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Hi everyone

I am new to the board...pls see my intro post for a little background on me and our critters.

We have a 16 wo GSD, Riley. He is very aloof, almost to the point of being shy. While we have had GSDs for 11.5 years, he is only our second puppy, and first GSD we have had that really doesn't seem to care for strangers. I just want to be sure that we are doing everything we can for him to give him lots of confidence so he can be comfortable in many situations and so we can prevent him from becoming a fear biter as he gets older. Call me a worried mommy, but our GSDs are involved in all aspects of our lives, and need to be able to travel well and be trustworthy around others.

A little background...he comes from good American showlines, and his parents are both beautiful, friendly, and confident. He was with his littermates and parents until we brought him home at 8 weeks. When we first brought him home, he was obviously nervous of many new situations, but he has always taken his time and approached the new 'whatever', checked it out, and gotten over the hesitation. For example, when I initially started leash-walking him outside, he was scared to go past the corner of the house from the backyard, and would just stop, with huge eyes that yelled I'm scared. Everytime, I would coax him a few feet further, and before long, he made it out of the yard (>2 acres front yard, btw) and down the road. Now he chases his cuz in the yard with no worries, brings it back to me, and leash-walks/heels to me down the road like he owns the place. On the leash with few distractions, he look to me for guidance frequently (wow). With distractions, he gives me his attention again with minor leash or sometimes voice correcions. When he saw the goats and cows down the road for the first time, he hackled and was nervous, but now glances at them with no interest. The first time he was in our RV, he was obviously nervous, but within a few minutes, was exploring. Now he runs in it without hesitation. It is his willingness to explore new situations that make him nervous that gives me reassurance that he will not grow up to be fearful of people, but again I am the worried mommy...

Anyway, Riley has been housebroken for about 6 weeks now. He knows sit, down, come, heel, wait (for his food and before going out any door), drop it, leave it, no, ah ah, in your bed, and we are working on stay and bring it at the moment. His "come" isn't 100% reliable, but then he is still just a baby. I am positively amazed that he is doing as well as he is. He is easily corrected by telling him no, ah ah, or leave it. I should mention that he is a velcro dog to me, and enjoys playing with and trying to chew on my DH
, who spends significantly less time with Riley than I because of schedules. Riley has just this week started woofing at unusual noises in the house, but settles down when I tell him to hush.

I almost always take him out and about with me but have avoided places where there are other animals until his vaccs were completed, so his interactions have been somewhat limited. We have been frequenting Lowes and the downtown streets (VERY small town, i have only seen 1 other dog there). At Lowes, he now walks confidently thru at my side, and has somewhat tolerated other people petting him, but does not particularly care for being touched. I have noticed that he doesn't really care about what is going around him, or about sniffing anything though. I feel somewhat silly say this, as I know not everyone is so lucky with their puppies, but he just pays attention to me and not what is going on around him. I just worry that this might be a symptom of his not being comfortable in the environment, even though he does walk confidently thru the store.

He does not like people to reach over his head to pet him at all, and will flip his head up and back (no aggression, just avoidance)and will move or turn around to avoid any touch initiated in this way. But he does take treats from the cashiers and even sits to say please without prompting.

I often take Riley to my Dad's house. Riley doesn't really want my dad to pet him, even on his hiney or chest, although he will hesitantly walk up to him and will take treats from him with no hesitation, even sitting for them as he does for us before he gets anything. BTW, my Dad loves animals, and tries to play and interact with Riley. Riley has played with him a little, but mostly just doesn't care. I have noticed that Riley tried to avoid men more than women.

During Riley's first vet. visit, he slept in my lap most of the time, but shook when he was on the table for the exam. Monday was his second visit to the vet and was completely different. Riley walked into the office just fine, got on the scales with no problems, and walked around me while we were waiting. But when the tech came into the room, he growled at her. I told him no, to hush, and he did finally take a treat from her, but did not want anything to do with her and actively tried to avoid her by hiding behind me. When the vet came in, he growled again. Our vet is great. He and the tech got in the floor with Riley, and by having a bacon strip treat in his hand, and giving Riley only nibbles, he got Riley to crawl across his lap for nibbles of the treat while being petted. Riley still would not approach either of them, attempting to hide behind me. I just kept moving out of the way so he couldn't.

We have had several people stay with us over the weekend since Riley has been with us. He initially barked and hackled when they got here, but then ignored them, like he just didn't care that they were here. He usually just walked away from anyone trying to pet him, although he did play with and accept love from my sister-in-law.

I am taking him to his first puppy class Friday night for additional socialization. From what I have described, does this sound like normal behavior from an aloof GSD or do you think he is indeed overly shy and fearful of strangers? I am worried that since he has no interest in strangers and sometimes tries to avoid people and especially avoids being petted by strangers (although I don't blame him there :), that he may remain fearful and might eventually become a fear biter. I hope that I am just worrying too much, but I have never had a GSD that was disinterested in strangers! It's not that I want or expect him to actively approach other people, I just don't want him to be afraid of other people approaching him and eventually react to that fear.

Thanks for your help!!!!
 

