Need help for socialization with adult strangers
I'm hoping those of you experienced with weak-nerved GSDs can offer some concrete suggestions to me to help Liesl overcome her last real weakness--her fear of non-threatening adult strangers.
If you have read my previous posts, you know this is the only real problem I have had with her--she was a rescue pup at age 3 months with unknown background. It does not seem she was "abused"--she does not cower and slink like a dog expecting to be hit, and never has. Instead, when faced with a stranger, and even more so in a crowd of strangers, she is fearful of their friendly advances.
We have worked extensively on this and she is mostly over this problem with children. She does not seem to fear them, and is either receptive or tolerant of them petting her. In an open area with fewer children she will play, chase the ball, etc. with them. She retains some aloofness with them and favors interaction with me, but that is ok, I understand she is a GSD.
Adults are another story. I continue to walk her on the busy sidewalk almost every morning by our local elementary school. She encounters parents and kids, in all stages of walking fast, carrying bookpacks, talking and shouting, dodging in and out, etc. This does not phase her, a real improvement over when we first started.
However, I have had several nice adults approach (incorrectly) with the typical crouched over, facing her directly posture, hand extended, direct eye contact, and making kissing/here pooch noises. She freaks at this. She will jump out of her skin and run behind me, like someone surprised her with an air horn. Funny thing is--if the person stays and talks, and I tell them that they need to simply stand up straight and ignore her, she will immediately go to them, sniff them, etc., only slightly anxious. If I give the person a treat she will accept it from them. If the person stays and we chat for a few minutes, she relaxes and accepts petting from them. If this whole scenario plays out for a couple of days in a row, she will greet them with a wagging tail as she now seems to have accepted that person. This is satisfactory behaviour to me.
What I want to change, however, is the irrational freaked-out behavior to the "here, poochy-poo" typical outstretched hand, eye-contact heavy advance of a well meaning stranger. I'd like her to either stand her ground, ignore it, accept it, whatever, but not irrationally bolt like she just got scalded.
We did a general group training session this fall but there was little interaction with the others there and no focus on this. I've thought of seeking private training but don't want to spend more $$ with such little result.
Have you faced this? Can I train away this behavior like I might other unwanted behaviors, by having strangers (to her) approach this way and reward/discipline her to stand still for it? I'm well aware of the standard advice not to push her into socialization because it may set her back--but frankly, I don't see how on this particular point she could be set back any farther. I'm willing to get a little more aggressive with her exposure to this particular behavior and see if she can't begin to understand that her behavior in response to this is inappropriate.
For those wondering, she has never ever been in the least aggressive over this or any contact with strangers, and she is a little over 2 years old.
Thanks for reading, and please share any insight you might have!
Liesl, b. 1/1/11