Is this a "Special" Form of Leash Reactivity? - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-07-2017, 12:55 PM Thread Starter
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Is this a "Special" Form of Leash Reactivity?

Not sure where to put this question, so, Mods, please feel free to redirect as necessary. Thanks!

I'm trying to understand a new behavior that Rachel (10-12 month old, spayed GSD that I adopted from a local shelter last summer) has been displaying. Like many adoptees, Rachel came with a couple of issues that we had to work on immediately: leash reactivity to dogs and strange people on walkies. We're a work in progress on the former, but had been (or so I thought ) making great progress on the later.

What I'm about to describe has happened 3 or 4 times over the past few weeks and doesn't seem related to time of day or anything that I can think of. We're cruising along on our walk when we encounter someone (female or male) walking along. My practice is to step to the side, have Rachel sit and wait quietly until the person passes. I make a point of saying "Good Morning" or "Hello" as they pass. She gets rewarded for sitting quietly and then we move off ("Let's go!"). That's been working great. But, if the person stops to talk to me, Rachel will sometimes (not always and not often), slowly rise up on her hind legs, face me, and place her paws on my arms/chest --- all the while looking me straight in the eye. It's a slow, deliberate movement that looks/feels nothing like naughty puppy jumping. Nor does she seem agitated or anxious when doing this. The behavior has a different quality/feel than her previous (and obvious) reactivity did. It almost feels as if she's attempting to separate me from the person with whom I'm speaking. Very odd. My response is to correct her ("No!"), have her sit, and continue the conversation. I don't let the individual pet her as I'm not sure what's going on in her head when this happens.

I live in a very dog friendly (and frequently dog savvy) neighborhood. Over the years, people have become accustomed to seeing me out working with various dogs. They've come to understand suddenly becoming a "training opportunity" for which I am grateful.

Anyway, I'm interested in hearing others' take on this behavior. Is it possible that this is some kind of new or special form of leash reactivity? What do others think?


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post #2 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-07-2017, 01:02 PM
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I think its just a way avoid obedience.
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post #3 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-07-2017, 01:06 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Nurse Bishop View Post
I think its just a way avoid obedience.
Ha! That's pretty funny, gave me a chuckle. Thanks, Nurse Bishop.
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post #4 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-07-2017, 02:25 PM
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Have you tried instructing the dog to sit behind you when someone stops to talk?
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post #5 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-07-2017, 02:37 PM Thread Starter
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I don't always know whether someone will stop and chat. So, on spotting an approaching person, we step to the side. I have her sit beside me, but angle it (that is, both of us) so that I am closer to the approaching individual than she is. She's always on the far side of me. I do this whether the person stops to chat or not. It's worked very well (so far) in reducing her reactivity. As I said, doesn't happen often, but it is puzzling...

Last edited by Aly; 02-07-2017 at 02:38 PM. Reason: randomness
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post #6 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-07-2017, 02:42 PM
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Maybe I'm misreading the reactivity part but what you describe is not reactivity to me, reactivity is barking/freaking out. But what you describe does sound like insecurity to me, I've had dogs and been around dogs who will jump on their owners as a way to seek security. She may be doing it slowly because she knows she is supposed to be sitting, I know I've seen my own dogs perform a behavior very slowly when they weren't sure if they were going to get in trouble for it or not. Maybe keep a closer eye on her and if you see her thinking about it, remind her to hold her sit. Or honestly if it were my dog I would probably give her some time to mature and treat people as background noise. Rather than stopping each time I see one and making it a big deal, I'd just keep on walking and pretend they don't matter. But of course I know every dog and everyone's goals are different.

