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Hi everyone! I'm posting because I am a little worried about how shy my girl is. She is 10 months old, and ever since we got her at 9 weeks she has been very wary and very standoff-ish of strangers, particularly males. Whenever we come into contact with people, even our friends who she has seen several times, she backs away and wants nothing to do with them. Whenever anyone besides me or my husband move toward her she backs away and starts to bark, and often she'll turn around and run a few steps and then come back and bark again.

I'm just not sure what to attribute this to, and I'm not really sure what to do about it. We did as much as we could to socialize her when she was younger and took her to public places and basically put her in contact with as many people and noises as we could have. It used to be that even loud noises scared her, like the sound of a tractor trailer coming down the road or a neighbor's lawn mower, but thankfully she appears to have grown out of that as loud noises no longer bother her. Its only people that appear to make her very anxious and insecure.

We've met with a trainer several times for individual sessions regarding this very issue, and none of the techniques hes given us seem to work, and I'm just getting a little frustrated. I understand that GSD's are not usually social butterflies, and I don't expect mine to be any different. I would just like to get to the root of her anxiety, if I can, to help her feel more confident.

Has anyone ever experienced this with their pup? I realize she is still young, but is there anything you suggest I do? I would love some feedback.

Thanks so much!
 

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I know there are lots of us who have had dogs like yours (usually rescues) but it would be helpful to hear what you have tried so far.
 

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Quote:I'm just not sure what to attribute this to
Bad genetics. If she was like this right from the start, the breeder and the dogs that produced her are to blame. It's very sad and why many of us strongly recommend careful research when buying a puppy from a breeder. The breed's too popular for its own good.
You'll get lots of good advice on this subject as we have a lot of owners here with fearful/shy dogs.

How do you act when she meets someone new or you think she will react? Do you tighten the leash? Do you talk to her in a high pitched or soothing "It's ooookay, don't worry, it's oooooookaaaaay" voice? Do you act nervous? What sort of trainer is your trainer? Maybe a trainer who is well versed in counter-conditioning (making bad things very positive) and clicker training would be a better fit.
 

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My Doberman was this way and I also had a trainer come in to help. My dobie would stand at the door and bark and growl, but as soon as that person came in the dog was nowhere to be seen - she was gone into the kitchen to hide. I am not sure what techniques your trainer used, most likely the same or similiar, but our trainer had us give people who were strangers to our dog treats (the tastier the better) to give to her. I did this all the time! Everyone who came to our house would have to give her treats upon entering and I carried them with me whenever I had her out with me and I would ask anyone who came up and asked to pet her or ask questions about her to give her some treats. This seemed to help a little as she started to see that strangers were good people with tasty food. My doberman was never as friendly or outgoing as I would have liked, except with kids - she loved kids and would wag her stub as fast it could go whenever a child came near her.
 

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Im not saying your problem is the same as mine was, but I started with a basket case Shepherd that was abused. He was very afraid of everything. My wife picked him up and when I walked in the door from work, i didnt say a word. He layed over on his side and peed. He was that afraid of me.

having some experience with this type of dog I just ignored him, especially no eye contact. It took a few days of this for him to understand I didnt mean him any harm. Finally after a few months he started to come around. Hes now well adjusted and a part of the family.

So heres a question for you. When people come over do they try to approach the dog or try to pet him before the barking begins??

Try having visitors ignor the dog as much as possible, try not to make eye contact with him and basicly act like he not there. After the person has been in your house for a while and everything seems to be ok have the person while hes sitting down hold a treat in his hand and offer it to him. Dont make a big deal over it, just have them show the treat and see what happens.

If he doesnt want the treat just let it go, dont force the issue. This will only scare the dog and set you back. If he takes the treat, leave it that and continue to ignor the dog. If he comes back on his own have your guest hold out their hand with the palm up and lower then the dogs nose.

If they try and pet him on his head he wont like that and probably back off and bark again. Repeat this over and over so your dog will start to understand that strangers are not anything to be afraid of.

Im sure others here will also have some advice to help you get through your problem.

hope that helps.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Mandalay, our trainer suggested giving the treats as well. This usually works whenever someone is staying for more than 10-15 minutes, but in the first 5-10 minutes someone is in our home she is barking and growling. Our trainer also suggested that we tell anyone who comes in the home to basically ignore her all together; no eye contact, no talking to her, and definitely no trying to pet her. He explained that she needs time to figure out that they're not harmful or threatening. This is actually quite effective. Usually after about 10 or 15 minutes she will come up to them and start sniffing them, and relaxes and lays down near us. She still doesn't really like it when they try to pet her, but at least she doesn't growl or bark.

