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Socialization Matter


Gai

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Hello, I'll start with a little background info first. Close to a month ago I decided to adopt a BC. She was a stray before I took her in. I had no idea where she came from and neither did any of my neighbors. She just suddenly showed up one day, always wandering around my neighborhood with no collar or ID to speak of. I guess she was abandoned or perhaps escaped somewhere. Odds are she would have probably ended up being put down if she ever wound up in a local shelter. My vet said she was just around a year old when I went to get checked up and spayed last week.

 

Anyway, about the issue at hand: it is noticeable that her socialization with people is lacking. She is somewhat timid when walking by strangers (not quite as bad as she used to be, though.). Of course, she will not allow strangers to pet her. She ended trying to nip the first stranger I ever allowed to pet her. She never bared her teeth when this happened or showed any other signs of aggression. For now, I've gotten into the habit of telling people not to pet her when they ask if they can. I've thought about going up to strangers and asking them to try to to feed her a highly valued treat, thinking that this might help ease her apprehension with strangers. Would this be a good start? Any other suggestions to help improve this behavior would be greatly appreciated. She is such a sweet and fun loving dog, always ready and willing to learn new things. I fell in love with her right from the start, but I just wish I knew her background. She is quite a handful, but she's worth it.

 

Ultimately , I would like her to feel comfortable enough around strangers to the point where she is at ease with anyone petting her. I know this will probably take a fair amount of time and patience. She has no problem completely ignoring any strangers around her, but only when she is really into a game of fetch/frisbee/tug.

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If she is timid or fearful of strangers it would be better to let her initiate contact when she feels ready. An unfamiliar hand is a scary and unpredictable thing to an anxious dog. It might be helpful if you are the one to dispense the treats to her in the presence of strangers so she makes the connection that new people mean yummy things.

 

I also highly recommend any of Patricia McConnell's books, "The Other End of the Leash" and particularly "The Cautious Canine" which is a brief manual that uses a step by step approach to deal with fear aggressive dogs. If you do a search and check the archives you will find many useful discussions on the subject. Here's a site with alot of useful info:

 

http://www.k9aggression.com/Aggression-Tre...ehaviorMod.html

 

Above all, don't take any chances when it comes to keeping everyone safe, and if at any time you feel you are in over your head with your dog's issues, by all means seek professional help, a certified vet behaviorist or cert animal behavioris can be a life-saving resource.

 

I admire you for giving this girl a safe and loving home. Keep us posted

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A hearty congratulations for adopting a needy dog!

 

Socialization is an interesting issue and there are many people who can contribute more than I can. Dogs that have not been socialized as youngsters, may never be able to be as "sociable" as they might have been otherwise, but gentle and patient work with her may improve her comfort around people. Sometimes you are not able to "cure" a problem but you can often work to "manage" it, improving the behavior and controlling situations to make for a safe and comfortable dog.

 

To me, snapping is a form of dog communication, like baring teeth or growling. They can't talk like we can but they do communicate with body language and expressions, as well as movements. A dog that snaps is giving a warning that she is afraid and doesn't want to be touched, and using her teeth is an option that she isn't using yet but might be prepared to use if the offending party doesn't back off. Teeth on skin is another issue, in my opinion. Neither are desireable behaviors.

 

That said, looking for opportunities to socialize her is an excellent idea but, unless I was sure she would not use her teeth, I would be extremely careful and proceed with caution, both to protect others and to protect her. An excellent resource is the pamphlet by Patricia McConnell, The Cautious Canine. It's short and cheap, and it's very helpful and worthwhile.

 

You need to proceed at a pace that she is comfortable with. If you push her too hard or too fast, she may snap again or, worse yet, bite as she is fearful. Fear aggression has its roots in the dog's fear of something new or frightening rather than being aggression as we think of it in a "vicious" dog. If you can remove or reduce the fear, you will remove or reduce the aggression.

 

A common bit of advice is to have a stranger/friend approach without staring at the dog, in a pattern that isn't directly towards the dog but rather in a circular path, with a shoulder towards the dog and eyes not engaging the dog's eyes but rather looking elsewhere. Watch friendly dogs approaching each other in this sort of yin-yang pattern (of course, they go on to sniff private parts but that's because they are dogs). This avoids the aggressive posture of straight-on and hard-appearing eyes. The person should stop outside the zone within which the dog will be uncomfortable. Rather than handing the dog a really good treat, you might want to start with the person tossing or dropping the treat on the floor, and letting the dog pick it up. Often having the person sit down or sit on the floor will further relax the dog as it reduces the appearance of aggressiveness on the person's part.

 

With my own two "shy" dogs (and one is much more so than the other), allowing the dog to approach the person rather than the person approaching the dog, really seems to help reduce anxiety. The dog can then proceed at its own pace and comfort level. I often just tell folks to "ignore this dog, please" and, before you know it, the dog is ready to make a new friend. This is especially effective when my friendly dog is all over the stranger, who is ignoring the shy dog, who finally decides that this person doesn't look too scary after all (and the shy one might be missing something good by hanging back).

 

As the dog becomes more comfortable with strangers/friends coming closer and more directly, she may become at ease with taking treats from the hand, and eventually allowing contact, etc. A person would be better off touching/petting her under the chin rather than on the head or body initially, as many dogs are more comfortable with this.

