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My wife and I got a dog about two months ago. It was 8 months old when we got him and now he is 10 months old. We have noticed a funny behavior of his, which is that it seems that he defends me whenever I am under "attack" from my wife (if she play kicks me or tickles me). The dog jumps at her and lightly bites her hand or foot. But when I attempt to do the same thing to her, he just sits and watches. This happened about two times in the past and it just happened again now. We kind of did a test where she "attacked" me - the dog defended me; I "attacked" her - the dog did nothing; she "attacked" me again - the dog defended me again.

Now I am wondering if he is really defending me or if it's something else that makes him do it. But then, why does he only do this when I am under attack? What is making him seemingly defend me, but not her?

A secondary question I have is what I can do to encourage the dog to behave the same way towards each of us? My wife gets kind of upset from this behavior, since she is the one that gets up early in the morning to feed him breakfast and take him outside, so she feels that he just thinks of her as his chef.

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    At this age I assume he is not defending anybody, but want to play. And you should be careful with "funny" behaviors, because this are the "missbehaviors" of the future... I assume that the little dog know, that it is a game, when your wife "kicks" you, but that he do not want to act against the team's leader (which is probably you). Because in a pack it would be your right to rule the behavior of all other dogs, and no one would defend them. If your dog is really defending you, then this is very stressful for it and no fun. – Allerleirauh Nov 10 '20 at 20:59
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    Then you need to work with him to take the responsibility for the pack from him. The most dogs choose less stress of being led instead the stress to lead a pack. – Allerleirauh Nov 10 '20 at 20:59
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First let's get some biases out of the way. Many people would think that you are male (at least I assume you are), therefore you are the Alpha of the pack, therefore the dog doesn't attack you. Your wife is female, therefore the dog thinks of her as inferior and attacks her.

This logic is completely flawed and untrue. It's a bunch of lies a bunch of sexist 'scientists' sold as facts almost a hundred years ago and that has been disproven since. Dogs aren't sexists. Anecdotal evidence: My own dog accepts female leadership without complaint but becomes aggressive if a male family member crosses certain lines.

What really happens is hard to tell without seeing both your behaviors. What comes to my mind are a few possibilities:

  1. Your dog was socialized well with men, but not with women. It might be that a woman caused him pain or discomfort as a puppy and due to lack of exposure he didn't learn that this was an exception and is now wary of all women. (This is exactly what happened to my dog, but with men. He lives happily with a man in the household, but as soon as said man does something 'weird' he becomes wary and aggressive.)
  2. Your wife's body language during your tickling is more aggressive from the perspective of a dog. I assume you're laughing and talking to each other while doing it. Laughing exposes your teeth in a way that may seem aggressive for a dog. The talking may be in a pitch or a way the dog perceives as aggressive. Maybe even some of her gestures are unknowingly aggressive, like lowering her head and 'stalking' you in a way a wolf / wild dog stalks its prey.
  3. Your wife's body language and manner is more submissive in general. Your dog does perceive you as the pack leader, but not simply because you're male, but because your wife's behavior in general indicates that she submits to your leadership. That can include her tone of voice and gestures and behaviors she isn't even aware of. Now if you 'attack' her it's tolerable for your dog, but if she 'attacks' you, that means disrespect, fighting and possibly chaos in the social structure of the pack. Your dog is trying to end the fight and restore harmony. Unfortunately he shouldn't be allowed to do so because it can lead to problematic behaviors in the future.
  4. Your own reactions to her tickling are more over the top and the dog thinks your wife is doing you harm.
  5. Your dog does indeed have a closer relationship to you than to your wife.

You see, there are many possible reasons and each of them may need a different approach to solve the problem. I suggest you look for a dog trainer who comes to your home, analyzes the problematic situations and gives you advice on how to change your behavior. This gives you a better understanding of the thoughts of your dog and often drastically improves the comfort and well-being of both dogs and owners.

The only solution I can offer is this:

  • Train your dog to go in his crate (if he has one) or his bed / pillow / whatever on command. Your wife must train this until the dog reliably goes there on command.
  • When you play fight or tickle each other and the dog starts nipping, your wife should send him into the crate / bed. You should not interfere with her authority by giving the same command. Once the dog is there, resume your play fight in a tones down version for just a second and then reward the dog with a treat for staying in the crate / bed.
  • @Allerleirauh I don't see what you need to apologise for. Your comment is true (and I upvoted it), regardless of why you assume OP is the leader. You didn't imply any sexist oppinions and didn't use sexist language. And I find it absolutely astonishing how hard it is to kill the lies of self-proclaimed experts many decades after they where first spread. Everyone of us, including me, still believes several of those lies and is biased by them. – Elmy Nov 11 '20 at 6:43
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    Yes I think everybody has bias in thinking :) but it is no excuse to not try to overcome them :) – Allerleirauh Nov 11 '20 at 10:31
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    "weary" - > "wary" – Acccumulation Nov 13 '20 at 2:27
  • @Acccumulation Please use suggested edit functionality for suggesting fixes to typos next time, I think typo fixes like this deserve to be rewarded with reputation. – lila Nov 13 '20 at 21:44
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    @lila There's a minimum character count for edits. – Acccumulation Nov 14 '20 at 0:14
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What I can tell you is that it has nothing to do with your gender, most people refer to the male being the dominant and the dog thinking of him as the pack leader, this can be true if your wife's body language sends such a message, we have a dog that would do the same thing with our mom simply because we're all submissive (yells a lot when we don't do the dishes, dad included) to her so our dog thinks of her as the pack leader and listens and protects her, however sometimes it's just because the dog is attached more to a person some dog breeds have such a behavior like dachshunds. if your wife god forbid is attacked by a stranger, you'll see a different reaction so rest assured.

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