Dogs make wonderful companions, so much so that they hold the title of being a man’s best friend and most people treat them as important members of their family. They are loyal protectors and every now and then we hear a story about a dog that saved its human family from a burglar or woke them up when a fire erupted in their house. Many owners also experience their dog’s protection when they are out on a walk and get approached by other people or dogs. Why do our four-legged friends always want to protect us and when does protection turn into aggression?
The Root of the Behavior
In the wild, dogs’ relatives such as wolves live in packs and are rarely separated from each other. Protecting the pack comes to them naturally and instinctively as it does to domesticated dogs who have inherited the survival trait. While it is a universally shared characteristic among all dogs, big and small, some breeds are more protective than others. These include breeds such as Bullmastiffs, Cane Corsos, German Shepherds, and Doberman Pinschers. This comes as no surprise as some of them have been bred specifically to become watchdogs, hunters, property protectors, or personal guardians. All of these breeds are naturally loyal, fearless, and protective. Though all of them make great family dogs they do require more socialization than an average dog.
Dogs consider their owners to be part of their pack and thus inherently feel the need to protect them in case of any threats. They also naturally get protective of things they consider theirs such as their house or shelter and resources such as food, toys, and dog beds. In addition, female dogs get protective of their litter and guard them more than anything else. However, unconditional love for their families isn’t the only reasons why dogs want to protect their owners. As highly intelligent creatures, dogs know that you are the source of a multitude of great things including food, walks, and playtime. Their survival instinct plays a part in their loyalty as our canine companions know they rely on us and need to protect us from self-preservation.
As comforting as it is to know that you have a four-legged guardian with you at all times, we have to remember that there is a thin line between dog protection and dog aggression. A protective dog will become alert to new people or unfamiliar surroundings but he will also remain in control and calm. The protective mode is triggered only if he feels threatened or senses their owner’s fear. For example, if someone jumps out from a dark alley or if the dog detects someone trying to break into the house in the middle of the night. In both cases, it is perfectly normal for a dog to respond by trying to lunge at the stranger or by growling and barking at the intruder. Your pet protector should also be able to calm down and snap out of the state as soon as the threat is no longer there.
Encouraging the Behavior
However, aggression is very often misidentified by owners as protection or over-protectiveness. Internally, this mode is entirely different and rooted in a dog’s own insecurity and fear and not run by the love towards its owner.
An aggressive dog will become aggressive even when it is not necessary to do so and the situation doesn’t call for it. It is characterized by dominant behavior and an intention to harm without any obvious reason or provocation. For example, it is usual for a protective dog to become alert when another dog or stranger passes nearby but it is not normal for the dog to growl or assume a fighting stance without any other reason. This overreaction is very dangerous and should be heavily discouraged as it can lead to your dog biting an innocent passerby or attacking a friendly dog that came up too close.
Both of these are huge liabilities that can be prevented through proper socialization during the early stages of a dog’s life, as well as proper dog training. Don’t let your dog’s bad behavior prevent you from greeting people on the street or having people over at your house. More importantly, don’t let denial prevent you from providing your dog with help he needs.
You might have a deep bond with your dog whether he’s protective or aggressive, the difference is that one is completely normal and healthy in the way it manifests while the other is dangerous and comes from an insecure place.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Regardless of breed, all dogs should get socialized with other animals, kids, and different situations to prevent the fear of them from forming which can often result in aggression and behavioral issues. Make sure your furry friend gets the proper training from an early age and be consistent in the things you allow, encourage, and disapprove of. Even if you have an older dog that has recently started showing signs of aggression know that though it will require more patience, it is not too late to help him overcome his triggers and become a social, harmless companion. Lastly, make sure your dog gets enough physical exercise as it is essential for a dog’s physical health as well as its mental health.
Though so many owners take pride in their dog’s ability to go from pet to protector in an instant, many of them actually misidentify their furry friend’s aggressive response as caring protection. While it can be comforting to believe that you have your own personal guard, you have to be honest with yourself and see the situation clearly to avoid any potential problems in the future and give your dog the help he needs.