his rap sheet. He mentioned; that even the barking of a small dog would keep him from entering a house, even if he outwardly knew the owners were not home. His remark was, “that he would just keep casing houses and find one without a dog, it was safest. He didn’t want surprises or problems at all ”
That really hit home for me, even though, at the time, I was just a teenager. I can understand that even the smallest of barks or barking would or might bring unwanted attention and it would simply be easier to move on to the next house.
And, the majority of dogs; even the friendly dogs, will bark when someone comes to the door!
So, don’t think you need “Cujo” or a man stopper or a protection trained dog to keep people out of your house! You just need a dog with a voice with a voice!
I am also of, the opinion that, most dogs are actually protective. Doesn’t matter if they are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, or German Shepherds (in this instance size may matter more as a deterrent in this situation).
Even most friendly pet dogs, that ostensibly love everyone and seemingly would never protect you, still have protective qualities in an emergency, no trainer needed. Dogs even pets are just built differently than us humans!
The problem is that ninety nine percent of the time you aren’t terrified for your life or in a horribly threatening situation. Let us both agree that thankfully, this is not a problem! Not being in fear for your life is a good thing! If you are in fear for your life on a constant or consistent basis you need more than a trainer you need to reevaluate your life! Check out this article to find the most protective breed.
But I do think when your adrenaline spikes and you are sincerely petrified, your dog senses this and his natural protective qualities spring into action!
When I was nineteen, I had my first dog. She was a Rottweiler, and I know what you are thinking… she was protective. Nothing could be further from the truth! When she saw a human, her whole body would wag in anticipation of being pet. She literally loved EVERYONE. At the time, I thought she was a bit ridiculous! I was one of those naïve dog owners who would have preferred her to be more discerning and concerned about the creepy people in the park.
However, I remember walking her one day on leash. I lived in a fairly small town in Wyoming and often walked in the street. Being as I was a new dog trainer, she had pretty decent leash manners but was wandering near the end of the leash. As we came up to walk past a parked truck, a man literally leaped out from the other side of the pickup truck, where we couldn’t see him, with his arms open as if to grab me.
I assume he didn’t see the 100-pound Rottweiler I had on the end of the leash. I had never once seen her act aggressively until that day, and I never saw her aggressive again. She barked, lunged and her hackles raised. I was scared and she was ready to fight. My husband, at the time, hardly believed my recounting the encounter.
I have never seen a man fly into his truck and drive away so quickly. I can’t guarantee what would have happened or what his intentions for me were, but I can tell you that both of our instincts said it wasn’t going to be a good outcome.
I appreciated her ability to assess my reaction and the situation and take charge. No protection training needed. And, even after that incident, she went back to being the happy, body-wagging dog I always knew and loved. She was a confident dog. This experience had not terrified her for life, it simply taught her how to deal with a different situation and I learned to love that she adored people.
Moral of the story: if you are ever in true danger, most dogs (especially confident dogs) will step up without training. Fearful dogs often turn into aggressive or what seems like protective dogs. And, these dogs and their behaviors often escalate to the point where you need the help of a boarded veterinary behaviorist.
Protective dogs aren’t bad if the dog’s behavior isn’t aggressive behavior all of the time and they are extremely confident dogs. Think police dogs. You won’t find a shy police dog that has a long career. They may be aggressive or possessive of their space, but they are very confident dogs.
I say this because my dogs are actually protective and protection trained. They are extremely confident and their aggressive behavior is controlled by ME. They have a switch on and off but most people do not have 4 days a week, countless hours, thousands of dollars and the perfect pedigree to back their dog. Plus, these dogs take constant maintenance and management!
The problem is that it is a short trip from “protective” to “overprotective” and what seems like confidence is actually fear. And, for these dogs one bad experience can affect them for life.
And, too many humans exasperate the behavior by rewarding it and teaching the dog to become aggressive and fearful. Read this article from the Animal Behavior College.
Many puppy owners come to me because they are sad that their puppy isn’t barking. Again, I often explain to them that this is a good thing and nothing to be worried about. The last thing they want is a barking, growling, lunging liability.