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He's a baby
he's fine. Brady is 3 and he is still nervous about new place and/or surroundings.
Keep socializing him he'll be fine
 

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Both? Maybe.

Hackling and barking like that can be a sign of fear of something new. Kind of like "Hey! I'm not sure what you are but I have this big bark and I'm getting bigger so leave me alone!" but if he recovers quickly and is like "Oh, You're people too, I haven't seen anyone like you before" and goes on with his day I wouldn't worry too much. Aloof to me is disinterested, but not necessarily avoiding. An aloof dog will accept petting and will not actively avoid it, but will also not seek it out. I had a dog I would consider aloof. You could pet her and she would stand there for it, she might turn her head in a "if you must" kind of attitude, but if you held out a hand to her she also wouldn't move towards you. She didn't really want to be pet by you, but if you were dead set on petting her that was OK too.

When I think of our current puppy, she hackles and barks at strange things too, but when we move towards them, she always moves forward to investigate and then accepts whatever it is. I find that acceptable.

It's not uncommon for puppies to be a little nervous in new situations, but that's why it's so important to socialize and keep exposing them to as much as possible so when they're older they've seen so much that nothing surprises them. So I would say Keep socializing, having strangers give treats can be good for teaching your puppy that people are not scary, and monitor his interactions with people so they are always positive and never intimidating.
 

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I tend to agree it sounds like a little of both..

I think he sounds perfectly normal in checking things out,,once he does them, he's 'ok" with them..In my opinion, not caring about strangers isn't necessarily a "bad thing"..being "into" you is not necessarily a "bad thing" either..the hackling/growling would have me think that could be a fearful reaction but he is only 16 wks old.

I think what your doing is a "good thing",,,keep up with it..I wouldn't force any kind of attention on him (by strangers) and allow HIM to initiate stuff on his own..He sounds like he "recovers" well, once he gets over the initial "whatever"..

My male has ALWAYS been very aloof,,he could care less about anyone but me, however, he never once growled,hackled or barked when he was young,,your puppy may just be lacking some confidence at this age, and if you keep up your socialization/exposure to new things,,this should help build up that confidence..

Just some rambling good luck
Diane
 
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I have recent experience with both cases, i.e. aloof pup and fearful pup.

Anton was a super social puppy but now, at 5 months old, he stops soliciting attention from people. He will approach a person, sniffs, gets his pet and he's done (unless there are treats involved
). He never growls or barks or hackles at strangers, accepts their attention and petting but he doesn't care about them so much as he used to. I think with my socializing him I kind of dissencitized (sp?) him to people.

Yana on the other hand was just like you described, and she is a fearful weak nerved dog, I'm still working with her trying to figure out the best way to manage her issues. As a puppy she hackled, and barked, and hated her head to be touched but she did take treats from people. She was fine with me in the crowd or whereever up to the point when somebody showed an interest in her. She is a pretty dog and, unfortunately, people want to come over and meet her.
 

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Our puppy, Luther, is about the same age and acts in a very similar fashion. We got him a few weeks ago at 12 weeks and the breeder had not done much socializing with him. He loves other dogs, but is very wary of people and places he doesn't know.

We were concerned and called a wonderful local obedience school. We registered for a class, but were allowed to just come to all the classes for a week or so before and just hang around. This was wonderful! The first time we went, he had to be coaxed through the door and went around on his belly. We got to a chair and he ran underneath, really afraid. The instructor and assistants walked by occasionally and dropped hot dog pieces near him. At first, he wouldn't take them, but by the end of the hour, he was slinking over to take them and even watching for the next one to come. Fast-forward a week and Luther was trotting through the door ahead of me as if to call out, "Here I am everyone!".

He is still wary of people who come over or who approach him, but is getting better and better. This dog is not a fearful dog in general - loud noises, sudden events, etc. do not phase him - I'm hoping we just need to keep getting him "out and about" to meet people and places. Obedience helps, too, as it gives him something familiar to do when he feels nervous. You keep working, too - you're not alone!

Martie
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thanks everyone
Just a quick pupdate. We took Riley to Petcare Warehouse and to Petsmart for the first time yesterday. In P.W., he completely surprised me by voluntarily walking right up to the owner and sniffing his hand, then in the usual Riley fashion, turned and walked away....seen-it-done-it-bored now
He walked thru the store confidently, although a little overwhelmed at the smells I think.

At Petsmart, amidst the pandemonium and gobs of admiration he received, 4 obnoxious kids with extremely loud and very high-pitched voices came almost running up to us asking to pet him. Riley ducked, hid between me, the buggy, and the shelf of food, and looked at me as if to say "make them go away mom!" So I told them no, because he was a little overwhelmed and nervous since this was his first time in the store. It really sucks, because I would love for him to get attention from quiet, calm kids, but am teetering with worry that they will traumatize him further or yikes, what if he panicked and nipped one of them, although he has never even threated to bite anything or anyone.

