aggressive towards strangers on walks? - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-21-2014, 12:56 AM Thread Starter
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aggressive towards strangers on walks?

My GSD is a male and 1 year old. We got him when he was 10 weeks old, and have socialized him and currently take him to obedience classes every week with a trainer who works with GSDs.

Zeus was perfectly fine with people on walks. If someone came up and started talking to me, he'd wag his tail, sniff them then let them pet him. No barking or anything. And when people come over, he just does the same thing. He was extremely friendly.

A couple weeks ago, he started to act aggressive towards strangers when we went on walks. He'd stop walking and stare if someone was across the street, but I'd correct him (he has a pinch collar) and just continue walking. But if someone's walking near us, he'll try to go towards them and lunge at them. And if someone tries talking to me ("hello", "good day"), he'll actually go a little crazy and start barking , lunging, growling, and baring his teeth at them. This happens EVERY time we go on walks and someone greets me. One person even tried petting him, an attempt to calm him down I guess, and Zeus snapped at him and almost bit the guy (I warned them that Zeus wasn't a friendly dog).

When this happens, I do try to correct him but its like I don't even exist. He'll just continue barking and growling and trying to get at them.

He doesn't do this when people come over. He's extremely friendly and even brings them his toy most of the time. Its only on walks that he does this.

I really don't understand why he's acting like this. He was never like this before, there has been no incident or anything like that. Up until a couple weeks ago, he was a really friendly dog.

Also, sometimes when I'm out in the yard or something and he still has his leash on, and if I let go or drop the leash, he'll quickly pick it up and just run really fast away from me, while holding his leash, and won't listen to me or come back. When I get the leash, I correct him, like the trainer advised me to do. But he still does it every time. Any idea why?
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post #2 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-21-2014, 02:14 AM
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my dog had recently started to do this too. He will be a year this week. Fortunately it wasnt with every stranger. Quick question are you doing any positive reward training?.
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post #3 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-21-2014, 02:35 AM
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Few things…
First, it could be a fear phase that some dogs go through. But assuming it's not, let's figure this out...

What type of dog do you want? Sounds like your dog is showing defense. Owners like myself like it when the dog shows defensive drive towards a stranger. I personally like my dogs to be protective of their territory/pack. Maybe you just want a house dog?… that's a different story. Look into e-collars in that case. Also, it's obvious the dog is stressed around strangers. If you want to decrease this behavior without corrections or punishment, try treating the dog from a 100 yards. Get closer and closer with the dog and find that line when being too close causes stress. Use rewards to show the dog that being around people doesn't need to be stressful and get closer and closer to them. It can take some time but it's more effective than corrections in my opinion.

Assuming you want a protector… I'd look into use classical or operant conditioning training to teach your dog an "on and off" switch when it comes to defense and aggression towards strangers. I'll try explaining this…

When you see a stranger coming around and you know your dog is going to snap into defense, give him a command ("watch him"), allow him to get worked up, and praise him while he growls and barks. He will eventually associate that command (watch him) with getting defensive and feel comfortable. Then, use motivation (favorite toy or food) to get the dog to stop doing the behavior. Engage him and distract him by letting him bite a toy. Biting is a tool to relieve stress in the dog. Once toy distracts the dog from this behavior, through repetition you can start to add in a command like "enough".

Here's the problem with correcting your dog in these situations… By correcting the dog you can potentially do two things: kill its defensive drive OR really piss of this dog.
The leash problem sounds like a dominance issue. The dog obviously hates the leash. A dog that runs away from its owner doesn't enjoy and/or respect its owner. I think you need to engage this dog, play fun games, bond and build trust instead of correcting behavior you don't like. Let the dog be a dog sometimes and don't correct them every chance you get (not saying you do but I gotta say this in case you don't… I've seen some stuff). Use classical or operant conditioning to give the dog a good experience through training and bonding. You want your dog to run towards you… obviously.

