“He’s just protective”: Freakshows and the people who love them problematically.

14 Sep

We started this article last summer in fact when Fang and Potnoodle went on another edition of “Grand Dogshow Adventure™” and infringed upon the hospitality of friends in another state because being equal parts poor, annoyed with your work circumstances, and willing to make others uncomfortable opens up your bunking-in options dramatically. Extensive driving, however did leave much time for article discussion (Despite not actually putting it all together until a year later) and we’re going to hit on one that we’d begun and stalled on previously, the tricky issue of “protective” dogs who we all know aren’t actually protective.

We air quote whatever you say.

We’ve all seen it.  Hell, it’s been so romanticized and stuffed down our throats that it’s really hard to get around.   What are we talking about? The Perfect Dog. From Rin Tin Tin to Lassie, the perfect dog comes home not only pre-trained, single-mindedly bonded to its owner, psychic,  perfectly coiffed without a brush ever having touched its luscious locks, kid-socialized and a completely savage vicious creature to any man or beast who threatens its owner. Sound familiar?



Much like the discovery that your closet can’t actually transport you to Narnia (So much for multifunctional, IKEA, you jerks) most of us get over this idea sometime between puberty and getting our first dogs. While these people are a pain in the ass, the belief that their dog can do no wrong is considerably less irritating than their counterparts, the freakshow enablers. This small subset of the population believe erroneously their special snowflake is a delicate flower of Persia who must be coddled, cuddled and soothed in perpetuity because “He’s a rescue!” or “He’s just a normal <insert breed here>” and any and all bad behavior is excused on that basis from now until the end of eternity.


Delicate God Damn it

Delicate God Damn it!




Let’s look at the reality here. The actual number of truly physically abused dogs in a given population (And we mean actually abused, not just fed Beneful and denied a custom no-pull harness) is very small. Totally unsocialized, under-stimulated and undervalued? Absolutely. Physically abused? Unlikely. Physically abused by a man in a funny hat? Even less likely. Odds are good the dog has just never seen such a bizarrely headed man and therefore he is suspicious and someone to be feared.

I also find this terrifying… yet captivating?

This in and of itself is not particularly problematic, unusual or even worrisome to most reasonable dog people. Damaged dogs? Hell, we see them weekly. Fearful, undersocialized and dogs with poor genetic temperaments are nothing new or even interesting at this point. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt with the holes in it from Snookums’ panic scramble to freedom from their leash being clipped to their collar before they ran out the door to be killed on the highway. Dogs with issues are the norm. They are not inherently the problem.

Ten of them are you, and the last three are open for suggestions.


Where this becomes an issue is when our inherent need to own ‘Perfection the Wonder Hound” kicks in and we begin making excuses, enabling behaviors and in some cases even encouraging these horrendously bad manners (and bad temperament) simply because the dog is damaged (Rescued/neglected etc) or too valuable to not excuse, or because no one is bleeding yet…


The eighteen month old German Shepherd cowering between your legs and growling at your vet IS NOT PROTECTING YOU.

Why would I hide? I’m bad-ass.

The Bichon you physically cannot leash because he will bite your hand IS NOT JUST CRABBY.

Okay, well maybe in this case a nasty one is normal.

The confident herding breed adult puddled (literally and/or figuratively) on the ground when a judge attempts a cursory exam, or even better, whips around to nail them because “He touched me delicately with kind hands” IS NOT NORMAL FOR THE BREED.

He’s going to what to my what?

The Shih Tzu barking and carrying on with darting nips to ankles which draw blood IS NOT JUST PLAYING.

“I’m going to drain your blood!”

These are all serious behavior and dare we say, temperament issues that need to be dealt with and/or locked away and never reproduced. How you deal with them is a many wondrous thing and there are literally dozens of options from the asinine to amazingly effective but what matters is that you deal with them. We don’t accept your excuses* and you shouldn’t either.


You have a freak or a dog who acts like a freak sometimes? B.F.D. The next time you want to explain away their behavior, pause and reflect:
1) Are you explaining the behavior to someone who is in some way helping you fix the issue?
2) Are you making vast generalizations on breed temperament to explain why you don’t have an issue and everyone who thinks you do has the problem?
3) Yelling at someone who dares toddle by and disturb your snowflake’s forty foot perimeter bubble of not having an ever-loving shit fit?
4) Are you continually setting your dog up to fail with environments they cannot possibly enjoy or succeed in just to prove to yourself they are “totally fine” while telling those around you that this is normal and okay?

If you answered “Yes” to anything other than 1, we need you to go back up to the top and read all the way through again then think about it then read it again.

