Your dog may seem to be fine with strangers to your home but you have noticed that she is becoming more aggressive towards people who approach her on the leash. You were out walking your dog in your neighborhood on a sunny day when a neighbor came up to you.
She exclaimed, “What a cute puppy!” She bent down and reached for your dog before you could stop her. Your beloved canine friend would growl, lunge at, or perhaps bite, her human admirer. What happened? Was your dog protecting you?
Although it is possible, it is far more likely your dog was exhibiting defensive fear-related aggression.
Do I need my dog to protect me or defend me?
On average, I see 12 clients per month who are concerned about their dog’s aggressive behavior. At least half of the clients suggest to me that their dog is protecting them at some point in our consultation. It might make them feel better, even though it is an unwelcome behavior that puts at risk the well-being both of the dog and the person who was attacked. Dogs who bite humans often end up losing their homes and even their lives.
My clients tell me that it is more likely that their dog is defensively aggressive. She may be a bit cautious with strangers, or even fearful of them.
Fearful dogs will often choose escape as their first choice of behavior. However, if they are on a leash and cannot retreat, she uses her only communication method to tell them to stay away. Growl. Lunge. Snap. Bite.
This behavior is often seen in adult dogs as they reach maturity. My clients who have these issues are between eight and 18 months old. These dogs are often shy pups. Shy puppies are more likely to be shy and to not want the attention of people who would like to comfort or greet them. As they age, their growl may change to a barking sound.
When a dog growls, wise people will back off. The dog responds by saying “Hey!” “That worked! I’m going back to try it again!” The dog learns to growl more when she is approached. If an approaching stranger isn’t responsive quickly enough to her growling, she will escalate to a lunge. This works too. You can also add snap, lunge, and maybe even bite to your behavioral repertoire.
Are re-dogs truly protective?
Is it possible for dogs to protect their owners without any training? Although it does occur, it is rare. This has happened only once in my many years working with dogs.
One of my co-workers and friends at Marin Humane Society adopted Sparky, a friendly, outgoing, medium-sized mixed breed dog. He had never thought of biting anyone in his entire life. My friend and Sparky were walking one evening when a mugger approached them with a gun. The mugger demanded my friend’s fanny pack which contained her wallet. Sparky attacked the mugger, and was shot. However, the mugger fled leaving my friend with her wallet and her fanny pack. Sparky was able to recover from his injuries and remained a friend to all the other people he encountered throughout his life.
It can happen, but it is unlikely your dog is doing it.
Protection Dog Training
Protection-dog training should not be offered to dogs that are anxious about strangers. Their judgment regarding potential dangers is usually poor. Photo credit: Jaromir Chalabala/ Dreamstime.com
Maybe you want your dog protective. People hope their dog will provide some protection. Sometimes, even randomly adopted dogs can do this. People with bad intentions will avoid anyone with dogs. They don’t want to be in danger of being bitten by a friendly dog. Dog-friendly homes, especially those with vocal dogs, are less likely to be burglarized. This is different from dogs who are intentionally trained or encouraged to be aggressive towards threatening people.
Protecting your dog is a meticulous and precise process. It starts with a well-adjusted, well-socialized dog. A dog that is motivated by fear or suspicion and makes poor decisions about which attackers to attack should not be allowed!
Dogs are taught to bark when they hear someone calling. This is the simplest form of protection training. This is something you can do by yourself. You don’t have to let your dog bark aggressively – anyone approaching you with bad intentions will be scared off by your dog’s barking. They won’t stop trying to read canine body language to see if they might bite.
A cue is a phrase or word that does not tip the person off but may be natural in the situation. You could say, “What do you want?” You might use a slightly alarming tone of voice to say “What do you want?” You could also use the cue to bark to signal your dog to bark. This could be a fake sneeze or an upward tugging on the leash, assuming that you don’t usually tug on your dog’s leash. If someone approaches you, you can simply teach your dog to bark when you are ready.
I suggest that you stop there. It is not necessary for the majority of dog-loving people to have a dog that can be used as a weapon. The responsibility and liability associated with caring for a protection-trained pet dog are huge. A reputable trainer can help you find a protection-dog trainer if you have a need. Although we recommend that training be non-forceful, it is best to have a trained dog trainer who follows the minimum invasive, minimally aggressive (“LIMA”) principles set forth by professional organizations like the Association for Professional Dog Trainers or the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.
What can you do if your dog is defensively aggressive and not protecting you?
