Do I Want My Dog to be Protective of My Child?

Last updated on June 22nd, 2018 at 01:51 am

Our children bring out the protectiveness in all of us. Having the family dog act as protector of our children, although it may sound appealing, this role or “job” can easily backfire.

Being a companion for a family is a sort of “second career” for dogs compared to what they may have been originally bred to do – herding, hunting, etc. Some breeds have had an easier time switching from working dog to companion animal. Other breeds may look for more work to fill their time!

If you don’t give your dog something to do (long walks, training, ball retrieving, swimming, chew toys) they will often come up with their own job.

All they may need is a little encouragement to jump into a role, such as “protector”, but it may be challenging to control how serious they take this new position. The consequences can be detrimental to both the family members and the dog.

For instance, if the dog decides that a growl or bark is not effective to remove or control an individual, they may go straight for the bite. Consequences for the family of the dog can be serious, ranging from medical bills to pay to being sued. For the dog, consequences may be even more serious, as biting incidents can result in a dog being euthanized.

Dogs can naturally come by their “jobs” in the family by chance or when given some intended or unintended direction. An example is when a dog alerts you by barking when someone comes to the door or walks past your house. This is a very innate behavior for most dogs.

Sometimes people start their dog on a new behavior by accident. For example, let’s say you have a new tiny puppy and one day it growls and barks at someone. Everyone giggles and laughs because it looks so cute seeing this adorable puppy acting so tough.

Your unintended response of positive feedback communicates to the puppy that he did a great job. The consequence might be that as the dog matures, he won’t let people come near anyone in the family. It happens!

A few examples of this can be when family or friends come to the house for a visit or celebration, such as for a birthday party or holiday, and the dog can not determine whether or not some of these individuals are friend or foe. I’ve known dog owners who could not leave their children with a friendly babysitter in the house without fear of a bite or nip to the sitter from the dog. Of course, the dog is just trying to be protective and do its job.

Even other children are not exempt from suspicion and can be subject to “corrections” from the dog. Dog owners can become hostage to their own dog and find themselves having to manage their situations by removing the dog to other rooms, crates or kennels, hoping nothing goes wrong when someone visits the home.

Further, if we see a questionable or negative behavior from our dog and don’t disallow it or give guidance, the dog will likely believe it’s an approved behavior. When we allow a dog to growl or exhibit some other display of protection towards a stranger who is approaching your child, you may think, “I like this!” However, when given the green light, dogs may have trouble discriminating between good and bad situations.

If you have given them the role to protect your child, whether intended or not, they will make decisions on their own. Unfortunately, they may not make good choices.

For instance, an old lady with a walker or cane can look as menacing to a dog as an intruder with a weapon.

Even after a dog is familiar with specific family or friends, each occasion can be a unique for the dog. For example, Uncle Bob, who the dog knows, comes for a visit with a new baseball bat and glove for his nephew or niece. In this case the dog may see the baseball bat as suspicious, and therefore jumps in to defend the family biting Uncle Bob in the process. Now Uncle Bob doesn’t want to visit unless the dog is contained.

My advice is, don’t go out of your way to encourage your dog to act protectively. If your dog has started this naturally, be sure you do some training with your dog so you can communicate effectively with them to help them understand their role when interacting with people. If you’re unable to provide this leadership with your dog, it’s important for the safety of friends, family, and strangers, that you seek assistance from an experienced trainer who can help you.

About the Author

Lesley Zoromski is a passionate educator and lifelong dog lover. Her 15-year teaching career was focused on early education where she taught children ages 4 to 8. Since transitioning to the world of dog training in 2000, she has trained literally thousands of dogs and their owners. With the specific goal of bettering the life of children and dogs alike, Lesley has channeled this passion and unique combination of experience into developing the child/dog safety activity that is Stop, Look & Paws. She regularly volunteers her time and the use of her own Canine Good Citizen (CGC) dogs in working with local shelters and schools to promote various “Humane Education” programs. Lesley lives in Petaluma, California with her husband Darrell and the numerous dogs that are lucky enough to call her house their home.

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