Living with a dog brings so many pleasures to our lives that it shouldn’t be surprising that so many of us share our homes with at least one canine member of the family. But we also speak different languages, and we display our worries and concerns in different ways. So, that means that there can be times when there is a misunderstanding, resulting in conflict.
When our dogs show what looks like protective behaviour, there can actually be many different reasons for us seeing that response. That’s when we need to take on a detective role to work out what’s going on. Once we know that, then we can help our dogs respond in new ways, if that protective behaviour is not what we want to see
What Does Protective Behavior Look Like?
Imagine for a moment what protective behavior looks like in a person. The chances are they will step forward to be between you and the threat to your safety, and their whole body language will be confident and assertive. A dog demonstrating protective behavior will be the same. That means your dog will:
Be by your side, or they may step in front
Ears will be pricked
There might be some growling
Tense body language
A still tail or it will be wagging very slowly
Which Breeds of Dog Tend to Be the Most Protective?
Many types of dogs have been bred for hundreds of years to display particular traits. Just think of the gundog breeds, who love to hunt and carry things in the mouths. Then there are the herding breeds such as collies, who, in the absence of sheep, will round up the children for you instead! Well, we also have some breeds that have been bred to demonstrate guarding and protective-type behaviors.
That means that they are less likely to go up to new people to say hello, and they may naturally guard their home and the people that live there. These breeds can include the Belgian Malinois, the Doberman Pinscher, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, and the Akita. Now, we should say that protective tendencies vary hugely from dog to dog, and some breeders work hard at reducing the protective instinct in their pups by only breeding from very sociable parents.
What Isn’t Protective Behavior?
At first glance, a dog that’s barking at another person can look as if they are protective of their owner. But take another look at that canine body language. Is the dog barking but backing away at the same time? Is their tail tucked under their body? How about the ears? Are they flat on their head when they would normally be standing upright? All of these are signs that your dog is actually quite worried about the situation rather than being protective.
These dogs have learned that they can often make the scary thing go away if they bark. Think about it from the dog’s perspective; a person they don’t know is heading towards them when they’re out on a walk. So, they bark because they’re a bit worried, and the ‘scary’ person crosses the road to keep out of the way of the dog. Success! Now the dog has learned that to make scary things go away, you just have to bark.
Now you can see why many dogs who might be labeled as being protective are actually dogs who lack confidence but who have found a way to keep scary things away from them.
What Can You Do to Stop Your Protective Dog Being Too Protective?
So, let’s now look at how you can live with one of the instinctively protective breeds without running into problems.
If you’re looking for a pup to join your family and it’s from a breed known for being protective, then it’s essential to do your homework. You must meet the pups’ mum and, ideally, other relatives so that you can get a sense of what you might be getting yourself into.
Protective adult dogs may not come rushing up to say hello, and they may be a little wary of you, but they shouldn’t be aggressive. You should see that they are affectionate towards their owners and that they are responsive to them.
Socialization is Essential
Socialization is the process of your dog getting to meet lots of people in different environments when they are younger. Anything that your pup doesn’t get to see or experience when they are young is likely to cause them to startle and be afraid of when they are older.
So, this might mean taking your pup to parks, markets, dog-friendly cafes, and bars to take in these new experiences. It’s important not to overwhelm your youngster; you don’t want them to feel that they need to be protective. This is time to watch the world go by and for your pup to develop their confidence.
Train, Train, and More Training
Are you getting the hint that training is going to be important? For the protective breeds of dogs, obedience is essential, and it’s going to be an ongoing feature of their life. Forget the saying that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ because you absolutely can. It may take an older dog a little longer to learn new ways of doing things, but with patience, they will get there.
For all dogs, learning with rewards will get you better results than relying on punishment. When training is fun, your dog’s learning will be quicker, and they’ll love being around you. This doesn’t always have to be about rewarding with food; your dog may enjoy a game with a toy or fetching ball instead.
Has Your Dog Suddenly Become Protective?
Whenever there’s a sudden or dramatic change in your dog’s behaviour, and you can’t work out why then a trip to the vets should be first on your to-do list. That’s because there are several conditions, such as hypothyroidism which can cause aggression and be seen as protective behaviours.
If the vet has given the all-clear, then this might be a good time to get professional behavioural help. A qualified and experienced canine behaviourist will be able to help identify why the behaviour is happening. Then, they’ll devise a program to help your dog to become less protective.