Confusing behavior (is this fearful behavior?) - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 22 (permalink) Old 01-31-2012, 02:12 PM Thread Starter
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Confusing behavior (is this fearful behavior?)

Today Knuckles confused me. He is very fearful of everything it seems... he is jumpy & barks/growls at people when they come over until he figures out who they are (we don't have strangers come to our house, everyone is familiar to him now). I have been saying for awhile now that I am going to accept him for what he is - a fearful dog - and deal with situations as they arise (not pushing him into things, making sure he's safe, etc). His mom was skitish & his father is afraid of gunshots, but other than that he's pretty confident. I am assuming genetically Knuckles is fearful.

Today we went to my parents house (he's as comfortable there as he is at home - knows where Grandpa keeps the dog treats even!) and while we were there an old family friend stopped by. Whoa boy, this is the first time he's had to deal with a stranger-stranger. This guy is very loud, has a barrel laugh (hope you know what I mean by that). He's not scary or anything, but he's different than your average person. When he walked in Knuckles looked at him and got up and walked behind me and he paced a little bit for maybe a minute, then he laid down by Grandpa's feet and went to sleep. We sat there for about 45 minutes, him sleeping almost the entire time. He never made ANY attempt to go near this guy, didn't even seem the least bit interested, but any time this guy spoke loud or laughed Knuckles would look up and then lay back down like "oh, you're still here?".

When we left (before the guy), we had to walk past him. I had put Knuckles in a sit while I was putting my shoes on. Then Knuckles let out a small growl. The guy made no attempt to touch him, but was standing towards him, talking to him/saying goobye to me.

So can someone break this down for me? Was he afraid or not? His behavior was so confusing.

- Berleen -

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Knuckles - born 8/21/11 - my big knucklehead
and can't forget Saki; the Golden Retriever, Born 11/07/07
The felines that rule the house - Oliver, Serena, Sakura & Bastian.

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Last edited by MaggieRoseLee; 02-02-2012 at 11:26 AM.
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post #2 of 22 (permalink) Old 02-01-2012, 11:27 AM
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Sounds fearful, and he was practicing avoidance instead of aggression. But not so over the top fearful yet that he couldn't lay down to sleep. Have you tried counter conditioning him with high value treats everytime he's around strangers?

Dakota...GSD (10/16/2011)
Boomer...Akbash/Great Pyrenees Mix (9/2008)
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post #3 of 22 (permalink) Old 02-02-2012, 08:00 AM Thread Starter
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This was the first time since he was a pup-pup (he's 5 months now) that he had close contact with a stranger. I didn't even think about the treats.
Hopefully we have another chance soon (our circle of family/friends is pretty close, so everyone who is going to know, he knows... not many other people come around).

- Berleen -

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Knuckles - born 8/21/11 - my big knucklehead
and can't forget Saki; the Golden Retriever, Born 11/07/07
The felines that rule the house - Oliver, Serena, Sakura & Bastian.

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post #4 of 22 (permalink) Old 02-02-2012, 11:26 AM
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So can someone break this down for me? Was he afraid or not? His behavior was so confusing.
Not confusing at all. He was afraid of the stranger, but since the stranger didn't approach or directly threaten him, he went to a safe spot and ignored him--avoidance. Then when the stranger did come near he growled--he felt threatened as the distance between them disappeared.

I do think it's good that his first reaction was to get some distance between himself and the "threat", rather than act out aggressively. But when he felt cornered, he growled a warning. If the stranger had had a treat to give him, that would have been ideal. Next time this sort of situation arises, I'd do the same thing--allow dog and stranger to ignore each other at first, then after a while, have the stranger offer a treat (or toss it to him if he's uncomfortable taking it from hand).
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post #5 of 22 (permalink) Old 02-02-2012, 11:31 AM
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Originally Posted by Kittilicious View Post
This was the first time since he was a pup-pup (he's 5 months now) that he had close contact with a stranger. I didn't even think about the treats.

Hopefully we have another chance soon (our circle of family/friends is pretty close, so everyone who is going to know, he knows... not many other people come around).
The part I put in bold would be a HUGE concern for me if I had a puppy that was fearful.

The WORST THING to do with a fearful dog is to cater to the fears rather than work thru them. Particularly right away with a puppy.

