Has your dog protected you from harm?
June 10, 2011 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Has your dog ever protected you when you were in serious danger or attacked by someone else? What was it like?

I'm interested in stories about dogs defending or protecting their owners from harm, mainly physical assault.

There are breeds that are experts at rescue, retrieval, etc., but what about when your average house dog kicks into high gear to protect its owner?

I guess the scenario I have in mind is someone being mugged or assaulted, and how the dog may have tried to help, whether successful or not.

I'm new to dog ownership, and love it, but it'd be nice to know that my 50-pound furball has my back when I take her on walks at night.
posted by LittleFuzzy to Pets & Animals (52 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
It really depends on the dog and not the breed. My uncle was coming home to his 3rd-story walk up one night when someone followed him into the double-entry vestibule and put a knife to his back just as he opened the 2nd door. (This was in the late 70s when muggings were tamer.) Max the German Shepard Wonder Dog bounded down three flights of stairs, cleared my uncle's head from the 1st floor landing, and knocked the mugger down with an almighty amount of barking and growling and general terror-inducing.

My fierce looking boxer once barked at someone who startled us, but I wouldn't depend on her to defend my life. (I spend way more time wondering how I might defend hers, in fact.)
posted by DarlingBri at 12:12 PM on June 10, 2011 [12 favorites]

When I was much younger and stupider I moved in with a guy with some anger management problems and a big black lab. One day, over some forgettable whatever, the guy started yelling and threatening me, and when he made a move at me the dog pushed in between us and started growling and snapping at him. At him. This was his dog.

I should have stolen that dog when I left.
posted by lilnublet at 12:17 PM on June 10, 2011 [71 favorites]

I'm not a dog owner, but I think that a 50 pound dog will act as a deterrent to anyone looking out for someone to mug! The example above is a case in point - this situation may not have arisen if the uncle had been out walking Max at the time...
posted by finding.perdita at 12:17 PM on June 10, 2011

This is going to vary widely both on the breed of the dog, its upbringing and the personality of the dog itself.

My Lab/Whippet mutt seemed ready to take on the adult, male 18-point elk that wandered into our campground, charging it and barking up a storm. My Irish Setter growing up attacked a meter-reader that entered our backyard (years later, even after he had passed, meter-readers still knocked on the door first, because their records noted a "vicious" dog lived at the residence).

On the other hand, in a famous case, an Akita, known as a powerful, aggressive, loyal breed, did nothing while two people were murdered in front of it. Later investigation by dog breed experts in the case showed this particular dog wasn't capable of much more than being a couch potato.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:17 PM on June 10, 2011

Several years ago my 30# beagle nipped a neighbor who walked in my front door without knocking. I wasn't too happy about that.

it'd be nice to know that my 50-pound furball has my back

Short of training her to have your back by responding to particular circumstances in particular ways, I don't think you can know this. It's likely that the dog will go into an aroused fight-or-flight sort of mode if you are attacked, but whether it fights, flies or just barks a lot is up for grabs. No dog can 'try to help' in the intelligent ways a person can.
posted by jon1270 at 12:21 PM on June 10, 2011

My mother had a beagle who protected her from a snarling German Shepherd. Decades later, she had another beagle who did the same for her against another dog. Beagles are small, but they are also brave and LOUD. I don't think those beagles would have won those fights had it come to blows, but they did scare off the aggressors.

I would think that most would-be muggers would rather not deal with dogs, so they'd avoid mugging you in the first place.

Either way, the best protection a dog can offer you is to be noticed and loud. It's not so much that a breaker and enterer would be scared of your dog, as they would be scared of you coming down the stairs, having now been alerted by the dog.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:24 PM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have a 60 pound bulldog who loves almost everyone she comes in contact with. The remaining 1.5% she's just afraid of for whatever reason (they're carrying an umbrella!! they're wearing a funny hat!). I am unsure what would happen if anyone actually threatened me, and I'm unlikely to find out, because...

Francis, my 100 pound ridgeback/great dane mix, is VERY tuned into my vibe. If someone is making me uncomfortable, he knows it, and does his best to "defend" me - meaning he gets between me and whatever's bugging me and gets a bit bristly and growly (but not necessarily aggressive). If anyone actually ever threatened me, I believe that they would be harshly rebuffed by him.
posted by brand-gnu at 12:24 PM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've never had a dog "attack" anyone, but a female German Shepard once got in front of me and did a very low growl at my ex when we were aruging once. And like above, it was primarily "his" dog.

