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why the snap in personality?


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My pup Seek is now 11 months old. She has the sweetest personality and loves to meet new people. She adores kids and gets very excited when they are around (maybe because they are closer to her size). Sometimes though, she freaks out at people. I'm not always sure of what triggers this behavior. Usually when she has a freak out it's towards men. I wonder if maybe she was abused by a man...? Or if it's their size?


Last night: We had just finished playing frisbee in the park downtown and we were walking down the street. This lady was standing outside her apartment building door. The lady saw Seek and told her how cute she was, then Seek jumped at the lady and growled. I'm glad I have a short leash for her or the lady's face might have been dog food. Also my friend who works at the coffee shop we go to each week: The first time Seek met him she was about 20 feet away from him and was barking like she was going to kill him. This is the first time I had experienced this behavior. I had only had her for about a week at this time. It really freaked me out, and bummed me out (ironically, he had been helping me search for the perfect bc). Seek is slowly getting to trust him. She started off by accepting treats from him over the counter. Now he can usually bring her a treat face to face. Even in the beginning when she had issues with him I could have her sit with me and him and she wouldn't freak out, she wouldn't necessarily like it though, and that was obvious. He has a beard and usually wears a hat...


When Seek has her freak outs she will usually calm down if the person gets to her level. Not always, sometimes if they get to her level she is still angry.


Sometimes it will be helpful if I get down with Seek and pet her and tell her the person is nice and a friend, etc. This can difuse some situations.


It's just so confusing why sometimes I can calm her and other times no matter what I can't. And how some people will freak her out even if she's hung out with them before.

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I have a reactive dog who came home at about 1.5 or 2 years after living on the streets. I have no idea what his early life was like, but I'm pretty sure he wasn't exposed to a whole lot of human interaction, especially with men. When I first got him, he would react (read: growl and bark) at everyone. It was really scary - I know how upsetting it can be! But as I got to know him, I could see that his reactivity was focused on very specific things. (And after reading about 50 doggie psych books, I realized his triggers were fairly common ones.) Once I knew what the things were, I felt much more in control and able to manage. So, here's what sets my dog off:


1. Direct eye contact (that's a BIGGIE!). Whether canine or human, Buddy sees it as a sign of dominance and potential attack.


2. Dead-on, frontal approaches. Also true of canines or humans. Someone coming straight on at us, purposefully, frightens him. Someone curving towards us or gradually getting closer as we walk in the same direction is much less stressful. (Someone who allows us to be behind him for a while before trying to meet the dog is the jackpot. Buddy would never approach another dog or human face-on, but rather from behind, for safe, non-confrontational butt sniffing.)


3. Looming over him. One of our first days together, a young woman and her friend approached. I got all ready with my "He won't let you pat him" speech. The girl squatted facing away from Buddy, and held her hand out behind her. Buddy went directly to her and accepted her pats and loving. She didn't stand so that she was leaning over him, and she didn't force face-to-face contact until he was ready. Even now, Buddy is much, much calmer meeting people who squat. You can see him visibly relax when they go from a stand to a squat.


4. Sudden motions. Slow, calm, and predictable - that's what my dog wants. He wants to anticipate what's about to happen. Which leads to...


5. Surprises. Buddy does much better if he's prepared for something. Like, "Oh, look! Here comes a friend!" If he knows a human is approaching, he's much more relaxed. If someone steps out of nowhere, it's still like I have the dog I brought home on the first day - he regresses.


6. Hands over the head to pat. Buddy doesn't allow it. My last dog hated it, too - she would just tilt her head to make you pat somewhere else. Buddy will actually flinch when people he doesn't know touch his head. I tell them and I tell them, "He'll let you pat him on the chest, but not on his head," but still they reach for his head! It's like they go deaf when they see a dog. This one is a definite issue with loads of dogs... read it in lots of the training books.


