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There is so much discourse these days about Pitbulls, their temperaments, and their levels of protectiveness and aggression.
On the one hand, you have folks who 100% believe that these are just sweet, dopey, lovely dogs who are not prone to any more aggression than any other breed.
And on the other, you have folks who claim just as strongly that these are dangerous dogs who, at best, should only be reserved for extreme protection and guarding work.
So which is it? Are Pitbulls protective of their owners?
Yes, Pitbulls can be particularly prone to defensiveness and aggression when they believe their families are threatened. However, it’s unlikely that an average Pitbull would effectively intervene in a serious situation. Pitbulls make great protection dogs but it requires extensive and careful training to rely on them for “protection.”
It’s important to note that almost all dogs, regardless of breed, would show some signs of “protective” behavior when their owners are faced with a threat.
Even a teacup Chihuahua could be your ride-or-die buddy when push comes to shove.
What sets Pitbulls apart is their willingness to engage and the efficacy that even an untrained Pitbull may have if their owners are threatened.
Read on for more and for advice on what to do if your Pitbull is being protective of you.
Reasons Pitbulls Protect Their Owners And What Makes Them Good At It
Pitbulls are excellent at protecting their owners, particularly children. Put that together with an expert trainer and you have yourself a four-legged bodyguard. Would you trust your kids with this guy?
Pit bulls are an extremely loyal breed of dog, not at all prone to aloofness. Some breeds of dogs, like Basenjis or many types of hounds, will barely give their pet parents the time of day under normal circumstances. So when a threat occurs, there’s simply no way you could count on them to stay by your side.
But not Pitbulls.
Pitbulls have been bred for generations to work closely alongside individual owners and handlers. They have also been kept in kennels, so they are used to living alongside humans and dogs alike.
This has resulted in a breed that is more likely to stay by the sides of their loved ones and be protective of them when danger arises.
Besides their big, goofy smiles, Pitbulls are probably best known for their boldness.
Historically, these dogs have been forced to engage in acts of extreme violence that were outrageous at the time and illegal today.
However, their ancestors’ old jobs still leave a mark on the modern Pitbulls of today.
Pitbulls don’t back down from a fight. Check out the exploits of Sergeant Stubby, an American Pitbull Terrier who served during WWI, earning numerous awards and, among his many exploits, single-handled captured a German spy.
Not all dogs are sergeants in the military, but even an average Pitbull will try to have their owner’s back.
One of the most important parts of protection work is knowing who is a threat and who is not.
Luckily, Pitbulls are extremely family-oriented and affectionate dogs, especially children.
This is likely because they have had such a bad rap for so long that breeders are now working towards nicer, more even-tempered, family dogs, similar to what happened to Dobermans about 30 years ago.
It’s impossible not to mention that these dogs have been bred for violence for a very long time. This breed is one of the fastest to show aggression when situations begin to escalate, studies have shown.
Given the appropriate training, this is an excellent characteristic for your protection dog and it certainly doesn’t mean that all Pitties are aggressive. In other words, in the right hands, this is a positive trait when it comes to protection work but unfortunately, this characteristic has been abused over the decades.
However, if your dog is a bad judge of character or if you are encouraging their protective, aggressive behavior without knowing exactly what you are doing, you may be turning your loyal companion into a ticking time bomb.
Unless you got your Pitbull at 8 weeks old from a responsible breeder who gave them an excellent start to life, they probably were adopted from a shelter.
Many of these rescued Pitbulls were saved from terrible environments which can leave a lasting impression on their character.
Many Pitbulls are abused or come from violent homes where aggression was commonplace.
If your Pitbull is being protective, it may be that they have some past experience that is making them more anxious or quick to respond aggressively in certain situations.
Pitbulls are an extremely intelligent breed of dog, one of the smartest by some standards. Intelligence is arguably the most important factor when a pitbull is deciding whether or not and how to protect their owners.
This may mean deciding if they should react by attacking a mugger, dragging you out of a fire, or barking for help if you have a heart attack.
Pitbulls are smart enough to troubleshoot problems and figure out solutions, especially if they are given the proper response training.
Couple that intelligence with the know-how and experience of a professional dog trainer, and you have the makings of potentially the best protection dog on Earth.