So here’s the breakdown, kids. Kooky, weird, spooky freakshow dogs are not inherently unusual, weird, or anything to be particularly afraid of.  It happens. It sucks. It means a lot more work for you, but… they can still in most cases have relatively obedient and normal lives. As long as you can accept that you do in fact have a problem and are willing to deal with it you’re solidly on the right track. If you pretend you don’t have a problem or have somehow contracted the erroneous belief that everyone else is wrong, well then we’re going to have issues, and more problematically your dogs are going to have issues… forever. Don’t be that owner who we crate away from and all tacitly try to avoid coming into contact with because your dog is terrible and you are clueless and do dumb stuff with him. Just don’t.

We did ourselves a favor.

*And yes, sometimes situations with freaks are unavoidable but as long as you’re working on it we really don’t judge.

27 Responses to ““He’s just protective”: Freakshows and the people who love them problematically.”

  1. Lisa September 14, 2015 at 5:12 pm #

    Thank you! As a veterinarian of 20 years (and still owning all of my original fingers and limbs), I thank you! The worst owners over time and perpetuity are Chihuahua owners- and I am afraid they always will be. Not because of the dog as I know many that are very nice, smart, trustworthy little dogs, but because the owners get a tiny dog to make it be their “baby”. As far as changes over 20 years, when I first started out the worst owners for this were Chow owners. Now by far, it is the German Shepherd owners. Everyone talks about the physical things that the American Shepherd has had ruined. But by FAR the temperament has been ruined so much more. Used to be a good German Shepherd was an amazing, solid dog. Now a good German Shepherd is… a figment of my imagination. The people who get them are amazing in their abilities to enable their behavior “because they are German Shepherd and they are supposed to do that”. I have lots a couple of clients at puppy exams with new German Shepherd puppies because I “clearly don’t know anything about the breed or what they are like”. ***head to desk***

    • Lisa September 14, 2015 at 5:13 pm #

      Sorry that should be lost not lots.

    • Jackal September 18, 2015 at 1:58 am #

      The occasional GSD does still exist I promise. (Working line dog snob here, with dogs who do work, even if it’s just sport.) Your story explains the reaction I got from an emergency vet when I had to take my older dog in for some antibiotics. (He adores sneakily drinking out of the most fetid springtime puddles possible and occasionally ends up with explosive diarrhea as a result. I watch him but can’t prevent the behaviour 100%.)

      At the vet’s I had my dog in a down stay in the waiting area, and he merely wagged his tail when she came to call us into the exam room. I signaled for a Fuß and off we went. As we passed her she murmured “Oh my god! A good shepherd owner!” in the most incredulous tones. 😀 Then she asked me if I was a trainer and if she could refer people to me. I demurred because I’m an owner who trains, not a pro. My regular vet has also told me she loves my dogs because they’re both habituated to handling and don’t fuss when examined aside from not being the slightest bit fearful. It’s honestly not that I’m some sort of red-hot owner, I just like stolid working line dogs and take the time to to exercise, socialise and train them properly. I just wish people would stop wrecking the breed!

      • Jackal September 18, 2015 at 1:58 am #

        That should have been “proper GSD”. Proof reading fail!

      • Lisa September 18, 2015 at 4:40 am #

        I certainly believe they are out there and I also believe good owners and breeders are out there. They are just not the majority of what I see unfortunately. 😦 But I am always SO appreciative of them when they are. I have a couple of excellent GSD’s and owner combinations that I love seeing. A good Shepherd while rare anymore is still an amazing dog!!!!!

        And don’t get me wrong- I know, as veterinary staff, we do things to dogs that make them have and feel fear. I believe that I and my staff have an OBLIGATION to make that as little as possible and to not be the problem in the situation. I actually understand dogs and dog behavior way better than I do humans and human behavior. I will call out any of my staff or myself if I think we caused an incident or could have done something to diffuse it. BUT owners have to stop enabling the fear and dependent behaviors that they seem to really like in dogs. Some how they seem to think that that behavior means their dog “loves” them. I want a confident, stable dog and then they can decide if they love me or not and I will know they love me not out of fear or dependency but because they want to. 🙂

    • Jackal September 19, 2015 at 4:38 am #

      I agree with you completely about how wrong it is for owners to be enabling undesirable behaviours (whether it’s fear, dependency, or just out-of-control because the animal has never been taught to have self control). Breeders unfortunately also play a large role in that too, breeding for a pretty head or flying gait and not considering brains and temperament at all. Add owner’s inappropriate handling over badly bred nerves and the whole thing quickly devolves into a nasty mess, instead of the noble, flexible, courageous ideal of the breed. I am very sorry that you and your colleagues have to deal with all of the bad behaviour for dogs and owners both. I’m also sorry for the dogs because ultimately they’re the ones who suffer most.

