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Discussion Starter #1
Hi all.

My GSD puppy is now 4 months old. He is exhibiting various fearful reactions.

I took him to puppy class a few weeks ago and he was very defensive toward the other puppies, barking aggressively in their faces. They were all nice puppies and left him alone and played. He went into avoidance sniffing the ground and staring off into space. In an hour he never relaxed.

He has met a calm adult dog and again hackled, barked defensively, and never relaxed.

I'm trying to expose him to dogs at a distance, but he clearly is nervous around them.

We go out every day to socialize with people, and he likes it less and less. Initially he was merely unenthusiastic. Now he sometimes growls and hackles at people.

The puppy does not want to come out of the crate when we go somewhere. He plasters himself to the back of the crate and doesn't want to exit. I bribed him out at first but now have to forceably eject him because bribes no longer work.

We do food training with him dragging a long line. Initially he ignored it but now it seems to bother him more and more, and he arcs away from it and moves slower.

He has also become increasingly resistant to walking on leash, continually balking and whining.

In short, the more I expose him to things the worse he gets. And I've tried to be careful and not overwhelm him.

How do I know if he has weak nerves or is simply a normal puppy and needs more confidence building?

Thanks for any input.

Ava
 

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sounds excessive to me...
you've had him since 8 weeks?
have you returned to pup class?
are you worrying he'll be afraid? (if so, try to be confident, expect good behavior, ignore misbehavior, just move on)
If you exude confidence, he'll pick up on it. If you fear the worst,
he'll pick up on that and "comply"

What commands does he now know?
What is your release word?
When he acts fearful, what do you say?
(My point here is "OK" is a lousy release word, and dogs can't put a word into context to derive meaning.)
Use "free" or "freedog" to release. It never means anything else.
Don't say anything if fear is shown, ignore it and move on.
Molly coddling is negatively re-enforcing.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Thank you for the reply.

I got him at ten weeks. We have not returned to puppy class, because his defensiveness worked last time and I don't want it to work again (scare away the puppies).

I don't have to worry that he'll be afraid - I already know by this time that he's going to be nervous everywhere I take him. I am very assertive and have been walking in a calm confident manner. He shouldn't be picking up on any stress from me.

He is familiar with come, sit, down, and around. His release word is "OK," but I can easily change that to Free.

When he acts fearful, I don't just ignore it because he is getting rewarded by the act of barking. I say "let's go" in a calm voice and we walk off in a direction where he can't fixate on the dog or person or whatever it is.

I am definitely not coddling him, and actually wonder if I'm expecting too much. The reason I am wondering if he's weak or normal is, normal dogs will desensitize to things, and weak nerved dogs seem to sensitize. So I'm not sure if I should continue to expose him to the environment, or train him in isolation to be handler dependent and then gradually add the environment back in.

More thoughts?
 

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I saw this change happen in a dog once that my aunt owned. She was a collie and when she was about a year or so old, she started getting anxious and fearful. she would bark at things she never barked at before and was suddenly not excited about going out of the house or having new people or things brought into the house. She was fine by my aunts side, but away from her the collie was not herself.

They did the same kind of attempt at retraining and had no success. After about a month they took her into the vet to see if maybe there was something physical going on. Turns out the dog had some doggie disease that cause her to be suddenly and quickly losing her eyesight. Everything she could see clearly before were now shadows.

Having had learned this, my aunt could go back into training with the dog from a different angle. The collie turned out fine and lived out a long 16 year life.

Not saying that your puppy is going blind, but it might be worth a trip to the vet to see if there is something physical going on.
 

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From my own experience, your pup sounds like a dog with weak nerves. But please continue to expose him and socialize him everywhere, that's the key for managing such dogs. My dog Yana was the same but now, at 15 months, she's still shy, and will always be, but she's not freaked out so easily anymore and I feel confident walking her everywhere on a flat collar and off-leash (in designated areas).
 

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When you are home, is the dog submissive to you?
If a submissive, a training collar could shut him down too quickly to be effective. But it doesn't sound like treats are working...so it may be time to mix it up.

Start with a whole lot more praise, and see where that takes you.
Might be more patience and praise will do the trick.

Do you play with a prey item? a tug? balls? employ that if it's there.

Keep the good work...and do the work in more than one place.
Find a few places where you can work. The quiet side of the schoolyard, the quiet side of the park, etc.

Try to find 4 different places to work, so you seal the deal on the entire repertoire of commands.

Praise every glance your way,everywhere and everytime. It will focus him on you, and once you have his attention, the rest is easier.

Then park yourself on a bench that's near some traffic. Park closer
to more commotion the next time. Folks who know what your doing will ask if they can help. When you gauge he's ready, accept their
help.

It may be a long road, or he may be out grow it suddenly if in a
"fear period." Though I think he's old enough to be beyond those.

If his recall is rock solid, reset with that. When he first goes into eye.
<span style="color: #3333FF">motor patterns</span>
If it isn't work on that until it is.

Also I'd return to the group class. It's controlled and safe, and I'd also
use a pinch and correct for any butt-headedness...but that's me.
I wouldn't let it "work" again, by employing a correction.

You may feel differently, and as with all things, it's your call. If the
trainer of the class is anti-pinch, that would be another hurdle. Some
might admonish me for even considering corrections for a young dog...
but I'd be willing to try them to avoid the ultimate consequences of fear aggression.
 

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You need to keep working with this young dog. BUT you need to make the outings fun and not stressful for th dog.

When you went to class, were the other dogs just allowed to approach you pup? Did the other handlers have control of their pup(s).

You need to find a distance from other dogs where you pup is comfortable and not stressed to the point where the pup shuts down and isn't responsive to you.