Then as we were walking up one isle, there was a couple with two well-behaved small poodles that started to walk by. When Riley saw them, he stopped in terror, threw it in reverse, and did his best to back right out of the universe. Finally, while we were waiting in line, Riley surprised me again by watching with much curiosity and interest a cute weiner puppy as its owners wrestled with it as it bucked on its leash as they were walking out of the store.

We were planning to go to his first obedience class last Friday, which was cancelled because of the holiday. So we are scheduled to go this coming friday. I can't wait to get started. I sure hope that the exposure will help get rid of his nervousness.
 

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The hackling, growling, and hiding behavior does worry me a bit. I'd definitely get him into classes where socializing can be calm and controlled. Petsmart is often anything but. He will need to be socialized around "crazy people" but right now all interactions should be calm and well controlled by you. People should come up to him and give him treats (that you provide) but they should not try to pet him or even pay much attention to him. Let him see that you keep him safe and you have everything under control while he soaks up treats and figures out that strangers won't do much else but stand there and feed him goodies. The whole world doesn't need to pet your pup!

Training classes, training classes, training classes. Start now and do not stop. These are great for socialization as they're typically well controlled. Start with puppy classes and go from there. I would eschew the big box classes and just keep him out of those big, nutty stores for now. So many people go there who don't have a clue. But act now. I read stories of people on here who get very well bred GSD pups who are full of confidence and spunk (especially those working line pups... had to add that!) and that is how a GSD should be- regardless of lines, it should be a happy, outgoing, solid nerved, bombproof dog. Your pup does not sound normal to me right now. Do keep us posted on the progress!
 

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Quincy is my first shepherd and most of what ou describe is him. For the longest he didn't even want me to touch, especially brush him. Mostly he WANTED to be with me but ignored. I have taken him everywhere. At nine months he, just in the last two weeks, has acknoledged my husbands exsistance.

The difference is Quincy has NEVER growled at anyone. He was never a fan of being pet and still will not accept food from anyone but me.

Quin did bark in the house at seeminly imaginary sounds. This, thankfully has improved.

The growling would worry me (only because I didn't experience it). Everything else sounds like Quincy who at 9 mnths is AWESOME. He has his CGC and is herding sheep very well.
 

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Where are you in TN? If you are anywhere near Nashville maybe we could walk our pups together one day! Radar is 20 weeks. I try to do lots of socializing. Radar sounds more hyper than your pup. There is a great dog behaviorist in Berry Hill, Kat Martin, that would be able to evaluate your dog and help with a plan of action.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Thanks everyone…I do think that the hackling and growling is a fear reaction, because it only occurs in certain new circumstances. Riley has not growled at anyone in any stores (except the idiot who kept growling and barking at him first) or on the streets, he is just nervous and doesn’t want anything to do with people. We are going armed with treats from now on! I will let you know how the classes go. We are off to Lowes today also.

TNGSD: Unfortunately, we are just north of Chattanooga and never go into your neck of the woods...but if you are ever going to be down this way, let me know. I would love to meet Radar and walk and let them play together.

DianaM: We are starting SDA training puppy classes Friday….Petsmart is too far away and too crazy to take him to classes there. Most of the SDA members have GSDs or other working breeds. Depending on how we like those classes, we may join and stick with those as they have all levels of classes that meet 8x a month, and members attend any or all. There is a local behaviorist in town here as well that I have heard great things about, but her classes are only 1x a week, and you have to work your way thru the levels. I will contact her if I don’t see improvement with the first few SDA classes, so we can get her advice.

Mjb03: When Kayle was a puppy she didn’t want to be touched by anyone, including us. I worked with her daily on being touched everywhere and she could be handled by anyone, even at the vet. But she would readily approach other people. Riley loves to be touched and petted by us, and he loves my husband, even though he is my Velcro dog. Your progress with Quincy gives me much hope!
 

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Quick update after today...I went out and about armed with a baggie of dog food and a hungry puppy who hadn't had lunch yet. At Lowes, I asked 6 different people, men and women, to give Riley treats as they expressed interest in him and they happily complied (much to my relief, as I thought it was a great idea but wasn't really comfortable asking other people to do this). Riley only shied away from one woman as she was about to give him his treats, and that was because 3 others were headed toward him at the same time to watch and chat. He backed up away from her but then went back forward and took the food from her hand.

Then....we went to my dads. Riley again shied away from him and just wasn't interested in any attention. So I dug a slice of cheese from the fridge...Riley's favorite at the moment...and what do you know...after several bites, Riley was letting him pet him some for another bite. He still doesn't want to be petted on his head, but he wound up begging him for more and laying at his feet at the end trying to chew on my dad's hands in usual Riley fashion. We stopped at a friend's house, and she gave him the rest of his food by hand. She also was able to pet him a little, but not his head again. When we were leaving, he started barking at the neighbor's dogs sitting in their door.

Riley wasn't all over anyone by any stretch of the imagination, including my dad, and was still tentative, which is ok for now, but this was a great improvement over what i have experienced with him so far. Thank you for this great idea. I will continue to work with him and work on me, as I wonder if my worry that he will shy away from strangers as he keeps doing has become a self-fulfilling prophecy by traveling down the leash to him
. Time to change my stinkin' thinkin????????
 
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