(On a side note, I've found the quiet, low growl is a good indicator that a dog is "on" and ready to attack than the louder, showy, growl and bark.)
posted by stormygrey at 12:30 PM on June 10, 2011

Best answer: The value of an untrained pet dog as protector is vastly mythologized, over-rated and misunderstood. People label all kinds of behaviors as "protection" that are anything but. What people often call protective behaviors are most often fearful behaviors, and people often excuse barking at strangers or whatever as "protection" (instead of what it really is, which is usually lack of socialization) - one of the best dog trainers I know says that "it's not protection if there is no danger", and even then, it's rarely truly protective the way people like to think. According to at least two professional personal protection dog trainers I have heard from, less than 5% of dogs from traditionally "protective" breeds will stand their ground when faced with actual physical danger or pain (and even many properly protection-trained dogs will still run away or "bite and run" rather than stand their ground and get injured, including many police dogs), let alone your average pet. A dog's value in "protection" is as a deterrent - anyone willing to mess with someone who has a dog of any size or actual protectiveness is prepared to deal with the dog, period.

Another thing to keep in mind is that people often mistakenly encourage fearful or reactive behavior and undersocialize their dogs because they think it's the dog being protective, when in fact the dog is resource guarding the owner at best (which doesn't speak well of the owner) and doesn't trust the owner to protect it (that's the leader's job). In short, it's your job to protect your dog, not your dog's job to protect you, and it's certainly never, ever, your dog's job to decide who's a good guy and who's a bad guy, dogs don't have magic powers, for every dog who attacked a would-be mugger there's several hundred dogs who attacked a kid selling Girl Scout cookies, and very often all the attacks happened for exactly the same reason - lack of socialization and proper training, encouragement of inappropriate behaviors, and inappropriate management.

That said, a neat and useful trick is to train your dog to bark or growl on cue, and make the cue "be nice" or "take it easy" or something if you want to really take advantage of the dog's deterrent value, but please don't rely on your dog to protect you, that's your job.
posted by biscotti at 12:31 PM on June 10, 2011 [58 favorites]

One of my good friends just got his face half chewed off by his roommates dog, who thought he was attacking him (they were wrestling in the living room). He needed 77 stitches and his boyish good looks are pretty much going to be gone forever.

There's a downside to 'protective' dogs.
posted by empath at 12:34 PM on June 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

Oh, and dogs getting between people who are arguing (or hugging for that matter) are doing what's called splitting (or splitting up) which is a calming signal dogs use with each other to prevent fighting (yes, they even growl while doing it sometimes).
posted by biscotti at 12:34 PM on June 10, 2011 [7 favorites]

Case 1:
In the early days after bringing my Son home from the hospital, our German Sheppard (a very nice dog) decided to play protectorate against our neighbor... who was just entering into his unit.

Our dog had seen him multiple times, had met him in the hall before, and has never (with this exception) ever been riled by a person (other dogs are a totally different story). Maybe it was the shared sleep deprivation, maybe it was a lack of walks and attention that dogs get when a child comes into the mix, and maybe the guy stuck his tongue out wrong and I didn't see it. I don't know... but our dog lunged, putting himself between our family and our neighbor in literally a split second, letting out a single loud bark.

Our husky could have cared less... his ears perked up and he was bouncing looking to play with whatever had riled the Sheppard... or a butterfly.

Case 2:
My in laws have two Rottweilers. They also occasionally watch their nephew's daughters. The girls’ mother, who the Rottweilers knew very well and who had visited the house to what was perceived a great level of comfort, came to pick them up. She reached her hand in the door and placed it on her daughter... whereupon the dog immediately jumped up, barked loudly and bit her.

Moments later, the dog, realizing that it had done something wrong, was throwing up outside from the massive amount of stress hormones released.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:38 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

My dog will ferociously warn intruders away but only if they ring the doorbell first.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:44 PM on June 10, 2011 [24 favorites]

I remember thinking that my chocolate lab Basil would be absolutely terrible in an emergency situation (I mean, look at his face). He was a massive chocolate lump and he definitely had a lot of strength, but like most labs he was extremely gentle in almost every situation. He instantly loved everyone he met and when he wasn't asleep he showed as much aggression as a sofa cushion.

Having said that, I do remember one night when we were out walking late on a quiet street, and we came across a man rooting around in his car. Basil was instantly suspicious of this skulking figure, and the fur on his back visibly raised. He let out an incredibly ferocious growl, and scared the hell out of the poor guy. I don't think this guy had any malicious intentions towards me, but if he had then Basil would have made him think twice.

