Often owners of aggressive dogs confuse their dog's aggressiveness for protectiveness. These owners believe that what their dogs are doing what is a natural and are often even quite appreciative for it. For instance, a dog that growls every time a stranger comes near their owner is not being over protective actually, the dog is being in charge.
This is like if the dog is saying ''Go away, I am in charge here''. This behavior is not indicative of stable temperament rather it is a sign of instability. Generally, the stronger the protectiveness the more unstable the dog. Any type of dog may resort to this behavior given the opportunity.
A very protective dog, a dog with ''body guard'' instincts generally will resort to an over exaggerated response to non- existent threats. For instance, if an owner is sitting by the sidewalk with the dog and a stranger stops by to talk, this dog will very likely snarl, bare its teeth and growl if this person gets too close.
Often the owner, with a little bit of pride may tell the stranger ''Yes, Buddy is very protective of me'' while in reality the dog is acting out in an unacceptable manner. These are often cases where dogs have preference for a particular family member and that will protect with their teeth and claws when confronted with anybody getting close.
In some severe cases, some dogs may be so protective of an owner that they will not allow anybody, even the spouse near the bed where the owner is resting. These are extreme cases of over protectiveness which seem to get worse and worse because the dog starts feeling powerful since it learns that by growling it actually scares people away.
Telling the dog ''It's ok''or petting it not will not make much change. You may be interested in reading "can dog fear be reinforced " Punishment however will not work as well. Desensitization and counter-conditioning by demonstrating alternative behaviors may be the solution. You can read more about this by reading "Dog behavior modification terms"
For instance, the dog should be next to the owner and exposed somebody the dog knows well and to whom it does not react. The dog is put in a stay, the two people hug and a treat is given to reward the well mannered behavior. Then gradually the dog is exposed to more and more people following the same dynamics. Slowly the dog will learn that by applying a non responsive behavior it gets rewarded.
In reality, the real protective guard dogs are in reality very stable minded. They will guard but they will also use their common sense. This requires serious training and a very stable temperament.
In other words, a stable guard dog will be able to recognize real threats and they therefore, will not overreact to seeing strangers or friends. They will look at the person more out of curiosity than any thing else. This is what people should want. These are the dogs that are able to discern threatening from non threatening people.
These basically are dogs that will welcome family, friends, relatives and strangers as long as they sense every thing is acceptable. However, let there be something odd like a crisis situation going on and they will intervene to defend and protect their loved ones.
Kathleen Streeter on January 16, 2019:
Our 5 year old Lab/Great Dane mix is obsessed with my husband. Wants to be near him all the time. Lately if a dog or person gets near my husband, not always, he will growl like fighting and sometimes nips dog or person. Other times he is loving and friendly with everyone. We have considered putting him down. I am afraid he will turn on me. He is as large as Great Dane, but also chocolate Lab characteristics. Usually very sweet with everyone. We are in our 70’s and live in country.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 06, 2015:
Jess, I am still catching up on comments from 3 months ago as I have been quite busy. Sorry if this comes late, if you are still having issues, this may help:
jess on March 02, 2015:
I have a 5 year old English bulldog I have just gotten he nipsand myself and girlfriend and if our basset gets close he will attack him how do iI resolve this
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on October 09, 2014:
It sounds like this got to a point where you will need professional help. Look up my articles on LAT, counterconditioning and desensitization and hire a professional help you out implementing behavior modification correctly under threshold while keeping safety as top priority.
Shiloh on October 08, 2014:
I have a very aggressive dog. She will not let anyone in the fence unless I or Sig other let them in. We have to put her up whenever anyone she doesn't known comes over and its very difficult to introduce her to anyone. Recently bit our other dog while playing with me. Its becoming unpredictable and more frequently. She is a large dog over 150# and walking her is out of the question. She is a mastiff/lab/pit mix. Is really a sweet dog but her temperament regarding others near me is becoming concerning. Please help, I really don't want to have to put her down, just not sure what to do next.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 21, 2013:
Sherrie, it's great you took good care of this Boxer and had the patience to accept the issues you listed. Thanks for stopping by!
Sherrie Young on April 20, 2013:
Very helpful. I have a Boxer that has been "label" with all the aggression "types"
Fence aggressive, dog on dog, human, anything that moves... you name it, she has been "labeled" it. I knew she would be a problem the day I got her at 4wks old, but knew by statistics what her life would likely end up like and decided I had to have her so she would have a great life. she is now 2yrs old. She hasn't changed her ways, but anyone who sees her past that odd introduction says she listens and seems well trained. Very much a Natural Guard Dog. Thanks for the info
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on February 18, 2013:
In this case, a behavior consultant can help you. You dog needs to associate your mom with good things. First, make safety your top priority. Have your dog leashed securely. Next, have your mom walk by your room without entering, as soon as you dog hears her footsteps, feed high value treats live freeze-dried liver, hot dogs etc. Give your mom some treats, have her peak in the room fast and toss a treat in his direction. Repeat, several times. Toss treat, leave, toss, treat leave. You know you are doing progress when your mom can peak in and your dog looks for treats instead of barking. Behavior modification is not easy, for this reason I recommend a behaviorist. There's lots to know about such as threshold, classical conditioning, countercondtioning, desensitization etc. Here are some helpful links:
Best of luck, when there is a will there is away!
Cookie on February 18, 2013:
This is a very good article. My dog is like that. When my mom enters my room he starts growling, snaring, barking aggressively and even trying to attack her. He is a small dog, a poodle-terrier mix. But he is fine when anyone else comes close to me. I need help. How do I get him to stop his behavior towards my mom? It has gotten to the point where am considering having him put down. Help