“He’s very protective”

“He’s very protective of me,” bragged the owner of the German Shepherd I had been called out to evaluate. “He won’t let anyone near me.”

Photo by Dan Foy

Photo by Dan Foy

Indeed, her 18-month-old Shepherd was telling me in every line of his body that he did not want me anywhere near him. Head down, eyes wide and staring, muscles tense, and softly growling, he was not a dog I had any desire to approach. He was not, however, “guarding” his owner.

Many fearful or insecure dogs act just like this Shepherd, growling and posturing when people come near their special person. However, their body language tells the true story: these dogs are worried. Their weight is often shifted over their hindquarters, and they rarely position themselves in between the new person and their owner. They lack confidence, and make up for it with their “the best defense is a good offense” approach.

So why do they only show this behavior when they’re by their person? Simple: they’re only brave enough to show how they feel when they have “backup.” Social animals, whether dogs or people, tend to be more likely to act aggressively if they are part of a group whom they believe will back them up. We’re all a little braver with our buddies nearby.

Make no mistake, these dogs could still bite. However, allowing your dog to act in this way out of some misguided notion that he’s “protecting” you is both dangerous and unfair. It’s dangerous to other people, who could become victims of your dog’s insecurity if he ever feels pushed to defend himself. It’s unfair to your dog, who is stuck in a conflicted, adrenalized state any time he encounters someone new. It’s a bad situation all around.

The best “protection” dogs are those who are well socialized, confident, and self-assured. A dog needs lots and lots of experience with people before he can pick out a truly threatening person from someone who’s merely a little different. To a dog who views everyone as a potential threat, your tipsy neighbor returning from the bar, your nephew with Cerebral Palsy, and the burglar who breaks into your home are all equally terrifying – and all just as likely to get bitten.

If your dog growls and barks at unfamiliar people, he’s telling you he needs your help. So how can you help him? Teach him that new people predict wonderful things. Teach him to look to you for help when he’s unsure how to react in a new situation. Show him a more optimistic worldview. Protect him from his fears just as fiercely as you wish him to protect you from true threats, because to him those fears are very truly threatening.

Do you have a truly protective dog, one who loves everybody, or an insecure dog? Please comment and tell us about your dog’s personality!

205 responses to ““He’s very protective”

  1. I have a 6 year old black lab as well as an 8 year old yellow lab. Both dogs are well socialized. However, I’ve noticed ever since having children (actually, ever since I got pregnant with my first), that the black lab has become more cautious around other dogs. She doesnt stray far at the dog park, and if another dog approaches us, she runs right over. She growls or snaps at the other dog. I don’t like letting her meet new dogs when out on walks anymore. She won’t hurt the other dog, but she definitely is trying to tell the other dog to stay away. She only does this with dogs she doesn’t know. Also, when she goes to dog daycare, and we’re not around, I never get any complaints. She’s always been a bit more aggressive than my other dog, but just wondering if this is normal, and how to help her feel more comfortable with other dogs when her family is nearby.

  2. My Jeffery doesn’t growl but he jumps and barks if another person hugs me. Forget dating or bringing a beau to the house!

  3. My dogs (Male and female Aussie) bark at every new person who comes in the house. I had a contractor out yesterday and every time he came in the room, they barked. I know they aren’t protecting me, I can tell it’s a nervous bark. Your article stated that we should teach them how to react to new people but you neglected to tell us how. I could really use some guidance there. Thank you!

    • I have the same problem as you and I would like to know the answer too.

    • Francoise Vulpe

      My Aussie was the same. My solution was to go up to person and ask to shake their hand and then I’d tell my dog “say hello”. It didn’t matter if Figgy wanted to or not, it threw him out of the protective frame of mind without reprimanding him. When he went quiet, I”d say good dog and take him to wherever I wanted him to be during the visit. Perfectly quiet then. He knew the stranger was not a threat. Two dogs is more difficult but try starting with a handshake and see how they react. It’s a trick I used a lot because Figgy was sometimes nervous about strange things. He would bark at a deflated balloon in the sidewalk or such. I would just pick it up bring it to him with “it’S okay, see?” Treat an Aussie like a 4 year old and you fix a lot of problems.