I don't think you really need to worry if your dog "has your back" and would physically defend you. I think a dog has your back merely by being there. I really doubt that any mugger would bother attacking a dog owner, purely because of the unnecessary risk they would be taking. Even a small dog can inflict a nasty bite, and a mugger would never know how protective a dog might be. Just spend as much time as possible loving your dog and I'm sure you'll get plenty in return. Basil died suddenly when he was 3 years old, but in that short time he proved to be an affectionate and loving part of the family who is still missed. I think things like that are more important than whether or not your dog would bite an attacker.

One final thought, as a new dog owner please don't attempt to train your dog to be aggressively protective towards you. Or as biscotti points out, misinterpret poor socialisation as protective behaviour. A pet dog is not meant to be a weapon. Proper socialisation and firm but gentle obedience training are much more important. Apart from that, just love your dog.
posted by Spamfactor at 12:45 PM on June 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

I used to work with someone who also ran a rescue organization for mastiffs, which were originally bred to guard the private hunting grounds of the landed gentry. They're pretty sweet with people, though. Anyway, she had a story about a mastiff she had adopted out. It was this mastiff's habit to run joyfully to the front door when her family got home from dinners out or similar outings, and one night after the family returned from an evening out, the dog was nowhere to be found. They called her, but she didn't come. The family, already beginning to worry, immediately launched a search, and after exploring the house, went to the backyard, where they could just make out the outline of the dog in the rear corner of the property as the sun began to set. They called her urgently, but again she refused to come or even acknowledge them. Finally going over to see what had so captivated her, they discovered a luckless robber, back pressed flat against the fence, tears running down his face begging them "Call off your dog...please...please just call off your dog."

Particularly noteworthy is the fact that there wasn't a mark on the guy; she never bit him. She never had to. Once he was in the yard, she merely had to pin him in place, and every time he made the slightest movement, she'd bristle and lunge at him. The police were called and he was booked on attempted robbery charges.
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:49 PM on June 10, 2011 [16 favorites]

When I was about 13, I used to hang out with the neighbor's Golden Retriever. He'd come over and we'd have adventures and whatnot. One summer day, the adventure was laying on a cool, mossy hill in my bathing suit. I was probably looking for salamanders or something. I noticed that a car driving by slowed down while passing, but didn't think much of it. A couple minutes later the car circled around again and I could see the guy looking at me. I don't know what I thought. Maybe he was trying to figure out if he knew me? Anyway, the car comes around a third time, stops, and the dude starts getting out of the car and coming over. The dog lost his shit. He was off after the guy like a snarling missile. He chased him back to his car and the car drove off. I don't know for sure that the guy had any creepy intentions, but I can't come up with many other reasons you would approach a thirteen year old girl in a bathing suit in an isolated rural area after circling so many times. After that, the noble canine went back to being neighborhood friend to children and I never saw him go after anyone else. He was a very good dog.

And one more interspecies tale. A few years ago, in addition to my posse of cats, I also had a Pomeranian. Roxy was subject to much abuse and torment at the paws of her feline housemates. After several years of being low man on the totem pole, she accepted her fate with about as much grace as a twelve pound dog can really have. I was dating a guy at the time who had a much larger dog. Our dogs had hung out plenty of times, but I was hesitant to let him bring his dog to my house with the kitties because they were so much smaller and his dog had never been around cats. Eventually he convinced me that we had to introduce them. He brought his dog over and all sat in the same room and monitored the interaction. Everything was going fine. For the first few minutes. Then his dog made a sudden lunge for my (favorite!) cat. Roxy seemed to materialized out of nowhere, hurtle through the air, and start biting the offending dog in the face, thus giving the cat a chance to escape. And this was for a kitty that had done nothing but torture her for the past several years, and quite frankly, I was under the impression she disliked.

So I guess I'm saying that you really can't imagine just based on breed. Golden Retrievers are noble at least, but hardly thought of as guard dogs. And Pomeranians? Come on! I never in a million years thought she had it in her. Dogs are pack animals and will often try to protect their families. That is, except when they're too busy checking out the burglar's sack to see if there are any treats in there.
posted by troublewithwolves at 12:53 PM on June 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

My magnificent German Shepherd Dog defends me all the time even though I am never in danger.

Once was when I'd passed out, we'd only adopted her a month earlier and she wouldn't let anyone near me. This wasn't exactly a good thing since they wanted to help, but I appreciated the gesture.

A few months ago she got very upset at a door-to-door salesman when I put my hand up in the "stop" position. As soon as she saw that she got very growl-y and a ridge showed up down her back. I told the guy he'd better get back. I think I could have 'sicced' her on him in a heartbeat.

A week ago I was in my front yard and a Jack Russel mix came running down the street barking its head off at me. She really didn't like that went after him, lucky for the little dog she came back when I called her off. I don't know if she would have played with him or eaten him. She likes other dogs, but doesn't like people threatening me.