Diana, whenever she starts to act this way we've been instructed to not try and soothe her vocally or physically, as it would reinforce her insecurity. We were even told to not tell her to stop barking or growling because she needs to figure it out on her own.

Whats also strange is that if you bring another dog into the equation, all of these problematic behaviors disappear. Its almost as though she forgets that there are "strangers" around if another dog is there because she is just so excited to be playing with another dog.

The genetics thing seems like it could definitely be a possibility, as neither of her parents are titled. We met the couple that we bought her from through mutual friends, and we spent quite a bit of time with her and her littlemates before we took her home. Most of her littermates were very outgoing and would run right up to us and were very social.

Its just hard because Coco is absolutely packed with personality and is so much fun as long as she is only with the two of us. I'm constantly saying to my husband that its a shame that most people don't get to see her personality, because as soon as a stranger enters the room her entire personality shifts.

I'm just becoming discouraged.
 

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This is what I did with Basu who was the same way (because of abuse and neglect). He was 4.5 yo when I got him and it took him about 3 years to become somewhat "normal" and he still would fire up when people came over that he didn't know. It was NOT genetic with him though.

I taught him the bed or place command and practiced it every day. When someone came over I sent him to his bed and then only when he was quiet did I start giving him treats. He got very special treats (little liver pieces, real chicken, cheese, etc.) only when someone came over.

What kinds of confidence building exercises are you doing with your dog? I would start clicker training and Nothing in Life is Free right away if you're not already. Building her confidence will help tremendously. Once she's got stuff down at home you can take her places and GRADUALLY move her closer to people.

Incidentally, Basu was able to get over his total fear of people at the dog park. He loved other dogs. Adopting a rock solid older dog might really help your dog.
 

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Originally Posted By: BowWowMeow Adopting a rock solid older dog might really help your dog.
I agree with all the above but this may be just the thing to bring Coco out of her shell!
It may be her age and a stage she is going thru, it is more magnified. Seems to be a few 10 mo. olds (posting recently)that go through these quirky fear- agressive times. Even though your pup has been this way since you got her.
There was an episode on DW the other night about a bully that was afraid, bored of most everything, they had to carry him on walks and he seemed so depressed. They had another wiener type dog, but he wouldn't interact with it. Then Daddy came to visit and the dog was so happy and willing, his tail wagged like never before!
 

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Discussion Starter #9
I really appreciate all of the feedback. I am definitely going to do some research on the clicker training and we're going to give that a go.

I spoke to my husband about the idea of getting a second dog, which is something that I've been wanting to do at some point anyway, but the fact that it may help Coco is even better.

How much more difficult is it really to have two dogs? I've never owned more than one dog at a time, and I want to make sure I'm not getting in over my head.
 

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I think two are much easier, as they keep each other occupied when we are busy doing something else. We do have a fenced in yard, and supervise them. It is fun to watch them play and "stalk" each other...I am late leaving the house sometimes, because I am watching Kacie & Onyx play. I do crate Onyx still when we are gone, but Kacie has freedom in the whole house, and so far has been fine. It may also help with confidence in a shy dog. My dogs love each other, though. Some dogs just click and that is the key, IMO.
 

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Having two dogs, 2X the poop, 2X the vet bills, etc.

I am a rescue guy, and just adopted a female GSD. My male and her have been fine, but I do not think it has made any difference in my male's behavior. Aside from the first sentence, it has not been difficult to have a second dog in the house.

I am not sure of you mentioned Coco's age in your earlier post, but if the dog is mature, consider another dog of similar age.
 

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How often do you have friends/strangers over?

Do you have kids, are you considering having kids?

Did you take the dog to obedience classes?

Is the dog like this when you are out with her or only at your home?

Obedience classes (with other dogs and other owners) may not directly solve this problem but it opens a lot of doors. For one thing, she regularly sees other people. For another thing, she has plenty of opportunities to do things right and get praised. And it opens the doors for training for other things, like agility.

Why it is that many shy dogs get more out of agility than jumping and climbing is a bit of a mystery, but it does seem to make a big difference when trying to draw out a shy dog. EVERYTHING should be positive in agility training. At her age she can start getting used to things and learn how to do the different things, but you want to be careful on the jumping, etc. until her growing is complete.

I went to someone's house who's dog hid underneath the car. I went to my trunk and pulled out a bag of chicken chips. I started tossing them to the dog while I talked to my friend. The dog started crawling forward to get to them. I continued pitching them to him. After a while, I pitched them less far, making him come and get them. Within ten minutes he was eating out of my hand.

I did not stare in his eyes, but I did not deliberately divert my eyes from him the whole time either.

In this case, there was nothing wrong with the dog, nor any abuse. There was a lack of socialization and training by the owner. The dog saw so few strangers, that he did not have enough good experiences to make him feel comfortable.
 

