Puppy is over protective
of our older dog

From a Reader... Hello,


About a year ago we adopted a 4 month old mixed breed puppy from a shelter. Since then, we've socialized him at every opportunity we've had: walking him on trails, around shopping centers, and at dog parks/beaches.

He absolutely LOVES other dogs and plays with them beautifully. The only problem is, we have another, older, smaller dog. Whenever we have both the dogs together, the younger, bigger dog gets very protective of the little one.

At the dog park, the little one sits on the bench with us and the big one constantly runs back and checks on us every minute. When someone gets near or tries to pet our little dog, the big one gets aggressive, barks, and has even gotten close to biting someone.

He is not dog aggressive at all and plays and behaves normally at the park when the little dog isn't there.

Another issue the big dog has is that he gets very nervous when people try to pet him, he doesn't like their hands around his head or neck. Hopefully you can give us a solution for these issues. Thanks!

Shannon Says...




Thanks for your question! Most aggression is usually caused by:

- under socializing (biggest reason)

- the dog has been bitten/traumatized in the past by another dog or person (fear biting)

- abuse

- really rough play fighting as a puppy

As far as him being hand-shy goes, my guess is that at some point in time he's been hit or smacked on the head (perhaps as punishment for nipping even). This is usually why a dog will display fear of being petted on the head/neck.

When it's been caused by trauma of some sort, you can really only desensitize him to being petted in that area.

Start by praising him for sniffing the back of a stranger's closed hand (physical and verbal praise). Also, always have the person give him a treat while saying hello.

You'll need to be really vigilant in that you make sure that no-one attempts to pet him on the head yet.

If he growls or displays aggression when approached by a stranger, loosen the leash, pop up fast, firm and mid-growl/bark, and loosen the leash again. Say nothing! Be sure that the collar only goes tight for one second.

Once he is confidently accepting a stranger just walking up, verbally saying hello and sniffing a closed hand, have them also gently scratch him under the chin.

Again, praise when he accepts it, and correct when he shows aggression. Slowly move towards having a stranger touch the sides of his neck (always very gently).

Keep in mind, a stranger should always be told to let the dog sniff the back of a closed hand, and then just scratch the dog under the chin. It is much too intrusive to pet a new dog on top of their head.

Solutions for Aggression

As for the aggression shown when others try to pet the little dog, I would probably go with an electronic training collar.

It sounds like this is happening often at the park, when he is off-leash. That being the case, having an "invisible leash" allows you to correct him without tangling up a leash and also allows him room to run.

After an initial desensitization period of a week (where he simply wears the collar without getting any corrections), I would have him wear the collar for most of the day when you are home.

That way you are always ready if you need to correct him, and he won't begin to associate the park with corrections.

Again, correct by pressing the button for one second (be sure to turn off the option of a warning beep on the collar). Praise him when he stops the wrong behavior.

With consistency and a lot of practice, these issues should clear up no problem!

I recommend Invisible Fence, Radio Pet and Dogtra brands of electronic training collars.

Good luck!

Click here to post comments

Return to Dog Behavior Q & A.