Is my Dog Naturally Protective?
Is my Dog Being Protective?
This is a very common question that we receive. There is a difference between a protection dog, a reactive dog and a dog that is resource guarding. We are going to go through each behavior and explain it.
Is My Dog Naturally Protective?
A lot of pet owners are not going to like the answer to this question. The answer is no. Without even meeting your dog, the answer is no. As a professional dog trainer that has trained for Law Enforcement, Protection and Protection Dog Sports.. the majority.. 99.9% of the dogs we come across are either reactive or resource guarding, they are not protecting you. What they are displaying is a behavioral issue. There is nothing positive or even protective about this behavior. This behavior, if not dealt with can very easily escalate into human or dog aggression, which can result in a liability for you.
What is a Protection Dog?
A protection dog is a dog that has been specifically bred for this task, they come from working or strong sport bloodlines. They have been selected from generation to generation to serve this purpose. They come from working dog breeds, that are not pet lines, but working lines. Working dog breeds are most commonly the German Shepherd, Dutch Shepherd and Malinois. It is very rare anymore for some breeds that once were known as working breeds to even have the genetics to protect you. The Dobermann Pinscher is a great example of that, they are a shell of what they once were. There are only a handful of breeders in this county that I would get a Doberman puppy from for the purpose of making it a protection dog. Sadly, this also goes for the German Shepherd Breed as well, most are a shell of what they once were. The American line German Shepherds are genetic messes that suffer from separation anxiety and fear aggression. Our pet clientele is 70% German Shepherds suffering from Separation Anxiety and Reactivity. This is not the owners fault, as they are not trainers.. we blame the breeders that saw these same behaviors in the parents and still chose to breed them. We have great results in helping these behavioral issues, however, these same dogs will never be protection dogs, as their foundation is poor genetics and sadly in a real life situation the dog will default under stress to its genetic makeup.
A protection dog is a dog from stable genetics, that comes from a working line pedigree that have been intentionally bred for this job. They have been health tested in order to still function and not end up with hip dysplasia and bred for solid temperaments. These dogs are evaluated as puppies to see if they will make good candidates in a protection dog home. You want a dog with balanced drives and a clear head. That is content laying around with the family and does not always have to have its mind engaged. This same dog is trained very carefully with proper drive development, a foundation in correct bitework, and control work through obedience and capping. A lot of proofing goes into the development of a protection dog.
It is much better to find a dog that has already had a trained foundation and is approximately 2-3 years of age, versus trying to start a puppy on its own. I have had breeders send us puppies from top of the line working lines, that sell at $3,500 a pup and still wash out of our Protection Dog Program. Not every dog has it and it is less of an investment at the end of the day to find a dog that has been in training its first two years for this purpose than to buy a puppy and “hope” it has it. This type of dog is like going out and buying a high caliber weapon, it is not cheap. Quality is not cheap and there is no price tag that can be placed on the safety and protection of one’s family. These dogs go from upwards of 15-100K for a reason.
What is Fear Aggression?
It’s that dog hiding behind you when you go out in public, that cowers when it is being verbally told “no.” It’s a tucked tail, and the back in an arch. Often the hair is up on its back. When you try to work with this dog, it often pees or poops itself in new environments. It’s the dog you are scared to take out in public, because you are not sure if it will willingly get out of the vehicle or walk into a store. Its the dog that when kids are present it cowers or goes and hides and shows it teeth if they come within its bubble. Fearful dogs want to create distance. They show you they want to create distance they back up at the end of the leash, almost pulling their head out of the collar. Too often owners and strangers approaching do not see these signs of the dog asking for that distance and push themselves on the fearful dog. This is how a lot of people end up bit. From the dog’s perspective he said in his body language he was trying to create space and look for the “exit.” When the dog begins to feel closed in on, they display defensive or offensive behavior, again they are asking without the ability to speak for space. Often times this is how children get bit. Children do not understand the dog is asking for space and they continue to be in the dogs space until the dog feels trapped and lashes out further trying to get that space. This behavior is not a dog trying to protect you, this is fear aggression. Yes, it is often mislabeled by so many pet owners as their dog trying to “protect them.” We also help dogs like this, with building trust, confidence, and helping them develop coping skills. This dog will never become a protection dog, as it will always in a stressful environment default to its fear aggression. It’s about teaching the dog safety and understanding how to give your dog respect and be an advocate for this type of dog.
What is a Reactive Dog?
The reactive dog is probably our most common client. Eight out of the ten dogs we work with are reactive. Again, here at KnightWatch K-9 we get the dogs no other trainers want to deal with. Why is that? Most trainers want the easy dogs to train and do not accept Reactive Dogs into their programs.
This is the perfect example of the reactive dog. A puppy at about eight weeks of age is brought home. The new family takes the puppy for walks in the neighborhood. No issues. Puppy turns about six months of age, they are walking down the street, the pup sees another dog, hair goes up on their back, they go to the end of the leash and begin to bark. The owner nervously pets them, pulls on the leash and the pup does not stop. It continues in this behavior. The owner does not understand as their puppy has seen this other dog on their walks several times and suddenly their puppy has become “reactive” to other dogs. This is a new behavior. A lot of owners, not being trainers are not sure what to do (and that is ok, that is why God made Trainers 😊).
