Help! My Dog is Too Protective

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overprotective dog, protective dog

Does Your Dog Threaten to Steal a Body Part When Visitors Come?

Let’s be honest, one of the reason people get and like dogs is because they feel more confident and protected by them.  It has been proven that even the bark of a Chihuahua will drive away a burglar.  For most criminals it simply isn’t worth getting involved with someone with a dog, let alone an overprotective dog!

When I was 18, a requirement of marriage was getting a Rottweiler.  I got 2!  My female Rottie was around 100# and was the sweetest, kindest, doggie soul you could ever meet.  She almost never met a person she didn’t immediately adore.  I use to laugh because if you simply placed a finger on her she was thrilled by the affection.

As I walked her to the park one day, a man jumped out from around a van.  I had NEVER seen her hackle or her show her teeth to a person before that moment and a growl resonated from within her belly.   I was just an 18 year old kid and definitely not a dog trainer yet.

He hastily scurried around his van entered through the passenger side scooted over and his wheels screeched as he tore out of sight.

It still gives me goose bumps to remember that moment.  I don’t think at that time I truly realized the danger I might have been in, but in hindsight I realize that she sensed something sinister that I did not recognize.  She never showed aggression toward another human being for the rest of her life, she was too busy wagging and soliciting affection to everyone else!

I truly believe that even the most social dog would protect his owner in a crisis.  The good news is that there is rarely ever a true crisis to put my theory to the test.

However, many dogs have a very strong protective instinct.  These dogs feel it is their job to keep their owners safe and they take their job very seriously!

The other problem is that countless people admire and promote this behavior.  When the dog is young and first growls or barks at someone not only are they praised, sometimes people actually feed and reward the dog for showing this behavior.

It usually isn’t until this overprotective dog behavior gets out of control and the dog decides EVERYONE is a threat and no one can get close that the person realizes the danger they have put themselves, their dog, and other people in by encouraging this protective instinct.

I once trained a Labrador Mix as a Service Dog. She adored everyone.  She use to finagle her way around at the grocery store to turn toward the closest person and then she would begin to flirt.  Those brown eyes would wink and call out to the person and her tail would wag incessantly until they gave in and asked to pet her.  She was relentless about seeking attention and affection, but I liked that trait because it meant she liked people and enjoyed her work.

Then I placed her with her new owner and within several months she began getting protective.  I was mystified because I had never seen even a hint of a problem.  But, her new mom was easily startled and a bit prejudiced and she would scream when she was startled or caught off guard.

This screaming and fear brought out the protective instinct of the dog and she began to associate certain people and men with her new mom’s fear.  Screaming showed weakness an inability to take care of herself and probably also scared the dog.  Within a short amount of time the dog just decided, in her mind, if she kept all men away from her mom there would be no more drama or fear so she started to get protective. So sometimes the problem can actually be overprotective dog owners :-)

Part of the reason she never showed this propensity with me is because I am a very dominant and strong willed person, most dogs would think never think I needed them to protect me because they can clearly see I am in control.  I project an image that I can take care of myself.

How You Can Stop An Overprotective Dog?overprotective dog, protective dog

  • You need to take this behavior seriously!  If left unattended this behavior usually only gets worse and it can rapidly become a behavioral pattern over time.  Behavioral patterns are often very difficult to break.  So stop this behavior as soon as possible or keep it from ever happening.
  • Never praise your dog for barking or growling aggressively at another person
  • Always correct your dog, by telling him NO when he shows aggression toward people (My exception is when someone first comes to the door.  My dogs are allowed to bark but must be quiet when I tell them to)
  • If he is nervous or unsure of people, use your clicker and make sure meeting new people is fun
  • ALWAYS use a leash!  A LEASH = CONTROL and when a dog shows aggression of any kind you need as much control as possible.
  • If your dog is protective at home and  you are having people over, ALWAYS leash your dog prior to their arrival
  • Take control!  Dogs takeover situations they think you cannot handle.   Show your dog that you don’t need to be protected by being confident and in control at all times.
  • Work tirelessly on obedience!  Obedience puts you in control and your dog in the passenger seat.  You need to be able to put your dog in heel position, by your side and in a “Down” position when he meets new people.  This takes control away from him and gives him something to do and preoccupies his mind.
  • You also need to work on the other facets of obedience.  A clear leader, Mom or Dad (YOU) makes the subordinate or child accomplish tasks or listen to get the things they want in life.  Rules are crucial to a good parent/child relationship.  Be a kind but firm parent by having your dog listen to you and do things for you around the house; down stays, sit stays, waiting at the door, come when called, heel at your side and anything else you determine necessary.

