Is your dog protective?
We see many different types of protectiveness in dogs. There are dogs who are protective of their own territory = your house and the family while in the house. There are dogs who are protective of their owners = no matter where you and your dog go, they will be protective. Lastly, there are dogs who are protective of themselves. This is usually dogs who have the shy/introvert personality type and they protect themselves from the unknown = strangers, unpredictable situations, new places, etc.
We can also divide dogs up into two categories. First are the dogs we would categorize as 'protection breeds'. This would include any breed that has been bred for protection purposes over many generations = German Shepherds, Mastiffs, Rottweilers, Doberman Pinschers, etc. We love to own & train protection breeds (secretly our favorite)! They are incredibly loyal and they make great family dogs. The second category would include any breed of dog who exhibits protective tendencies. I have seen this occur in almost every breed of dog. It is based on an individual dog's personality, not based on breeding for a particular purpose. We've seen overly protective Labs, Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas and Golden Retrievers, just to name a few. These are actually more difficult for the owners to train because strangers will not hesitate to approach a Lab or Golden, for example. It makes it harder for the owner to explain when they are not friendly.
Here, we'd like to talk about the protection breeds, or dogs who have been bred for hundreds of years to protect. These dogs have a very predictable developmental path and most people who get these dogs, did not do their research. If you do not own a protection breed but your dog has protective tendencies, please read on - all of the same information will apply to your dog.
What is the predictable developmental path? Let us explain. Most protection breeds are goofy silly puppies. Most of them bond very closely with their families and do not have a lot of use for strangers. They can act very aloof or indifferent when it comes to meeting new people. Did you notice we said 'most'? We have met plenty of protection breed pups who are actually friendly and outgoing with strangers. Either way, the mistake most owners make is they think however their puppy acts at 5 months old, is how they will act when they are 3 years old.
Adolescence in most dogs starts around 6 months of age and typically goes until around 2 years of age. If your dog is protective in any of the 3 ways mentioned above, you will start to see their puppy behavior change sometime between 6-12 months of age. They may growl or bark when they see someone from a distance . They may start to back away from strangers or try to rush up (depending on which type of protectiveness). They may start to bark or growl at unknown objects such as trash cans. This is the next step on the developmental path. Most people will question it but end up brushing it off. These activities will escalate throughout adolescence. What was once a growl or bark is now full blown barking and lunging. This is usually where the owners stop walking or exercising their dogs in public because it is embarrassing and/or they cannot control their dog now that they are much larger.
Once adolescence is over, the magic age of 2 comes around. For protection breeds we have found this to be a crucial time in their development. This is where most of them become an adult and now they know what their job is - to protect. From this age forward, they perfect their skills by practicing them as much as possible.
So what can you do? The most important thing you can do for any protection breed is socialization. It needs to happen early and often and your efforts need to be intensified during adolescence. It is almost impossible to train the protectiveness away from a protection breed. If your goal is to have a dog who will be protective around your property, that is fine, but you still need to socialize them. If you don't, your dog will protect you even from the people you want to invite over. Socialize them with new people, in new places and, if important to you, with new dogs as well. Make sure they are having a positive experience with these 'new' items.
The second most important thing is to train your dog. Your dog needs to defer to you when you tell them "This person is NOT a threat.". The type of training is also crucial. We have had countless clients in our lobby crying because they went to an 'all positive' training facility and they were asked to leave because they had a protection dog who was barking or lunging. The owners were made to feel that either they had a bad dog or that they were bad owners. Please do your research and find a Balanced Training facility or trainer who will help you give your dog clear boundaries and guidelines. That's what we offer at Canine Creature Comforts - Balanced Training.
If you have a busy household with lots of kids or adults coming and going, please think twice about getting that protection breed puppy. It is a lot of work and a lot of hours to properly train and socialize your dog and doing all of this it is not an option!
If you already own a protection breed, you have a different level of responsibility to train your dog than other dog owners. Not only do you have to train them in obedience, but you have to socialize them and train them to defer to you in situations where they might want to be protective. If you signed up for this type of dog, be prepared for everything that will go along with it!