My Terrier mix Kelly (pictured) is my protector. It’s been a challenge teaching her it’s alright if a family member, friend or my other pets want to approach me. I have no problem with her actions if I need protection and she is as loyal as she could be, but protection can turn into aggression. And protection and aggression are not the same thing.
We have dogs for different reasons. They may be our hiking partner or a friend on our daily run or walk. Some want to own a dog who loves playing in water, competing in obstacle courses or snuggling next to you on the couch. Without thinking about our dogs protecting us, most owners would admit that’s one of the advantages to owning a dog. My dogs are great at alerting me to noises and smells they detect coming into the house from outside.
Protecting the pack is done without even thinking for most dogs. A female dog will protect her pups, and it’s as natural to a dog as it is for us to protect our family. A dog will protect what he feels is his, but only if he feels threatened. If a dog moves in front of his owner when an unfamiliar dog or a person approaches them or quietly steps between his human child and another kid fighting, that is protection. A dog who is assuming a protective position will do so silently with no growling or snarling. He will reserve judgment to decide if a more aggressive response will be needed. A dog who is being protective will only become aggressive if it is necessary to do so. Once the threat has passed and he determines the dog coming up to you is friendly or the person means you no harm, he will back down.
Aggression is a response where the dog will use force or needs to display dominance in every situation they encounter. It’s important to remember that aggression is not protection. A dog who is displaying aggressive tendencies may not have been properly socialized with other dogs, could be a dominant dog who is trying to show his dominance over others, or a dog who is fearful. That’s why it’s important to make sure a puppy is properly socialized when most aggressive tendencies can be avoided.
One way to tell if a dog is being aggressive is if they are growling when there’s no reason for them to do so. When your dog steps between you and another dog or person and they are growling or seem to be upset, it’s time to take him away from the situation. An approaching dog or human should not garner anything more than your dog paying attention to them. Growling is a warning sign that the dog could initiate a fight or bite. A dog that’s in a protective position will have the good sense and judgment to understand each situation and you most likely won’t even know he was in protection mode.
My mom had a medium sized mixed breed dog, Ben. Late one night someone jimmied her front door open. Ben was in the back of the house with mom as she was getting ready for bed. He heard the person trying to break in. Without a sound, Ben raced from the back bedroom and hit the front door just as the person was about to enter. The only time Ben let out a snarling bark was when he caught sight of the man in the window of the door before the man ran away. I have no doubt that if the intruder had made it inside, Ben would have protected his home and his person. A dog in protection mode should stop once the intruder or reason why a dog felt his protection was needed has passed or the dog or person surrenders and leaves. That was exactly what Ben did.
Aggressive dogs bite people and other dogs every year. Knowing the difference between protection and aggression can prevent a lawsuit or the possibility of having a dog declared a danger to society. Having a good knowledge of a dog’s body language can aid a dog owner in knowing if a dog’s reaction is protection or aggression. It’s always easier and safer to avoid a dog fight to begin with and no one wants to have the worry of a lawsuit if a dog bites someone. Knowing your dog can help you understand if he’s being protective or aggressive. To defuse a situation if you are outside or at a dog park and you have doubts, the best thing you can do is to calmly leave the scene. Dogs do signal their intent and it’s our responsibility to learn and understand how to listen to and watch what they are saying and showing to us.
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