Dog Protective of Owner
Recently my elderly mother came to live with us. My Jack Russell has become over protective of me. Whenever I am in the room, she snarls and shows her teeth to anyone who is trying to talk to me or her. How can I get her to be less protective?
Would a muzzle work to break the behavior problem?Vet Suggestion for Dog Protective of Owner
A muzzle is unlikely to to change your dog’s behavior. I only recommend them for very short periods of time when there is not other way to prevent injury to pets or people. A crate would be a more effective short term solution here. As a permanent fix, your dog needs to undergo behavioral modification aimed at teaching her to relax when you and your dog are in the presence of other people and rewarding her for doing so.
I always like to start a behavioral work-up with a physical exam to rule out any medical reasons behind the change in behavior and to confirm that the pet is healthy and a potential candidate for the medications (e.g., anxiety relievers) that can be used in conjunction with a behavioral modification plan.
I can’t give you the specifics of what a plan like this might involve without more information about this case, but in general we praise the dogs and give them treats when they are acting in the way that we want them to and then gradually start introducing watered down versions of the stimulus that sets them off and continue rewarding them if they remain calm.
For example, we might ask your dog to sit and stay on the floor next to your chair, and then have somebody enter the room but stay far away. If she remained calm, she’d get a treat. Gradually, the person would move closer, and the dog would keep getting treats as long as she didn't get agitated. At the first sign of aggression, the treats would stop, the person would back off, and once the dog was calm again, she could get another treat.
Behavioral modification plans like these do take time (weeks to months, typically), but with patience your dog should learn to accept the presence of other people.
Best of luck,
Jennifer Coates, DVM