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Friday, February 15, 2013

Dog Behavior:
Perception and Protectiveness

by Carrie Boyko, CEB
Tanner Socializes at the Dog Park

Think your dog is too much of a sweat heart to protect you in a pinch? I used to also, but think again. Fido lives with you, is fed by you in your home, and knows your property. He feels a sense of ownership and responsibility for the safety of you and your home that you may not see. Let's explore this....

My Golden Retriever, Tanner, is nearly 7 years old. He has been raised in social atmospheres such as dog parks and obedience classes, offering a variety of opportunities for him to be with other dogs, both on and off-leash. He has never displayed any protective behavior before. There have times when I wondered what Tanner's reaction would be if we were attacked. Thankfully we have never had to learn the answer to that question, until now.

Recently, I learned something new about Tanner's perception and under what circumstances he may be expected to protect me. While on our own property, Tanner was standing at the property line as an unknown dog walked past.  I was standing behind Tanner, which apparently gave him the perception that he was in charge and should take matters into his own paws. He did.

When we were charged by this large dog, even though the big boy was a young dog with playful energy, his collision was taken to be aggressive. Likely this was a perception based on the fact that I was standing behind Tanner, giving him the lead. His perception was that we were under attack and he immediately took offense to this blundering pup, letting the dog know that this was not acceptable behavior and he intended to keep me safe.

Was I ever surprised. Knowing the dog's owner, I wish I had given Tanner a signal of acceptance by speaking to the owner or walking out to greet them at the street. After all, Tanner did not know this dog and we were standing on our property, something that dogs tend to instinctively understand--territories. The sudden pummeling was too much for Tanner to consider and he was not taking any chances.

I've had time to talk with a trainer, reflect on this experience, and revisited my ever-present focus on socialization. That aside, I have also contemplated our neighborhood bear's surprise appearances that have been a problem for residents of the area. I've decided I'm okay with Tanner thinking he needs to look out for me when I don't give the signal that an oncoming social opportunity is a good one. We're a team, and I need to remember to do my part in watching his back, just as he did mine.
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I'd love to hear your stories along this line. Has your friendly dog ever been surprised by an overly-energetic approach that he perceived was an attack on you both? Share if you will. We can all learn from one another. Understanding our dog's perceptions is part and parcel to bonding with him. I'm embracing this concept. Won't you join me?

Each week at the Weekly Wag we offer activities or information for enhancing the bond you share with your dog. Your participation by commenting is more than welcome.

Join us each week for the Weekly Wag bonding series, held during the Saturday Pet Blogger Hop. The hop is hosted by Life with DogsTwo Little Cavaliers, and Confessions of the Plume. You are welcome to link up here, or check any of their sites for their rules of participation. Happy hopping! 


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Jt Clough | Maui Dog Remedies said...

Well, in my line of work, I get calls that have something of this sort in them all the time!

The ones that are a surprise are those just like your dog. They are socialized, they are well behaved, they aren't "aggressive" dogs.

Much of what I carry with me every day is intuition. So many times I just know things, sometimes its almost disturbing. But in my work with thousands of dogs over the years, I have found it to be true in dogs too. There are times dogs pick up things we don't. The fact that you were standing behind him may have had nothing to do with it. What the other dog was throwing out there in energy may have been the sole cause. We are protective over our own dogs. The other dog's person may not have told you of another unexplained story in the past either. There are no absolutes, but don't discount the fact that Tanner picked up some real good reasons to get protective all the sudden.

I'm not condoning unacceptable behavior, just trying to explain sometimes our dogs are expected to be explanatory when we honestly missed some big clues as to a good reason for odd behavior.

Aloha wags!

FANCY the Red Standard Poodle said...

Hi Y'all!

My Human finds the "whistle sit" works well in circumstances like this one!

We have a couple of neighbor dogs...the neighbors took the dog fence down separating our property lines. Those dogs patrol our place when I'm away in the mountains, so the Humans never mention anything. When I come home they want to run me off. My Human calls or whistles "SIT" when she hears them and sees me start my CHARGE! I sit and watch and my Human goes toward the charging growling dogs and send them home with the command "go home" and pointing toward them. Once they are back through the fence she comes back and gives me a treat or a pat and releases me.

Y'all come by now,
Hawk aka BrownDog

Anonymous said...

Nice article.
I used to have a dog which do the same thing like yours until i brought him to be trained, and he never be the same.
Thank you so much for the article.

My home page How To House Train a Dog

Anonymous said...

I agree that we need to let our dog to experience sometimes a social atmospheres so that they will use to be in place that is crowded this can help them not to be aggressive to hurt someone :-) more power

Lisa F. said...

My Brittany Spaniel "protected" me twice, but I think it was more resource guarding. The one time he was laying in my lap at a dog event. When my friend's dog came over for attention, he "attacked". Attacked is in quotes because he didn't bite as much as pinch the other dog with his mouth, but he made it very clear that I was his and not the other dog's. After that, I knew there were situations where I couldn't have him feel I was his to guard. Even if he wouldn't hurt the other dog, the perception would be that of an attack, and that can be as bad as an actual attack.

Anonymous said...

I really don't know how Gracie would react. She will sometimes get protective towards me with Henri, nothing big, just knocking him away when she's having her one on one time with me.

Pet Care Portal said...

It's definitely important to let your dog socialize with other dogs and people both when they're young and into adulthood. I know people with dogs that will get very aggressive around other dogs and people because they weren't socialized enough.

Dogs that have had a lot of socialization are more emotionally happy and will not hesitate to defend you when there is a real threat.

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