Appearance and Athleticism
Besides all of the physical traits that make them likely to protect their owners, one thing that we cannot skip is the appearance of a Pitbull. Some Pitbulls, especially when they want to, can look downright terrifying.
This strong, powerful dog is able to present itself in a way that is likely to deter any would-be burglars or other threats to the Pitbull’s family.
It’s been shown that a beware of dog sign on your fence is enough to decrease your likelihood of having a home invasion.
That number goes down significantly if there’s actually a big, strong, intimidating Pitbull waiting to greet your unwanted guests at the gate.
They are also large enough to be intimidating but are also able to get down to business if they have to engage physically to protect you.
On the other hand, they are small enough that they can easily maneuver in human environments, like a house or car.
They can run for far distances, which puts them ahead of larger dogs who are often thought of for protection, like Mastiffs. Of course your Pittie will still need plenty of exercise to stay in stop top shape.
Signs Your Pitbull Is Being Protective Of You
Protectiveness is kind of a vague term used to describe a combination of behaviors that a dog will show in sequence in response to the situation as it escalates.
I’ve put together this handy-dandy chart that should help you to identify signs of protective behavior, other signs of protective behavior, and where that behavior generally fits on the scale between “starting to get uncomfortable” and “actively eating a burglar.”
|Posturing||Still and rigid. Head held high with ears pricked and legs squared. Likely won’t let the threat walk behind them or come in between you two.|
|Eye Contact||Holding direct eye contact with the dog, human, or animal threat|
|Hackles up||The ridge of hair along the spine will stand up like a mohawk|
|Quick movements||All their motions will be short, quick, and tight. They’ll quickly resume their posturing and will recoil from a touch, often even yours.|
|Lunging||Jumping forward towards the threat without making actual contact|
|Mouthing||Putting their open mouth on the subject. They may hold their hand or grab their clothes and apply light pressure. Distinctly different than a bite.|
|Muzzle pokes||Punching the object with their nose, kind of like poking someone with your finger|
|Growling||Low, deep, audible vocalization alerting the subject to stay back|
|Showing teeth||Revealing both the upper and lower teeth is a clear sign that they are willing and ready to use ethem|
|Snapping||Similar to lunging but the Pittbulll may actually bite down in the air. You may hear their teeth catter.|
|Nip||A light bite that doesn’t break the skin. The Pitbull is working up to a full-blown bite.|
|Bite||The pitbull bites down hard and releases. Bruising or puncturing of the skin may occur.|
|Repeated Bites||Often repeated in quick snaps in bursts of 3 or 4.|
|Bite and Shake||This typically causes the most damage.|
|Bite and hold||It may be necessary to use a bite stick to get them to release.|
Can I Use My Pitbull To Protect Me?
Your Pitbull will likely try to protect you no matter what, and the fact that you visibly have a Pitbull may already be protecting you. But unless you have trained your Pittbull in protection work, they probably will not be able to do much besides scaring off an attacker.
When most people think about protection, they think of protection from other people.
And let’s keep in mind that an average-sized adult human man outweighs and outsmarts your dog by a mile. There are nearly countless anecdotal stories about the hero Pitbulls who protect their owners from fires, intruders, and all manner of evildoers.
While these dogs are rare heroes, it is unreasonable for you to expect your untrained Pitbull to react as these dogs did. Training a dog to do Protection work is a very serious commitment, one in line with purchasing a firearm in my opinion.
Unless you are an expert, and even if you are, you should consult with professional protection dog trainers before engaging in any sort of protection work.
Improper training puts you, your dog, and the whole community at risk. The last thing that anyone wants is your pitbull biting someone that it shouldn’t, or not biting someone when you desperately needed them to.
What To Do If Your Pitbull Is Too Protective Of You
Your dog is being protective of you because they love you and they are worried about your safety, so it can seem cruel or counterintuitive to respond by putting distance between yourself and your loyal buddy.
However, if they are being too protective, it is in everyone’s best interest to build some separation into your relationship.
This may mean asking another family member to take your dog for a walk or enlisting the help of a dog walker. It may also mean finding them a new bed to sleep in instead of yours.