She's always a little leery of strangers until I introduce her to them. She's really sweet after that. I really have no doubt that she'd have my back if I were ever in any serious trouble.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:56 PM on June 10, 2011

I once fostered the sweetest little Norfolk terrier from the animal shelter. She bonded to me right away, and she saw men as threats. So, if she was by herself, she'd be guarded and wary with men, but if she was with me, she thought her job was to protect me from the men. I'd be eating dinner at the kitchen table, and she'd sit under the table on my feet. If my boyfriend approached she'd let out a low growl. Once, we had a group of people over and she was sitting next to me. A male friend took a step towards us, and she flipped out and started snapping at him.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:19 PM on June 10, 2011

Just as a data point for the powers of cats: once a workman came to my (rented) house unannounced (i.e. the landlords hadn't told me that they were sending anyone over) and without proper documentation. As I was telling him that I needed to know who had told him to come to the property my cat launched himself at the man's leg and held on long enough to make a serious statement.

Thanks Tiger, you were a good cat!
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 1:33 PM on June 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

We had a female Great Dane, Greta. She weighed about 140 pounds. My parents were separated, so she did not know my father well. My father and mother were still friendly. One day my father was at home and made what appeared to be a threatening move toward my mother. Without a sound or unnecessary movement, Greta rose up on her hind legs and was going for my fatherʻs throat. My mother grabbed her by the collar and Greta stopped. So not only did she attempt to protect my mother, she also stopped when my mother told her too. The dog was not trained for this, it was natural. If I was approached by a stranger or a stranger was in the house, she would sit in front of me, between me and the stranger. It was quite intimidating. But Greta was the sweetest dog.

It pretty much depends on the dog. I have had dogs that hid behind me in threatening situations. They were big dogs. Our fiercest protectors have been terriers and the Great Dane. Our Labradors and the Weimaraner while somewhat assertive, were not the very good at protecting and more passive.

I have also had cats that have protected me. It seems it is not so unusual about cats doing this, since friends have had the same experience.
posted by fifilaru at 1:34 PM on June 10, 2011

Best answer: Unfortunately i do not have any good "dogs got your back" stories but I do have a pretty good "dolphins got your back!" story so I hope I will be forgiven for this bit of derail.

So I'm 20 years old and I got a security guard job at Sea Life park in Hawaii which meant that I roamed the deserted park from midnight until morning making sure bad things weren't happening. Pretty boring except my route took me past the dolphin tanks and my supervisor carefully warned my to "Not play with the dolphins!". So of course the first thing I did was to play with the dolphins (Fun Fact #1:Sea life park dolphins can nose up the gate latch late at night so they can swim in the larger tank and then shut the gate and latch it back up again in the morning) .

So most every night I played "water ball" with the dolphins which involved them standing in their tails above the water and me throwing balls of water up in the air which they then poked with their noses. And sometimes they would come over to the side of the tank and I would pet them and scratch under their "chins" which they seemed to really love (Fun Fact #2: Dolphins have the most amazingly silky soft skin) Two of the three dolphins were pretty friendly but one was kind of grumpy (for lack of a better word). One evening as I reached out to pet Mr. Grumpy he lurched and clamped his teeth down on my forearm. He didn't break skin, just scratched me a bit but it scared the crap out of me. From that point forward one of the other dolphins wouldn't let Mr. Grumpy near me anymore and anytime he approached me at the side of the tank the dolphin would butt him with his nose hard in the side .

Dolphins got your back!"
posted by Poet_Lariat at 1:39 PM on June 10, 2011 [37 favorites]

Some years ago, my kids were playing in our backyard and the neighbor's pit bull tried to get under the fence into our yard. I have no idea what the intentions of the neighbor's dog was, but one of our dogs, a 60 pound mutt, pinned the neighbor's dog to the ground. This particular dog was always protective of the kids and would let us know if she thought anyone was playing too rough.

On the other hand, both dogs were terrified and hid when our house was broken into when we were not at home. But then, we weren't there to be protected.
posted by maurice at 1:43 PM on June 10, 2011

When I was married, the older of my two pugs would get very protective (growing, jumping between us, semi-biting but not really) of my wife if I would play-attack her.

Except for one time when he got confused and started attacking her too.
posted by jayder at 1:44 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm new to dog ownership, and love it, but it'd be nice to know that my 50-pound furball has my back when I take her on walks at night.

I've noticed that, in the social class of people who tend to become robbers, fear of dogs is more widespread than it is in the middle classes. I have long suspected it is conditioned by the fact that there are more strays, more pit bulls trained for fighting, more desperate and street-smart dogs, etc., in poverty stricken areas, which leads the poor to fear dogs.