7. Bigger, louder people like men. :rolleyes: The deeper the voice and the more growly they sound, the worse it is.


8. Bikes, skateboards, loud running children, and other zooming things. The bikes were a really big trigger.


9. Personal space invasion: things that crossed into an imaginary circle around him freaked him out. Things outside it were fine. (The circle used to be 50 feet, and has shrunk to about 18 inches, but it's still most definitely there.)


10. Weird things. Beards. Hats. Sunglasses. Odd gaits. Wheelchairs. All kinds of physical disabilities that make normal human movements twitchy or shaky or "odd" in any way.


Now, having revealed all that, I can tell you that even though he was an adult when I got him, Buddy's come around nicely. Since your dog is young and the neuronal connections aren't "set" yet, I would think it would be much less of a job to get her squared away. Buddy will actually approach strangers if they behave well; at the start I couldn't even be on the same side of the street as another person! It was all about gradual exposure and lots of treats. Early on, I asked anyone who looked vaguely dog-friendly to give him treats. Treats, treats, treats. Sit. Treat. The key was to make every single human interaction positive. I read and believe it's true that allowing the inappropriate reaction just reinforces that behavior - allows the dog to practice it. So I'd rather avoid a meeting than allow a bad one.


I also spent a lot of time at a place where people walk dogs, asking them to let us walk behind them for a while until my dog got used to them. Since he was such a pathetic case at that point, dog people were very good to us. They wanted to be the humans my dog chose to befriend; it was a sign of pride. One particular VERY large man let us walk behind him every day for weeks, while he dropped treats. After a few months, Buddy would squeal with joy to see him. If you can find people who'll actually follow your instructions ("Don't pat his head"), it can help a lot. Be warned, though, that the response from a lot of people will be, "But dogs LOVE me!" as they do what you asked them not to do.


Giving him a behavior to do seems to help in some situations. With bikes, I would walk off the path and have Buddy "sit." After a couple days, he started walking himself off the path and doing a sit on his own. (Oy. BCs.) Eventually, he learned to just about ignore bikes completely, unless they come barreling out of nowhere. He seems to like it, somehow, if strangers who scare him speak his language, too: if they say, "Sit" or "Paw," he seems happy to do the trick... though maybe he's just assuming they have treats that way.


Pushing things and rushing them definitely didn't help, early on. I would keep Buddy far enough away from scary things that he wouldn't react - maybe, 30 feet. Then a little later, 25 feet. Then 20. You get the picture. He had to be allowed the space to feel comfortable and see that things weren't scary. If you can get the people he's going to meet to go very slowly and move at his pace, I think it will ease him into things faster


One thing I did learn, though, was that dogs aren't good generalizers. So, Buddy learned to love individual humans and pretty much trust women. He still has no faith in men in general. He'll still get very frightened if we meet a man who pushes a lot of his buttons at once. And with dogs, it's not possible to control all the other dogs' behavior in order to give my dog 100% positive interactions - this makes it tough to get him less dog reactive.


I know pups have all these different "fear periods," when they are more susceptible to developing fears than others. Your problem may be less about reactivity and more about puppy development:




Good luck!



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Mary's post is terrific advice and covers everything I can think of. In addition to all her guidelines about making friends and meeting people, the comment (and link) about fear periods is vital. Pups and youngsters do pass through several fear periods and those times are crucial for you to work with your dog to make positive connections with meeting people (and new situations, and so on).


Also remember to never throw a "pity party" for an anxious or reacting dog/pup. Your concern and anxiety will only tend to confirm that she has something to worry about. For your part, remain positive, upbeat (not excessively or unnaturally) but calm, and projecting an aura of being in control and able to take care of her in any situation. Some dogs really need to know that their person has everything under control in order to help them conquer their fears.


Very best wishes!

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Pups and youngsters do pass through several fear periods and those times are crucial for you to work with your dog to make positive connections with meeting people (and new situations, and so on).