      • Handshakes rock! My very timid bitch used to put her hand out in an attempt to stop people coming too close to her or trying to pat her. So I put it on cue, as “shake hands” — people adore it, and Sallee
        avoids being petted by strangers :-)

    • It might help if you walk your dogs out of the house to greet strangers and walk them all in together

    • Throw a treat party. Every time they see someone “scary,” before they are barking, throw down a bunch of yummy treats. Your dog will recognize that treat parties only happen when they see new people. Slowly the Conditioned Emotional Response will change and they will start to look forward to seeing new people.

    • I have this problem with my dog, well it’s improving, I hired Koru Dog training ,and OMG each day my dog just acts better and better, ppl can come over now..it’s amazing..It has taken money and a lot of time spent with my dog..I love training my dog to be a better girl who isn’t scaring my guest and getting herself into trouble..A well behaved dog not only is more enjoyable but it’s safer for them as well as others.

  4. So how can I help them? How do I teach them that new people predict wonderful things, to look to me for help when unsure how to react in a new situation. How do I show Them a more optimistic worldview? Protect them from their fears just as fiercely as I’d wish them to protect me from true threats? (Reworded the articles words). Great info but no help on how to do any of it…

    • If you look to the side you will see the articles that are under the heading categories, you will find more information about training, aggression, etc…

    • I think that this means treats. Google watch the world on YouTube. Our behaviourist has me taking our dog to shopping centres etc and treating as people walk past.

      • My dog doesn’t get food treats, she gets praise and pets…try to wean off the food treats but also learn proper punishment techniques too..

      • Try to keep ‘punishments’ out if the equation altogether. :-(
        I too am not a fan of ‘food treats’ but they do work with most dogs, they are easy to use and excellent for getting the initial behaviour you want. I like to use ‘life’ rewards mostly. I call this manners training. Games can also make very strong behaviours. And Dinner time training works best of all (unless you have an anorexic dog).
        Punishment too often back-fires. You either get a dog who is too afraid the do anything, or one who fights back. Use management to prevent unwanted behaviour, NOT punishment.

    • Jess, I was just about to post the same thing! It sounds great, but how do I accomplish those tasks? I’m guessing treats/distractions also. I’ve asked the question about what to do with my growling puppy and have received many answers that oppose one another. It is a little frustrating. One person says that if I give treats I am rewarding that behavior. Another person says that you can’t change your dog’s feelings, so reassuring them when fearful isn’t bad. Another says that the reassurance is like a reward. ack. It is confusing. I’m going to try distraction, pause, then treat. Hopefully my pup will associate people walking by with a good thought/reward for being calm.

      • That must be so frustrating getting all that contradicting advice! Unfortunately there is no controlling body for dog training, so anyone can call themselves a dog trainer and hand out terrible advice!
        The best way to get good information is to find a certified, science based trainer. Avoid “balanced” trainers and anyone that says things like “we only use food for tricks” or “not all dogs can be trained with positive reinforcement” another red flag would be anyone talking about pack theory and alpha dogs.
        The person that told you that you can’t reinforce an emotion is correct. What we want to do is change the emotion to a positive one using classical conditioning. You do this by rewarding your pup for looking at the scary thing. (using a clicker to bridge between the look and the treat) Distractions are best saved for when scary things are getting too close.
        However, you have no way of knowing if I am a certified dog trainer, and if my advice is sound, so I really do recommend that you find a person in your area to teach you how this is done. Good luck!

      • Look up the engage, disengage game. The idea as I understand is to predict the reaction and then reward when they notice stimuli but before the react.

