There is no doubt that some dogs will protect their humans or property. Some of these dogs are trained to protect while others are bred to be protective. However, there are also dogs who appear to be protective of their human, but they are actually afraid for their own safety.
To know if your dog is protecting you, your property or himself, you need to understand why dogs are protective.
Dogs that are trained to protect are taught to perform a behavior (for example, bite an arm) when they are cued to do so.
These dogs have a job and are most commonly seen working with police. These dogs are taught to bite when a specific word is said. These dogs are also taught to release on cue. When these dogs bite, they are responding the same way your dog responds when they hear the word “sit”. “Sit” is the verbal cue to perform the behavior of putting their rear end on the floor. Although these dogs appear aggressive and are great “protectors” they only do it when they are told to do so.
Dogs that are bred to be protective typically have a job to protect livestock or land.
Commonly Anatolian and Great Pyrenes breeds are used for this. These dogs use intimidation more than aggression to keep the flock safe. They protect the flock by running a predator off the property rather than attacking. These dogs are usually confident and are bonded to the flock that they protect and only protect when there is a true threat.
These dogs show signs of fear and anxiety when threatened or not. These dogs are often labeled reactive or aggressive when in reality they are afraid. These dogs will commonly bark or lunge at other dogs or people when in public. Many people will think that these dogs are being protective of their human but in reality, they are just afraid for themselves. More often than not, these dogs will have anxieties in their homes, at a veterinarian’s office or when they are in a new place.
Common signs of fear and anxiety are tucked tail, ears that are pinned back, panting when they are not hot or tired, yawning when they are not tired and hypervigilance. When a dog feels threatened a natural response will be to fight, flight or freeze. With fight, they cannot yell or hit, so they will bark, lunge or bite. When people don’t understand that these dogs are afraid, they will often mislabel them as “aggressive” or “protective.” These dogs can be the most dangerous because they may bite another dog or person even when there is no real threat.
Shannon has been a pet lover all her life and a dog trainer for over 20 years. She has spent her life observing, caring for and training animals of all kinds. She has worked in the Bird Department at Marine World Africa USA, and worked as a handler and trainer for an African Serval Cat at Safari West, a private zoo in Santa Rosa, California. She has participated in behavior studies including observations of bald eagles and addax antelope through the San Francisco Zoo and Safari West. Her education includes a Biology Degree, specializing in Zoology from Sonoma State.
She is a "Registered Veterinary Technician," a "Certified Professional Dog Trainer" (Knowledge Assessed), a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, a member of the "Association of Pet Dog Trainers" and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Shannon is currently serving as President for the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians. Shannon's dog training philosophy revolves around force-free, positive reinforcement, however, her ultimate goal is for healthy happy relationship between pets and their people. Diet, exercise, environment and training all play a significant role in achieving this goal. Shannon is currently the owner of Ventura Pet Wellness and Dog Training Center in Ventura, CA where she works with anxious and fearful dogs privately as well as teaching agility classes (Venturapetwellness.com). Shannon has also started a training website called Truly Force Free Animal Training.