Protective aggression is in a dog’s nature. They are a social species. Left to their own devices they live together in small packs of family and friends. If they think one of their pack members is in danger, they will rush to try and protect that member.
Domesticated dogs still have this natural instinct towards protective aggression, if they think one of their pack members, be it human or another dog, is in danger. Mother dogs with litters of puppies are some of the worst displays of protective aggression. Or if you bring home a new baby, your dog may become very protective of it.
Parental Protective Aggression
Meatloaf was our first mother with a litter foster dog. She was very protective of her puppies, and didn’t even want the other dogs coming near the gate behind which were her puppies. Although she’s about a third the height of Chewy, she used to run him off constantly. She lost her protective aggression when her puppies left for their homes, but she can still boss any of our other dogs around.
If your dog is a mother with a litter of puppies, or even the father of the puppies, most likely her his/her protective aggression will go away shortly after the puppies leave, or when they start to grow up.
Family/Pack Member Protective Aggression
Now on the other hand, this is an issue we are currently working on. Santana and Pantera, our young adult Jack Russell Terrier mixes tend to have some protective aggression when it comes to their human family members. It started not long after we adopted them, when Pantera bit our son for tackling his human sister. Santana followed suit the next time our son decided to make his sister scream.
We immediately started to work with them on the issue. And during that time we had a major rule in our house: Do not make Sister scream. Everyone who walked through the door learned this quickly. And now that our son has joined the Air Force, and his sister has grown up some. It’s not a problem.
Fast forward a few years, and Santana and Pantera have been perfect angels. They no longer show any protective aggression and haven’t since their training. Monkey enters our house as a scrawny, broken puppy. She spends most of her first few months with us in a crate, due to her brokenness. Then she’s on limited activity and in a neck cast. We teach all of the dogs to be very gentle around her, on her limited time out of her crate.
Santana and Pantera took this to heart, and became her bigger, stronger pack members. She’s now their sister, and they protect her against anything and everything. Including us, her human caretakers. Giving her her medicine became a chore, because she didn’t like it and would fuss. Once again we were back in the same situation. Working with the two of them on their protective aggression.
Working through Protective Aggression
So how did we work with them? If you’ve read the last few posts in this series, I bet you can guess! We used Desensitization and Counter Conditioning, like we outlined in Conquering the Fear. Of course, we didn’t really hurt, either Sister or Monkey while we were working with the boys. We just made human sister scream (of her own free will, no pain involved) and picked up Monkey.
It’s also not a bad idea to work on the Nothing in Life is Free training too. I recommend that for every dog. It really does help establish you, and any other human as the leaders to your dog.