Some dogs have a built-in instinctiveness to protect their owners and will do so even when you don’t want them to. You can’t blame them as they are doing what comes naturally and they see as appropriate behaviour for the situation.
Signs of protectiveness can include growling and barking at what they perceive to be a threat, more intense alertness and focus, plus moving between you and the ‘danger’.
Without training, a dog does not understand that they do not have to be on guard the entire time.
Do’s and don’ts
When your dog displays signs of being protective of you it is important to act confidently and show them that you have control of any encounters that may arise. Your dog needs to realise that they do not need to protect you and can relax because you can cope.
It is important not to punish or tell a dog off for growling, barking or showing any warning signs, as this may make them afraid to do so when necessary at another time and could escalate their behaviour to more severe aggression. Instead, teach them a different behaviour and reward with what motivates them.
Equally, do not praise a dog for growling or barking as you will reinforce this response. An overprotective dog can become dangerously out of control and become a threat.
How to make it better
Try to establish whether your dog is acting out of fear, protectiveness or for another reason. By knowing the why you will have a better understanding and be able to establish a realistically achievable training plan to move forward positively:
Decide what you want as an alternative behaviour
Learn the triggers
Know your dog’s body language and comfort zones
Reward with what motivates a correct behaviour
Establish a safe distance to move to away from others
Be confident and clear with what you are asking
Allow time and be patient
Be prepared for setbacks
Be consistent in everything you do and say
Your dog will come to learn that a stranger approaching, or whatever the trigger may be, means they should be performing the behaviour you have taught.
Very importantly remember your influence on your dog and manage yourself, make sure you do not react in a negative way to a challenge as your dog will pick up on the change in you and respond in a way that they deem instinctively suitable ie if you become anxious, they will sense your anxiety and do what they see fitting, which could be aggression.
As responsible owners, it is down to us to teach our dogs what is acceptable and appropriate behaviour when faced with different scenarios.
With severe cases of aggression that are beyond your training ability, please do seek professional assistance.
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