In our experience, we find it common that most folks like the protective qualities in their dog. While there may be comfort in the family dog that doubles as home security, we need to heed caution because we don’t want the family dog to be a liability.
There is no reason for a dog to act protective toward your spouse, your kids, your family, your guests, nor with innocent bystanders in public. Aggression can be a liability that leads to far more challenge than you’d expect when having to deal with a potential bite and/or authorities getting involved, not to mention the pain, suffering, guilt, shame, emotional fallout, damaged or broken relationships, etc. that come from it.
Aggressive behavior commonly proves to be too much for many families to handle. After living with fear, anxiety, and worry, a family’s stress and resentment often leads to a dog being rehomed, gotten rid of, or worse. Instead of the dog having power, what virtually everyone needs is to have control of their dog. The dog cannot and should not be in control.
Think about it this way: How can a dog who naturally has more strength and power than a human, and/or has the capability to hospitalize a human, be calm and gentle and would never try to hurt or challenge a human? One word: Respect. The dog has to respect the human. This also means the dog believes the human has the control, the power, and the willingness to show the right ways to behave while correcting poor decisions. Who is this human? The dog’s owner(s).
When dogs respect their owners, we have far fewer problems. What does not gain respect, in fact, may work against us, is constant petting, baby talking, doting, reassurance, coddling, praising, treating, allowing, etc. The dog just doesn’t see this as something to respect when giving all of ourselves, our attention, our resources for free. Treating the dog like royalty who hasn’t earned the privilege leads to spoiled, bratty, entitled, and potentially dangerous behavior.
Moreover, the owner who is seen by the dog as the “nurturer” will usually have lesser influence over the dog. Nurturing traits are not respected by dogs. Also, anyone who approaches the nurturer, the dog may get protective with too. This commonly happens with family members as well as guests coming over to visit.
To overcome this, owners need to show the right leadership qualities. That means we require from our dogs respect for space, patience, that rules be followed, to listen when we require, etc. This is not a situation where the owner can remain passive, overly allowing the dog free access to space, to break rules, and to live without boundaries. We will also need to share consequences for unwanted behavior.
Situations with a passive owner who has an active resource guarding/protective dog, generally get worse over time. The more the dog realizes that his unaddressed, aggressive-acting, protective-type behaviors work, the more power the dog will assume. Thus, the less control the human will have. In this state, the dog has control and any attempts to intervene, even by the owners, may provoke the dog to escalate to maintain said control, commonly resulting in a bite. This is why safety protocols and gear, such as muzzles and additional leashes, need to be in place when addressing the dog. Bottom line, the leadership/relationship dynamic must be reset where the dog respects the owner, instead of “owning” or “claiming” the owner as an object or property to guard.
When an owner shares the right consequence for “looking” with intent, loading up, growling, moving out of position, or any unwanted behavior including small infractions, a few things will happen. 1) The dog learns the behavior isn’t allowed. 2) The dog learns the owners won’t tolerate nonsense. 3) The dog learns that the owners have control of the situation and the dog’s aggressive input isn’t necessary. 4) The dog will also naturally respect who is in control of the situation. The owners need to have control.
We have to remember that we are adopting a dog, who is primal in nature, with no ability to use reason, logic, nor critical thinking skills required for the “people” world, and placing said dog into a space where humans live in a modern, civilized fashion. Adopting into a family is easy for easy-going dogs and dogs with only minor nuisance behavior but for dogs who are bold and determined, stubborn, and mentally strong-willed, the fit isn’t as seamless. It will take work. It will take the right work.
Training obedience is not that answer. The relationship dynamics required are not as simple as requiring the dog to listen to commands; there is the additional need for sharing consequences for poor choices. Simply saying or yelling “no” does not mean the dog got a consequence, nor the right message about the wrong behavior.
Also, a good number of dogs who are seemingly very protective are actually quite easy to handle with the right enforcement of rules. Many dogs are only one correction away from respecting people and living a great life. Thing is, the owner is the one who needs to be willing to share that with their own dog in the right moment when it counts. But for the tougher dogs and more difficult situations, these will likely require more work and much a more specific approach where the owner is willing to show the right stuff…right stuff being the complete picture of what behaviors are AND aren’t allowed.
The relationship between owner and dog is only really rewarding if we don’t have a stressful time. In many cases, the previously mentioned fear, anxiety, and stress can potentially turn into joy, appreciation, and happiness once the proper relationship dynamics are in place and we have a respectful dog. Waiting around won’t fix it. This is never up to the dog to change, it’s up to the owner.