You could be getting into a sticky situation if not handled right. I'm not sure the trainer you have is good… i also don't know if he's bad. But I would never give "corrections" as my first line of advice when training a dog. But that's only me… everyone has their own ways.
You ever consider an e-collar?

Good luck.
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post #4 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-21-2014, 02:54 AM
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They go through a change at around 1yo, they will start to challenge you and other dogs, they may develop unreasonable fears for no reason, they test boundaries and test the strength of other dogs and people.

Good news is that it only lasts a couple of years! Around 3 to 4 they tend to relax.

You could use positive reinforcement training where you reward him for behaviour you want, eg when you approach a stranger on your walk, as you get closer, show him his favourite treat, get him to focus on you for a second or two and reward him with treat, keep do this whilst walking making sure he focuses on you until you have passed stranger. Be consistent with your training and training him to focus on you will help you in many situations.

if your GSD is eating and eating and eating and losing weight - please consider testing for EPI.

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post #5 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-21-2014, 07:45 AM
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i would catch this behavior way before it happens. i would make him sit when you see a stranger coming give him food to keep his attention. just letting him stare is going to escalate his behavior. make sure you address the stranger by being upbeat and saying hello. this may take a while but he should get it if he's into the food, and i would make it good stuff that he only gets when training, chicken or something. if he isn't real food motivated try a toy, and bring the toy out before he gets fixated. this is easy to fix with persistancy. eventually when he is relaxed you can walk over to within a safe distance from the stranger make him sit, food, etc. then maybe if all is well have the stranger drop food, then eventually if he is curious enough to smell the stranger let him, but tell the stranger to ignore him.

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post #6 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-21-2014, 07:47 AM
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Yeah you catch it really early at the start of the behavior when he begins to fixate or you have to correct way harder and probably to a degree you wouldn't be comfortable doing.
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post #7 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-21-2014, 07:53 AM
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i think you need to figure out if its fear or protective behavior to determine the correction. if its fear i would use the food or positive redirection. the dog reacts because its the only thing he knows to do, needs to be taught he doesn't have to do that. my guess is fear of the strange person, but i can't see it in person....

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post #8 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-21-2014, 08:18 AM
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the dog is acting on a fear arousal .
that stranger is a pedestrian, neutral to friendly , in a neutral (non-territory) environment and the dog has no business being aggressive .

maybe lets take it back to the beginning and describe your dog -
why did you get him ?
what was he like as a pup?
how did you socialize him?
who is the trainer - (not necessary to name) but what are his credentials , classroom, method ,

it seems that the dog has changed since attending this class.

sometimes the extremely friendly pup is showing excitability -- not exactly in the breed character definition -- dog is still hyper excited but channeled differently

need more information



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post #9 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-21-2014, 08:26 AM
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Originally Posted by heisenberg2 View Post
He'd stop walking and stare if someone was across the street, but I'd correct him (he has a pinch collar) and just continue walking...

...When this happens, I do try to correct him but its like I don't even exist. He'll just continue barking and growling and trying to get at them.
So you were correcting every time he checked out a person. This could be exactly where the aggression started. Every time he checked somebody out, he felt pain. This can create an association with the dog, and now he's trying to drive the person away. This is called superstitious association. If the dog wasn't perfectly clear what he was being corrected for, he may have made the connection to people while he's on leash.

The continued corrections drive home that people are bad. The harder you correct, the more the dog escalates.

Without seeing the dog, it's hard to tell. This is just another angle. It could be a fear period, but it is pretty extreme.

No time to type out a training plan right now.
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post #10 of 28 (permalink) Old 01-21-2014, 08:50 AM
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This is why if you were to correct for any kind of inattention you have to put focused attention on command first. You give the dog a command to look to you and if he doesn't follow he knows he's being corrected for blowing off a command. The superstitious learning doesn't happen (or at least happens with much less frequency.). I mark my punishments like I mark my positive reinforcers and that can help prevent that issue as well.
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