It could just simply be that there is something about certain people that makes her more uncomfortable than others as well. My mixed breed is much more nervous around people who offer him a lot of eye contact for example.
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post #7 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-07-2017, 03:29 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks Cschmidt, very helpful! We've come a long way from her initial reactivity which was quite impressive. On our first few walks, she'd lunge and bark furiously anytime she saw someone/dog in the distance, continuing as they closer. That's when I had to put on my Big Girl Pants. I'm pleased to say that she's so much improved that people have stopped asking if I was training her for MPD. . At present, my goal is to have her sit quietly while people/dogs pass or I'm chatting with a non-dog-walker. Hadn't thought about this is terms of anxiety, but that's a helpful way to think of it and makes sense given her initial reactivity. Thanks again.
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post #8 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-07-2017, 04:08 PM
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That is odd! My first impression too is that it is either insecurity - she is trying to get closer to you for reassurance, or resource guarding. Though resource guarding is usually more what people erroneously call over-protectiveness/jealousy. But a dog can also show resource guarding by putting a paw over an object they want to guard, or laying on top of the object. Perhaps putting her paws on you is her way to show the other person that you belong to her.

A dog resource guarding their person is a no-no - you are NOT their resource (like a favorite toy that they don't want to share). They don't get to make those decisions, and they should not consider you as being a possesion. This is usually a sign of inadequate leadership from the people, though this kind leadership breakdown can happen in very subtle ways that is difficult to identify at source.

But I think it is more likely that it is insecurity as Cschmidt mentions above, and yes to her recommendation. Still too much focus on people if she is uncomfortable with people. Just let her get used to people being in the background, that they are boring, that they are to be ignored. If people are approaching, get her into some obedience drills, play with her, do something unexpected to get her attention on you, and not on others. Bring treats or a toy, do a bit of formal, focused healing past the people, all while being happy and playful. Pretty soon you will be so much more fun, and everyone else just boring background.

If you want to continue to work on having her sit, yes, watch her, and re-inforce the command when you see she is starting to move. It is okay to repeat a command when a dog is unsure, or highly distracted, and still learning. Make sure to praise her for holding her sit when she does. It will help her know that she is doing the right thing.

Congrats on how well you have done with her so far. You have indeed come a long way. Keep up the good work!
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post #9 of 9 (permalink) Old 02-07-2017, 05:22 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks so much for the helpful insights, Castlemaid, and for the lovely compliment too. Rachel's come a long way and I'm very proud of her. We're far from where I want her/us to be, but we're getting there.

Unfortunately, keeping Rachel moving to avoid dog/stranger encounters on our walks didn't work well. Neither did treats, a ball, or inviting her to play. In fact, it often seemed to ramp up her reactivity rather than dissipate it. (She often reminded me of a couple of hot TBs that I used to ride as a kid --- movement often ramped them up, at first, rather than relaxing them. Had to change my thinking/approach with them too). So, I thought, "I need a better way to reach her so we can have a different conversation about things..." which led to my decision to buy and use a prong. (A first for me) I used it less as a correction, per se, and more as a reminder ("Hey Chick, pay attention!"). The first (very mild) correction got her attention immediately whereupon I stuffed her face with treats the nanosecond that she looked at me. LOL. It may not be the proper use of a prong, but it's working for us. Now, just the fact of wearing a prong keeps her attention where I want it. That combined with a pocketful of treats, liberally dispensed at the hint of a try, and we're doing better.

As to this new, odd behavior, I'm now thinking that it is anxiety. She doesn't engage in resource guarding. Well, not any more. Early on, she made a couple of half-hearted attempts with my older dog, Gunner (e.g., cutting between us when I was petting or grooming him). I shut that down pretty quickly: told her 'No,' put her in a crate, and continued to groom/pet him in front of her. Everybody's happier/better about things now.

More to the point, CSchmidt and Castlemaid, your comments reminded me of a couple of incidents that I'd forgotten. For example, on her first visit to the vet, Rachel was clearly anxious (panting, some whining, looking about) even though it was a very quiet area. As we were waiting to be seen, she suddenly draped herself on my lap. I patted her, had her sit (leaning on my leg) and kept my hand on her while we waited. We've stopped by several times since then to get her weight and just to hang out in the waiting room (the vet welcomes people doing this which is one of the reasons that I use the practice). Each time, she's less concerned when we do drop by. We go directly to McD's for some chicken nuggets afterwards which helps, I think....

Anyway, apologies for the length of this. But, that's what happens when somebody says something interesting and gets me thinking. So, back to the drawing board and walkies...

Many thanks again!

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