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Why Defensive Dogs Should Not Have To “Just Get Used To It”

Some dogs love to play with humans

Some dogs love to play with other dogs

Some dogs are not interested in other dogs

Some dogs don’t like other dogs at all

Some dogs just prefer their toys

Some dogs just want to be with their owners

Some dogs growl when other dogs get in their face…. And society says that’s not ok! But why?


Too often we hear of owners that reprimand their dog for growling or reacting to a dog that comes into its personal space but put yourself in your dog’s shoes/paws. If you had a stranger come up into your face and start harassing you, would you be a bad human for communicating with them that you were uncomfortable and wanted them to go away?


“Don’t be mean, he is just trying to play!”


We need to change the stigma that a warning growl is “bad” behaviour. This is not bad behaviour but rather just a form of communication.


Your dog may not want to be friends with every dog at the park. While some dogs thrive in social situations, other dogs may choose not to engage and this needs to be respected.

As humans we accept that we are all different. Some people are extroverts and other’s introverts.


Some folks love public gatherings whilst others feel very uncomfortable in large groups. Individuals vary between loud, quiet, bubbly, stoic, energetic, lazy, high strung, relaxed and the list goes on.. All dogs are unique just as we are, and we need to understand and recognise their individual personalities and character traits.


“I want my dog to be friendly…..”


Whilst we may want nothing more than for our dog to be friendly, fun and the life of the party we must also be able to identify when/if they are not - and be respectful of this. The idea that your dog just needs to get used to it, is NOT being their advocate. As dogs cannot speak English, it is up to us to read the situation and their body language. Failure to acknowledge this may result in a warning growl or worse, creating a situation that potentially could have been avoided.


"Why does my dog dislike random dogs??"


The fact is, if your dog is defensive, it was born that way and will always be defensive.


They will often like people or dogs they know and are familiar with but will be very wary of strangers or unfamiliar dogs. They will not get used to meeting new dogs nor should they have to. It is the responsibility of the owner that defensiveness does not build to aggression. This may occur if the warning signs are not acknowledged or respected and they are continually forced into uncomfortable situations.


If your dog avoids another dog and tries to get away and the other dog continues to pursue it and isn’t listening to your dog this may leave your dog with no choice but to escalate to be respected. This escalation is often a snap or a bite, which can result in the other dog getting injured or potentially retaliating and your dog getting injured. Either way it’s a situation where everyone loses.


How can you help and be your dogs’ advocate?


For defensive dogs it often takes time to get them used to a new person or dog…. if at all. When meeting a defensive dog, it is best to allow the dog the time it needs to warm up to you. Do not force yourself on the dog. Avoid eye contact, physical contact and verbal contact. Allow the dog to come up to you of its own accord, not you to it. The dog will feel more comfortable when it knows that you are not going to get into its personal space and try and touch it. Remember, not every dog wants to be touched by a stranger. Trust can also take time to build.


Getting your defensive dog used to a particular person or another dog, does not mean that all of sudden it will love all strangers. It is now merely desensitised to that individual person or dog. Learn to watch and pay attention to your dog’s body language and start to understand what it means. Learning to read your dog’s physical cues and signals is essential. This will help you understand when your dog is uncomfortable and not enjoying a situation.


E.g. if you are out with your dog and an unknown random dog tries to approach and sniff your dog.


At that moment, your dog backs/walks away, and starts sniffing the ground, moves away from the other dog and avoids looking at the dog as if the other dog doesn’t even exist, this is your dog telling the other dog it isn’t interested in engaging. Which is perfectly fine provided the other dog listens and respects your dog’s wishes, however if the other dog doesn’t back off and leave your dog alone it would be up to you to say


“excuse me, my dog is wary of dogs it doesn’t know can you please move your dog away, thank you”


This is you being your dog’s advocate. Speaking for your dog when no one around is listening to them. This may also mean you will need to avoid places where other dogs are not under their owner’s control e.g. Off-leash areas.


Coaxing a dog....does it work?


Attempting to coax a dog to you can be very counter-productive when it comes to defensive dogs. If your dog is wary of someone and they are trying to bribe the dog to approach them, this may not have the desired result. Offering a dog a treat, may inadvertently be rewarding its current mental state. If you think about the fact that dogs live in the moment, giving treats to a scared or nervous dog will actually be rewarding the scared and nervous behaviour and could potentially be developing it to become worse and worse over time. Having said that, you will often find that many dogs will refuse to take a treat or food when in a heightened state of stress. This is because your dog is entering into its fight or flight mode due to the stranger making them feel so uncomfortable.


An owner soothing and patting a wary dog will also potentially be rewarding its current mental state. Reward a recovery, never a reaction. Treats should only be given to a calm and relaxed dog.


Note to that if a Defensive Dog is on lead and approached, because they cannot move away, they may resort to “fight” mode. If they are off lead they may resort to “flight” mode.


Important Tips to Remember:


1. Be your dog’s advocate - if your dog doesn’t like strangers getting into its personal bubble do not take your dog into places where that will occur and make sure to stop people and dogs from encroaching in your dog’s personal space

2. Learn to read your dog’s body language - this is a great help in understanding how your dog is feeling in any given situation

3. Give your dog the time it needs to feel comfortable around new people and do not force interactions

4. Do not get angry with your dog for not liking another dog. It is perfectly acceptable that your dog will not like every dog it meets. Avoid placing it into these situations. Select your dogs friends wisely.

5. Remember that all dogs have different personalities and characteristics - don’t try and make your dog something it is not.


At Found By The Hound, we frequently discuss the importance of being your dog’s advocate, being their voice and having their back in all situations. This also means avoiding settings that may put your dog in an uncomfortable and compromising position. Whilst it may seem limiting to avoid off-leash parks and beaches, there are plenty of alternatives that can keep your dog active without exceeding their social limit.