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I have a very dear friend who has a Dalmatian mix that she rescued aroung 9 months or so (maybe a year). She is now 4 years old. The dog has fear issues, submissive peeing issues, and has bitten one person (not badly) some time ago (the person was leaning over the dog to hug my friend's father, while the dog was in his lap). My friend says the dog was possibly abused when young. I don't have the specifics, although I believe the dog was rescued as a pup. The rescue put her out with another terrier for "socialization".

My feelings are that much of Sassy's issues are genetics. My friend, who admits she hasn't done any training with her, thinks it's all because she was "abused" and a rescue. I think that because she's been in a good environment for so long that this points to genetics moreso. She thinks once abused, always fearful. It's not clear (at least to me) what kind of abuse the dog underwent, or even if there was any.

I'm finding it hard to explain the role of genetics coherently to her. :crazy: She is very versed in human genetics regarding the role of cancer in humans, and she is not buying the role of genetics in terms of dogs temperaments.

So--can some of you please advise, so I can point her to this thread? I've tried explaining about how some dogs can be raised in a kennel with very little human interaction and still come out stable, solid and excellent companion dogs, whereas other dogs have good owners, excellent training, and still will always have to be managed due to genetic fear aggression, but I don't think I'm doing it well. I've tried explaining that dogs that bark aggressively at people are often NOT protective, but rather fearful. I'm doubtful she thinks I know what I'm talking about. ;)

So I'm hoping for some "expert" explanation that I can give her for reference. Links to prior threads are good too. I did try searching under "genetically fearful" and "fear and genetics" and "fear aggression" but didn't really find what I want.


Also, I was unsure of what forum to put this in, so if someone thinks it would be viewed more somewhere else, feel free to move.
 

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It's just an over simplified illustration that shows how a dog is a product of nature (genetics) *and* nurture but that you cannot "nurture" (train and socialize) a dog outside of its genetic boundaries. The green and blue show that you could have the same dog end up a little differently if it was raised by a different person, but never outside of the genetic boundary.
 

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Also, I've heard many people say that in Schutzhund when a dog is under pressure or stress it will revert first to its genetics, then its foundation, and finally to its training. I think this also applies to how dogs react to life in general. Training and socialization matter (as well as past experiences) but if a dog has poor genetics and lacked a good foundation early on you probably can't overcome that, only manage it.

I for one do not like it when people say their dog was "abused" simply because it has some avoidance or fearful reactions. My first dog acted very afraid of certain people and things and a lot of people tried to tell me she was abused. It was kind of funny, but not really. She was never, ever abused. In fact she had great foundation and training, a great life from the moment of birth. She just had a genetic weakness that could not be overcome, so I never pressed those issues, just avoided people/situations that stressed her out. Also, when working with friends and family on various dog behavior "issues" (I saw that in quotes because most of the dogs are find it's the people/training that's the problem!) I don't like when people focus on the dog's past. I've found that softer, weak nerved dogs thrive with consistency. They like to know what is coming, what to expect, and what's expected of them. When people get all emotional about a dog possibly being abused I find that they tend to lose consistency in how they interact with their dog and it just makes things worse. I'm not one of those people that insists "coddling" a fearful dog automatically makes it worse, but I find that people who are really coddly towards a fearful dog are often ignoring what that dog really needs. FWIW I am speaking in general terms, not GSD (only one of my foster dogs has been GSD and none of the friends and family I've worked with have GSDs).
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Also, I've heard many people say that in Schutzhund when a dog is under pressure or stress it will revert first to its genetics, then its foundation, and finally to its training. I think this also applies to how dogs react to life in general. Training and socialization matter (as well as past experiences) but if a dog has poor genetics and lacked a good foundation early on you probably can't overcome that, only manage it.

I for one do not like it when people say their dog was "abused" simply because it has some avoidance or fearful reactions. My first dog acted very afraid of certain people and things and a lot of people tried to tell me she was abused. It was kind of funny, but not really. She was never, ever abused. In fact she had great foundation and training, a great life from the moment of birth. She just had a genetic weakness that could not be overcome, so I never pressed those issues, just avoided people/situations that stressed her out. Also, when working with friends and family on various dog behavior "issues" (I saw that in quotes because most of the dogs are find it's the people/training that's the problem!) I don't like when people focus on the dog's past. I've found that softer, weak nerved dogs thrive with consistency. They like to know what is coming, what to expect, and what's expected of them. When people get all emotional about a dog possibly being abused I find that they tend to lose consistency in how they interact with their dog and it just makes things worse. I'm not one of those people that insists "coddling" a fearful dog automatically makes it worse, but I find that people who are really coddly towards a fearful dog are often ignoring what that dog really needs. FWIW I am speaking in general terms, not GSD (only one of my foster dogs has been GSD and none of the friends and family I've worked with have GSDs).