      • Thank you for responding and for letting me know what you’ve read and that it is confusing what to follow… it asked me think for my own situation with my dog I am still lacking the look to me for their reaction piece. I like your idea for distraction (a distraction that will get my dog look to me for response) and then reward that look to me and the action they took to look to me for their reaction to the situation. I’m sure easier said than done and probably needs to be done over and over as I’ve learned all training takes consitancy and many trials of same situation. I don’t have a lot of people come to my house or approach us out in a walk because I avoid people on our walks who have dogs not knowing how my dog will respond or how to handle the said situation. I’ve tried in the past to just keep walking past the people with dogs or without trying to teach my dog that we just keep going… we don’t confront. My poor pup is still confused and I am happy to try this new distraction/then treat.

        Once I have enough funds I would love to take my dog to training sessions with other dogs and people. My dog hasn’t had training since she was young she’s now 5. Then hopefully get her confident and my self confident enough to where we’d be successful in a good citizen class. :)

      • Ingred,

        Thank you for the response! Your input helps in finding good training!

      • Francoise Vulpe

        If you use treats or a clicker, timing is essential. Use it only immediately AFTER the desired behavior is achieved, which makes it a reward, not before it while you are trying to get the behaviour, which makes it a lure. Enormous difference. Learn how to use a clicker properly and they are MAGIC.

      • Ok I’m going to share what I’ve learned and hope it makes sense and also recommend that you look up training schools and even YouTube training videos..Dogs act aggressive out of fear or the fact as they think we do not have a situation under control therefore they feel stress..We need to train them to know that we expect certain things from them and in return we can take that stress away..Dogs need a job..My dogs job on our walk is to be WITH ME. Her job is not to meet anyone or other dogs..I have taken this out of the equation and by doing so she’s so much calmer on walks , and even when we stop to talk..She sits with me and knows noone will pet her ,she’s not meeting the dog and she doesn’t need to worry..It’s taken 3 months, I walk her daily and meet with my dog trainer every cple weeks..If I assess a situation to be setting her up for failure, I do my best to avoid it..Dogs like kids need to have structure and need to know we can handle things and they don’t need to..I can also answer the door now, I send my dog to her place and she goes and lays down till I come and release her from her place..This has taken the longest but we are almost 100 percent door safe now..My visitors are not her visitors..She needs to go lay down and relax..lol Training my dog makes so much sense for not only other ppls safety but for her

    • Francoise Vulpe

      Be one step ahead. Anticipate a possible problem. And always be calm. Your dog responds to your unease, right down to your voice being nervous or angry.

  5. My Dane started growling at strangers when he was about 18 months old. Not all strangers- mostly in a specific store that allows dogs. At first I was devastated: my sweet puppy whom I had since 8 weeks old, socialized, taken to obedience and conformation classes (graduated), countless dog parks and simply every place where dogs are allowed he was taken and socialized with people and other dogs. Why??? I called and started training with dog behavior pro’s, re visited my existing trainer and no one could find an answer. Guess what? Now, almost 2 years later, I still don’t have the answer but I’ve learned to manage the situation. I guess being a working breed intact male there’s always a possibility that he’ll growl at a new person that seems threatening. My solution: always be aware if anyone is approaching ur dog and be in charge. I CAN LITERALY TELL if he’ll growl. Who knows why- protecting me, himself, smells their dog on them… I do tell people he doesn’t like to be petted if I think there might be a problem. And I’ll never be 100% comfortable with people petting him while he’s on leash. But I do know he’s fine off leash (he does listen to me off leash so whenever it’s allowed he’s off) and I still take him everywhere just being aware of my surroundings! Dogs are the best!! And I own the best one of them!! As does every dog lover!!
    Love,
    Lid and Bentley

    • Lid,

      I have always thought my dog seemed to feel more vulnerable on leash than off… I guess I might too if I were on a leash. But I sure wish she didn’t. I can’t walk by other dogs for fear she’ll aggravate the wrong dog. I’ve also been through training classes with her but when she was younger… I plan to try again when I have the funds. She’s 5 now. I also know I’m not very social due to funds and being in school for 4 years of her life.. etc. I’m sure that hasn’t helped but I did always try to take her to dog parks and take her with me to patios she can be social with me on… and we’ve always gone for walks… I just need to create more situations where she’s around people and dogs but now that she and I are where we are I fear it. I try not to show that or feel fear or unseasoned about it so I go on days I feel confident in her and my abilities but I’d love to be better at all of it… one day at a time.