      My apologies for replying to the original comment rather than your reply but for some reason I can’t — there’s no reply button!

  2. Sam September 14, 2015 at 5:46 pm #

    Heck yes. As the owner of a massivly under-socialized rescue herding dog, his desire to head off trucks/buses was not “innate herding instinct”, it was a fear behavior to be trained away. Biting hands during grooming? Not “spacial sensitivity” – it’s a serious problem and he now stands beautifully for full grooming. He was a freakshow dog for a long time, but with WORK he got through it. I wish others would show their dogs same respect, and do the same.

  3. AD September 14, 2015 at 6:16 pm #

    OMFG I HATE “He’s just protective”, They say it SOOOO proudly! Why are you so proud to have your dog “protect” you against children, your family, innocent strangers? Are you that desperately insecure that you need a dog to protect you from anything that moves??!!

  4. Piper Mahoney September 14, 2015 at 6:33 pm #

    Dog Parks, worst ever. Ass wipes with dogs on leashes in free run park area, hate. – This is from Piper’s rude mouthed mother, not her sweet darling daughter.

    • Dia September 14, 2015 at 8:25 pm #

      Why can’t leashed dogs go into off leash parks? What if the dog is afraid and runs like a rabbit while other dogs chase it down and try to kill it? What if the dog is not reliably trained for recall but needs to learn about the off leash park to help reduce over-excitement when the time comes to be off leash? What if the dog is deaf and the owner promised the breeder to never let the dog off leash because recalling a deaf dog relies entirely on them looking at you? What if the dog is a foster dog and the Rescue requires that it never be allowed off leash?

      • Karen September 15, 2015 at 3:16 am #

        then stay out of the dog park when other dogs are there. Pretty easy solution.

        Why? Because dogs on leash act differently, often fearfully or aggressively as they cannot remove themselves from an uncomfortable situation.

        Your comment suggests you are part of the problem brought up in the blog.

      • Lisa September 15, 2015 at 3:35 am #

        Do not use dog parks for basic training. Period! That is how crap happens. Dogs who come to dog parks should be trained enough to listen to their owners when called etc. Basic training should be there. However, it usually isn’t and so… I never go to dog parks. Thankfully I live in the middle of a national forest and have lots of places to go that are very slim on dogs and their people who do not train them.

        So, if a dog “has” to be on leash for any reason- they are not ready for a dog park.

      • AD September 15, 2015 at 2:40 pm #

        I disagree with these nay Sayers. Don’t let people pressure you into letting your dog off leash. SOME may be worse in leash but not all. And you have direct control over your dog on leash compared to not. I see nothing wrong with keeping your dog on leash until you can fully assess your dog and the other dogs. As far as the rescue rules go I am sure when they say “never off leash” they mean never off leash in an un-fenced area. If you want to do additional training in the dog park fine. But you should have a good foundation. You can teach recall just by walking outside the dog park and have your dog on a long leash. I hike with a dog hiking group all the time. Sort of like a dog park but 1000 times better (because everyone is moving forward). Many dogs are off leash. Some people chose to keep their dog on leash for multiple reasons. Their dogs are fine while the other dogs are running around them. The on leash dogs still get exercise and socialization compared to if they were at home. There’s been times where I chose to keep my dog on leash due to certain dogs around my dog and/or situations. Because when he is on leash he is much calmer in certain situations and I can have direct control over him compared to when he is running free and wild. I KNOW MY DOG. I’ll be damned if someone tries to pressure me to let him off leash when my instincts say no. I made that mistake before I wont do it again. I really take issue with people pressuring people to let their dog off leash. They are not the ones dealing with the consequences. If your dog is aggressive in general or leash reactive of course you shouldn’t go walking into a dog park with it on leash. But in my opinion you shouldn’t be going to a dog park anyway if your dog is like that.

      • Piper Mahoney September 17, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

        For all those reasons do not take them to a dog park that is for off leash dogs. Simple. Dogs do not think like us. They think like dogs. You have a leash and I do not = something might be weird and I better do something about it and since I am off leash I will probably win.

    • Lisa Padgett September 15, 2015 at 7:21 pm #

      I am ‘guilty’ of going to Dog Park routinely. They are not all created equal!

      Yes – dogs on leash in an off leash dog park is usually 100% always a bad thing. Dogs feed off that and will take advantage. Nearly always. Dogs gather around the leashed dog, etc.