On average, your typical robber is going to be wary of someone walking a fifty pound dog.
posted by jayder at 1:47 PM on June 10, 2011

My family had a black lab mix who was about 100 pounds. I used to take him to a secluded part of a public park where I liked to lay on a blanket and read for hours. No one ever came around that part of the park. I would let him off leash and he would just sort of sit nearby. Sometimes he would wander off by the creek nearby.

One time when the dog was over by the creek, out of nowhere this sort of odd man came up to me and got into my personal space. "Whatchya reading" and stuff like that which sounded innocent but he was really close to me and it felt weird.

Then the dog, almost just as stealthily got right in between us and faced the guy. He didn't growl or anything, just looked the guy right in the face with his big dog face.

It made the guy jump back about 10 feet and just exclaim over and over what a big dog that was. The dog, Bruiser (my sister named him) just continued to stared at him, no growling.

I guess he was 'splitting' like Biscotti mentions above because it totally calmed down the vibe going on there. But it really felt like he was saying to the guy: "Hey man, I don't think you are authorized to get this close to my human friend here. And don't I look like I could eat your face if I wanted to get worked up here?"

It was enough to get the strange man to back off a little and allow me to gather my things and then leave with Bruiser following me. God I loved that awesome dog.
posted by dog food sugar at 1:55 PM on June 10, 2011 [5 favorites]

I think one of my current dogs, a border collie who is addicted to frisbees being thrown would just try to shove one of her frisbees in a robber's hand if anyone ever broke into our home. Humans are all frisbee throwing machines to her.

Joking aside they are great deterrents. If anyone ever really broke in I would hope they would just hide out of harm's way.
posted by dog food sugar at 2:02 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a very clear memory of my Mum in an utter panic fussing over a policeman with a big gash in his arm, and driving him off to hospital. Our backyard had no fence (we lived in a fibro house on stilts on a large island off of Papua New Guinea) and the policeman was walking through our yard and Spot our ever patient and wonderful mutt of a dog had attacked his arm. The whole family was inside the house at the time.

The cop was quite relaxed, I remember him telling us we had a "good guard dog", although Mum was pretty stressed by the possible ramifications of whole situation. (I don't think I was allowed to witness much of the scene, I remember bandages and driving away.)

(RIP Spot, we're sorry we had to leave you on the island like we did!)
posted by jujulalia at 2:03 PM on June 10, 2011

Best answer: To add another data point, while as I pointed out above, I saw my dogs being protective of me, when my house was broken into, I came home all to all three (3 German Shepards!) shut up in the bathroom, tails a waggin, seeming to say, "Guess what, Mom! We had visitors!"
posted by stormygrey at 2:26 PM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

The story is, when I was about four years old, I wandered out the back door down the hill behind our unfenced yard and into the woods where I proceeded to bury myself with fallen leaves. Our German Shepherd dog, Frauline, followed me and hung out nearby. When my mom came out frantically calling my name, Frauline gave a few barks and she found me happily playing and oblivious. She was one of the very good dogs.
posted by amanda at 2:53 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Two thoughts:

1. When I was about 8 years old, I was home alone with my aging Cocker Spaniel named Taffy. I heard a soft *bang* somewhere nearby and didn't think much of it. A few minutes later, Taffy started barking incessantly. I yelled and he wouldn't shut up, so I went into the basement to see what was wrong with him.

Turns out that a small electrical fire had started by the washing machine. I ran to Taffy and dragged him by the collar out of the door and to the neighbors house, where I found an adult and she went over to my house with a fire extinguisher. So, my cranky old Cocker Spaniel protected me from harm.

2. I currently have a wonderful German Shepherd/Greyhound mix in my life. (From a distance, she looks like an underfed GSD. When you get up close you notice that she's about 3/4 the size of a GSD, has the skinny Greyhound head and floppy ears). She's wonderful, but she is definitely not an attack dog. She would probably lick an intruder to death, and, if someone were to attack me I think she would probably just stand around with that doggie grin on her face, enjoying all of the action.

However, I feel perfectly safe living alone with her in my house, walking her after dark, etc. She spends most of the day sitting in the front window, watching the world go by. She looks threatening enough from a distance (or through a window) that I figure most evil-doers would think twice before invading or attacking a house or person that is accompanied by a GSD.
posted by Elly Vortex at 2:55 PM on June 10, 2011

Best answer: I grew up in a suburban neighborhood off of a super-busy highway. It was pretty quiet, and kids and dogs roamed free, but as long as I can remember there's always been a "king" or "queen" dog of the neighborhood. For the first twelve years of my life, that dog was Brutus. Brutus was a big, square, German German shepherd, one of the ones that's so big you just sort of wonder how the hell they managed to crossbreed a horse and a dog like that. I took my first outside steps clinging to his tail. When I was about four, my parents would let me ride him like a horse. Brutus didn't mind. He let me cling to double-handfuls of the thick fur of his neck and went slowly.