 Overprotective Dog Training If Your Dog is Fearful

If your dog is fearful, he requires a bit of a different type of treatment.  Determine if he is simply scared when you both meet a new person.  If his ears are down, or back or his tail is tucked, or he backs up he is probably scared.

  • When a dog is scared he needs to have his confidence built.
  • You can build his confidence by making sure that every time new people are around he gets lavishly praised and rewarded for good, social behavior.
  • Do NOT praise and reward him when he is scared or he will think that is what you want for him to be=scared.
  • Instead, back up until he is showing no signs of fear or nervousness and reward him.
  • Slowly work your way toward new people by rewarding him for controlled social behavior.
  • Calmly and quietly tell him No if he growls, hackles, or shows any kind of aggression.  Do not compound his fears by yelling or aggressively getting in his face.  Just let him know quietly and calmly that, that behavior is not what you want.
  • Make sure that you lavishly reward him and praise him by giving him toys and treats only when people come over (as long as he is not possessive).
  • Keep him on a leash and give him something else to do when people are over to keep his mind off of his fears.
  • Never allow people to pet him when he is scared.  Petting a scared dog can make the feelings and the behavior worse.  If he cannot be calmed down, ask people not to pet him.  This will show him that he can trust you; by forcing him to allow people to touch him, when he doesn’t want to be touched he may learn to growl or show aggression just to keep people away.

overprotective dog, protective dogI have a dog that is nervous with people, but he has never shown possession aggression of his toys or treats.  When I have people over, I put him on a leash, keep him close to me in heel position and in a down as I welcome them and tell them to enter.  He lies down at my feet and chews a special peanut butter filled bone when people come to visit.

This positive interaction of people=a special treat helps him to look forward to visits from other people.  Instead of getting nervous or aggressive when people come over, he is excited because he knows if he shows appropriate behavior he will get his bone!

I never force him to interact with someone if he doesn’t want to, however I do insist if he is nervous or unsure of a person that he lay at my feet on leash the whole time the person is in my home!

Good luck and try to keep this fun but take the control of your relationship back by letting your dog know you are in charge of who you socialize with!

My best advice is never to let your dog show these behaviors!  Trust me, when or if you should ever need him to truly protect you he will undoubtedly be there for you in your crisis!






There are 340 Comments

  1. Joann says:

    I wish I could have read this five years, and twenty two stitches ago. :(
    Makes sense. I’ll have to tell my husband. I’ve started saying No! When our boy barks- obsessively! At EVERYTHING that passes our house. (He actually barks when a flea farts ; ) )
    My husband wants people to know we have a dog. Hence NO ONE can enter the house. When he barks, We have always said “good boy”
    He will soon be seeing a trainer. I pray it’s not too late. I now look out the doir, or say Momma’s looking out the window. Then I call him to me. When he comes, I make him sit give paw, or other commands. I then give him a treat, so he doesn’t confuse the treat with the initial barking.


  2. Linda says:

    My dachshund wants to get aggressive with friends visiting and if they get near me she would bit. What can I do?


  3. Katherine Watson says:

    Hi there please help!
    I have a beagle (nearly 9) and a Rottweiler (14 months old). 2 weeks ago I found out my beagle has cancer and that it could be weeks or months before he need to go to sleep before that pain gets to much.

    Over the past few days dragon (beagle) has been getting worse and we are seeing if the new meds might help. But during this time our Rottweiler pup has be come over protective of dragon. Is there anything I can do? And is this normal she nudes me out the way when I’m giving dragon his meds.?


  4. Judi Williams says:

    Hi, I have a rescue removed from an abusive , neglected situation. When we are out of the house he is fine, but while in the house NO ONE can visit without him being crated, he becomes extremely aggressive and does very much so try to attack anyone other than my son or myself. He has never shown us any aggression. He also goes after children in any situation. I correct him each time , but he continues to react aggressively. he is also a highly reactive dog. Not sure how to go about fixing this situation. I do not want to return him , he would certainly be euthanized.


    Minette Reply:

    Correcting him, as you say, is undoubtedly making it worse. I recommend contacting a boarded veterinary behaviorist.