Barking is a behavior that can be taught and controlled. I can literally ask my dog to bark at any moment, but I can also tell her when to be quiet. And, her barking is not contingent on there being another human in the environment. I actually don’t want a human association with the behavior. Read this for help
But, the first time these owners’ puppy barks at someone or growls out the window, people often fly off of their sofa over praise and get the dog or puppy a treat.
This can be very confusing for the dog or the puppy.
First of all, he isn’t likely to associate the behavior of barking or growling with the reward.
You think that you are rewarding “protective” behavior by rewarding the bark or the growl. But in all honesty, you are probably rewarding his feelings of insecurity and fear. The first few barks are often the result of a fearful feeling.
The dog sees the mailman walking through the yard and lets out a slight *boof. He doesn’t know about the mailman, he is more startled that something is in his environment that he doesn’t recognize. But by jumping up and rewarding him, you are in actuality rewarding the nervous fearful feeling that he is feeling inside . Eventually he will understand that barking brings the treat but at first he is confused and remembers the feeling. Trust me you don’t want to reward a nervous dog, even if he is barking at strangers.
We all want confident and independent dogs! Click here for how to raise a confident puppy by the AKC
Now he feels as if he has to be nervous each time he sees the mailman and barks, because, most often dogs associate feelings with behaviors. They can’t speak our language so often they adopt pieces of the puzzle and feelings with certain encounters and behaviors. Again, you want to reward a confident dog.
This is often why husbands, or men, have better luck in training and control than some wives, or women. Husbands tend to be more dominant and expect less protective behavior from their dogs. Husbands just tend to be more confident in handling. Don’t get me wrong; I am a very dominant and confident woman. But in general husbands, or men, tend to reinforce fear or anxiety less. Many women feel as if they should be consoling the dog by saying things like “it’s okay, it’s okay” or expecting protection and some aggressive behaviors from the dog. Husbands don’t tend to do either, they tend to rely on their own confidence and behaviors and the dogs tend to feed off of this example. Husbands tend to create more confident dogs that are not overly anxious in certain situations.
I remember working with a potential police dog several years ago. The problem was that the trainer had gotten the German Shepherd Dog so worked up prior to biting that he had began to scream instead of bark. This was lack of clarity in his mind. He thought in order to be rewarded with the bite that he would have to scream.
Screaming is the last thing we want our police dogs to do; it shows some lack of clarity and confidence. We had to teach him that in order to get the bite that he desired he would have to slow down and bark with meaningful clarity. We did not want him to lose control of himself; so we had to reteach him. His mindset is what set the picture. Remember to reward him when he is confident and showing the behaviors you want to see.
The Scariest Dogs on the Planet
I have worked in this business for a long time! Over 25 years is a long time, although I hate to admit that I am old. But I have worked in all facets of the animal care world for quite a while.
And, I have learned from working with my own dogs and with client dogs that the #1 dog that scares people; is a WELL TRAINED DOG. Do yourself a favor, watch this video, to see what a dog is capable of and what a confident dog looks like!
As a potential perpetrator, the big wagging dog that is pulling his owner down the street, barking at and jumping at friends and strangers alike, is not the dog you need to worry about.
Dogs with years of bite work and protection training come with lots of regular obedience training.
The scariest dog to own is actually the one that is in heel position, with great focus and is listening to his owner’s every command.
My dogs have competed in protection sports. I know what kind of advanced obedience skills are required. These dogs have to learn to walk past the decoy in the suit and ignore him on command. They can’t bite or move out of position on their own (without some specific training).
You would never pick out either of my dogs on the street as having protection training (unless you really knew the breeds). The don’t pull on leash, they don’t lunge, they don’t bark; unless I command them to do any of those things.
They simply look polite and like canine good citizens.
Again, a barking, lunging, jumping dog that the dog owner has no control over, is likely not protection trained. It is also probably not going to be overly “protective” in certain situations either, because it lacks socialization and training.
- Raise a confident puppy
- Teach your dog or puppy to bark on command
- Work diligently on advanced obedience skills
All of these components are the recipe to keep bad people from interfering with you in your home and wherever else you may go!
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.