      • Seems like I wrote this! Mine seems to be getting worse at barking at others, people or dogs. I really don’t know how to train her to stop.

  6. I have a two years old golden retriever mix. She loves all people. Which is kind of worrying me. Because what about the bad people? How can I teach her to keep us in her protective circle? We just adopted her 3 weeks ago. So it’s still adjustment period. She is an amazing dog.

    • That’s what golden retrievers are well known for…their lack of hate for strangers, lol.

    • I’ve read that dogs can smell, since, know when someone is a threat… not sure if all dog breeds do this but we’d have to trust their instincts…

      • Not just smell. People give off many non-verbal and non-voiced signals that dogs are highly attuned to. Sadly (for me) my German Shepherds react aggressively to people who are afraid of them. I spend a lot of time trying both to calm my dogs AND calm the fearful person/people. Usually a clear talk to me dog — “It’s OK, I won’t let him/her/it hurt you!” It is somehow reassuring to the fearful person or dog owner.

  7. My Yellow Lab mixed, not only does not bark or growl, he loves everyone and everything. He just wags his tail, and if you are a cat or a squirrel or another dog, it is all the same to him. Hi! Want to play? Have you got a cookie for me ? If it is person. Most laid back dog we have ever had.

  8. We have adopted a 3 year old ( approx) miniature schnauzer who is wonderfully loveable and friendly to all humans, but often acts aggressive toward other dogs. The dog trainer we took him to has advised us to give him treats when he sees another dog so that we can change his opinion of other dogs. We’ve been working at this, but it’s going to be a long process, I think.

  9. I have a male intact German Shepherd, about 18 months old. I bought from a breeder when he was a puppy. He is AKC. I have socialized and he has been in training his whole life. He has always shown separation anxiety in public places. He growls at men especially. He even nipped my nephew. I think he is insecure though. He seems to like and trust women more than men. He loves my husband and two grown sons though.
    My trainer says he is “on edge”. To say the least.

    • I have a fantastic Trainer that can help you if interested. Go onto FB and look at All Dogs Elite. He’s fantastic, does a lot of work with dog aggression and socialization. I have an 8 month old female and she has been through his dog camp 2 times, not with any issues but to prevent them. His name is Marcus and I love his quiet nature and methods.

      • A quick look at his Facebook page shows that he is a trainer I would never use or recommend. Lots of dogs with prong collars on, obviously not an evidence based trainer 😕

    • Sounds like your dog has weak nerves. It’s genetic. There is no “fixing” that, only management and understanding the dogs limitations. Too many clueless breeders of GSDs think it’s great to breed “low key” (ie; couch potato), “soft” (ex. – shows submission at even a stern look), dogs for what they refer to as “the pet market”. The majority will also have low stress thresholds.

      What they see (erroneously) is a low maintenance GSD who they can easily control. What they actually are is not fit for breeding. When you take a breed with guarding traits and breed the weakest links temperament, drive, threshold wise, you end up with puppies who have an even worse case of anxiety and insecurity.

      There are reasons why the SV uses Schutzhund to evaluate the breedworthiness of German Shepherds. Folks here decided to poo-poo on that idea and decided that if they didn’t want “mean dogs” who were “bouncing off the wall” they could breed perfectly good pets by breeding towards traits that were polar opposites to what the breed should be. What they end up with are skittish large dogs who are apt to bite out of fear. By attempting to produce a dog thats “good with kids” they did exactly the opposite. My West German Line GSDs are bomb proof. Rock solid. They go with us to the 4th of July fireworks displays and NAP through the entire thing. Their people aren’t worried, they aren’t worried. It all goes back to good genetics and only breeding the most fearless, even temperament, intelligent, and able bodied animals (among a plethora of other desirable traits that are of utmost importance when considering breeding)

  10. Shannon wilson

    When I was a child, I had a black lab/Irish Setter mix. Sweetest dog you would ever meet. One day when I was out walking her, a young man approached me and pulled a knife on me. She immediately put herself between us and showed her teeth and snarled unlike anything I had hear from her before. She knew he meant business and she would have risked her life to save mine. That is a protective dog. My shepherd I had would have risked her life for mine as well, but she had a lot of anxious aggression in every day situations.