Many fearful puppies become normal dogs, but not by avoiding everything they are INAPPROPRIATELY showing fear behaviors towards. Instead we need to show them they are guessing wrong, FOLLOW ME, the world is a truly wonderful place full of wonderful things (and usually a whole lot of wonderful pieces of chicken/liver/hotdogs...)

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post #6 of 22 (permalink) Old 02-02-2012, 11:44 AM
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The WORST THING to do with a fearful dog is to cater to the fears rather than work thru them. Particularly right away with a puppy.
True, but there's a delicate balance that must be struck... you want to help the pup get over his fears, but you don't want to push TOO hard. If a pup is constantly pushed over his threshold, it can actually make the problem worse. You do have to confront the fears in a way that the pup learns "Oh, is that all it is? That's not threatening at all!" rather than "Oh my god that is something scary and Mom is going to force me to approach it!"

So socializing is especially important for a fearful dog, but it has to be done the right way. Go out in public and ask random passers-by to offer your dog a treat. Don't go to places where people will want to swarm your dog without asking if it's okay. Doggie socialization or obedience classes are a great way to go.
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post #7 of 22 (permalink) Old 02-02-2012, 12:39 PM Thread Starter
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The part I put in bold would be a HUGE concern for me if I had a puppy that was fearful.

The WORST THING to do with a fearful dog is to cater to the fears rather than work thru them. Particularly right away with a puppy.

Many fearful puppies become normal dogs, but not by avoiding everything they are INAPPROPRIATELY showing fear behaviors towards. Instead we need to show them they are guessing wrong, FOLLOW ME, the world is a truly wonderful place full of wonderful things (and usually a whole lot of wonderful pieces of chicken/liver/hotdogs...)
I guess I don't see why you feel I am catering to the fears, I'm not. And I didn't really think he acted inappropriately in this situation, except for the growl when we went to leave. (which is why I posted this in the first place, I wasn't sure) We just have not been put in a situation yet where he had to deal with a stranger coming onto his territory, so to speak (my parents house is as much his house as our own). He's seen strangers on walks and on car rides (I take him to the store with me and he sits in the car). No, he hasn't been asked to meet strangers, but we aren't coming across many on walks during the winter and the soonest puppy class near me isn't until spring.
Anyone who would come to our house, he has been around since he was 5 weeks old, so they aren't strangers anymore.

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Not confusing at all. He was afraid of the stranger, but since the stranger didn't approach or directly threaten him, he went to a safe spot and ignored him--avoidance.
Is the ignoring good or bad?

- Berleen -

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Knuckles - born 8/21/11 - my big knucklehead
and can't forget Saki; the Golden Retriever, Born 11/07/07
The felines that rule the house - Oliver, Serena, Sakura & Bastian.

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post #8 of 22 (permalink) Old 02-02-2012, 01:35 PM
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I think what the posters are trying to say, is that when you have a dog who is unsure/fearful about people, you have to create encounters frequently to reshape the way they view people. Frequent, controlled exposures. Now maybe you don't care if your dog is super friendly to every stranger, and that's okay. But you want your dog to get to a point where they base their reactions on your reactions or an actual threat; not a perceived threat (like a kid on a skateboard). I'm sure you just want your dog to be a safe dog to be around, and represent the breed well. So ideally, if this were my dog, I'd be sitting outside stores, libraries, post office, ect... several times a week (yes, even in the cold) and everytime someone passed close by or approached; high value treat time!! (chicken, hot dogs). Eventually you'll get to a point where the dog will see the people, then look to you for a treat. (association) So frequent exposures, in a low stress environment.

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Boomer...Akbash/Great Pyrenees Mix (9/2008)
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post #9 of 22 (permalink) Old 02-02-2012, 02:16 PM
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My pup is 5mos. old and we take her somewhere almost everyday and do basically what Dakotasmom said. If you shelter your pup it will eventually make the fear worse. We don't have fear issues with our pup but getting her out is to help insure she stays unafraid.
It does have to be controlled though, so as freestep said not to overwhelm her.
We spend relatively short periods of time at stores or other places where the pup can watch and see that people and strange places aren't scary.
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post #10 of 22 (permalink) Old 02-02-2012, 04:14 PM
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Is the ignoring good or bad?
Ignoring in and of itself isn't bad. The only bad thing is the fact that is afraid of strangers. The way he's handling it is good, in comparison to what he could be doing... acting aggressively, panicking, running away, etc. It's just important to be mindful of his true feelings. Even though he appears relaxed, he's still apprehensive about the stranger.
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