Brutus thought all the kids in the neighborhood were his responsibility. He had been hit by a car when he was younger so he knew how dangerous they were. If we were playing in the street, he'd lay in the long grass on the side of the road until he saw a car coming. Then he'd get up and amble towards it head-on until he'd passed all the kids, and then he'd turn sideways and just wait. And finally, when every ball and bicycle and ten year-old were off the pavement and safe in the yard, he'd look at the driver very seriously and get out of the way. He did this consistently, every day, for every car, for at least three years-- until he got too old to move around well. If we were playing and jumping and swimming in the lake, he would swim out with us, but we knew when Brutus put his nose on our arm and pushed that he thought we were out too far and needed to get back to shallower water. Hell, if I told my parents I was going to play with other kids or go swimming, I had a choice: either they could come with us, or we had to take Brutus. After the first time, when we discovered he would practically drown in his attempts to follow us, we invited on boating trips. He waded in and hung on a special 'Brutus strap' when we went kyaking, and we pulled him with us. He chased off raccoons and angry pitbulls and took a snakebite meant for a kid and even stood between us and the asshole abusive yelling parents down the street. When the first puppy of my very own took off down the street running and yanked my arm practically out of its socket and dragged me along the road face down for about 50 yards, it was Brutus, literally appearing out of nowhere, who caught my Snoopy mid-flight and stopped me from leaving more of my skin smeared across the gravel. He made sure Snoopy knew to stay right there, belly-up, and then came back to me, licking my face to clean it. He walked me all the way home, staying right next to me so I could lean against him for support and growling at Snoopy every time Snoopy thought about bolting again.

Brutus died peacefully, full of treats from the neighbors he protected, one day under the big magnolia tree a few houses down. His owners thought he was probably about thirteen, a good age for a dog that big. RIP, Brutus, God knows what would have happened to all of us without your watchful eye. You don't need to be human to be a father figure.
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:02 PM on June 10, 2011 [123 favorites]

Of course, I was just reminded that he also killed all of our chickens just before I was born, so I guess he mellowed in his old age.
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:04 PM on June 10, 2011 [14 favorites]

Our yellow lab gets his hackles up & growls at anything he doesn't understand. Including strangers.

The way I see it, the stranger doesn't know the difference between a protective growl and one borne from fear. Good enough for me if they cut a wide margin & go on their way.
posted by yoga at 3:19 PM on June 10, 2011

When I was younger, our dog Booby (yeah, that was his name - don't ask), a chihuahua mix of every conceivable grumpy kind of dog species that was, seemed to know which strangers knocking on our front door wanted money from my mom. Newspaper delivery kid coming round to collect dues? ATTACK! Meter guy for the electric company? ATTACK! Salesman trying to get you to buy a vacuum cleaner? ATTACK!

He was absolutely spot-on.
posted by HeyAllie at 3:52 PM on June 10, 2011

Yesterday my dog decided to defend me from a bear sow and two cubs. I had to go up to the dog, then being charged by the bear and make him stop yapping his dumb head off. In retrospect, I should have let him become a bear snack but he is so damn soft and huggable so I guess it all turned out for the best.
posted by Foam Pants at 4:00 PM on June 10, 2011

This very question was discussed at dogforums recently. The consensus was along the lines of "hahahahahahaha lol no."
posted by workerant at 4:18 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I was a young child, my mother invited 3 couples to play bridge. We kids were to be in bed, but I snuck out and lay in the hallway peeking around the corner to watch the adults. I fell asleep. Our dog sat by my side the whole time and growled at the ladies as they went past to get to the bathroom.
posted by CathyG at 5:19 PM on June 10, 2011

When I was a preteen my otherwise socially awkward CAT, not my dog, literally leaped to my "defense" when my mom started a tickle war with me. Dinah took a huge bite of my mom's buttcheek and hung on to get my mom to stop tickling me. Scars are still present. We think that the pitch of my laughter/squeals was akin to what a kitten might make under duress and that triggered my poor Dinah's motherly instincts.

My dog (a mid-sized Silky Terrier) was always attempting to protect me from things, but not in the way Dinah would. Funny, huh?
posted by patronuscharms at 5:30 PM on June 10, 2011

A second-hand recounting. My wife and I owned a very sweet and large Bouvier (who is sadly no longer alive). I was away for a few days on travel and a neighbor who knew I was out of town stopped by late at night on what turned out to be flimsy pretenses.

