Will Your Dog Protect You?

dog evaluating stranger before protecting owner

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Do you ever wonder if your dog would jump into action to protect you in an emergency? Every pet parent wants their loyal pup to be a vigilant guardian, but can dogs sense danger and will they actually defend their families from harm?

It’s unlikely that your dog will protect you if you or your home are attacked. Dogs are more likely to protect against animals than humans, but both scenarios are unlikely unless the dog is trained to protect their owner by a professional.

We will be examining the common situations that many people think will incite their dogs to protect them, and look into the reasons that they are unlikely to engage.

Would My Do Protect Me if I Was Attacked?

Maybe!

That seems like an unsatisfying and ambiguous answer, but it’s not a simple yes or no question like we may think. Every dog is going to react differently to an attack on its owners. Their response is shaped by their genetics, their training, and their experiences in life.

Whether or not your dog protects you also heavily depends on the situation at hand. Dogs are heavily driven by their instincts, so if a situation speaks more to their instinctual nature, they are more likely to engage.

Let’s look at the various situations that we think might invoke a protective response from our dogs, and whether or not they are likely to actually protect you at that moment.

Will My Dog Protect Me from Another Human?

Overall, it’s highly unlikely that your dog will protect you if you are attacked by another human. Dogs have evolved alongside us for thousands of years. Over that time of domestication, we’ve bred dogs that are less likely to attack humans, so the descendants that we have today are far less likely to break those instinctual habits.

However, some dogs will be protective of their owners. Some breeds, like German Shepherds, have been bred for generations to protect their owners, and are more likely to protect their owners from an attack. However, even these breeds are usually socialized at a young age to avoid reactivity to strangers, so attacking a human without training to do so is still unlikely.

Each dog is going to react differently to their human getting attacked by another human, depending on their genetics and their training. The situation and how threatened they feel in the moment may make the difference in whether or not your dog will attack as well.

Will My Dog Protect Me from an Intruder?

A common fear of many is someone breaking in while they’re sleeping or otherwise unexpecting. Many of us get dogs because we feel safer with our pups alone, especially when home alone! Will your dog actually protect you from this intruder though?

Again, it entirely depends on the dog’s temperament and training, but it could be more likely that your dog protects you in their home versus when out walking or in another place. However, we have to examine their motivations at this moment to really understand why.

Dogs have strong territorial instincts. A large part of socialization and training is teaching your dog that resources are not sparse, therefore they don’t need to protect them. This overprotectiveness is called resource guarding, and dogs consider their territory, or home, an important resource. So while your dog may attack an intruder, it may not be about your well-being and more about protecting their territory!

Will My Dog Protect Me from Another Animal?

While it’s still not true of every dog, it is more likely that your dog will protect you from another animal than from another person. A dog’s natural instincts are more likely to kick in when you are threatened by another animal, especially if the animal is unfamiliar to your dog.

Unfortunately, many breeds have been using dogs as brutal entertainment for centuries. Bullbaiting was a common sport in Europe up until the early 1800s, followed by “ratting” and dog fighting. These cruel blood sports are what helped develop breeds like the Pit Bull and the now-extinct Old English Bulldog, and those animal aggression genetics are hard to shake.

Other breeds were bred to be used for the protection of their livestock, like the Great Pyrenees and Tibetan Mastiffs, and are bred to be strong and fearless against predators like coyotes. Terriers and hunting dogs, even small ones like the Yorkie and Beagle, have been bred to hunt small prey. Then there are breeds that are bred for less active lifestyles and are known for their napping prowess.

These protective instincts are hard to ignore if their person is being attacked by another animal, but even breeds without these instincts can become protective towards other animals. Loose dogs and small animals may not seem like much of a threat to you, but they can easily be construed as a threat by your dog. Instincts take over, and whether their motivation is to protect you or their resources, your dog may become aggressive towards other animals.

Will My Dog Protect Me from Other Dangers?

Humans and other animals aren’t the only threats dog owner may face. We’ve all heard the stories of heroic dogs that have saved their owners from dangers like fire, drowning, or even detecting cancer before their owners had any idea. But just how true can these incredible stories be, and how likely are dogs to protect you from these dangers?

Natural Disasters

Humans have been at odds with Mother Nature since the beginning of time, and often we feel helpless to defend ourselves. Fires, storms, and earthquakes are all common in certain areas. There have been countless stories, but will your dog really try to protect you from a natural disaster?

It all depends on your dog and the situation. Dogs have been said to wake their owners if the house is on fire, which is not unlikely as a dog’s sense of smell would allow it to easily detect smoke and most pups instinctively know that fire is dangerous. Canine senses can also allow your dog to detect changes in the atmosphere before a storm, and their anxiousness can be an easy sign for their pet parents to react to.

While dogs have senses that are strong and acute that are perfect for detecting these small changes in their environments, it’s not a given that they will protect you from these. Dogs will all have different reactions to natural disasters, and their genetics and training will make the difference in whether they will protect you from natural disasters.

Health Alerts

When we think of service dogs, we often drum up the image of a seeing-eye dog or a physical service dog. However, there are so many different types of service dogs! Health alert service dogs are used by diabetic people, people with PTSD, and people with epilepsy.

These dogs are trained to react to changes in blood pressure or the smell of their owner’s perspiration, depending on the condition the dog is trained to alert to. While training is needed to provide a reliable response, some dogs have natural abilities to detect things like seizures. According to the AKC, it’s still unknown what exactly it is about these seizure alert dogs that allow them to warn owners of oncoming seizures. Additional training can be provided to show these dogs how to properly protect their owner in the wake of a medical crisis.

