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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hey so, got this 3-year-old adopted GSD Willow (most of you probably know her story by now). She's really aloof with strangers, which I guess is not super unusual for a GSD. But I've had to take her with me to work on weekends for the last 4 weekends--I'm a wildlife biologist and operate a busy big game check station during hunting season, where I have 1-5 student volunteers helping me, not to mention hundreds of hunters coming by.

Willow has been pretty good at the check station overall; has not shown any signs of aggression, but definitely barks or slinks away when she's not comfortable with people. She's just really weird though--she'll be fine with one of my volunteers petting her one second, then slinks away from them the next. I do think she's getting better and better the more she's exposed to new people, but don't know if she'll ever really "come round" to accepting strangers.

The really weird thing that I can't really explain happened for the first time this weekend. I was taking a break and tossing balls/sticks around for Willow in the field behind the check station, and she was having a grand old time. One of my volunteers came over (who had been there all day and been friendly off and on with Willow), and I gave her the ball to throw. The first time she threw it, Willow acted a bit uncertain but still went and got it, and returned the ball to me (kinda...I had to take it from her, which is normal). I handed it back to the volunteer and this time Willow immediately went bonkers, barking and barking at her, then refusing to go get the ball after it was thrown.

This happened twice, with two different people on different days.

I would think playing would be a good way to break the ice with new people, but...what the heck IS this? Possessiveness? Insecurity? Frustration? Confusion? Do you think this is something that will go away if I keep trying it, or with more time...? I've had her for about 11 weeks now (our 3-month gotcha-versary will be November 26).

I just really wish there was some way I could get her to trust people, especially because she's going to HAVE to be in other people's care when I go on vacation in a few months. And what really keeps stumping me is how easy she was with me when I first got her; she never really showed any hesitation or fear to me personally, from the moment I took the leash from her previous owner. Never barked at me, always came to me when I called, came to me for reassurance when she was scared by other things. Maybe because I was all she had, and she recognized that?
 

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I really think less is more with dogs like that. I wouldn't let anybody have anything to do with her, and I wouldn't let her have anything to do with anybody. She can be there and not have to be in the middle of it.

Like, if no one had tried to engage with her she might have come away from it with the idea that all these other people are just there, neither good nor bad. And she feels somewhat calmer and neutral around strangers. Someday maybe she does feel ready to interact more and she comes from a calmer, neutral place. Instead, she interacted past her comfort zone and got freaked out so now she has a negative takeaway.

My experience with dogs like that is-- they don't know what's good for them and they sometimes go and get too involved with strangers, too close, t hen they get freaked out and make all their problems worse. They are better off if you just set a boundary-- you ignore them (dog ignores strangers) and make strangers do the same. Prevent the dog from making contact.

This just sounds like too much, too soon. I don't think it's bad for her to be there with you, I just think she should be less physically close and involved. She's not ready for strangers to throw her ball.
 

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I don’t know. But I can tell you that my dog will play with me all day long. He does not like to play with other people. He also doesn’t like when other people take his lead and walk him.

I raised him with a lot of people and he still wants only me for everything. He is definitely a one-person dog.
 

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She’s a GSD. She has to trust you, not others. If anything, she should tolerate or ignore people.
She’s not a Lab.
Enjoy her.
 

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My gal-dog is not fond of strangers. We have strangers ignore her so that people are just part of the stuff around us. We were at training the other day and another club member, who has labs, thought to offer her a branch to play with. Up to that point my gal-dog had treated her no different than a tree or rock. But when the lady came up slowly and carefully with the branch, my gal-dog considered it for a bit and the told her "what are you doing coming up to me with a stick???" Once the stick got put down and all the world was right again. my gal-dog didn't understand what the lady was offering her.

My big-boy, who has learned some protection work, if offered the stick might have thought, "thanks but no thanks". Now if it were a tug or a pillow, he would have known that game and would have enthusiastically join into a game.

It may be that Willow has decided that playing ball is a game for you, not strangers. Just let her watch. Don't force interaction. I suspect with time she'll start to recognize some of your regular visitors and actually enjoy their company. It just takes time.
 

