You get a knock at the door, and it’s a solicitor for some unknown charity. You politely listen, but your dog is growling and barking. Your sweet pup, ironically named Killer, doesn’t often bark at people. You try to calm Killer down, but you end up cutting the solicitor’s presentation short because Killer is making a ruckus. You could be having a party, and your dog is friendly and social to some guests, but not all. Everyone is offering him bites of food to win Killer’s affection, but he won’t go near some people. Why is he ignoring some people, but not all of them? He’ll eat anything, so what’s going on? These are your friends, so why is he playing hot and cold? How quickly does he make these decisions to like someone or not? What does he see that you are not?
The Root of the Behavior
Some breeds are more protective of their human than others, and those dogs might not like anyone they deem a threat. Protective dog breeds include the Akita, Neapolitan Mastiff, Dogue de Bordeaux, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, and Bullmastiff. These dogs are loyal to their owners but protective. If you are looking to adopt or purchase a dog of a protective breed, be sure to research it first. Sometimes these dogs need thorough training or are not ideal for all people or families. Also, if you want a dog who barks at strangers rather than waits silently for their approach, you want to distinguish that in each breed, too. The other reason dogs like some people and not others are because they follow your lead. Dogs tend to do “social eavesdropping,” which is where they watch your interactions with others, and that includes body language, the tone of voice, or if someone snubbed you. This behavior is their version of vetting others, and if you don’t like someone, your dog will pick up on that. A study completed by researchers from Kyoto University in Japan revealed that dogs respond to the way others treat their owner. The study took 54 dogs and monitored their behavior with their owners and a helping person, non-helping person, and a neutral person. The dogs were more trusting of the helpful people who had positive interactions with their owners. The dogs avoided the people who were not helpful, or negative, towards their owners. Even when presented with treats from both helpful and unhelpful people, the dog still ignored the non-helpful. Your dog is observing your interactions more thoroughly than you may be, and he is forming opinions. Humans do the same type of observing, especially children, who are learning how and when to trust others. They watch others’ interactions and responses to people and decide if they like the outsider based on what you do. So perhaps your dog is snubbing someone at your party. It could be that your guest insulted you earlier that evening. To make it simple, your dog is being your BFF and showing solidarity with you.
Encouraging the Behavior
You might decide to get a dog breed that is known to protect. Perhaps you live alone, you live a reasonable distance from your nearest neighbor, or you want someone to bark at night if there are intruders. Ensuring you have a protective breed will give you peace of mind, just make sure you train them from the time they are young. You might just want your BFF by your side for friendly interactions. For either situation, it’s important to know where the line is for acceptable and unacceptable behavior from your pooch. If your BFF is being protective or unfriendly, but not aggressive, it’s up to you whether to train or socialize him differently. If your dog takes snacks from all your guests except for one, but just walks away and is still polite, you shouldn’t be concerned. However, if he begins barking or becoming aggressive towards that one person, you should consider a trip to the trainer or vet. However, if your dog becomes aggressive, it is a problem. Excessive barking, growling, showing teeth, biting, or lunging at people is not a healthy protective relationship. If this is the case, take your dog to a trainer to learn how to reduce these behaviors. A trainer can help you socialize your dog to know how to act appropriately in different situations. Killer’s social eavesdropping can benefit you greatly. You’ll have a protector when a stranger approaches you, and you can get a small feeling satisfaction from your dog snubbing someone who snubbed you. He is your BFF, and everyone needs one of those.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Your dog’s choice of friends and companions is just as important as yours, and you should respect it. If you have adopted a new dog or just got a puppy, make sure you train them to have socially acceptable behaviors. You can ask your vet for a few methods, or take them to a trainer. Remember your dog is susceptible to your feelings and interactions. He might even pick up on something you don’t, so be sure to look at your relationships closely if he’s not liking your friends. It could be that you have some feelings about them hidden under the surface or that he is unnecessarily protective.
Like you would with your human BFF, trust your barking BFF. As long as he’s not aggressive, let him judge those you come across and meet. Just make sure his response is appropriate to the situation. You want your pup to be protective, but you don’t want your four-legged friend making people your enemies.