Cancer

Humans fear things that we feel we cannot fight, and for many people all over the world, cancer is an ever-present worry. Many cancer patients have reported strange behavior from their dogs leading up to their diagnosis, leading them to believe they are trying to alert their owners to the presence of cancer. But can dogs actually know if their owner is sick?

Turns out, yes! It has been studied and proven that dogs can detect melanoma, which usually presents as lesions on the skin. However, dogs have been used to detect other forms of cancer by smelling the stool, urine, blood samples, biopsy samples, and even the breath of patients. In the BBC segment below, you’ll see several leading scientists explain how dogs can be used to detect cancer.

As you can see, the studies for this are ever ongoing, but many humans are trying to use our furry friend’s powerful senses to help us fight the battle against cancer and other life-threatening diseases. However, it is unreliable at best for a pet dog to detect cancer without training.

Will My Dog Protect My Home?

In addition to protecting us, we often desire that our dogs will protect our homes and possessions. However, we may be disappointed to learn that dogs are not a reliable burglar-deterrent. We spend so much time training our dogs to be friendly towards other people, so it’s not likely that they will reject years of training to attack and protect your home, although studies have shown that simply living in a neighborhood full of dogs can be a strong deterrent from burglars. 

A local news organization in Portland, Oregon decided to put the dogs of three families to the test. Their results showed that none of the dogs attacked the humans when they walked in, including some breeds like Boxers which have a history or guarding work:

Interestingly, the dogs were more opt to alert the intruder if their owner was home, but it seemed more out of fear than protective instincts. They also looked to their owners for guidance, showing that they were unsure of the situation.

However, dogs can be very territorial in their homes. Dogs that are undersocialized or suffer from anxiety will be put into fight or flight mode, and some choose to fight. This behavior isn’t rooted in protective instincts, however, so without training it is impossible to say that your dog will protect your home.

If You Want Protection

Humans originally domesticated dogs to help with the protection of their livestock and families, so it’s not surprising that even in our modern times we seek dogs as a sense of security. However, knowing that it’s unlikely that your rescue pup will protect you in most situations, you may feel helpless without that feeling of protection.

There are ways to train and motivate your dog to be more protective, but it’s important to remember that dogs are living creatures. They can be trained and conditioned well, but can also be unpredictable at times.

Let’s examine what makes a good protective pup, and how you can feel more confident in a dog’s ability to protect you.

Protective vs. Aggressive

The first important thing to look at is whether your dog is protective or aggressive. There is a fine line between the two, and knowing it can make a big difference in not only your safety but in your dog’s well-being as well.

Protective

Dogs that are protective are able to measure and react to specific threats. Dogs have spent many generations protecting their territory and pack, so assessing their surroundings come naturally to dogs. For some dogs, these protective instincts are still very strong, but these instincts also tell your dog to only engage as needed. They will be sensitive to new situations or people but are able to successfully protect or assess without violence unless absolutely necessary. 

Aggressive

Aggression in dogs can come from many different behavioral and neurological factors, but it is something that is difficult for your dog to control. Unlike protective dogs, aggressive dogs tend to react to anything and everything that comes too close to them or their territory. Aggressive dogs are not easily controlled by their owners, and often resort to violence.

Whether it’s caused by genetic temperament, lack of socialization, or fear, aggression can be a huge liability for dog owners and decrease the quality of life for the dog. It should be addressed by a qualified trainer immediately. Most dogs that are considered aggressive are not a good fit to be trained for protection.

Personal Protection Dogs

If you are truly looking for a dog that will be reliably protective of you or your family, then it’s best to invest in a personal protection dog! These dogs spend their whole lives preparing to protect their owners. Let’s look into the process of what it truly takes to create a protection dog.

Bred For The Bite

Trainers that specialize in personal training often breed their own prospects or work closely with a breeder to recruit. This is because dogs that are chosen to work in personal protection must have a stable temperament and be well-socialized to be successful, and puppies can be evaluated as early as possible for the traits needed for the job.

The bloodline and genetics of the dog are also crucial, as dogs trained for personal protection need to have a calm, level-headed reaction to stress. Because temperament is passed on through genetics, personal protection, and bite work dogs are often bred just for the job and there’s far more to it than just bite strength.

Socialization

Protection dogs must be properly socialized to be successful.  Socialized dogs are comfortable in any situation. If your dog is unable to be in public without anxiety or fear, then it cannot be relied on to be able to discern a threat from just another person. Socializing your dog is an important step to creating a good protection dog.

Training

Once evaluated and socialized, pups begin training as early as 8 weeks of age. Training includes not only basic obedience but the ability to control their biting urges. Training takes a lot of dedication, time, and knowledge on behalf of the trainer and the owner.

Dogs trained in bite work and protection are dogs that need experienced owners and are not the best way to protect yourself. While you can purchase a fully-trained protection dog, it can be quite pricey. Most personal protection dogs are beloved pets but require a stern set of rules and boundaries.

Conclusion

Although it’s incredibly common to hear someone say “I know my dog will protect me if it needs to,” it turns out it is not true. Still, sometimes just having a large breed dog like a Dane can be enough to deter any dangerous people.

Situations like an attack are incredibly hectic and require a dog that has been trained to handle the stress. If your dog is showing what you think are signs that they are protective of you, I suggest consulting with a trainer to ensure that your dog is not aggressive!

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