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A lot of people swear by handing over the leash and having a stranger walk the dog a short distance away and back, increasing distance over time.
 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
She’s a GSD. She has to trust you, not others. If anything, she should tolerate or ignore people.
She’s not a Lab.
Enjoy her.
So what do you do with her when you go away? That's why this is concerning to me. I have a 5-day work trip in Feb (at a conference center/hotel that doesn't allow pets) and then I'm going to Iceland for 8 days in March. She can't come with me. She NEEDS to trust *someone* because I'm not going to be with her and I can't figure out the best way to do that. My plan A, as of now, is to board her at her trainer's. Will cost the same as a boarding kennel, and will likely be a similar situation as boarding but with fewer dogs (trainer has a friendly GSD and a non-friendly malinois who apparently hates other dogs; both are unaltered). The trainer's confident she can handle her ----she's a trainer, obviously, and by the time she goes there we'll likely have had a half a dozen or more training sessions together. But Willow will spend most of her time there in a crate, and probably need to be separated from the malinois but crated in the same room with her. Not an ideal situation but the best-sounding option I have right now, unless something better presents itself before February.

Beyond that, I do frequently have to travel for work and while I'll try to get pet-friendly hotels when I can, that's not always going to be an option. I want to do the best thing for Willow but she's gonna need to adjust, one way or another. @MineAreWorkingline I will ask the trainer about the leash thing.
 

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When my hubby and I took a business trip for a week, my big-boy (our only dog at the time) stayed with our trainer. He liked our trainer and we trusted him. He and his wife had about 6 dogs but were very conscience of who played well with who. My boy spent a lot of time in an outdoor kennel but came in at night. When we picked him up he was happy and healthy and glad to see us. Hopefully your trainer will work just as well.
 

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Don’t worry, she will be fine. Dogs live in the moment and do what’s best for dogs. As long as she is well taken care of, she’ll be OK, she doesn’t have to love her temporary caregivers.
 

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I’ve always handed off treats to people I wanted my dog to be comfortable with. The dogs know I’m some sort of treat machine and I believe the dogs see the hand off and somewhat see that as an ‘okay’ in mom’s book. That might be reaching and giving the dogs too much credit. With my more suspicious dog, the stranger would throw the treats on the ground for her. I mention my more suspicious dog because she would also bark at people that overreached (like how strangers think it’s cool to ask an unknown dog to sit). She came from a less than ideal home and is untrusting so it sounds similar to Willow. So with the visible treat hand off, my neighbors are alright in their book but people walking on our street are suspicious. That doesn’t mean my dogs are friendly with them or want to play with them but if they checked on the dogs while I was out of house, it would be okay.

As far as a trainer boarding is concerned, I think that’s a good idea. We just do a puppy class and my pup already thinks the trainer is the ‘chicken lady.’ He seems to be fairly trusting of the trainer even though he’s very aloof and even suspicious thus far to strangers. Considering my training hasn’t been one-on-one training, I think the type of training you’re doing would have a larger impact.
 

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I think her behavior seems pretty normal for a GSD, and I wouldn't expect her to invite a lot of petting or want to "play" with strangers.

As a small example, at obedience class, our trainer wanted to use my dog for a demo and even when she waved hot dog in front of his nose and tugged lightly on his leash, he sat beside me and refused to budge. When we board him, everybody knows that he will stand there and will not go in until we disappear from sight. He also does not like being petted by strangers and has growled/snapped at strangers who pet him on the head while lying down, if they suddenly reach for his head. (He is only half GSD but somehow he got the GSD attitude, which is actually what brought me to this forum!) So I generally just ask people to ignore him...he's most comfortable that way.He just doesn't particularly enjoy attention from other people. I've actually never known him to initiate a friendship with another human. (Sad, I know.) I would also describe him as more of a "one-person" dog.

When we go out of town, we board our dog at a kennel which is also a "doggy daycare". A few times a day, they are let out in a big yard with other dogs. They know our dog well and he has been sorted into the group with other large older calm dogs who don't wrestle/play. Most of the dogs in photos with him have white muzzles! We have to board him over Thanksgiving and they are planning to give the dogs a "Thanksgiving dinner" with sliced turkey, it's cute...

Anyway I think the "Stranger Danger" attitude CAN be worked on if you would like your dog to be friendlier. I personally haven't worked on it, because I don't mind so much. If I wanted to work on it, I guess I'd do things like give him treats when strangers are around, coach strangers to pet him gently on the back, and spend a lot of time hanging out in public places where there are a lot of people going by? But your trainer would know about this better than me!!
 

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if you are going to use treats by strangers use a technique that some podcast trainers called "the leaky toddler". By that they mean that the baby drops food on the ground without expecting anything in return. After a few days of that you'll see that dog follow the toddler all over the place. If the dog thinks that taking treats from a stranger means he has to put up with being approached, compare that to the creepy guy in the bar buying a pretty lady a drink...thanks but no thanks.