The most common thing that most owners do after the dog becomes reactive for the first time, is they take their puppy home and stop going for walks, as they have no idea what to do and feel doing nothing is better than making a mistake with their dog. This is actually a stage puppies go through (check out the fear stages of puppies), and if they are not worked through this stage then it turns into a behavior that progresses and becomes worse. It can turn into full aggression later on, depending on the breed, if not dealt with, etc. To put it simply Reactivity is a dog becoming overly excited by the sight of other dogs, animals or people. This reactivity can get to the point where the owner has lost all control of the dog. Again, remember a protection dog is a dog trained to always be under control. A reactive dog is taking control of every situation and the owner is unable to regain control. This is why this behavior is not your dog demonstrating protectiveness, it is a behavioral issue that needs to be addressed and training sought. Your dog at the end of the leash barking and lounging at people, other animals and dogs is not your dog trying to protect you. It is an out of control dog that has not learned boundaries. It is a dog in need of obedience training. It can also be a sign that your dog is afraid and lacks socialization and does not know how the correct way is to respond to stimuli. A reactive dog is a fearful, out of control dog. A fearful dog is not a protection dog and has no business doing protection work. They need socialization, and obedience training. You might say, well my puppy did puppy classes and then developed this, why? As dog’s mature they go through fear stages, and stages of uncertainty. It is important throughout your dog’s life to continue training, seek basic, intermediate and advance training with continual socialization. Refresher training is often needed if your dog was trained as a puppy. They need to learn to work through new situations and environments.
What is Resource Guarding?
Too often resource guarding is mistaken as a dog being protective. Resource guarding is when you are sitting on the couch and a person or dog approaches and your dog shows teeth or gives a low growl or goes after them.
We have all seen the Chihuahua in grandma’s arms. You approach and the teeth and low growl comes out. The dog is telling you to stay away from her human. This is an example of a dog resource guarding. It is actually not even about grandma; it is the dog demonstrating it is afraid.
Another great example are our Cane Corso and Rottweiler owners. You bring that puppy home, he sleeps in the bed with you the first eight months. You get up one morning, get out of bed, walk to the bathroom and then you go to get back in bed, and your dog growls at you. Your dog being a guardian breed has taken possession of your bed and you are quite literally afraid to get in it and at that moment not sure what to do. This is a common scenario that we get multiple phone calls on a week. This is resource guarding.
We get calls on Rottweilers that will not allow their owners or their owner’s children near their food bowl or kennel without fear that they themselves will get bit.
Let me ask you this.. if this dog is naturally protecting you.. do protection dogs not let you back in bed, near their food bowls or kennels? No, because this is not the dog being protective.. again, this is a behavioral issue. Remember Protection Dogs have been selected for being clear headed and having good temperaments.
To explain this a little better.. just how do dog owners accidently instill resource guarding in their dogs?
The little dog is in her owner’s arms. The first time the dog shakes in fear or acts uncertain the owner feels anxious. The owner begins to pet the dog over and over, thinking they are reassuring the dog, when in reality they are reinforcing the negative behavior. They are actually encouraging the behavior and the dog becomes more aggressive in its resource guarding, by first showing teeth and a low growl, to actually reaching out to bite. The owner usually laughs it off or says “oh, she is just very protective of me.” When this is far from what the dog is actually doing.
We have all seen someone go to approach a dog not in the arms but sitting on the ground next to its owner. It’s the same concept as the dog in its owner’s arms. The dog is growling and not allowing anyone near the owner. This is not a dog being protective, this is a dog resource guarding. Again, it’s a behavioral issue that needs to be addressed with training. The owner started this behavior too often with petting the dog when it was afraid or being reactive, and/or by allowing the dog to have a bone at owner’s feet. The dog took possession of the owner and has taken control of the situation. Remember with a protection dog, the owner is in control not the dog. Resource guarding is created by the owner not being in control, not being the leader and putting their own anxiety on the dog, when the dog acts reactive.
Too often owners encourage the dog to resource guard when the dog is being reactive. They teach the dog to resource guard and feel proud the dog is offering “protective” behavior. This has resulted in dogs going after other dogs and people and developing into full on aggression. Resource guarding can also develop into aggression towards the owner after it has “learned” this behavior is acceptable towards other dogs and people. Do not be surprised if one day that same dog does not turn around and go up the leash at the owner.
If you see any hint of the above behaviors, please know that your dog is not being protective of you or demonstrating natural protection. Your dog is developing behavioral issues that can at the end of the day be the result of your dog being put down, if training is not sought early on.
Too often people mistake their dogs fight or flight as protection for them, however the dog only cares about itself. A Protection Dog Trained properly and with the correct genetics understands how to stay in the fight and does not default to its genetics and choose to flee the situation. Remember, no matter the amount of training you have put on the dog, at the end of the day your dog defaults to its genetics. This is why we recommend getting the right breed for the job, from sound genetics, and from a trainer that has a reputation in the industry. No price tag can be placed on one’s safety.
We hope this article and others are helpful. Our goal is to help educate the public and keep owners and dogs safe.
KnightWatch K9 Pet Training
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