    • Shannon,

      Thank you for sharing your experience with someone pulling a knife on you. Scary and I’m so glad to hear that your dog knew this person was a threat. Of course I sit here wondering if your dog scared that person away!

    • Francoise Vulpe

      That is so interesting. My Aussie was gentle as could be but not a wimp. I described him as “self-contained” if that makes sense. Confident and secure. I always wondered if he would have done the same as your dog. Probably, but I was fortunate to never find out. Stupid guy to approach someone with a large dog.

  11. I have a 8 month old GSD who seems to have a combination of both protection & fear! His trainer says he will always be protective, but we need to build his confidence around stangers.
    We are working with a trainer & Jack Jack is much better in social situations & I have learned how to properly correct him. He still barks at new people when I am with him, but will ignore strangers whole with my husband.
    After 3 weeks of boarding/training we have Jack Jack in a beginner class & he had a few moments barking at other dogs.
    We are going to train him to wear a muzzle so people can feel safe approaching me & Jackson feels confident while people approach me!
    It’s a long process, but worth every minute & dollar.
    I lost my sister to cancer 2 years ago & I can see it on Jack Jack’s face that he has been guarding me as a deal w/ my grief.
    Mary

  12. I have a 6.5 yr old female lab mix who will bark at anyone wearing a uniform…police, fireman, paramedic, armed forces. Should I try counter conditioning with as many of these as possible? There is a fire station and a police station nearby, don’t know if they’d let me try, but it’s worth a shot if it will work.

  13. My dog is a little cockapoo who loves all people and dogs. She does, however, seem to take signals from me about other dogs. For example we were once at a parade and she sniffed lots of dogs but then there were 2 German shepherds that I didn’t approach and they actually dragged the woman holding their leashes into the road when they ran at us barking. It worries me that people take dogs that could react that way to events with children and many other animals. Is this wide berth we gave them something the dogs were sensing? My dog is not aggressive so she just tucked tail and hugged my leg. I’m wondering if it’s something I could have helped her with (and she isn’t scarred from the experience at all – still very social and loves everyone)

  14. Leslie Mccormack

    Protective collie. Melody. While camping a bear came into the encampment abour 3 am. Melody, a therapy dog,stood up from beside me, hackles up, ruff puffed, growled nearly silent alerting me and stood as attention at the tent flap nostrals flaired, ears up, tail flagged at attention, until the bear moved off. She then lay at the entrance, on my feet,nose pounted out for the rest of the night. Shes my good girl. No fuss no muss just nope you got to get by me first Mr. Black Bear.

  15. Great article! GSDs are often missunderstood as being aggressive, most are just badly trained… (or not at all)
    But if you keep them close and train them well, they are really the best dogs out there!

  16. I have a 5 yr old beagle Dalmatian mix which dies thus exact thing when I’m walking her but not if my sons walk her. I am desperate to get her to stop this I’ve tried to get her to walk next to me and sometimes thus works but j can’t walk very fast and if she’s got to “go” she tends to walk fast and in front if me. How can I help het

  17. To some degree I think you want your dog to be wary or strangers. I go running, often in the evening and my GSD gets on guard if anyone else is around. Also if anyone was to rob your house do you want your dog to think hmm stranger that’s okay wonderful things will happen? My dog by no means is overly aggressive, but he’s aloof with strangers and I feel keeps me safe.

  18. I’ve had clients with ‘protective’ dogs and love this article! Fear and insecurity should be treated with patience and confidence building and never be encouraged or thought of as ‘look my dog is protecting me”. A confident and social dog is what we should all aim to have, not only for safety reasons, but for the well-being of the dog. It’s our job to advocate and protect our dogs, not the other way around. A dog that is wary of people is a dog uncomfortable…and that is something as owners we need to address. We’re capable of protecting ourselves and a dog who bites is a dog often put to sleep, regardless of the situation. I’d rather my dog is ignored should there be a break-in, than shot or put to sleep for attacking another human being.