      Please intro your dog to such things at/around the fence line, come at non-peak hours and not on weekends. And only AFTER the dog is trained, knows it’s name and has a SOLID RECALL – and – has had some semblance of socialization with other dogs. Don’t bring it to the Park for socialization. Take it to Dog School or a School that does observed careful socialization periods.

    • Sol November 25, 2015 at 3:43 am #

      Mmm. I’d argue that the biggest asswipes are the people who let their dogs run off leash in areas where they’re supposed to be leashed. Come to think of it … yes! There’s a even a post on this site devoted to them!

  5. Kristi September 14, 2015 at 6:37 pm #

    Your extensive list of “reasons for freakshow-ness” missed one, I think: as Lady Gaga says, Baby, he was born that way. My Freakshow was 14 weeks when I got him. I’m sure his first 7 weeks were not taken Sirius-ly, and he had some hard knocks afterward, no doubt, but he came to me with no broken bones or lesions. He got out lots after he joined the household, puppy classes, home obedience, into Agility, Nosework, Barn Hunt, the whole 9 yards, but he remains so fearful that he will blow anal glands to the Canadian border if a stranger reaches for his collar (thankfully, his fear reactions all involve output of some sort rather than taking anything in to his mouth). Was he a “rescue?” Yeah, I suppose, by definition, but sure nothing to be proud of; a sensible person would not have fallen in love with my gorgeous, sweet-to-me-and-my-husband-and-one-other-friend train wreck. Fortunately, I live in the middle of nowhere and he exists there very happily, because I really don’t think I (or anyone) could ever actually overcome the way he was born.

    • Rae Hughes September 21, 2015 at 4:29 am #

      Krisit – THANKS!! I have one like this – my little BC “Jimmy” who has had the same upbringing and training as my older BC – who is gregarious and outgoing. Jimmy is not. With people – she tends to like other dogs.
      I have owned Jimmy since she was 9 weeks old. Her breeder is where I got my older BC from. Jimmy has not been abused, un-socialised, poorly trained etc – and I was advised by a professional dog-trainer to put her down at 5 months due to her fearfulness – she rated my Jimmy as the 3rd worst dog she had experienced. (I didnt 🙂 as I dont give up on dogs easily.)
      It has been a frustrating journey but we are getting to where she is “okay” on most days. I have taught her a (approx.) 90% reliable “HELP MUM, I NEED OUT OF HERE” signal. I have also got very used to reading the slightest tension in her shoulders and doing something positive.
      Patricia McConnell’s books are BRILLANT! Using her “The Cautious Canine”, I have got Jimmy to the point where she will accept strangers coming within 5 metres of her – it started off at reacting when a stranger was 150m away.
      But it is the strangest things that set her off – too MUCH exercise is one!!! This is a Border Collie!!
      I am also fortunate to live rurally, I really don’t think that I or anyone could have overcome the way she was born.

  6. sarahjaneb September 15, 2015 at 5:04 am #

    I actually had a protective dog. You know that move that bodyguards do in the movies, where they sense someone might be a threat and they calmly step in front of their charge and cross their arms? That’s pretty much what she did, except without the arm-crossing. Because you know, dog. But she was very calm and quiet about it. She would just step in front of me and keep an eye on the potential threat.

    • Mel Carlin September 16, 2015 at 1:03 am #

      That’s pretty much how a real protective dog should act.

  7. Paul September 15, 2015 at 7:56 pm #

    People come into our store with dogs all the time. Some are perfectly waggy waggy. Then there are the ones who growl and show teeth and the owners think it’s perfectly adorable. Your baby weighs 10 pounds, mine is close to 70. If they saw my dog make the same face they’d run for their lives. It’s not cute, it’s obnoxious.

    • Jackal September 18, 2015 at 2:04 am #

      +1, and do not get me started on the people who think it’s cute when their little dog aggresses at mine. Mine are tolerant but shouldn’t be expected to put up with crap. People get upset when I tell them to control and/or call off their dog, oblivious to the fact that if mine weren’t social and under control theirs would be dead in short order.

  8. tonestaple October 15, 2015 at 2:59 am #

    I have one of those dogs. I was discussing her with someone at work recently and the other person was very much of the “she’s just protecting you” mode. Thanks to an amazing trainer, I know that she is a rather fearful nervous pup, and it’s probably my fault as I am jumpy and easily startled. Anyway, the wonderful trainer taught me to play “Look at that” with my dog and so I do, to the point of looking utterly foolish in public. There’s only one dog Sophie still wants dead for absolutely no reason. And she’s no longer overtly reactive to the evil chihuahuas whose owners cannot be bothered to train them or to deal with their reactivity. And then there’s the border collie owner who walks her dog off leash in the city where that’s illegal and has her stupid phone glued to her stupid ear and never says a word to her dog until I yell “Leash!” Oh, and Sophie went for a man with a big bushy beard last week. Fortunately she was on the wrong side of me and couldn’t get close enough but it scared the crap out of me. Now I ask men with beards to keep their distance and play Look At That with them as the object. I’ve learned to just nod and agree with the “she’s protective” folks. I know my beloved pup is a big ol’ fraidy cat and that’s all right with me.