He had been drinking and came inside our front hallway, making my wife very uncomfortable. Our dog knew something was up and moved in front of her, coming between the two. A Bouvier can be decidedly unfriendly and intimidating when they want to be and there was no way that dude was coming an inch further into our house. When she told him to leave he did so immediately. We're not so sure he would have if our dog wasn't there.
posted by jeremias at 6:23 PM on June 10, 2011

I don't think you can know how any particular dog will act until something happens. I had a good experience with a German Shepherd that I only met once. When I was 15 our family was staying overnight at a relative's farm. I got into some kind of tiff with my parents and took off walking down a dark country road. The farm dog came with me and we walked for hours and many miles and he never went far from me. A car started following me and a man pulled up and started taking dirty. The dog got between us and let out a low growl that went on and on. The dude rolled up his window and sped off. I felt lucky that the dog protected me.

On the other hand, I lived next door to some people with two untrained dobermans named Satan and Morticia (the dogs, not the neighbors). Too my direct knowledge, those dogs lunged at or bit a woman with a toddler, a blind man with a cane and a man in a wheelchair. I called animal services but they wouldn't do anything because the victims didn't report it. One night, the neighbor's house was broken into, and the dogs hid while the robber tied up and cut the neighbor with a knife. Maybe the dogs knew their no count owner wasn't worth protecting.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 7:28 PM on June 10, 2011

My brother decided he wanted a new dog and bought his new pitbull cross, Bully, around to visit. In the front yard I made a rookie mistake of reaching out to pat a strange dog on the head without saying hello properly and the pitbull gave a small and polite warning growl just to let me know this wasn't on.

My female Maltese shit-zu cross Chardy(who was hugely maternalistic and spent much of her life treating me like one of her puppies) came running from inside the house knocking the flyscreen door open. Lept at the pitbull barking and snarling like one possessed. I figured she was a gonner, luckily the other dog was so confused by a snarling bundle of white fur he backed right off and dropped into submissive mode.

She was able to control him with a stare for the rest of her life and would steal bones out from under him and push him out the way for pats and he absolutely adored her.

That was also the first and last time we heard Bully growl at a human so maybe she scared that out of him too.
posted by wwax at 8:33 PM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh I should add the time we heard a knock at the door about 3am and 2 policemen were standing there, they were looking for someone (who lived a few doors down) Chardy did not like strange men coming to the door in the middle of the night and started growling for such a small dog she had a big dog growl. The bottom of the screen door was solid so they could not see her and both cops reached for their guns. It was only when I picked her up so she could see who it was (and they could see her) that everyone relaxed. Not sure if protecting us from cops is a good thing or a bad thing though.
posted by wwax at 8:38 PM on June 10, 2011

I worked for a long while up in the mountains of Republic of Georgia near the border of Chechnya and Dagestan. Around my worksite was a stray caucasian sheep dog. I love dogs so I would give it scraps of food and make sure it had water. After several months it suddenly decided I was its friend. Then whenever I would go out for a long hike or walk it(I named it Doggiestan) would come along with me and whenever we would come upon people he would always come directly in front of me and growl at the person or group. He never did this for any other member of my group.

At the teamsite whenever our mechanic would come to me the dog would alway stand in front of me and growl at the guy.
posted by tarvuz at 1:13 AM on June 11, 2011

My own dogs are too timid to protect me, but I can relate a story that happened to me years ago.

I was a kid at summer camp. One of the counselor's (we'll call him Bill) had a retriever of some sort. A big, friendly, furry dog, the kind that wore a bandana around its neck. It hung around the camp off leash.

One night the counselors perform a play for us. In one of the scenes, one of the other counselors--let's call him Joe--takes a swing at Bill. There's a fake punching sound, and Bill crumples to the ground dramatically.

The audience and the performers are absolutely startled when we suddenly see a big, furry THING go whizzing by, onto the stage, leaping right for Joe's throat. Joe goes down. People gasp, and panic ensues. They didn't cover this in rehearsal.

They end up having to pull Bill's dog off of Joe. Everybody was okay, if a little shaken. Joe was lucky he didn't end up in the hospital.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:18 AM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm interested in stories about dogs defending or protecting their owners from harm, mainly physical assault.

If I may also add, I think you might also want to know the stories where dogs have FAILED to protect their owners from harm. Otherwise you might be waiting or relying on your dog during a critical moment when you could have used the opportunity to act yourself.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 2:29 AM on June 11, 2011

Well. Our pup protects (well, at least warns) us from snails.

posted by Harry at 4:19 AM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow - such an amazing diversity of responses and stories - thanks very much! Especially to Harry, for the laugh. All of the stories are captivating.