  5. Janelle says:

    My dog is protective but as soon as she knows the person is okay (I greet them, whatever), she is just fine. She barks when the doorbell rings, but never approaches the person when I open the door. She is great with all people and children, even other dogs when I bring them in the house. The problem is with strange dogs. Pretty much just other dogs her size, especially dobies, shepherds, rottweilers and aussies. She growls, barks, lunges and I have a hard time controlling her. Little dogs are fine. Dogs while she is off-leash are fine as long as they sniff once and move on. It is when she is on-leash that other, similar sized dogs are a problem. I know that positive reinforcement is key, but I cannot get positive behavior to reinforce. Other dog owners curse at me and tell me I am unfit to have a dog like this, but I rescued her and didn’t know. She has NEVER bitten or attacked another dog – just the growling, barking and lunging. In addition, I wonder if I should be discouraging all barking because barking definitely keeps the burglars away.


  6. Esme says:

    We recently adopted a 2 year old boxer/pitbull mix. He is the sweetest and most gentle dog with my our family. Of anyone comes over he gets very over protective and seems aggressive, even tho nothing has happened yet. We have to slowly introduce him to people. Once hes sniffed and established that youre a friend, his demeanor changes completely. I really want to keep hin but im worried the behavior might slowly get out of control. Any thoughts?


  7. Anna says:

    We have a boxer and either pittie or american bully mix with the SAME issue! We are starting to work with a trainer on this. Have things improved with your dog? What are you guys doing to work on it?


  8. Samantha Restrepo says:

    I live in a apt and therefore I could take my dog out with people saying something when she was little. Now she is one and every time we take her out she barks at people and gets scared. How could I help her feel more comfortable


  9. Samantha Restrepo says:

    Couldn’t ***


  10. Ariel says:

    I’m fostering a mom and pups and mamma is scared shitless of men and if she sees or hears a man she gets very aggressive. I am wondering also weather or not it would be a good idea to meet my dog (female) to give her a feeling of having a pack that she’s never experienced before?


  11. Sam says:

    I do t have a problem with my dog being agressive towards other people. Other dogs on the other hand if they start the come to me all hell breaks loose. I correct her immediately. And we usually leave the park when it happens. I cant figure out when it started or anything. It us beginning to drive me nuts.


  12. Dee says:

    I adopted a 6 or 7 year old shih tzu – terrier mix in May from a municipal shelter. First, the shelter had posted online that he was a stray; a volunteer later told me he was an owner surrender. Second, the shelter lied about his friendliness toward other animals. No way. He’s a 17 pound maniac, very aggressive with other dogs. Before I realized how strong or determined he was, he got away from me twice before I could tighten the lead and bit two dogs. Fortunately no injury or blood and the owners were forgiving. He was aggressive toward men; I trained him out of that but recently he’s started going after women as well. He’s obedient to command when it’s the two of us but goes berzerk in public. He’s not a nervous dog, some separation anxiety which has improved and continues to. If he never had to leave the apartment he’d be a great dog! I’m out of my league with this; all my prior dogs loved everyone. He’s smart, learns quickly, is loveable and very cute. I hate it but I’m going to have to find another home for him. I can’t afford a behaviorist; retired and on SS. Any thoughts would be appreciated.


    Minette Reply:

    He isn’t going to be an easy fix or easy to control. I would recommend our aggression coaching course. You can email and they can let you know when it will start.


  13. Dee says:

    Thanks, Minette, I’ll look into your course; it may not be an option due to cost though because, as I said, I’m retired (65) and limited to SS. I take him to a neighborhood park daily for exercise; other pet owners and I simply avoid contact which is a pain. Would you recommend taking him on short lead to a dog park to try and desensitize him? Maybe if he’s surrounded by dogs he’ll think twice about raising a ruckus or, miracle of miracles, even become more comfortable?


  14. Jamie says:

    I just rescued a pit bull and he is doing the exact same thing! His previous owners had no issue in regards to aggression with him – he had a home with a young adult woman who had nieces and nephews who were young- and I adopted him for a place I work and he had no issues with anyone there either.