While you definitely still want your Pitbull to love you and spend lots of time with you, you do not want them to spend so much time with you that they become possessive, protective, or willing to aggressively guard you against the mailman.
Give Them Something Else
Your big bruiser may be trying to protect you because they want to endear themselves to you by showing you that they are protecting you.
A smart way to counter this impulse is by giving them affection, treats, or some other positive reinforcement for specific behaviors or tricks that you ask them to do more frequently.
This could mean asking them to sit or catch a treat and then giving them the love that they want or rewarding them for being quiet or for not barking with a treat.
The point here is to give them other outlets and tools to use in order to endear themselves to you besides trying to act like your personal bodyguard.
If they know that you like it when they sit quietly, they will be less likely to decide on their own to bark aggressively in order to make you happy later on.
By diverting this impulse into more positive behaviors, your Pitbull will still get the affection and satisfaction that they are looking for while you get to have a peaceful, nonviolent evening stroll.
Recreate Situations Positively
Oftentimes, your Pitbull will be overly protective in the same situations, like when you walk past other dogs on your walk or if someone knocks on your door.
In order to get them to respond less protectively in these situations where they do not, in fact, need to protect you, you will need to desensitize them to the situations.
This means giving them lots of positive reinforcement when these situations occur. So, you should recreate them on your own terms so that you can anticipate their response and curb their behavior.
Ask a friend to come and sit outside and knock on your door repeatedly. Your dog will probably bark aggressively like they always do when they try to protect you from your invited guests.
Instead of yelling at them to stop or just opening the door and letting your friend in, work with your Pitbull to calm down so that they are less stressed out when the situation that triggers their protective behavior occurs in the future.
Over time, they’ll learn that a simple knock on the door isn’t such a big deal.
It takes two to tango, so if your Pitbull is displaying behavior that you do not like, it’s probably time for you to do some self-examination of your own behaviors.
Do you get startled and stressed out when someone knocks on the door?
Do you feel fear or social anxiety when you walk past other people on your walks?
Is there some part of you that likes that your dog is trying to protect you?
Above almost all other things, dogs are in tune with their pet parents. They pick up on our emotions and our feelings, even when we may not be aware that we are experiencing them ourselves.
Take a close look at the situation when your Pitbull is being protective and see if you can pick up on any cues you may be giving off, subconscious or otherwise, that may be making your dog react protectively.
This is the same advice that is recommended to people who feel aggressive or defensive. Physical exercise is known to have positive effects on one’s temperament.
It also lets out a lot of their pent-up energy, making them less on edge and reactive in situations that do not call for such a strong reaction.
Make sure that your Pitbull is getting enough exercise to help cut down on their overly protective behavior. It’s tough to spend the whole night barking at strangers if you’re exhausted from your walk earlier that day.
Pitbulls are a very intelligent breed of dog, but if they are not adequately stimulated, they will likely come up with other scenarios to keep themselves entertained.
While a border collie may shred your couch, your pitbull is more likely to become obsessive or overthink a situation and respond with aggression or defensiveness.
By making sure that your Pitbull has lots of engaging toys like the ones in this party pack to keep their mind’s occupied while you are away, they will be less highly strung later on and therefore less likely to respond with too much aggression.
Work With A Pro
We have to keep in mind that Pitbulls are potentially dangerous. All dogs are potentially dangerous, but a Pitbull showing overly protective behavior is a particularly dangerous dog.
You should feel comfortable troubleshooting some mildly protective behavior in your dog, but recognize that doing so inappropriately may make matters worse.
Consulting with a professional trainer is always advised when aggression is a factor.
Pitbulls Protecting Their Owners
As you can see, it is true that Pitbulls are more likely to protect their owners than other breeds of dogs.
Not only are they more likely to do it than other breeds, when they decide to be protective their behavioral and physical characteristics make them particularly effective at protecting their owners in dangerous situations.
However, it is unfair, unreasonable, and unsafe for you to expect your average Pitbull to protect you in a dangerous situation.
As a responsible pet parent, you either need to be prepared to help protect them when things go wrong or you need to prepare them to help you and themselves ahead of time through proper training.
Protection dog training is a very serious business that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but if you want a dog that you can count on to protect you when push comes to shove, a Pitbull is an excellent candidate.