  9. Frank November 16, 2015 at 5:17 pm #

    I have a reactive 20 month old female Doberman. When she was a puppy, we took her to puppy obedience classes, took her to Petco, Petsmart, to local parks etc.where she got to see and meet other dogs and people, and she was fine till one day, she wasn’t. I can take her to a vet office and she’ll be great with the female techs and the doctor, but if we’re out walking and someone is coming toward us, or she sees another dog, she goes ballistic.
    We’re trying to work with a good local trainer, but I’m slowly resigning myself that my girl just doesn’t do well with strangers and strange dogs. We won’t stop trying but I’m not ever going to force her into situations where she’s not comfortable. When we go out for walks, I take her somewhere where we won’t run into other people or dogs and if we do see someone coming, I take her off-road until they pass. Less stress for her, me, and the other party.

    • Rae Hughes November 16, 2015 at 10:39 pm #

      Hiya Frank – I have a similar issue with my little BC – except that she was never that good with strangers. (She clung to me from the minute I picked her up. Somehow, she knew that the person holding her was her “Mum” and was a safe point.) I really recommend Patricia McConnell’s “Fiesty Fido” and the “Cautious Canine” as some written guides to help with this reactivity. I have been working hard on these methods for the last 2 years and my little girl is now okay with strangers getting as close as 5 metres away!! It used to be more like 150metres! It is a lot of work, but your dog is still very young and may be helped. Good on you for working with a reputable trainer (so do I and my “ideas on teaching Jimmy to cope” are reviewed with her in the first instance.

  10. Frank November 17, 2015 at 3:43 pm #

    Thank you, Rae! I’ve ordered that book and will give it a shot (willing to try anything). I wish I knew what happened though; my girl comes from a reputable breeder where the parents and siblings all have stable, easy temperaments. Like I said, we tried our best to socialize her correctly but then one day she decided she wasn’t going to like strangers or strange dogs anymore but she’s a total sweetheart with anyone she knows and with just about all women. Thanks again for the book tip 🙂

  11. Rai December 11, 2016 at 6:38 pm #

    One time many years ago I worked at an unnamed thrift department store in an unnamed rainy city in the northwest, where I have lived my entire life. In my city, well behaved dogs are welcome most places, and they were allowed in the store as long as they were on leash and behaving.

    One day I was walking around picking up clothes from under the racks with a gripper-stick (a pole with a claw on the end) I heard a growl next to me and turned in time to see an unleashed blonde cocker spaniel sitting in the child seat of a cart lunge at my face (Im short, the dogs face was level with mine) I threw up the gripper stick in front of me and the dog bit it hard enough to dent the aluminum and started shaking its head. I yelled “what the fuck?”, and the owners, a late middle aged couple, turned around to witness the scene.

    Instead of correcting the dog, apologizing, or doing anything else the woman said to me “Oh, hes ok. You just startled him.”

    Now, Im an animal lover. Always had dogs n cats, (my pit is currently curled up next to me as I write this), and I understand dog body language. The dog had let go of the stick, but there was absolutely nothing about this dog’s tense, ears forward, neck out, tail up, staring eyes language that said startlement or fear. The dog was aggressive and guarding. I said in shock “Maam, your dog isnt startled. Its aggressive. You are so fuckin lucky I reacted fast enough or this (shows her the chewed stick) would have been my face. And it doesnt belong in a cart. Get it on the ground, on a leash like a normal dog or get it out of the store. Its not a child.”. At this the man started petting the stiff dog, who still hadnt broken eye contact with me and started cooing “Oh no, Mizzys a good dog. Mizzys not aggressive, are you boy?” The dog didnt react, just kept tensely staring at me. I knew if I got close enough, the dog would lunge again.

    Realizing I couldn’t allow such a liability of an aggresdive dog with idiot owners in the store, I asked the couple to leave. They started throwing a fit and the manager was called. The couple said I startled their dog, who was still in “attack” mode. I explained my story and showed the stick. The manager told the couple they needed to leave immediately, and were lucky she wasnt going to call animal control on them for having an obviously aggressive unleashed dog in a store. They left in a huff, called us animal haters and so forth.

    Freakshow, indeed.

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