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Protective Aggression in Dogs: How to Stop it

Nicole Cosgrove

When you’re taking a stroll through your neighborhood with your dog and see a group of potentially dangerous individuals lounging on the corner, your dog is quite a bit of comfort and protection. As soon as someone questionable comes near you, your dog goes into protection mode, snarling and growling like he’s going to tear them apart.

He’s the same way when the delivery man comes to the door. While a protective dog is a good thing, especially in uncertain times, it also keeps you from having friends, family, and people you would like to welcome inside your home from coming onto your property without being threatened.

It’s better to train your dog not to be so protectively aggressive so that you don’t have to worry about him taking the protection too far one day and hurting someone. There are a few different types of dog aggression that owners often have to deal with. In this article, we’re only going to talk about protective aggression, what it is, and a few different ways that you can stop it in your canine pal.

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What Is Protective Aggression?

Small dog aggression
Image Credit: Piotr Wawrzyniuk, Shutterstock

It’s important to note that protective behavior in dogs is not a bad thing. A protective dog is doing what comes naturally to him, and that’s protecting his pack. You and your family are a part of that pack as far as he’s concerned.

There’s a difference between protective behavior and protective aggression in your pet. Protective behavior should be encouraged; aggressive behavior needs to be stopped.

Protective behavior is something that most dogs are bred to do. For example, if you’ve ever seen a German Shepard on alert, you’ve witnessed protective behavior. He will keep his body between the stranger talking to his owner and his owner but do so in a calm, assessing manner. Once he realizes that the stranger is no threat, he’ll go back to what he was doing but still keep out a wary eye. The German Shepard is being protective.

Signs of Protective Behavior

There are signs to watch for that show your pup is just being protective, not aggressive in any way.

We’ll list a few of those signs below.
  • Alert but calm stance
  • His focus is on the new person in his environment
  • Being constantly vigilant
  • He moves between you and the possible threat
  • He growls or barks at what he thinks is a threat
  • He then returns to normal if he feels there is no threat

Signs of Aggressive Behavior

While your dog may be protective, you don’t want him to demonstrate protective aggression, as that can lead to injuries or worse.

Here are a few signs that they are protective aggressive:
  • Growling
  • Hackles raised
  • He immediately starts barking
  • He overreacts to the situation
  • Lunging and snapping
  • Baring his teeth at the perceived threat
  • Biting
  • Territorial urination
  • A crouched, threatening stance

Now that you know the difference between protective and protective aggressive behavior, it’s time to talk about how to train your dog to be protective but not aggressive. There are a couple of different ways you can do this. We’ll go into them below.

dog in a threatening stance
Image Credit: Demis Teral, Shutterstock

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Preparing to Train Your Pup

Before you can start training your dog to stop his protective, aggressive behavior, there are a few things that you’re going to need. You want to invest in a secure leash and body harness to put on your dog so that you can have control of him at all times without putting any strain on his neck.

You’ll also want to pick up some of your dog’s favorite treats, as positive reinforcement is still the best way to train any dog, in our humble opinion. The treats can be used as not only a reward but as a way to motivate your canine pal to not be aggressive.

Now that you have everything you need to train your dog to stop being protective aggressive, let’s move on to learn the first method of training on our list.

Gradual Introduction

1. Approach Slowly

chihuahua on a leash
Image Credit: IIIBlackhartIII, Pixabay

Put your dog on his leash and in his harness to protect him and any strangers you meet. When he is about to meet a new person or a new pet, approach them slowly so that he has time to get accustomed to their scent. Keep the leash firmly in your hand and your dog close to your side.


2. Reward Your Pet with Praise

As you approach the person or pet you’re going to meet, talk to your dog calmly, telling him what a good boy he is. Positive reinforcement often works wonders in these situations. If you want to, give him a treat to teach him that this is the type of behavior you expect from him.


3. React Fast and Promptly

aggressive dog pulling leash
Image Credit: 99mimimi, Pixabay

When and if your dog starts displaying signs of aggression, turn quickly and lead him away. Keep him away from the person until he has calmed down. Once he has, start walking slowly towards the person or pet once again. Remember, it could take you several tries to get within 10 feet of the person or pet. You have to keep trying but never get so close that your dog can attack.


4. Stop When You’re 10 Feet Away

Once you get your dog to within 10 feet of the pet or person, you need to tell him to stop and sit. Once he does, insert yourself between him and the strangers to show him that you’re the pack leader and there’s nothing to fear. You want your dog to know that you’re going to protect him, instead of it being the other way around.


5. Stay Consistent

Just as with children, if you want your dog to learn not to be protective aggressive, you have got to stay consistent in what you’re trying to teach him. You need to follow these steps every time you meet new people and pets over several weeks.

Know that every time you relent and don’t follow these steps, you’re setting your dog up for failure. You have to be consistent, patient, and firm if you want this method to succeed.

Sometimes the gradual introduction method doesn’t work with every protective, aggressive dog. That’s when you move onto the crack-down method in our next section.

German Shepherd puppy looking at the camera
Image Credit: Dan_Manila, Shutterstock

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The Crack Down

1. Stop Overindulging Your Pet

bulldog eating food
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

As pet parents, it’s easy to spoil and overindulge your canine pal. The thing is, if your pet doesn’t have to follow the rules and gets your unlimited attention all the time, then it could be hard to tame his protective aggression. Set rules to show that you’re the pack leader. This could be as simple as making him eat only in the kitchen where his food bowl is, or as difficult as making him stay off the furniture, which we all know can be a task.


2. Make Sure He Gets Exercise

As a human, when you have too much energy, it’s possible it can come out in aggressive ways. The same holds true for your dog. Ensure that he’s getting the right amount of exercise for his breed and size, and increase that exercise and play to help with his protective aggression if needed.

Take him on an extra walk a day or walk him for 30 minutes instead of 10 minutes. Run some extra sprints with him or throw the frisbee a little longer. You’ll be surprised how much aggression he can burn off with just a bit more exercise a day.


3. Desensitize Your Pet

black dog with jacket on a leash
Image Credit: StockSnap, Pixabay

Often, it’s just a matter of desensitizing your overprotective dog to the new person or pet in your life. If he’s going to meet a new person for the first time, try to do it gradually. Keep your pet a reasonable distance away until he realizes that the person he’s meeting isn’t a threat to you or him.


4. Keep Out of His Territory

Bringing a new person or pet into your dog’s territory if he’s protective aggressive is never a good idea. For example, if they come into the area where his bed is, he’s going to feel the need to protect you in his domain. Try to have your pet meet new people and pets outside of your home or anywhere he feels belongs to him, at least for the first meeting.


5. Never Punish Your Dog

The last thing you want to do is punish a dog that you’re trying to stop from being protective aggressive towards new people and pets. For one thing, your pet is only doing what comes naturally to him, and that’s protecting you.

If he shows aggression, punishing him is just going to scare him, which could make him even more aggressive. The best thing to do is calmly remove him from the situation, ignoring his aggression completely.

These are just a few of the ways that you can stop protective, aggressive behavior in your canine pal. Remember, your pet is only doing what comes naturally to him and considers you a part of his pack, which is a great honor.

Being mean to or yelling at your dog for aggressive behavior is going to do nothing but make him worse, so refrain from that type of behavior on your part. If your dog’s protective, aggressive behavior gets worse or uncontrollable, it’s best to contact your vet to see what he can do to help.

For more forms of aggression, see our other articles on Possessive Aggression, Predatory Aggression, and Redirected Aggression.


Featured Image Credit: Victoria Antonova, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.