I have had so many people that tell me this about their dog, “my dog is protective”. The patterns are very similar in the dogs who’s owners tell me this. The dog is out of control and wants to get between them and other people, has nipped or bit another person (or will soon), may have separation anxiety or other nervous energy, often is allowed on the bed, on the couch, pushes past them going in doors first, or is in other ways showing dominant behaviors. These dogs I am talking about have behaviors that go on including: stepping on their person’s foot, leaning on them, getting in front of them when they stop, aggressive to other dogs and or people that come close, worse behaviors on a leash, licking them over and over, and are not under any obedience command. These dogs will not obey the owners and hold a “down”command until they are released.
The fact is these dog believe they are in control or that they must be in control. Some are trying very hard to be in control and try to be the pack leader. This is always in absence of a clear pack leader that these dog develop and learn to be this way. These dogs can become aggressive and some people will actually believe they are some how at fault because their dog is ” just being protective” when in fact it is nervous and desperately needs training. Dog training is structure, consistency, boundaries, and rewards, not just a human being a Pez dispenser.
So how does dog training help a “protective” or a dominant dog? Dog training puts control in the equation where the dog is desperate to have some leadership. Understanding to the dog comes through defined commands that are reinforced and rewarded; this is how we communicate. The dog sees no clear boundaries, no consistency, and no one in control, so it tries to make boundaries for its human. If we add in structure, boundaries that we can reinforce, reward mechanisms for them to learn, and true consistency, these dogs will begin to relax and can be great dogs. Yes, they need a job, exercise, and something fun, but they need leadership and if they will not obey in distractions then this is the first place to start. When you simply require a dog to walk with you and you lead it, the picture starts to becomes clear to the dog. However, the dog must see you will take the lead and require the boundaries in all situations for them to really rely on you and trust and respect you. If this happens the dog will likely start to give up more of its nervous behaviors. Seeing dogs change like this is one of the rewards of good dog training. People that think having control over their dog is in some way bad, have no idea how much dogs want the owner to be in control. Poor dog training (like treats only for a dominant dog) encourages many bad behaviors and can not address real issues.
I believe many time we see actions on the part of dogs that the owners would call loving or affectionate like licking, jumping on them, etc. The dog that really respects you for being the pack leader is one that you have taken the time to do the training repetitions and have shown to be reliable- that is the dog that loves you, because you did take the time to teach and require boundaries. Yes, you can still spoil your dog then, but not if you are feeding a monster who is not under your control. The dog that sees you as actually pack leader can take all the spoiling, but then still respect you because they know you will hold them to the boundaries that they know so well.
Happy dog- happy owner.