I'm definitely not looking to encourage any aggression in my dog; she is pretty well socialized, gentle and friendly. She met all kinds of people/other dogs in all sorts of circumstances when she was a pup (she is also very docile looking and a cutie, so lots of people ask to pet her). In fact, she is so calm and friendly, this is partly what prompted me to ask my question; I just couldn't imagine her attacking or barking aggressively at anyone.

But, I love the idea of training her to bark on command, and to 'be nice', as this will surely help (thanks, biscotti!). She is already protective of our home (she barks a couple of times when the mail deliverer comes, as a warning, but it is not aggressive), which I appreciate. It's good to know her size is a natural deterrent too.
posted by LittleFuzzy at 11:49 AM on June 11, 2011

Our family dog barked at our mother when she yelled at us. She seemed taken aback and always let him outside when she wanted to let loose.
posted by Mertonian at 11:52 AM on June 11, 2011

I play fought/wrestled with my son once - he was 13 and almost a head taller than I. Out of nowhere our lab, whom I alone feed/walk/take care of, leapt up and hit my head so hard with hers that I was knocked flat. She pinned me and licked my face, presumably to ensure I came to my senses...

That said, agree with biscotti and others above - don't train for aggression and don't count on the furry ones in a pinch!
posted by mozhet at 7:42 PM on June 11, 2011

Maybe the dog saved us from something horrible, we'll never know. Around 15 - 20 years ago, at about 2 o'clock in the morning, our dog Ramona woke us up with her barking in the back yard. It wasn't just he fact that she rarely barked, it was the way she way barking: slow and steady. What the hell is that dog barking at? Our bedroom was on the end of the house, and we could see the side of the neighbor's house clearly. The neighbor had floodlights that lit up everything, including our bedroom. I hated those floodlights. So I peeked out through the blinds just in time to see a HUGE shirtless man crawl under the neighbor's shrubs. I damn near shit my pants, the guy was ENORMOUS. I called 911 and told them what was happening. I was looking out the front window when the police car showed up in front of my house. I went outside and it was a female police officer, maybe 5'4" and 125 pounds. I wasn't exactly filled with confidence! I told her what I had seen, so she walked over and shined her flashlight into the bush and shouted "And he's still in there!" She drew her gun (which helped a lot to make up for her diminutive size) and yelled at him to show his hands and crawl out. Nothing. She yelled again "Show me your hands! Don't make me shoot you!" By this point I had run back inside the house, and a couple of backup cars rolled up just as the guy crawled out from under the bushes with his hands up. I came back out when they had him handcuffed and in the back seat of one of the police cruisers. The guy was GIGANTIC, he took up the entire back seat, he looked like George Foreman's big brother shoved in back there. The police told me he had escaped from the local state mental hospital, which was about about 15 miles away clear on the other side of town. Of course I have no way of knowing whether the guy was violent or not, but the neighbor grilled an extra T-bone for Ramona that weekend. Good dog!
posted by Daddy-O at 9:22 PM on June 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

When I was three-years-old my grandmother had a collie, named "Snappy." Back in those days people burned their trash in large barrels. The barrels were placed as far from the house as possible so the smoke didn't come into the house. As the trash was burning one day I reached up to touch the fire, but before I could touch it, Snappy dragged me away. Something that upset me, but brought forth much thanksgiving from my grandmother, who saw the whole thing. A couple years later my father's best friend lost his three-year-old daughter when she was fatally burned by the same circumstances, only she was not reached in time.
posted by srbrunson at 11:43 AM on July 2, 2011

My mother-in-law has a few acres in the country. Jake, her faithful Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mix, preferred the company of children to that of adults. Whenever family came by to visit, he could always be trusted to keep a watchful eye on the motley crew of kids, grandkids, cousins, etc. We called him the babysitter. In addition to tolerating the inevitable fur tugging & pony-riding that comes with little ones, he gently but firmly nudged more than child back to the house when he had decided they'd gotten too close to the road.

Any time an unfamiliar car pulled into the drive, Jake would wait for the car to stop and then stand right outside the driver's door, growling and barking until one of us came out to tell him it was okay. As soon as we called him back, he'd let the driver get out, then trot back up to the porch, tail wagging all the way.

As far as I know, he never had to make any dramatic confrontations on his family's behalf. Of course, he was huge and loud, and also exquisitely aware of any change in day-to-day patterns, so its possible his alertness warded off any potential harm while it was still at a distance.

Jake was a Very Good Dog.
posted by muirne81 at 10:31 AM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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