Personally I don't do many treats tossed from strangers. I don't want my dogs eating random stuff that they find on the ground (has even changed the way I practice tracking). When we do man-trailing, my dogs may get a food treat from their target person or I offer a toy that we play with together. It all depends on how comfortable the target person is. If they have any doubt at all, after my dog points them out, I treat. If they are comfortable and show confidence they can offer the treat. If the target person is a child, I always offer the food treat along with a lot of verbal praise.
 

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Id say leave her as is and don't put any demands on her to interact with people if she doesn't choose to.

I hear you on the going away thing. I have a sitter for my kids that is college age and my dogs know her well and accept her, so she is my go to. If she isn't available I board at an IGP club that I trust. It's 60 bucks a day, the sitter is 50. I would not be able to hire a dog minder if that was the only role this person played in their lives. They would not do well with someone coming in and taking over while I wasn't home unless it is a n inner circle person in their lives outside of the dog sitting. If I were you I'd do the boarding with your trainer if it's in the budget.
 

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Yeah, our dogs don’t love everybody and we kind of like it that way. They are too difficult to raise, after putting in all that work we want all the love for ourselves:grin2:
 

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It sounds like you’re pushing her over threshold.

Let’s put it this way. You’re in the back country and see a black bear across a meadow. Cool. You keep working. You know the black bear doesn’t pose much of a risk. So you’re below threshold.

Suddenly, a friend jogs up behind you and following him is a grizzly bear.

You’re likely above threshold. Your heart rate is up; you’re breathing fast; you’re looking for exit routes.

Your friend explains, oh, this is a trained bear from the movies.

And you look at the bear again. Ehhhh, nah. You don’t trust the situation. Nothing your friend can say can get your heart rate back to normal any time soon.

Willow is likely going through something like this. She sees some concerning situations but figures she’s still safe. Then you inadvertently push her over threshold.

I don’t think trying to label it as anything other than reactiveness (fear) helps. I don’t think she knows except the situation is just too much.

I’d stop trying to force her to play with strangers. We can actually poison play that way (poisoning = inadvertently attaching bad things, like fear or pain, to things the dog should be neutral about or even enjoy)

We need to help Willow gain confidence slowly. She may never be a super social dog, but this should help:

“Behavior Adjustment Training 2.0: New Practical Techniques for Fear, Frustration, and Aggression in Dogs“ by Grisha Stewart. Dogwise or Amazon.

Dogwise has a discounted copy right here: https://www.dogwise.com/behavior-adjustment-training-2-0-new-practical-techniques-for-fear-frustration-and-aggression-in-dogs-shopworn/

This has videos to supplement the book:,https://grishastewart.com/courses/


Ultimately, we can’t move faster than the dog can handle. But with many dogs, as the dog gains confidence, she starts to trust us, then she is able to move a bit faster.

Ultimately, it depends upon Willow’s temperament, which is genetic, and her sum experiences, which I presume we don’t know. Dogs can be amazingly resilient.

Finally, if you can’t seem to make any inroads, talk to her vet and ask if they can refer you to a veterinary behaviorist.

But I’d start with training first and see how well it goes.

Oh, one more thought, the behaviorist, Patricia McConnell talks about how dogs from rescue/shelters will *bond* to us almost instantly; but it may take them months or longer to *trust* us. I don’t know how long you’ve had Willow. I know my Cattle Dog/GSD mix took about 6-8 months to fully trust me.

The training protocol I mentioned above helps build trust. That’s part of the reason I like it so much. The reason that I mention this is, just be careful not to push her over threshold if you possibly can because that can erode trust.

I tried to cover a lot here. Drop me a message if something doesn’t make sense.
 

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Some good advice already given, especially building on trust. Just want to add, wherever you decide to board her during your absence, you might want to consider a trial run before you actually leave and see how things go. This can give you opportunity to make changes if needed.
 

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It sounds like you’re pushing her over threshold.

Let’s put it this way. You’re in the back country and see a black bear across a meadow. Cool. You keep working. You know the black bear doesn’t pose much of a risk. So you’re below threshold.

Suddenly, a friend jogs up behind you and following him is a grizzly bear.

You’re likely above threshold. Your heart rate is up; you’re breathing fast; you’re looking for exit routes.