  19. We have a 1yr old rescue that is retriever Sheppard cross. We r not sure of his story but he is very nervous around people and scared of men. He first barks hearing man’s voice then hides behind us. I’m doubtful he will bite but he runs away if too frightened. We r trying to let new people in every so often but he’s still the same. I don’t mind it really….it keeps us on guard then. He’s good with kids tho.

  20. My dog is just fine with people we encounter. He wants their attention and enjoys when he gets it. He is also fine and friendly with other dogs. Until I sit. Then he becomes very protective or jealous, no dog can approach me. It is very disturbing for me, I cannot control him, I become very frightful. I dont know if he can sense it and is that way he attacks approaching dog. I avoid these situations, but I cannot always be in control, especially when other dog is off leash, I can only warn owner to hold his dog, but sometimes the desire to say hello to my dog is stronger than to listen to the owner. I believe that holding my dog in these situations makes him more frustrated and I am affraid that he might relieve that negative energy in some other kind of destructive behaviour.
    When we walk and other dog growls at him, he never gets in fight.
    I rarely pet dogs because I am affraid of his jealousy, if I can call it jealousy.
    I know this article is about dog-people relations, but maybe some of you can give me some advice.

  21. Lauri Barrera

    I have an 8 month female Shepherd .. She is shy and timid and does everything you said above.. Out of fear. We did level 1 obedience and she has gotten better but she’s not great.. I need to better her self confidence but everyone tells you something different.. Take her out, don’t take her out.. Etc… She’s my best friend and doesn’t let me out of site and I hate being without her too.. Maxx is one of the best Shepherds I’ve had so far.. She’s Czeck and she’s amazing.. She’s just shy and not confident as you say.. Any advice?

  22. This article wraps up with “So how can you help him? Teach him that new people predict wonderful things. Teach him to look to you for help when he’s unsure how to react in a new situation. Show him a more optimistic worldview. Protect him from his fears just as fiercely as you wish him to protect you from true threats, because to him those fears are very truly threatening.” … Like Jess, I’m left hanging… wondering “how do I do this?” We assume that treats are the solution. ???? A little more info would be very helpful.

  23. I have a 1 year old black lab who is protective. But only if we are walking and its dark out or if a stranger gets to close to me. Or if she senses that a person is bad. What she does is position herself between me and the stranger and growls deeply. But recently she has been doing this thing were when someone enters the house, she sits between my legs and gives a warning growl. Is this a good or bad trait?

  24. I’ve got an almost 2 year old adopted Pit bull. I have always made sure that he gets to meet a lot of different people. He is happy meeting anyone and everyone (this may sound strange, but in SA a lot of dogs are “racist” – he isn’t,) and I can welcome anyone into our home.

  25. Thank you for writing this article! I wish more people understood the difference.
    I took a JRT puppy home from the vets after she had been with us as an inpatient for 4 weeks, she was 12 weeks old when admitted and wasn’t vaccinated so had very little socialisation outside of the vet practice, I had tried to work with her while she was with us but it was very limited with her being vulnerable to illness.
    She was exactly like this when I took her and showed very little warning before biting, people just wouldn’t listened when I asked them not to touch her or come too close because she was small. I’ve had her for 10 months now and she’s a completely different dog now, I’m so so proud of her! ☺️❤️

  26. My 4 year old GSD was heavily socialised as a pup. My daughter was 6 when we got him and it was very important that my dog understood that new children were a source of fun. We had many children in and out of our home, we often greeted them through the back gate or over the fence. We had picnics in the yard and lots of fun with the hose. He came to school with me to pick my daughter up wgere he was loved on by excited children, we were always at the shopping centre and sat out the front watching people and noisy trolleys going by. I always welcomed people who wanted to pat him and say hello. Now l have a beautiful natured dog who loves “everyone”. He will welcome screaming kids into our home and greet a child entering our yard for the first time with a ball and wag of the tail. Is he a guard dog? Hell no! He would probably greet a burgler with a kiss and a ball then help him carry out the stolen goods. But l know he is solid around kids and people and there is no “accident” waiting to happen. Thats all that matters to me.

