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Discussion Starter #1
How does one distinguish between the two reactions in an adult GSD? Niko is 19 months old, and I cannot tell if his reactions are still fear-based (as I had assumed they were when he was a puppy since I have read that protectiveness does not come into play until adulthood) or if he is becoming protective. As far as I can observe, his reactions to certain things has not really changed since puppy hood.

How would you characterize a fear response versus a protective response? Does anyone think that what people commonly refer to as protectiveness, is in reality a fear response (which looks to me at least, an awful lot alike).

Thanks for any responses!
 

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What's he protecting? Is someone threatening or potentially causing harm to you? Is there something legitimate that you need to be protected of?

I think it's kind of hard to analyze behavior over the internet and without actually seeing the dog in person.

What types of situation are causing him to react? How is he reacting? Are there any patterns? When he reacts, does he kind of go in his own zone or does he still listen to commands?
 

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I think that a lot of what people consider to be "protectiveness" is really fear. If the dog has a choice to get away from the object, will he? That's a dead giveaway to fear.
 

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I think that a lot of what people consider to be "protectiveness" is really fear. If the dog has a choice to get away from the object, will he? That's a dead giveaway to fear.
Not necessarily. A fearful dog doesn't have to be cornered to bite. Many of them will run right towards the thing they fear, and bite it if given a chance.
 

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Body signals

Body signals can play a big role in deciphering what reaction or emotion your dog is feeling. If your dogs ears are erect, he's leaning forward, tail straight back standing on all toes, and the chest is deep...basically, if he looks "confident", then that's more of a protective posture. If his ears aren't erect, maybe to the side, or back, and his tail down, or even between his legs, or if he's backing up, then that would suggest a more fear-based response. Also, where he's standing in relation to where you are. If he's standing in front of you, between you and the stimulus, then that's protective instincts, whereas, if he's standing to your side, or behind you would show more fear. If you could (possibly) record this reaction, it would be easier to determine what type of behavior you, and Niko are experiencing. As far as your question about if people mistake fear for protective instincts, I personally think people that aren't well educated about dog behavior and body language can misinterpret way more than that! People misunderstand something as simple as tail wagging, not knowing that when the tail moves in certain ways means a number of different things. :)
 

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Not necessarily. A fearful dog doesn't have to be cornered to bite. Many of them will run right towards the thing they fear, and bite it if given a chance.
I didn't say a fearful dog will always run away; I said a dog that's running away is telling you he's fearful. ;)
 

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Discussion Starter #7
There are a few examples I could give, but here's one that boggles me. We live in a house in the woods, no road frontage and the neighbors are far away. On occasion, perhaps 30% of the time, in the morning when I leave the house with Niko for our walk (he is on leash) he will pull ahead and bark repeatedly, ears erect, stiff posture. As far as I can tell, he's not barking at anything in particular, as he's often looking in all directions while barking. I tend to ignore the behavior and just tell him, "That's enough" and we begin our walk.

Interestingly, if he is not on leash, he will do this behavior 100% of the time, and run around the edges of the yard until I call him back and we commence the morning walk.

I have always felt this was a fear response, but I was also not sure if it could be protective. Although what he thinks he's protecting me from, or what he's afraid of, I have no idea.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
What's he protecting? Is someone threatening or potentially causing harm to you? Is there something legitimate that you need to be protected of?

I've never actually needed protecting from anything that he has reacted to.

I think it's kind of hard to analyze behavior over the internet and without actually seeing the dog in person.

I know, and I realize that it's hard to make a guess without seeing him in action.

What types of situation are causing him to react? How is he reacting? Are there any patterns? When he reacts, does he kind of go in his own zone or does he still listen to commands?
Honestly, when he is reacting I tend to go into my own zone and have trouble analyzing Niko's behavior. I'm usually trying to control him and regain his focus, which I can do a little bit at a time, but I can't keep it and we generally must remove ourselves from the situation in order for me to get him back.
 

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i wouldn't think a confident dog would be running around barking at nothing......a less confident fearful dog would just to ward off any possible threats to protect himself......fearful body postures can be a mix of different things, and every dog is different........my fearful dog may have his ears back, but his tail is up, and he does move forward to a threat instead of backwards.........he may also wag his tail in situations with other dogs, then turn and try to attack them...........what is always present is hair standing up............fearful dogs are alot of times of the mentality "i will get the threat before it gets me" sometimes we aren't aware of what they might be reacting to because there is no visual threat, but they react big time to smells............
 

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Discussion Starter #10
What do you make of the way Niko is LESS likely to bark at "nothing" when he is on leash? Does this mean he takes some measure of comfort in the fact that we are connected?

I am very much in agreement that Niko is not a confident dog. I think it is wishful thinking on my behalf that his reactions are morphing into protectiveness. I always tell strangers when he is barking at them, "I'm sorry, he's just very protective" even though I know he's just afraid. :) Since I walk Niko in a very secluded area and the only time there are people around is during hunting season, I like having people think I have a dog who will protect me (rather than running home, which is probably what he would do!).

I am hoping that with time and experience, Niko will gain confidence (fingers crossed).

What brought the question to my mind was thread about Wolfie. Lots of people chimed in with stories about their dogs being protective. I am wondering, perhaps with the exception of the dogs who were trained to react that way, how many of those protective reactions were actually fear-based? OR, are all protective reactions actually fear based? Because if the dog were truly unafraid, why would there be a reaction at all?
 

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Micheal Ellis has some clips on the different forms of dog aggression, worth watching to understand more:
Leerburg Streaming Video
 

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There are a few examples I could give, but here's one that boggles me. We live in a house in the woods, no road frontage and the neighbors are far away. On occasion, perhaps 30% of the time, in the morning when I leave the house with Niko for our walk (he is on leash) he will pull ahead and bark repeatedly, ears erect, stiff posture. As far as I can tell, he's not barking at anything in particular, as he's often looking in all directions while barking. I tend to ignore the behavior and just tell him, "That's enough" and we begin our walk.
I just want to point out that just because you don't see anything, doesn't mean that Niko doesn't. When he walks into the yard, he smells all the wildlife that has been by at night. Any stray dogs/cats that might have been through, all the deer, likely some coyotes and foxes as well.
He could just be announcing "OK, I'm here and my Mama is with me. If any of you are around you'd better stay out of sight!"

Or he could be barking to say "look Ma, the rabbits were over there last night!" *sniff sniff* "Look, someone peed on this bush!"

Doesn't mean he is protective OR afraid, he could just be passing on the news :)
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Jean, since you have actually met Niko, I would very much love to hear your impression of him, either publicly or privately. I will not be offended by anything you have to tell me. :)
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Can someone explain this statement? I'm having trouble understanding it.

"Again, true protective aggression is when the dog reacts inappropriately and out of context when there is no real threat."
It is from MRL's link:Aggression Types | k9aggression.com
 

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Can someone explain this statement? I'm having trouble understanding it.

"Again, true protective aggression is when the dog reacts inappropriately and out of context when there is no real threat."
It is from MRL's link:Aggression Types | k9aggression.com
I only read that section and the section below it but it seems like the person who wrote this up is speaking about aggression as a negative.

So according to this website, when a dog is protective or territorial when there is no threat or it is not their "territory" then they are labeling it as aggression. That's how I read it and I don't think that I agree with that. Aggression isn't always negative or inappropriate but I guess it comes down to how you define aggression.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Yes, thank you, that is exactly what was confusing me. I understand now, if I read the statement with the assumption that protectiveness is a negative.
 
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