Ben, one of my Jake pups is in a stage right now, he's just 10 months old and has decided that Wayne looks strange when he comes in the house and should be barked and growled at. I'm telling Wayne to be careful when he approaches him, so as to no put more pressure on him right now to give this stage a chance to pass. This just began a couple of days ago. If Wayne was to lean into him, look down to him, step into him it would compound the anxiety level. If Wayne rocks back just a bit and says "Ben" in a calm tone Ben then responds with a "Oh, it's you" and comes running. This deal will even happen if Wayne comes out of the bathroom. I plan on riding it out and not making a big deal out of it, make it positive when I can and actually avoiding putting him into high anxiety situations until he settles back down.


Just thinking about this deal, right before this all began Wayne put one of those new lightbulbs in the livingroom lamp changing the lighting. For the heck of it I'm going to change it back to see if the same sequence of events happens tonight when Wayne comes home.



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6. Hands over the head to pat. Buddy doesn't allow it.


Lewie's the same way, even with me at times. If I'm standing, he ducks if I try to touch his head, which oft time is unconscious. I just reach out to caress him. If I'm sitting, usually he'll allow it.



One particular VERY large man let us walk behind him every day for weeks, while he dropped treats. After a few months, Buddy would squeal with joy to see him.


What a fabulous idea! Kudos to that fellow for being so caring.


Ditto Shoresdog. Great post, Mary. post-8416-1235142248.gif

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Excellent post by Mary. I think her point of knowing your dog's triggers is extremely helpful. Those will vary from dog to dog. And there isn't always a rhyme or reason (as least as far as we can understand) to why certain people and things will trigger a dog. Quinn is generally friendly and outgoing but will spook every so often -- usually at men. He has never been mistreated by a man. I can't figure it out and I've decided my time is better spent simply addressing the behavior. His motivations are too complicated for my tiny mind. :rolleyes:


I also agree with Sue about being careful not to inadvertently reinforce the fearful or alarmed behavior. I had a phobic Sheltie (his fears were global and completely due to genetics -- he came to live with me at 7 weeks old) and I'd describe to my attitude with him as "bracing." Reassuring but in a matter of fact, not a lot of fuss, you will indeed survive, aren't you a brave, smart dog, kind of way.

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Ditto here too. Great response Mary.


I would only add if you're not doing obedience lessons with him already, you should really think of doing this or if you have already, do it again. And looking into some agility classes as well. I find that border collies, more than many other breeds, are KEEN to look to you for what you want them to do next. So if you've worked on your connection, through obedience exercises and games and esp. something like agility, they become much more responsive to your direction in everyday situations as well. I came late to this realization. So, when you are working on de-sensitizing with treats and exposure, you can also learn to re-direct his attention. I find that when your young dog is perfect (been there, done that :rolleyes: ), this kind of less than perfect behaviour comes as a bit of a shock and can be a bit depressing; i.e. what have I done wrong? But as you can see through the link, etc., behavioural stages are very common, esp in as far as the behaviour appears to be aggressive.


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Well, I'm glad Mary got to this post before I did. There is no way I could have said it any better. (And I doubt I would have!)


100% the key will be to figure out what your dogs triggers are. It will make life so much easier. You'll then be able to focus on them one at a time and get the whole thing sorted out. Don't force him into interactions and make sure you keep him under threshold.


Some books that I found extremely useful trying to sort out my own dog are; "On talking terms with dogs" By Turrid Rugaas, if you can find the DVD as well as the book, that's even better. "Cautious Canine", "Fiesty Fido" and "The other end of the leash" by Patricia O'Connell. There are tons more, but those would be a good start. Oh, and maybe "Control Unleashed" especially the "look at that!" game I am finding way more useful than the solid "watch me" command I have.


Also, don't be afraid to ask for help if you are feeling this is too much for you to attempt on your own. I searched high and low to find a trainer in my area who knew how to handle reactive dogs and understood them. We've taken it very slow and now, even in high stress environments Daisy is getting really good at functioning. Before she'd just shut down. Literally, curl up and not be able to even offer her paw to me, which is almost a default behaviour.