  27. My mid size terrier (rescue) is horrific when she sees another dog. I live in a high traffic dog neighborhood and Sully is so aggressive and barks and acts like the Tasmanian devil.
    I have to turn around and go in another direction or run across the street to avoid passing another dog. If it’s unavoidable…I pick her up as we pass and she is fine.

  28. My dog is protective if he senses I’m upset or in a stressful situation he will put himself between m and the other person. No growling or barking just him. He doesn’t like it when I cry either I generally get a 100lb cuddle buddy. Hug is a pretty sensitive Doggie.

  29. I have an insecure Doberman when it comes to children especially

  30. Yes, it can be insecurity, but it can also be ‘resource guarding’. I’ve had trouble with resource guarding dogs, and found that the best solution for that is to send the dog away from me if s/he growls at another dog (generally not people) who comes near. But reward them when other dogs do come near. It is also a good solution for fearful dogs, though you need to be more gentle with them.
    You also need to listen to (aka watch) your dog and just take the dog out of situation whenever it is uncomfortable My dogs tell me, by pressing the side of their face against my knee.

  31. I would totally drop the idea that your dog barking at strangers is ‘protective’ of you. If anything they are being protective of themselves. The answer is to *socialise* them. Take them out and about.
    Train them — to comply with your requests *anywhere*. Don’t expect In Club and At Home training to see you through problems with visitors or in public.
    Protect them — if they do NOT like petting from strangers — do not let strangers pet them. Teach them to shake hands if you can, or to perform a trick of some sort for the would be patter to admire.
    In Obedience one of the basic exercised that the dog must do, is ‘stand for examination’. This can be very, very difficult for a nervous dog, but a sit my your side for a pat (even an unwelcome pat) is reasonably easy to teach. If this is beyond your dog, work on teaching the dog to sit politely by your side while YOU greet the stranger. I consider this an essential behaviour.
    With visitors to the house, ask them to wait for the dog to check them, before they react. THEN send the dog ‘to crate’ is necessary. I never ever send my dogs away until after the visitor has been acknowledge by them. My husband used to put them away when somebody came to out gate (Country — we greet at the gate, not the front door) and this caused the dogs to begin to see visitors as BAD, and their behaviour thence became awfully reactive to visitors.
    IF the visitors are nervous, we greet them with the gate still closed and the send the dogs to crate. It is important for the dogs to realise that the visitor is welcome. Anybody who is unwelcome to come in, the dogs are permitted to bark to their hearts’ content.

  32. We adopted a dog that acts just as this article describes. He growls at new people and nipped a family member that was visiting. We are at a loss for how to help him feel more confident. I wish this article had more tips for how to support him.

  33. You described my shy and fearful dog perfectly. We’re working on being comfortable at a distance.

  34. My dog barks all the time when I am around. Why? My dad can come and walk Starsky not a peep. I am home an we can have a conversation. Why is this? It happens all the time. He is a 13 year old cockapoo. Thank you for your time.

    • “My dog barks all the time when I am around. ”
      This sounds to me like ‘demand barking’. It requires lots of patience to overcome.
      Basically it means “ignore” the dog when he barks. No treats, nor shouting and telling him to be quiet, because for dogs like these generally any attention is reinforcing.
      You can simply leave the room — try ‘You’ve Won the Prize” method. Behave as though the dog has asked to be put in his crate, so cheerfully put him in, shut him in and leave the room. Go back and reward him somehow when he’s quiet.
      Also practise ‘Catch your dog doing something right!” This involved any sort of reward/treat/attention the dog wants when he’s NOT annoying you.
      And in training sessions work hard on “sit for food treats/ball games/coming inside the house/going outside the house/getting you lead on to go for a walk/get your dinner put down on the floor for you.

