Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course “Brain Training for Dogs.”
Is Your Dog Dangerously Overprotective?
When somebody attempts to say hello or give you a hug and your dog inserts himself in between, growling and snarling in the most threatening way, this can be a real problem. A protective stance can be a blessing in an emergency situation but surely isn’t when the dog attempts to protect its owner from people who are not doing anything wrong.
Excessive protectiveness is a dangerous situation. Some dogs resort to aggressive behaviors in order to prevent strangers or even family members from getting too close to their owners. These dogs are a big liability because they may even feel compelled to bite. Worse of all, these dogs attack unprovoked. In other words, these dogs will attack without good reason (from a human perspective, that is).
But why does a dog feel compelled to attack in such a vicious way? And why does it overreact to something benign, like a hug or handshake? There can be a variety of reasons why dogs resort to behaving this way.
Signs Your Dog Is Protective Over You
- Your dog growls at strangers
- Your dog snarls and shows his teeth to strangers
- Your dog acts aggressively around strangers or family members
- Your dog will attack unprovoked
Reasons Why Dogs May Become Over-Protective of Their Owner
Sometimes owners train their dogs to become protective without realizing it. They only notice the gravity of the problem, but fail to notice how they contribute.
They Become Defensive Due to Lack of Guidance
Dogs who have developed a strong bond with their owners will likely live their lives in comfort and happiness. These dogs know that the owner will protect them from harm and ensure their well-being because a history of trust has established that fact. These dogs will trust their owner, looking up to him/her for guidance and direction.
However, if the owner fails to provide a certain level of guidance and that safety net of reassurance is never formed, some dogs may feel compelled to take a defensive stance. The underlying causes for what we perceive as “protectiveness” may stem from fear and insecurity.
The Owner Rewards the Behavior
At first, the owner may think it is funny, or even reward it. A stranger comes near the owner to talk, and the dog will growl. The stranger will stop in his tracks and leave. The growling has been rewarded by the stranger leaving. So a week later, another stranger approaches the owner and the dog starts growling again.
This stranger is not intimidated by the growl and continues getting close, and the dog becomes more aggressive to send him away. He growls, lifting his teeth and showing his pearly whites. The stranger goes away. The dog has now learned that he must act more aggressively to send strangers away, and a new behavior has been learned. This soon becomes a bad habit and the owner has given up and decided that it is just a ”trait.”
Some owners actually tell others, with pride, ”my dog is very protective of me.” They feel that because their dog protects them, it proves that the dog loves them. However, they are missing something crucial: Their dog is insecure, unpredictable, and will react negatively when people don’t expect it.
Dogs Need to Be Socialized
All dogs need to be socialized from an early age and must learn to accept strangers on their property and near their owners. Allowing them to be over-protective may turn them into a big liability.
- Often, dogs may also become protective of children. While this trait may not really appear as a defect, it becomes so if the dog becomes protective when it’s not necessary. These dogs may resort to growling and biting even when people with good intentions come close.
- At times, dogs become protective when owners are sick or frail.
- I have seen some dogs become suddenly protective when the owner got pregnant. These dogs will stick near their pregnant owner and even block people from coming too close.
Whichever the scenario is, a dog should not be encouraged to become over-protective of its owner as this may translate into aggression and even biting. Even dogs sent to protection training are taught to clearly understand the difference between a real threat and something that is not harmful. These well-trained dogs will not aggress if a friend comes over and hugs you.
Protection dogs trained by pros are often excellent with kids. Indeed, protection dogs must have a sound temperament in order to excel. Training a weak-nerved dog to be protective is an accident waiting to happen.
More About Dog Behavior
- Understanding Dog Territorial MarkingThis article focuses on how dogs mark their territories, why they mark their territories, and what you can do about it when they do.
- Warning Signs and Causes of Dangerous and Aggressive DogsThis article discusses warning signs of aggression in dogs that should not be ignored. The possible causes of these behaviors are also covered.
- Behaviors of Intact Female Dogs in and After HeatFemale dogs, especially those that are intact, will often display certain behaviors around their times of heat. Find out what behaviors you can expect if your female dog has not been spayed.
Also Read: Orange and white cat breeds
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: I found an abused foxhound on April 6th, and she is a love bug except when she and I lay on my sofa bed together and my husband comes over she begins to snarl and growl. Why is this?
Answer: She may be protective of you or the couch (or both), and she just might not be comfortable with your husband being around. This snarl and growl is a distance-increasing warning telling your husband not to come close as she feels threatened by him.
Question: We rescued a Collie Cross about 2 months ago. She is great with us now that she has gotten used to us. She has always been good with other dogs but wary of people, especially when they enter the home. Her previous owners did not socialize her much. My husband takes her to work every day and she has started to become over-protective. Lunging etc. at people and dogs if my husband touches the dog. We would like to stop this ASAP. Any advice?
Answer: For safety and correct implementation of behavior modification, you will need to have a dog professional help you out. Look for one who is well-versed in behavior modification and who uses force-free, humane behavior modification. She may need a desensitization and counterconditioning program to change her emotions.
Since she has shown already in the past that she was wary of people, was poorly socialized and now she is lunging at people and dogs, it may be that she is stressed and wants distance. She may feel safe near your husband and doesn’t want her safe ‘bubble’ to be invaded by people and other dogs she doesn’t trust. I am afraid that this is not something that can be solved ASAP as behavior modification takes time. If the work area she goes to everyday is a closed environment, this layout may make her more reactive and feel trapped due to not having much the option to move away.
