Helping a small overprotective dog feel at ease

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Helping a small overprotective dog feel at ease

Updated Dec 21, 2021

Dear Cathy,

My Chihuahua is extremely protective of me. No one can touch me or come near me. I want to learn how to teach my dog not to be defensive on my command. 

– Rafael, New Castle, Delaware

Dear Rafael,

With a small dog, overprotectiveness is mostly related to fear. Growling and baring their teeth is an attempt to control everything around them – and it often works.

But sometimes, with small dogs, we accidentally reinforce this behavior.  If a large dog growls, “people change their behavior and back up,” says dog training expert Megan Stanley in Calgary, Canada. “With a small dog, people are more likely to giggle and continue approaching the dog, which only increases the dog’s fear.”

So, the trick is not to command your dog to stop growling, but to change what’s happening in his surroundings that triggers the behavior.

First, get your dog comfortable around people. Ask visitors not to approach your dog and to wait until your dog comes to them. Ask visitors to sit down to reduce the chance any sudden movements will trigger the behavior. And, give visitors dog treats to toss to your dog, so he learns visitors means treats.

The second step is avoiding the situations that trigger the behavior. Stanley says an example of this is when a dog is sitting on your lap and begins to growl as someone approaches. Don’t try to change the dog’s behavior at that point with a correction. Instead, “get up and move, so the dog is not left in a position to protect you,” she says.

So, don’t hold your dog when company comes over and don’t let your dog get in between you and a visitor. Whenever your dog is in between you and a visitor, he is going to feel the need to protect you. Ask your dog to sit instead, and then stand between the dog and the visitor, so he learns you don’t need his help.

If this feels like more than you can handle, or you aren’t making progress, visit the Association of Professional Dog Trainers at to find a local trainer.

Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, children’s author, syndicated pet columnist, and pet expert with more than 30 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal

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Cathy Rosenthal, CHES, CFE
Animal Welfare Communications Specialist

Cathy brings more than 25 years' experience in the animal welfare field. She is a sought-after speaker, Certified Humane Education Specialist, a syndicated pet advice columnist, an author, a publisher, and of course - a loving pet parent.

Read more about Cathy here or check out her Non-Profit's page to see more ways she can help you and your organization.

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