    He doesn’t react to dogs, is super friendly to people outside, but when a woman walks in our house (only women, he’s completely fine with men) he lunges, snarles, barks, bears his teeth, the whole 9 yards…

    Did you get any progress in with yours? I hired a trainer and I started doing counter conditioning with him when women come to the door but it has not been helping at all so far


  15. Tom S says:

    I’m so glad I found this site. We adopted 2 Sheltie puppies (brothers) 2 years ago. They were in an abusive situation prior, which we had not been informed of. We got the. At 9mos.
    Both dogs have bonded very well with my husband who has become the major caregiver. With me, not so much.
    Chance is a very fearful guy and won’t come near me unless I have treats. He will run away to avoid being near me or even passing me in the house.
    Lucky is the major problem. He went through a period of biting me without any known cause simply because I was in the same room as the rest of the family. He was about to rehomed if it wasn’t correctable but ultimately we stopped that behavior. But Lucky still runs down the hall or across the room and lunges, barks, and growls at me with a guttural sound and turning in circles. This happens multiple times on most days. He no longer bites.
    It is frightening to me when he does this because I am in constant fear he will bite me again. The barks are also so sudden and loud that I am constantly on edge for fear of being startled by him.
    I’ve become convinced that this is all about protecting my husband. How do I know this?
    Lucky is a completely different dog the minute my husband leaves the house. Lucky is calm, not barking or growling, although he still tends to stay in another room from me, sometimes he will sit near me.
    My husband returns and all the bad behavior return with him.
    The dogs are now 2.5 years old. Much training has not improved anything. And we have put a lot of effort into this.
    Your thoughts?


  16. Pat says:

    We have an 8 month old male Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He is truly a very sweet puppy and there is only one thing that has me a little concerned. Whenever he is a little overwhelmed or nervous he clawes up my leg and bits at my clothes. I purposely ignore this behaviour and praise him and reward with a treat when he stops and sits. How do I stop this behaviour before he begins doing it.


    Minette Reply:

    Put a leash on him and when he starts, hold the leash out and prevent him from doing so; then ask for an alternate behavior


  17. Carol Leach says:

    I rescued a chihuahua mix 8year old dog. With just me he is really a sweet dog but the minute a man comes to my home he gets very protective and aggressive. Barking, growling and trying to bite their shoes. I don’t know what to do about this. I’ve only had him one month.


  18. What should I do? We adopted a mix chiuvava dog,(3 years old now,
    I (wife) can’t even touch my husband or get close to him when he is holding the dog.if I do,the dog snaps at me,I know she was in an abusive home and we rescued her,but I can’t stand this,is it normal? What should we do?


  19. Penny Johnson says:

    I think I’ve loved my boy too much. I cuddle him, stroke him, give him treats without him doing anything for them let him sit on my knee etc….and I thought he had fear aggression with people but having read this I think it’s protection aggression…he has no problem with other dogs loves them can distinguish between friendly and not friendly but his problem is people…not everyone not everytime so I can’t distinguish who and when he will react…his reaction is barking and growling heckles up sometimes but no teeth bearing….yet his tail will be wagging, sometimes he will jump up at people sometimes back away…I have tried reassurance, telling him off …giving him treats giving people treats to give to him but nothing is working so obviously I’m doing it wrong! It’s not just me or my husband that he’s protective of but anyone that’s ‘looking after’ him…if out for a walk he would literally run a distance over to someone to bark at them….obviously we keep him on a lead now in areas where people can appear but he’s a sprocker and needs off lead exercise….any advice would be very helpful. He’s 17 months old neutered we’ve had him from 18 weeks and was like it before we got him apparently.


  20. Josh says:

    My wife and I recieved a tarrier-chihuahua mix puppy as a wedding gift last year. Ever since we got her home she has been attached to my wife. I started noticing her try to bite or scratch me every time I got near my wife. Even when my wife instigates the interaction. It has put a strain on our marriage. I love my wife and our animals are like our children. But I need this to stop.

    The dog was also taken away from her mother a month early as well, and where she was born was not what you would call the best of environments. I thought that this issue would work itself out, but I can’t wait any longer. I really hope this works.


  21. kbar says:

    we have a lab/pitbull/shepherd??? mix that we rescued 5 years ago. she was approximately 2 at the time. she is a sweet, lovable wonderful dog in the house and with my 2 20-something year old sons. we have had a couple of incidents with her going after other dogs, but the more recent thing is that she has bitten 2 neighbors totally unprovoked when i have been walking her. my husband thinks it is because she feels my anxiety and wants to protect me, and i tend to agree. the dog officer had to come over today to release her from quarantine for her latest biting incident. my husband was not home and so she lunged at the dog officer. i felt horrible, but the dog officer was very cool and said that the dog clearly feels like she needs to protect me. the dog does seem fine when my husband is around, but for some reason she feels the need to protect me. i love this dog dearly but don’t know what to do. she is 8…….can training help? I feel like i can’t take her out at all, and if anyone comes to the house i now feel like my husband needs to be here. i never felt that way before.


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