Question: My 3 year old basset hound Hudson has recently become protective of my wife. He growls when he is laying by her and I approach. I walk, feed train and socialize him regularly. Any ideas what it could be or how I can tackle it?
Answer: We may never really know what may be going through those doggy minds when they act this way, but I suspect that there can be various triggers. For example, perhaps he feels safer near your wife or he likes to sleep nearby her and senses you as a “disruption” to his sleep if you are often going back and forth through doors waking him up and startling him from a deep sleep or making more noise around the home, carrying tools, fixing things etc.
For mild cases, I use desensitization and counterconditioning techniques. For instance, I make sure that every time the husband moves towards the wife, the dog is fed some tasty treats. After several reps, the dog starts becoming more accepting of the approach because great things happen. How the treats are delivered may vary based on circumstances. I may have the wife feed them, or the husband may toss them in the dog’s direction every time he approaches. These ‘set-ups” are rehearsed several times until we notice a conditioned emotional response, where the dog looks eager to have the husband approach rather than dreading it. The process is similar to this: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Help-My-Dog-Barks-When… but rather than entering a room, you are getting closer to your wife.
Now, a disclaimer is warranted here. While this procedure may appear simplicistic, it is not. In order to succeed, you will need to be careful on not sending the dog over threshold, you need to watch for signs of stress and you have ensure the safety of all considering that dogs who growl may bite. We do not want to push a dog to biting because we want a dog to keep “using his words” rather than biting. For safety and correct implementation, it is therefore important to conduct behavior modification with the help of a dog behavior professional who can provide in-person coaching and guidance. Hope this helps, feel free to post any other questions here or update on how things go in the comments section.
Question: My two-year-old labrador loves his walks, but everytime someone comes outside their house, he barks at them. What can I do for him to ignore the person and keep walking?
Answer: The good news is that you have identified the antecedent. In other words, you know exactly what is triggering the behavior (people coming outside their house). The not -so- great news is that it might take some time to change this behavior, especially if it has been rehearsed for quite some time and the unpredictability of people coming outside may catch you unprepared.
A behavior modification plan in such a case that may work is the “Look at that” game” outlined here:https://hubpages.com/animals/Changing-Dog-Behavior…
Also Read: Grey blue nose pitbull full grown
Basically, you will be out together, and every time your dog sees somebody coming out of their house, you will be feeding high-value treats. Initially, you may have more success if you can enlist the help of some volunteers who will repeatedly exit their homes so that you can practice this exercise at a distance in a controlled setting (so your dog is under threshold) rather than being caught off guard not knowing when your dog may spot somebody.
Otherwise, you may have to be constantly scanning for people exiting their homes and promptly feed your dog. A behavior consultant to help you out may be best for safety and correct implementation of behavior modification. He or she may provide the ideal setups to work on the issue.
Question: When my dog Duke barks (toy poodle, male, unfixed) my dog Kya (toy poodle, female, fixed) attacks him but only for a couple of seconds, and he walks away growling. What does this mean?
Answer: It sounds like a form of re-directed aggression. When two dogs are very aroused from something (e.g., person walking by the fence) all this excitement/arousal energy accumulates, and one dog may redirect on the other.
Question: My dog hates people and the world. What do I do?
Answer: You help your dog change his negative mindset and view of the world. What if every time your dog meets somebody he doesn’t like you feed your dog some high-value food like roasted chicken? Day after day he should start likely those people more and more. Dogs are pretty simplistic beings that form negative and positive associations. Unlike people though, they do not hold “grudges” or act out of vengeance.
Instead if they ‘hate” people it’s often a matter of people causing them to feel fearful or intimidated by them. This may be due to lack of socialization, a fearful predisposition or negative experiences (which may stem from things as innocent as the dog getting startled by people moving fast, coughing, sneezing or laughing loud).
Question: I’m fostering a twelve-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier who is so sweet, but barks aggressively at people when he’s in the car, or if someone walks too close as they pass. What do you suggest?
Answer: The behavior you are seeing is not unusual and it’s often due to the same dynamics as seen in dogs who bark at the mailman. Because people leave, the behavior is reinforced.
To tackle this issue, often counterconditioning is your best friend, but you may need to enlist the help of a professional for safety and correct behavior modification implementation. Here is an example of behavior modification for dogs who act protective of the car. https://hubpages.com/animals/Dog-Behavior-How-to-S…
Question: When my teenage daughter has a friend over, my 4 year old lab mix will go and sit by the friend. The friend will begin to pet the dog and then the dog growls and barks loudly. This has happened multiple times with different friends each time. What can we do?
Answer: For safety and to prevent rehearsal of this problematic behavior, please do not put your dog in this situation anymore. Keep her away until you can enlist the help of a dog behavior professional using force-free behavior modification methods.
Question: My shepherd is all of a sudden biting people for no reason! He is nine years old and has always been a sweetheart. He is my daughter’s dog, and I am watching him for a week. Why would he do this all of a sudden? I also have my period at this time. He is a neutered male, but would this have anything to do with it?
Answer: I doubt it has to do with your period. I am more inclined to think that he is nervous about being out of his comfort zone and in a place with different people, sights, sounds, and smells. Dogs don’t always do well with changes, and they may feel stressed. Some dogs are more sensitive to changes, and when they feel stressed, they are more likely to bite. Please be very careful. It may help to keep him confined in a quiet area and not let him be around people he is not comfortable around for the time being. Another possibility is that he is acting protective towards you. Regardless, make safety your top priority.
Also Read: Can you overdose on pepto