Oh, how do you love your pup? I’ll help you count the ways:
The sweet doggy kisses, cuddles, and snuggles. Their warm greetings as you get home from a hard day of work. The strolls outside, runs, and adventures that are too many to count.
Your dog lights up your life and enriches your world in ways too deep to comprehend.
But what about the times that your pup brings you and your family pain instead of joy?
What happens when your loving dog suddenly turns from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde…but only with one particular friend or family member?
It can be a difficult sight to see your affectionate, furry friend acting out of character. Moreover, it can be confusing to apologize for your dog’s behavior when you don’t even know why they’re acting that way.
But rest assured, there is probably a logical explanation for why they are doing this.
If your dog is aggressive towards one person, this person is likely triggering a painful memory from your dog’s past. Your dog may feel uncomfortable with a particular individual’s scent, appearance, and demeanor, among other things. Through training, it is entirely possible to change this.
In this article, I will explore why your dog may bite, attack, or be aggressive toward one person only.
I also will look at why your dog may be overprotective of you or your partner and explain how to tell if your dog is playing or being aggressive.
Finally, I will then wrap things up with some tips on dealing with biting and aggression.
Let’s do this!
If your dog is normally gentle and kind-hearted but seems to go into attack mode around one person, this can feel very alarming. This behavior isn’t malicious and is usually rooted somewhere in your dog’s past. Your pup may be responding to something scary from his past, like getting hit, screamed at, or neglected.
If you adopted your dog after their puppy years, it can be hard to know what their past was like. If you can, try to learn as much about their past as possible. This can help you piece together their story and understand what kinds of people may make them feel unsettled.
Here are some common things that could cause your dog to take an aggressive stance towards a particular person:
Your dog’s sense of smell is so much stronger than yours, and sometimes it’s easy to forget that.
If someone smells similar to someone from their past or participates in similar activities as someone from their past, i.e., washing with the same soap, smoking, etc., this can cause your dog to be on guard.
If a dog can smell that someone has been around other dogs, or if someone has even just been around someone who has a dog, your dog can pick up on this.
If someone has a familiar walk or pattern of movement that reminds them of something traumatic from their past, your dog may react aggressively.
For example, if someone reaches out their hand or plays with your dog like someone who used to abuse them did, this could trigger them. Another example is someone who walks with or uses medical devices like canes, walkers, and wheelchairs may also frighten your dog.
For some reason, dogs generally appear to be more skittish around men. This could be due to the additional height, size, facial hair, and deeper voices that often accompany manhood. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but if your dog is aggressive around a specific person, it could come down to the simple fact that the person happens to be a man.
If it seems like your dog is overprotective of you or your partner, this is completely normal.
You feed your dog and give them water, shelter, love, and protection. In short, you offer them several resources. However, your dog may tend to guard the one they see as the primary provider of these resources. This is called resource guarding.
Don’t allow this to make you feel used, i.e., “he only loves me for the food!” Instead, I recommend taking pride in the great care you provide for your dog and taking comfort in the fact that he knows it too.
If your dog is overprotective of your or your partner, they deeply understand on a primal level the essential role you play in their life.
At the end of the day, your dog knows you are responsible for their survival. You can think of their guarding and overprotection as an authentic tribute to your skills as a doggy parent and faithful friend.
It can be tricky to tell if your dog is playing or being aggressive. It can be easy to misread a puppy with healthy excitement and youthful energy as aggressive when really, they’re just playing!
Signs of a dog who is just playing include:
An aggressive dog will show the following characteristics:
There is generally a playful give and take, “my turn, your turn” type of back and forth when a dog is playing.
Doggy aggression feels more like, “I’m coming for you, like it or not.” These are two very different dynamics. You will likely sense on a gut level whether your dog is playing with you or being aggressive.
You may be interested to know that not all dog bites are created equal, and neither is all doggy aggression.
As for dog bites, a dog can control their bites’ force, depth, and frequency. A dog may nip someone once, or they may bite several times deeply. Aggression exists on a similar spectrum. A dog’s reaction to a person they feel uncomfortable around may range from barking at them all the way to lunging and attacking them.
One of the easiest ways to prevent a dog from biting or being aggressive is to keep them away from the object of their aggression.
The second easiest way is to restrain your dog when that person is around. Both of these methods are only temporary fixes. You will likely want to explore and get to the root of the problem and help them learn how to interact normally with this particular person.
I recommend speaking with a professional dog trainer and explaining the entire situation to them in depth. Include how long the situation has been going on and any consistencies and details. Your dog trainer will be able to help direct your dog to a behavior modification program where you and your dog can learn helpful strategies such as:
It can be confusing to see one of your greatest sources of delight morph into someone you feel like you don’t recognize right before your eyes. It may even make you feel embarrassed to see your pet act aggressively around a specific person. These feelings are normal. But rest assured, your dog is not bad, and you are not a bad pet owner.
The split between a fun friend and an aggressive dog may feel disorienting, but the reason your pup is behaving this way makes perfect sense to them. Taking the time to really assess your pup’s history, the person your dog, is acting out around, and consulting with your vet can help you get to the root of the issue.
While it can be scary to see another side of your dog, it really is a reminder of how much they are similar to us. You likely don’t get along with everyone all the time, and your reasons are real and valid to you.
I encourage you to give your pup the same benefit of the doubt. Approach any aggression they show with curiosity and an open heart, and I’m confident you will be back to dealing with a calm, loving, and even-keeled doggy in no time!