2 yr. old female rottie acting scared sometimes and becoming more protective


by Julie
(San Carlos)

Hi. I have a 2 1/2 yr old female rottweiler named Roxy. Roxy has always been very friendly and completely non aggressive. Even when an alpha dog is showing dominance, she will be submissive.

She generally would look for people to go up to when we would go out on walks. If they started to say, “look how cute”… she knew it and would go up to them, sit on their feet and want to be petted. Within the last two months I have seen these changes. She definitely doesn’t like men wearing backpacks. I think I have the gardener with the backpack blower to thank for that one.

She never used to pay attention to bikes, but the other day when one came too close to me, she barked and wanting to go after it.. the boy was also wearing a backpack. Last week while we were walking, a postman carrying some magazines in his hand came walking right towards us. He started to talk to Roxy and she clearly was acting afraid. I told him that she seemed afraid of him and he should probably leave her alone, but he bent down and put his hand out to her… she sniffed it and seemed fine, he adjusted his crouching position and brought around the magazines and she immediately barked at him and he lost his balance and feel backwards. He was fine, but it definitely scared him and me.

Today’s incident worries me the most. We were walking. I saw a friend from the gym that I knew. He was sitting. He asked if Roxy was friendly and I told him usually but it is best to let her go to him.. which she did. She took the sitting position on his feet and he petted her for a few minutes, then all of a sudden she turned around and barked at him like he had done something she didn’t like. Also today on our walk, there was an elderly gentleman in front of us with two walking sticks and a backpack. I took Roxy into the street to walk around him. Once we were in front of him, she barked at him and kept looking back at him distressed. I kept petting her and telling her it was alright and to leave it. All of these incidents are while she is on leash.

I have never had any problems with her at any dog park. I have socialized her since she was 4 mos. old. A few months ago she was pulling something similar with me. I could be laying down with her and petting her and she would begin to growl a bit and then suddenly get up and turn her body around. This happened a few times. I would grab her collar and hold her head and yell No into her face. That behavior has stopped. It was like she was grumpy or something or that she was testing me to see what she could get away with. I am not sure what is going on other than she seems to be becoming more protective of me and a bit fearful.

She definitely doesn’t like strangers to be staring at her and making eye contact with her. She could also be sensing my anxiety about how she will react with someone. I am constantly on the alert now while we walk looking for situations to avoid. Any suggestions as to what could be going on?

I walk her regularly every night. Most nights she interacts with other dogs at the school or at the park. She sleeps in my room with me, either on my bed or in her crate. We live with my 81 year old mom so she doesn’t have the run of the house when she is home.

Hi Julie
Some of this behavior is most often seen in adolescent Rottweilers, or very young adults and it is partly a developmental thing. And some of it stems from the fact that she’s trying to figure out what to do with her inbuilt guardian instincts.

However, there seem to be other elements at play here too and you’ve nailed them both.. first the ‘backpack’ thing. Many dogs are afraid of people in hats, or big coats, or who are carrying umbrellas or bags/backpacks etc. It seems that these distort the normal ‘shape’ of a person so the dog doesn’t see them as a normal person that they would be familiar with and unafraid of.

They can be desensitized to this fear but it takes time and patience.

The other problem is that you have now become anxious on your outings because you are nervous about how Roxy is going to behave. Dogs are very intuitive and automatically feel the emotions of their owners, especially when they are leashed because the leash acts as a sort of telegraph wire.. transmitting our emotions through our hands straight down the leash to our dogs bodies.

Roxy will be hyper-aware of the fact that you are anxious and nervous, but she will be totally UNaware of the fact that you are worried about her reaction. She most likely interprets your fear to be caused by the people and environment around you, and if you start to get uptight when someone approaches she feels this and thinks they are a threat and so is already on ‘red alert’ before they even reach you. It’s a vicious cycle but one that you can break with a bit of help.

I’d strongly advise getting some hands-on help from a professional dog trainer so that he/she can SHOW you how to handle these situations and this behavior – and you can practice with help at hand. Once you feel in control and confident that you can deal with it, Roxy will start to relax and the whole situation will improve.

You handled the boundary-testing behavior with you very well, and she understood that you were in charge. You need help to make sure that you handle this one properly. Petting her and telling her ‘it’s okay’ doesn’t necessarily help as she will feel your ambivalent emotions and isn’t sure what is expected of her in any given situation.

It’s not an unusual problem with newly mature large guardian breed dogs and I think just a few sessions of hands-on help will get you both on the right track. Roxy obviously has a very sound temperament and this isn’t ‘aggression‘ as such or something that is indicating an unstable temperament or personality, it’s just a developmental and situational problem that can be handled with the right advice.

Hope this helps. I wish you both the very best of luck.

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My name is Dr. Winnie. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Duke University, a Masters of Science in Biology from St Georges University, and graduated from the University of Pretoria Veterinary School in South Africa. I have been an animal lover and owners all my life having owned a Rottweiler named Duke, a Pekingese named Athena and now a Bull Mastiff named George, also known as big G! I'm also an amateur equestrian and love working with horses. I'm a full-time Veterinarian in South Africa specializing in internal medicine for large breed dogs. I enjoy spending time with my husband, 2 kids and Big G in my free time. Author and Contribturor at SeniorTailWaggers, A Love of Rottweilers, DogsCatsPets and TheDogsBone