 

Keep training sessions relaxed, short, positive, etc., and remember that your frame of mind will easily be detected by your dog, so you need to be relaxed and not anxious (easier said than done). Since you say she has improved being near strangers since you got her, it sounds like you are already seeing progress, but I would go slowly and carefully with allowing/encouraging contact.

 

This is something that could take some time but, done well, may result in a dog that is confident and happy in the presence and contact of good people. Until then, I would avoid having strangers come close or touch her but rather proceed with desensitizing her with folks you can trust and in situations where she can feel safe. The safer she can feel in your presence, the more she can trust you, and your making meeting and greeting a positive thing for her by controlling the situation, the more improvement you should see in her socialization skills.

 

Best wishes to you both!

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Thanks for responding.

 

I'll be sure to check out "Cautious Canine". It looks like it would be a big help. I now realize just how naive it was to allow a stranger to initiate contact on his terms. I never even gave her a chance to approach him and feel him out. I've never owed a dog who wasn't well socialized around people, so this is rather a learning experience for me. When there is a situation in which I know that she will likely become scared, I do make sure that I put myself in a calm state of mind. She seems most relaxed around strangers after she has had good amount of exercise in the vicinity of them. This is usually done at a certain park I like to go to where I feel she has become more and more comfortable at. I appreciate all the advice given. I definitely want to move things along at her pace. I'm not expecting her to ever really become a social butterfly.

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Good for you for giving this girl a chance. She sounds very like my Merry, rehomed to me at 6 months and also fear-aggressive. You will need lots of patience and kindness, and the advice you've already been given by the first two posters is brilliant. If you haven't already, look at Turid Rugaas' website on calming signals. I found it invaluable as a way of learning to read the very discreet signals Merry made when he was getting worried, and when he needed my help. Good luck.

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Another good reference, also by Patricia McConnell, is "For the Love of a Dog". This book explores emotion and provides a lot of comparison between human and canine emotions.

 

A good help in this book is an extensive area on stress signals in dogs - in other words, how you can detect stress in dogs, whether it's based in fear or other emotions. Fear is something that she discusses at length also.

 

I think the book is well worth the price when it comes to understanding how a dog feels, and how you may or may not be able to "cure" the problem or just learn how to manage it. She also discusses how inherent characteristics (genetics), environmental influences (like socialization at the proper ages), and traumatic experiences can influence a dog.

 

I have also heard very good things about Tugid Rugaas (sp?) "Calming Signals".

 

Best wishes!

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Slow but steady...

 

I had a dog who was really people and dog shy, and would growl and bark at everyone for a few months. He almost bit my father the second day I had him; my father was trying to force contact. (Dad later felt horrible, but we had both just come off a RIP dog who was well-socialized, and neither of us knew what we were doing!) Early on, I had to be really careful about telling people Buddy was very scared, that they should stay away. His barking and growling at them helped give the message. :rolleyes:

 

Luckily, we walked at a very friendly park, and people were willing to let us trail behind them and their dogs 10 or 15 feet, and eventually we got to the point where people could toss Buddy treats, then let him take treats from their hands. The walking behind really helped Buddy, for some reason - I think he could sniff strange people and dogs and "take them in" through his nose, without ever having to face eye contact or direct approach. We did a LOT of high-reward treating, too - even at first, when things were touchy, from a distance. Buddy began to associate the presence of people with rewards. Now, on a good day, he'll approach people and do a polite "sit," hoping he'll get something from them. He'll probably never be excited to greet large, deep-voiced male strangers, but they don't make him panic, either.

 

My biggest mistake early on was trying to push Buddy too hard. I had to train myself to watch for signs of stress and learn to remove Buddy from situations before he got overanxious and fearful enough to react. It's really hard to go slowly when everyone else has a "normal" dog and you want one, too! It's really easy to think you've made a giant leap forward, only to find out you've taken two steps back! Aiiee!

 

The best thing my trainer told me was to show Buddy I'd take care of the stressful situations, so he didn't have to. I'm not sure what they call it - cuing, maybe? - but having Buddy do a specific action instead of what he wanted to do worked to give him that "I'll take care of this" message. Like, when he got scared by bikes, I started walking him off the path, and eventually he learned to walk himself off the path and do a "sit" when he saw a bike. (Same with scary dogs - walk off and do a "down.) I think he thinks it's protective magic.

 

All this stuff is in the good dog books - McConnell, as suggested, and also "Bones Would Rain from the Sky" by Suzanne Clothier.

 

Good luck! You can do it! :D

 

Mary

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Guest WoobiesMom

I am dealing with this same issue and the Calming signals and cautious canine books are excellent. I got them from Dogwise for a nice price. I also got a discount pamphlet by Ian Dunbar (?) called Fearfulness that had an excellent step by step routine for helping to work on stranger anxiety. My challenge is that my Woobie is not food/toy/anything motivated past the front door due to his fears. So my work right now has been to slowly associate the outside world with good fun and then get him to take an especially tasty treat outside. So far I've gotten him to take hotdog bits in the backyard. Every day there's some work and some progress. Patience is key. You may also google counterconditioning, I found alot of good information about how to change the dog's mental attitude about things that it's fearful about. Good luck!

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