Your friend explains, oh, this is a trained bear from the movies.

And you look at the bear again. Ehhhh, nah. You don’t trust the situation. Nothing your friend can say can get your heart rate back to normal any time soon.

.
I had not heard or read that illustration before. That is a very good way to explain it. I'll have to use it if someone is ever stubborn about insisting on getting up close to my gal-dog because they think that they are "good with animals".
 

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Yeah, anytime someone announces they’re “good with dogs,” I look for an exit and prepare to body block even though my dogs are by and large extremely social.

What that says to me is this is a person who doesn’t respect boundaries and certainly doesn’t know the first thing about personal space bubbles — humans and canine.

I’ve met a lot of great dog people including highly respected Trainers. They never announce they’re “good with dogs.” They usually pass by with a nod and a smile, Or they just chat with me. Once they see my dog is relaxed, then they ask if she would like to be petted.

People good with dogs (and kids for what it’s worth) don’t steamroll over boundaries.
 

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if you are going to use treats by strangers use a technique that some podcast trainers called "the leaky toddler". By that they mean that the baby drops food on the ground without expecting anything in return. After a few days of that you'll see that dog follow the toddler all over the place. If the dog thinks that taking treats from a stranger means he has to put up with being approached, compare that to the creepy guy in the bar buying a pretty lady a drink...thanks but no thanks.

Personally I don't do many treats tossed from strangers. I don't want my dogs eating random stuff that they find on the ground (has even changed the way I practice tracking). When we do man-trailing, my dogs may get a food treat from their target person or I offer a toy that we play with together. It all depends on how comfortable the target person is. If they have any doubt at all, after my dog points them out, I treat. If they are comfortable and show confidence they can offer the treat. If the target person is a child, I always offer the food treat along with a lot of verbal praise.
If a dog is food motivated enough, it will go to get the food and then freak out because it's too close for comfort to the person.
 

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It sounds like you’re pushing her over threshold.

Let’s put it this way. You’re in the back country and see a black bear across a meadow. Cool. You keep working. You know the black bear doesn’t pose much of a risk. So you’re below threshold.

Suddenly, a friend jogs up behind you and following him is a grizzly bear.

You’re likely above threshold. Your heart rate is up; you’re breathing fast; you’re looking for exit routes.

Your friend explains, oh, this is a trained bear from the movies.

And you look at the bear again. Ehhhh, nah. You don’t trust the situation. Nothing your friend can say can get your heart rate back to normal any time soon.

Willow is likely going through something like this. She sees some concerning situations but figures she’s still safe. Then you inadvertently push her over threshold.

I don’t think trying to label it as anything other than reactiveness (fear) helps. I don’t think she knows except the situation is just too much.

I’d stop trying to force her to play with strangers. We can actually poison play that way (poisoning = inadvertently attaching bad things, like fear or pain, to things the dog should be neutral about or even enjoy)

We need to help Willow gain confidence slowly. She may never be a super social dog, but this should help:

“Behavior Adjustment Training 2.0: New Practical Techniques for Fear, Frustration, and Aggression in Dogs“ by Grisha Stewart. Dogwise or Amazon.

Dogwise has a discounted copy right here: https://www.dogwise.com/behavior-adjustment-training-2-0-new-practical-techniques-for-fear-frustration-and-aggression-in-dogs-shopworn/

This has videos to supplement the book:,https://grishastewart.com/courses/


Ultimately, we can’t move faster than the dog can handle. But with many dogs, as the dog gains confidence, she starts to trust us, then she is able to move a bit faster.

Ultimately, it depends upon Willow’s temperament, which is genetic, and her sum experiences, which I presume we don’t know. Dogs can be amazingly resilient.

Finally, if you can’t seem to make any inroads, talk to her vet and ask if they can refer you to a veterinary behaviorist.

But I’d start with training first and see how well it goes.

Oh, one more thought, the behaviorist, Patricia McConnell talks about how dogs from rescue/shelters will *bond* to us almost instantly; but it may take them months or longer to *trust* us. I don’t know how long you’ve had Willow. I know my Cattle Dog/GSD mix took about 6-8 months to fully trust me.

The training protocol I mentioned above helps build trust. That’s part of the reason I like it so much. The reason that I mention this is, just be careful not to push her over threshold if you possibly can because that can erode trust.

I tried to cover a lot here. Drop me a message if something doesn’t make sense.
Lots of good and practical stuff in the BAT book. It's a very good technique
 
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