Good Luck!

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Scooter is a people dog--a real party animal. My brother-in-law is constantly rescuing sick, injured or "in harm's way" animals he finds, nursing them back to health, finding their owners, etc. He's done this so often that my sister made up an emergency kit for him to carry in his car. But, Scooter backs up, barks and growls and won't have anything to do with him when he walks in the house. He's the only person he's ever reacted to in that way. We raised him from a puppy, so I know he hasn't been abused. My BIL is tall, dark haired, with beard and moustache, but so is my DH. My brother's Aussie does the same thing when he sees BIL and a sweeter, more even tempered dog you'll never find. ?? I'm stumped as to what that trigger is. :rolleyes:

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I think Mary's response should be included at the top of the pages as something for all to read when considering a BC!

I'm very much in agreement with you on this and meant to say so earlier. She did an excellent job discussing a common problem.

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Wow, thanks for all the great responses! That was an excellent reply Mary!


I do have Seek in agility and she excells so fast. The trainers say that she will be amazing someday. She gets over stimulated sometimes though...when we do hurdles. She would rather jump and bite me than focus. I learned how to stop and make this ssh noise at her to get her to focus again and realize it's not a game.


I am going to enroll Seek in obedience. I am still trying to find a good trainer. I've searched out a few and wasn't impressed.


I think a lot of her triggers are beards, hats, and definitely staring. That gets her going.


I just bought a few books online from pamela dennison. One is about living in the city and having agression. That should help since we live near downtown and walk around town. I also got another one about positive training. I only use positive training with Seek. If she behaves badly I take the positive thing out of her atmosphere for punishment. Like a toy, or getting a good pet or scratch.


We still have problems with her playing rough with my cats, she taunts them. She did well for awhile, then all of a sudden she decided that it was okay again, and tries to bite them.


Well, I am going to take all your advice and see how it works. I definitely think the treats will help. That how she is slowly building a relationship with my coffee shop friend...treats. She still doesn't like him much but hasn't freaked out on him in weeks!


THANKS EVERYONE FOR YOUR RESPONSE!! Hopefully I find a good trainer soon!

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Great advice and great book suggestions! I would add one thing...


Along with working on all the other triggers I suggest you also work on those things the dog doesn't like but will come up against all its life - like being patted on the head. People will be people and there will always be those who should know better and those who don't coming to your dog to pat it on the head or kneel down and hug the dog. It's just human nature and no matter how we try to run interference we can't always prevent it from happening. With positive training your dog might come to welcome that attention or, at least, calmly accept it, and that makes a happier, safer dog.


My dog Jill was a fear aggressive reactive young dog and one thing I discovered about her was she didn't like to be touched anywhere by anybody. Period. Not on the head, not on the chest, nowhere. The way I helped her was to play tug with her and while we enjoyed the game I would touch her head, her sides, gently grab her tail or a leg. It all became a game to her and she learned that human touch is a good thing. She now is the biggest cuddle pup with people she knows well, loves massages, and she also calmly accepts pats & hugs from people she doesn't know. She sometimes even goes up to people she doesn't know for petting. But the best thing is she's no longer fearful of being touched and is a much happier dog. :D


Very cute picture, BTW :rolleyes:

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That is a great story. Cute, too. I'm glad your dog came around. That was a great training method you used.


I do notice that Seek gets annoyed sometimes by the head pat, but she will accept it, but I definitely notice it bothers her. Not always, just certain people. She even ducks from me sometimes...but that's only when she's focused on something else...for instance if we are playing fetch with her toys.


Other than that, she cuddles with me every night in my bed. If she wakes up in the night without me right up against her, she'll adjust so she is cuddled with me, or so her legs or head is on my body. It's very cute. That's how she greets me in the morning to. She crawls over and puts her head on me. So cute! BC's have so much personality!

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