She can be managed by you by keeping her at home, where she won’t be disturbed by anyone. Many people adopt dogs to take them on walks. If you feel this way, it is possible to stop anyone from trying to pet your dog, especially if you are walking with her on a leash.
This will not work if you aren’t assertive and brusque. You should politely tell your dog to stay away from strangers. She could have already started to bite the dog-lover. Instead, raise your hand, with your palm up and chest out, in the universal “stop!” signal. Then, shout “Stop!” loudly and assertively. You now have the opportunity to explain to them why you don’t want them to pet your dog. Even if they give you the “But dogs love us!” assurance, stick to your guns.
It’s even more effective if you can convince your dog that she doesn’t need to fear strangers. This is where classic counter-conditioning or desensitization can be very helpful. You should always pair strangers with high-value treats. We use chicken, baked, boiled, and the unseasoned frozen chicken strips that you can find at your local grocery store. While keeping your dog away enough to make sure she is aware, but not too concerned, Strangers can make treats happen!
If she refuses to eat the treats or is growling, barking or lunging at you, it’s too close. Give her a treat, and let her look at you. Look, treat. Look, treat. Move closer to the person and continue the process until she stops being concerned. Take your time. Slow down if you feel you are going too slowly.
Another useful method is “Treat and Retire.” This allows you to use the help of a stranger and allow your dog to have a more relaxed interaction with you.
You don’t want the stranger to give your dog treats from their hands. Although this may seem like counter-conditioning, because strangers often make treats happen, it can draw the dog too close (because she really wants the treat). Then, when the treat is gone she looks up to see the scary stranger directly in her face. The bite occurs.
You don’t want to punish your dog for defensive behavior. This includes verbal and physical corrections, no squirt bottle, no pulling on the leash or bean bags. Although punishment might temporarily stop the behavior, these aversive tactics are likely to make your dog more defensive, aggressive, and stressed when others approach. She now has to worry about what you will do, as well as what the stranger might do. We want her to associate positive things with strangers and not negative stuff. We want her to be more positive about strangers approaching her, not less!
How to play the Treat and Retire Game
Begin by asking your volunteer to toss high-value treats behind your pet. She must then move away from the volunteer in order to reach the treats. In this instance, the photographer will be the one tossing them! If necessary, you can walk alongside your dog to ensure that the leash doesn’t get too tight as she moves towards the treats. Tip: Use chicken or other moist meats that don’t roll when being tossed.
You will need treats of high value, volunteers, and knowledge about stress signs in dogs to be able to play Treat and Retreat. You can ask a professional dog behaviorist to help you with the initial steps if you don’t want to force your dog. This is how you can change your dog’s behavior.
1. Your volunteers will be provided with a supply kibble as well as a bag of high-value, tasty, small-sized treats.
2. Inform your volunteers not to make eye contact with your dog during a meeting. Many dogs find this disturbing.
3. Your volunteer should pass a high-value treat to your dog after you have met them in their home. Your dog will be able to escape to receive the treat.
4. Repeat the exercise many times with different people, at different times of day, and in different places.
5. After your dog has settled into the process, it is time to set criteria. A volunteer should pass the higher-value treat to your dog between her and the dog, but she must be very close to the dog. Next, pass the lower-value treat (the biscuit) to your dog.
6. Repeat the exercise with other people in different places and at different times.
Step 7: Have the volunteer give high-value treats to your dog. Your dog should move towards the volunteer, but not too close, to get the food. After the high-value treat is taken by the dog, the volunteer should pass a lower-value food kibble to the dog. This will teach your dog to not feel stuck or frozen in new people. She can instead move towards and away as she needs.
7. You can raise the criteria if your dog seems to enjoy this game. You can encourage your dog to play by bringing treats closer to you. Then, toss the treat far enough that the dog can retreat.
8. You can do this with different volunteers at different times and locations until your dog becomes more relaxed and takes more initiative to greet people. You can proceed to the next step if your dog is now able to approach the volunteer with a relaxed body language, soft eyes and a wagging tail.
9. As long as your dog is comfortable and relaxed with the volunteer, you can hand-feed the higher value treat to your dog. Then, throw the lower-value treat (the biscuit) to the dog.
It is worth spending the time to make your dog more comfortable around strangers. Your life and your dog’s life will be easier if there is less stress. You will have a happier life together if she is less stressed about her interactions with strangers.
Why do dogs growl at people? Whole