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Two dogs are more expensive than one but I don't find it much more work, especially if you adopt a dog that has already had some basic training and doesn't have issues (and yes, those kinds of rescues are out there!).
 

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How often do you have friends/strangers over?
-- I would say that we have friends or neighbors over every other day. Sometimes they only stay for 10 minutes, sometimes its an hour. It really varies. But I walk her for 35-40 minutes every single day, and our neighborhood has a lot of children in it so she is constantly exposed to bikes, scooters, strollers, etc. Thats why its so hard for me to wrap my head around why she is so skittish when its not as though she is shut in the house and never exposed to noises or outside life.

Do you have kids, are you considering having kids?
-- We don't have children and won't have them in the near future. My husband and I are still somewhat newlyweds (we've only been married 10 months), but plan on having children in the next 4-5 years. The good news is that she absolutely LOVES children, especially babies, and I think thats because they are smaller than she is and they don't appear threatening to her.

Did you take the dog to obedience classes?
-- We did take her to obedience and she did very well with it. She minds both my DH and I very well and listens. We've never had trouble with her obedience, and during class she was always noticeably nervous, but not enough to the point where she didn't get anything out of the training. A big part of me thinks that the fact that there were so many other dogs there made her feel more comfortable.

Is the dog like this when you are out with her or only at your home?
-- She's like this at home and when we're out in public, unless there are other dogs around. Its like the dogs serve as a distraction for her and she doesn't even notice that there are other adults in the scenario.


My husband and I have decided that we are going to try putting her into as many social situations as we possibly can. Whenever there is an opportunity to take her around large crowds or noises, we're going to take her. Its just to the point where I'm not sure what else I can do. When we give people treats to give to her its only effective if they can spend at least 15-20 minutes with her. Anything shorter than that and she will just deny the treat and won't let the person near her.

We're also going talking very seriously about adding another dog to our family. Coco just seems to much more at ease when she is around other dogs.

Thanks again for all of the feedback, I need all the help I can find!
 

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Please be careful with the socialization. You can very easily push her past her threshold (comfort level) and that will undo any progress that you've made.

There is a shy dogs group on Yahoo and there are also some great books on working with shy and fearful dogs.

Check this out: http://www.goof.com/~pmurphy/shy-k9s-faq.html
 

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Originally Posted By: adhpeachy
Diana, whenever she starts to act this way we've been instructed to not try and soothe her vocally or physically, as it would reinforce her insecurity.
That's right. Ignore the behavior you don't want and reinforce only the behavior you do want. Much easier said than done though because it breaks your heart when a dog is afraid- you just want to scoop them up and hug them.
 

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I believe the shy dog experts now disagree with this advice. Having worked with several shy and or fearful dogs I have found that speaking to your dog in a calm, soothing tone does often help calm them down (as opposed to ignoring the fact that they're clearly distressed). There are techniques and tools designed to provide comfort for an anxious/fearful/shy dog. For example, the anxiety wrap provides physical comfort to the dog and I found that holding my dog tightly or (in Basu's case) sitting on him did help make him feel less anxious.
And T-Touch massage is another one.

Here are some links:

http://www.anxietywrap.com/anxietywrap.htm

http://www.ttouch.com/whyTTouch.shtml
 

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I was trying to get a feel for the type of household the dog lives in. And also about children. When you have children, for the first few years, there is no problem, you are right there and are in charge of who comes over, but as they get older and neighbor kids start treating you house like their second home, it could become a problem with a very timid dog.

I think that you should continue to have your friends over and if they are comfortable doing it, let them offer a treat. You may just want to let them drop the treat at first, then when she starts expecting it, up the ante.

I would continue to take her out with you as you normally do, but being sure NOT to let her get to the point where she is overwhelmed. I probably would not take her everywhere I could and over-expose her to stimulus. They say that good socialization is when the pup is exposed to one new person, place, or thing per day. I find that when I take mine to pet stores, I over do it because the drive is long and I can only do it on weekends so I try to do as much as possible. By the time we get to petstore#3 sometimes my youngster has clearly had enough. It is much kinder to leave that one in the car at that point.

I would continue with obedience classes. Obedience classes do not really just run for six or eight weeks and the pup knows everything it is done. Pups change so much that first year or so, I think that it makes sense to go through obedience classes on and off for at least two years, and then now and then after that. My pups get a minimum of four class sets of six classes the first year. Generally, it is more than that. It is not that I do not know how to train my own dog, but the pup is maturing and what he did fine with during the easy puppy stage, he may not to so well with now. I think it also improves our bond with our dogs. When the dog feels confident that you have things under control, they often do not have as much anxiety about people and things.

Good luck with your puppy.
 
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