Agreed!
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Ok, I skimmed the links, and yes, they have some very good info, but I guess I'm looking more for things along the lines of Lies' post about her dog and it being genetically fearful. I too think many people assume a dog has been abused when it is just genetics.

Any more people? I've seen many really good threads/posts about this, and now when I want them I can't find them. :help:
 

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If you want more anecdotal evidence....a friend of mine has a female GSD she purchased after the dog was a year old. The dog was born and raised a kennel dog (lived in an outdoor run). She had no training, no socialization, was filthy when she got her....the dog knew no one and nothing. But she's a great dog! She was social with her handler/pack and a confident dog from day one. Within a few weeks she was completely house trained and has always lived as an indoor pet with other dogs (and a few other random animals my friend has rehabilitated). She's now the top Ultimate Air Dog GSD, set a new record at her second competition. She also does Schutzhund, Rally, I think has her CGC. Just a really nice dog whether it's high level competition or "just" being a well behaved pet.
 

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I will come back on later, hopefully with pictures and then some links about temperament - like Liesje said, dogs that are totally uncared for, not socialized and walk around like no big deal and the opposite. You can train and work and it becomes something that isn't as noticeable, and the dog is much happier though.
 

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Also I think the "abuse" card becomes like an excuse. I could say that Coke was "abused" because he has never liked people reaching over his head, and to this day will duck if you try to pet his head, but if people ask me if he was abused I just say I don't know, he doesn't like having his head touched like that. I don't want his past to limit his future. I do know he wasn't receiving the best of care but I can't say it was abuse or neglect without knowing the motivations (or lack thereof) of the previous owner, which I do not know. Instead I just say that the previous owners couldn't keep him, but we gave him a fresh start. He's done CGC (twice), agility classes, gone herding twice, tried dock diving (OK so he won't jump but he likes to be plopped in the pool and swim around!), goes in parades. On Friday he's wearing his Santa outfit and visiting a second grade classroom. Now I could say "oh I think he was abused" and let him get away with all his bad habits and coddle him at home but I have expectations for dogs that live in my house and I see it more as respect to expect the same from a dog with a muddy past. I *know* he can be an awesome dog despite his past, and he is.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
That brings up another part of this: As I mentioned, if she was abused, exactly how far can the dog recover? I mean, we all have heard of dog fighting dogs (bait) that have been rehabbed into pet homes showing no signs of abuse.
 

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I'm no expert, but this sentence has stood out to me in your opening post:
My friend, who admits she hasn't done any training with her, thinks it's all because she was "abused" and a rescue
She needs to step up NILIF because a dog that may be genetically fearful or timid or whatever will benefit from knowing that they don't have to control every situation....their handler has the world under control so the weight will not be on the dog to feel the need to be 'on' all the time.
The owner should also get the dog in a training class so the dog can grow confidence(though it may be too much so a class that is geared for this type personality if possible) Confidence building is very hard to do with certain dogs, but should still be attempted. If it is found that the dog can't handle the stress of group class, maybe private lessons just to get the dog out of the home environment, but in another that is ok after a few visits...that will build the dogs confidence. Playing on agility equipment or doing some nosework along with fun obedience exercises.
Genetics can be managed, but the owner should understand that things are what they are with this dog, and learning how to manage the dogs limits is what matters most of all.

I found that out with Onyx. She is what she is, there is little I can do other than manage her, keep her happy and healthy in her world. No reason to take her out and try to change who she isn't because it just would be a constant battle. But Onyx feeds off aggression/fight so she is a different personality. Anytime there is excitement or possibly a fight to be had, she's all in. She would rather fight than flee...even though it is possibly fear based.
 

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I am having trouble gathering my thoughts but have a response I emailed to myself to look at tomorrow!

But - like Coke, my Ava does not like the top of her head touch. When we were in a training class a lady tried to pet her and she pulled away and she asked me if Ava was abused - I started to say I didn't know but the trainer was like, "NO! She just doesn't like rude people who think they can pet the top of her head before she knows them." :rofl:

What I do think that is important is that whether you are willing to admit that a dog can have genetic issues with their temperament - fear, anxiety, etc, or if it is a result of abuse, you can DO things about it and for the dog.

You can't change their past, or their underlying genetics, but you can train, shape and manage so that the dog - regardless of the why - has a better (good/great) quality of life.
 

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Very few dogs want a hand going over their head...especially the hand of a stranger. Too bad more people don't understand canine communication better! Sideways approach and under the chin or ear area is always appreciated more than a frontal "let me pet or pat your head".
This link may be of help for your friend to understand a bit better, and also Turid Rugaas's site about canine communication.
Elem. of Temperament
http://www.vanerp.net/ilse/GSDINFO/Elements of Temperament.htm#4.2. Life With a Weak Nerved Dog
 
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