MJ Wixsom: Can a dog be overly- protective?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Mike, my falconry partner, dislikes my dog, Foxtrot.  It is okay.

Foxtrot dislikes Mike.  To be fair, Foxtrot hates my falconry apprentice Derick much more! Foxtrot is wicked smart with chiseled muscles, but the dislike is a real problem when Mike and I walk into Guardian Animal together.

Ah, our beloved canine companions – they truly are remarkable creatures.

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Dogs, throughout history, have been cherished for their loyalty, devotion, and unconditional love. We’ve all heard tales of heroic hounds, of dogs who have gone to great lengths to protect their owners in times of peril. It’s a heartwarming aspect of the human-canine bond that we all hold dear. However, there’s a fine line between a loving protector and an overly-protective dog, and navigating that line can sometimes be a challenge.

Why do some dogs become excessively protective of their owners? Well, it all boils down to their innate instincts and the unique relationships they share with their humans. Dogs have been our companions for thousands of years, and during that time, they’ve developed an incredible ability to understand and respond to our emotions. When a dog becomes overly protective, it’s often because they perceive a threat to their beloved owner.  Mike is a trusted friend, but Foxtrot is distrustful of anyone within my speaking zone.

Foxtrot is a COVID puppy.  I wasn’t planning on getting him and he was not socialized as well as the other puppies were. None of us were socialized then.

Dogs, in their natural state, are pack animals. In a pack, there is usually a designated leader who ensures the safety and well-being of the group. When a dog identifies a person as their pack leader – their beloved human – they might instinctively feel the need to protect them from perceived threats.

While this protective instinct can be heartwarming, it can also pose challenges for both the dog and their owner.

An overly-protective dog may display aggressive behavior towards strangers or other animals, which can lead to dangerous situations and legal problems for the owner. Even though Mike pulled Foxtrot out of the raging creek as a small puppy, Foxtrot is scary when he runs toward Mike.

Social isolation leads to overly protective dogs that may become wary of new people or situations, making it difficult for their owners to enjoy social activities or even run simple errands without their dogs becoming anxious or aggressive.

Constant vigilance causes stress and anxiety which is mentally and physically taxing for a dog. Over time, this heightened state of alertness can lead to excess cortisol, which can manifest in various health issues.

Overprotective behavior can erode the trust between a dog and their owner, making it essential to address this issue for the sake of a healthy relationship.

Managing an overly protective dog requires patience, consistency, and often the guidance of a veterinary behaviorist.

Proper training is key to addressing overprotective behavior. Reinforce commands like “sit,” “stay,” and “leave it.” These commands can help you control your dog in stressful situations. Mike’s job in the Air Force was dog handling. Even he was impressed when Foxtrot jumped toward Mike and I firmly said “Stand Down.” Foxtrot turned in midair and came back to me.

During the socialization period expose your dog to a variety of people, animals, and environments from an early age. Positive social experiences can help your dog become more comfortable and less protective.

If they are already having issues, gradually expose your dog to situations that trigger their protective behavior. Reward them for calm, non-aggressive behavior to help change their response over time.

If your dog’s overprotective behavior is causing significant problems or poses a safety risk, consult a veterinary behaviorist. They can provide personalized guidance and strategies tailored to your dog’s needs.

Remember, an overly protective dog is not a lost cause; they are simply displaying a heightened sense of loyalty and love. With the right approach, understanding, and training, you can help your furry friend find a healthy balance between protecting and enjoying life alongside their beloved human.

In conclusion, the loyalty and protective nature of dogs are qualities that make them cherished members of our families. While dealing with an overly-protective dog can be challenging, it’s a journey worth undertaking to ensure a harmonious life together. Through patience, training, and love, we can help our protective pups find their place in our human world, just as they have found their place in our hearts.

Watching Foxtrot this morning, I noticed that Foxtrot is less aggressive toward Mike. It is still good that Foxtrot’s training is impressive. I do hope they work it out, because if something happens to me, I’m leaving Foxtrot to Mike. I hope they hunt well together.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. GuardianAnimal.com 606-928-6566