He's so Protective...

Most of us have seen it, you're trying to walk past a lunging, barking dog and the owner explains that he/she is very protective. And to the non dog owning public, maybe it does look like a protective dog. In the very least, it probably looks like a dangerous dog. 

At some point in the last four or five decades things have changed for our pet dogs. I grew up in the 70's in our rural area with a protective dog. Our dog was hardly ever leashed or tied out. She went with my sister and me when we rode our bikes, played in the woods or at our neighbor's houses. There were no dog fights, there were no dog bites. She was a Shepherd mix and I've come to realize that we were her herd. She was never far from us as we romped through the woods or fields and if we felt like we were lost, she would lead us home. She was happy and fulfilled. She had a "job" and she was great at it. In all that time, not once did I see her bark and lunge at anyone. So how do I know she was protective? She would place herself between us and any perceived danger. When we went sledding she would grab us by our boots to keep us from going down the hill. When we managed to get free of her grip, she would chase us all the way down, barking and grabbing at us. If we pretended we were hurt, she would come to our aid. My sister once tunneled into a snowbank and built a little fort. When she started calling to me to come see it, the dog jumped on top and frantically began digging to get to her. Of course, there were a few people, usually men, that she didn't seem to care for. But if they came near our house, she would just sit by their vehicle and keep an eye on them. I suppose, if they had tried to exit their vehicle, she probably would have been compelled to do something about it. 

Click on the below link to see a great example of an actual protective dog.


Fast forward from 1970 something to the new millennium, And for some reason people now believe that their dog's are being protective because they put on an aggressive display when someone approaches them while they're on leash. This is simply not the case. A larger than life display of aggression is a dog trying to scare or chase away a perceived threat. Dog's, like most mammals, including humans, will have a fight or flight response to something that frightens them. And also like other mammals, given a choice would almost always choose flight. But, if a dog is leashed to his human he can't run away, so now his only choice is to fight, but because fighting is dangerous and can get you killed, they put on a big, aggressive display in an attempt to scare the other dog, person, etc away from them. Purely "Self" preservation! You may have even witnessed your dog responding to a similar situation off leash, having a completely different outcome, especially if they are free to put some distance between them and the scary thing. 

Let's compare the dog in the photo at the beginning of this article to the dog in the video. Notice the body language of the Doodle in the photo. She's on her back legs because the tension on the leash is lifting her off the ground. Her teeth are showing, her tail and ears are erect, and I would bet that she's barking. Her body language is screaming, "Get Away From Me, or I'll rip your head off!" There's none of that behavior from the dog in the video. He's focused on his little girl, trying to keep her from going into the dangerous water. He couldn't care less about anything else going on around him, protecting her is his only concern. See how completely different the scenarios are? 

So, the next time you're out and about and you notice a dog in a reactive episode, try putting more space between you and them. And if you are the owner of a so called protective(reactive) dog, please seek the help of a force free, positive reinforcement trainer. There's so much that we can do to help your dog overcome his/her reactivity and help you live a more peaceful life with your K9 Kompanion.