  35. My dog is a “rescue” and it took her a long time to accept me. I tell people not to approach because she is protective of her own space. She is calm as long as people don’t try to interact with her. She is much better than she was, but we still have a long way to go. Mostly positive training.

  36. My Banjo loves new people and things. He only gets protective when there are. . . Um deer. Lol. Or loud noises or if there is a storm coming he can sense. He also barks at loud vehicles which I know is him being frightened. Or it could be wrong and he just hates that vehicles take his people.

  37. Great little article. I have two dogs, myfirst truly a soul mate but was insecure. She is shy and avoiding of most dogs until impressed then she would get corky and aggressive. But really it was fear, it started after she was attacked by two labs. After trial n error I came to learn I’m part of the affecting equation.hard to swallow. But the sooner you accept this the quicker you can correct yourself! Now, if she is worried (rarely these days) by approaching dogs, she watches mummy.. Wags her tail…and we say, ‘get on’ which means she gets a nice tennis ball, or a treat or a love when she focuses on mum rather than the persistently annoying dog whose owner won’t do a recall away from my dog… She now looks forward to annoying dogs and I can say, ‘just get on oetal’ and wags ntrots on..no longer a threat to her. Fixing a behaviour like fear doesn’t work, you have to change the dogs emotional state of mind first then the fear /aggression dilutes naturally and the dog makes rational choices. If you don’t step inorganic step away depending on dogs issue, you can be making things worse!

  38. Very good read, I love these sites and post because you learn something new every time. My Boy is a 1.5 GSD and has been socialized since the day I brought him home. I took him to parks, my families restaurant etc. everyone got to hold him, love him, and play with him etc. when entering my home for the first time, priority number 1 is say hello to the dogs. Let them smell you and welcome you into their home. He has only showed aggression with one person, I don’t know why, but he just didn’t like him. So we backed off and later that evening we went outside and the guy threw the ball and played with him and he was fine after that.

  39. ” Teach him that new people predict wonderful things. Teach him to look to you for help when he’s unsure how to react in a new situation.”
    How??? I would love to teach dog not to be this way!

  40. I have a German shepard who is usually polite. But he gets beraged when our gardner is here. He barks and charges. And also does this with most people that comes close to my bedroom where he also sleeps. He is also polite if people ignore him but doesn’t like anybody new to touch him. When people he is unsure of comes close to me he kind of “attack” their feet. Making wimpering noises. If he doesn’t like somebody and they come close to me (especially if he is worked up) barks and act agressive.
    Is it possible that he can both be protective of me in situations but also display behaviour as stated in this article.?. I am a bit confused

    • I would say he is fearful. More socialisation needed.
      Also I have found out over the years that my German Shepherds really DO NOT like people who are afraid of them. Your gardener is probably afraid of him — or threatens him when you are not around. My once caught my (now EX) son-in-law kicking one of my dogs (who was simply lying where she was allowed to lie) I have had people come onto our property (uninvited) throw stones at our dogs.
      My present dogs hate people approaching them uninvited. I taught my Nervous Nellie to shake hands — it keeps her happy my keeping the unwanted person at arm’s-length, and it keeps the person happy thinking it is a clever trick (I suppose).

  41. I have a small, overprotective morkie. He loves our family of 5 but beyond us the world is a scary place. Dogs, cars/bikes and people all elicit uncontrollable barking and growling. This behavior worsens outside of the home when he’s on a leash. We pen him up for about 10 minutes when new people enter our home because he’s been know to bite/nip if people reach out towards him.
    I feel badly for him b/c he wears the weight of the world on his small 8lb frame.

  42. My dog doesn’t bark or growl at people but we have had to work on (and still do) her barking at other dogs. Any suggestions?

  43. I have a rescue chihuahua who barks and growls at everyone. I don’t know how to stop her from this bad behavior. I have rolled her on her back and held her down while telling her no barking, no growling. That seemed to work but she just repeats the bad behavior again . Wishing I knew of a dog trainer who could help.

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