What are you using for treats? Have you tried a toy instead of treats?
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Hi Oksana,

The problem is exposing him to things in a non-stressful manner. That is much easier said than done, when he doesn't want to walk on leash at all. Also, I don't want to "manage" the dog. I've done that before. I've dealt with fear and done the counter-conditioning and taught the dog to watch me whenever a fearful stimulus is present, etc etc. It worked well behaviorally but the fear was hard-wired and the best I could do was avoidance. The dog could never go out and have fun.

Ava
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Hi dOg,

The dog is submissive but normal (no cowering, etc) to me. He is normal with my other dog and plays vigorously. He is much like my previous fearful GSD: completely normal at home and extremely nervous elsewhere.

He plays in the house but not away from home.

I intended to do competition obedience with him, so I have rewarded eye contact from day one. That's the biggest weapon I have at the moment.

It's going to be awhile before he has a good recall anywhere away from home, because he shuts down so much. It's very frustrating to deal with a dog who is either defensive or plops into a pile and whines. At home we have good food training sessions. But elsewhere, no. Even if no one is around.

I'm willing to correct but should fear be punished??

Fear aggression is of course a huge concern. I have the option of returning the puppy. I was looking for a bold sport dog. I guess I'm wondering if any bold adults started out as fearful pups.

Ava
 

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Ava, I understand what you mean. A shy dog is such a challenge that very many people with normal stable dogs have no idea about. Unfortunately, I believe that if it's really genetically poor nerves than we can only talk about management and learning to live with a fearful dog.

I love Yana and can't imagine our family without her anymore but I wanted some enjoyment in our life too, not just work. So we got a second dog, Anton, and then I finally understood why everybody loves puppies so much.

I would never correct fear. If I see the problem coming I ask my dog to sit, stay and if she breaks then I correct. And it's very clear to her that I correct her for not performing the command and not for her being afraid. It works for us.
 

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I could never return a pup, but I would let the breeder know of the temperament. I went thru this as well with Onyx, but not to that extreme. She is fear aggressive or maybe just has aggression issues, as she lets me know what she wants/when its time to get out of a situation. The breeder and I have been in contact and Onyx was the alpha female of the litter, so I think she was anxiety ridden because she thought she needed to be the leader of our pack. She just has to be controlled and know that I am her leader at all times. We switched to a gentle leader collar after using a prong and that helped tremendously. At a year and a half, she still gets reactive to certain dogs, or at the vet. I suggest reading the books "Control Unleashed" by Leslie McDevitt and "Click to Calm" by Emma Parsons. They are both great for the temperament issues you describe. Good luck!
 

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Discussion Starter #13
WT,

When we went to class, the first half hour the pups were on leash and we were in a circle doing attention and other simple stuff. No one approached my pup (all the other pups were mild mannered) but he charged to the end of the leash a couple of times, barking defensively, when a pup would just glance at him. So I moved further away. Then there was some free play and he was very defensive and succeeded in getting the other pups to leave him alone. That's when he stood and stared off into space in avoidance. After free play we were back on leash and he was still defensive. He never relaxed in the entire hour.

How do I maintain a non-reactive distance from other dogs? I can't control the environment. I can't control everyone else who happens to walk by. I can't control who lets their dog loose. I can't control the negative feedback my pup will get from other dogs who are also defensive. I can't go out in public without being subjected to possible encounters around every corner.

I use a variety of treats: Natural Balance rolls, chicken, liver, cheese. I would love to use a toy, but he won't play away from home.

Ava
 

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Do you have any friends with dogs who could help you? When I'm working with a fearful dog (whether weak nerved or just undersocialized) I enlist a very passive dog as a helper. If you don't know anyone with a suitable dog, perhaps your trainer or an area rescue person might be able to help? (Rescue people often have a selection of dogs to chose from and may have a dog that they use for the very same purpose.)

If you can find a dog that is very non-reactive and a handler to help you then you can stage non-scary scenarios and work with your puppy to build up his confidence. When my Golden was aliveshe was excellent for this kind of work and as a breed they are often good candidates (avoid the young goofy energetic ones though) but it can be any breed as long as they are very passive and mellow around other dogs - including other dogs who are acting ridiculous.

Have the other handler work with their dog off to one side and see how close you can get with your pup before he gets upset. When you find that spot, hang out there and work with him on his obedience. The other dog is ignoring him. Lots of praise for anything he does right and give him a chance to see nothing bad is going to happen and hopefully he'll chill out. When he's comfortable there, move a little closer and repeat the same process. You get the idea. I use this approach on dog-fearful dogs but also with other things, most recently with our GSD Leo and the ocean. That was tricky since it keeps moving but by the end of the afternoon he was playing in the waves.

Sometimes having a dog who is completely ignoring him even when he's right up on them can help a lot. It gives him a chance to approach without feeling threatened and there's no reinforcement for his defensiveness because they aren't reacting to him one way or the other.

I think you're right on the money about him self-reinforcing his behavior when he's successful in running the other dogs off, so having an artificial situation where you can control the variables is going to be key.
 

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Quote:I'm willing to correct but should fear be punished??
No...but aggressive lunging? I would, as if to say," I'll protect you pal, hide behind me if you must, but you don't get to decide it's time to be a butthead."

It sounds to me like you have plenty of experience and know what you're dealing with. He still could outgrow it and become more confident, but that could be a long road.
 

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Ava, maybe get a better vet check-- more intensive for eye and thyroid. You could be surprised... or not. Good luck with your pup, wishing you and he the very best here!
 

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I agree with Patti on the thyroid test, dogs with thyroid problems can be reactive.

OK, first things first. There are two commands in my arsinal that a reactive pup/dog needs to learn, that is "Leave IT" and "Watch or Watch Me"

I had a recent post on the "Leave It" command. This is my stop paying attention to waht ever they are fixating on, and do what I am asking of you. I train this with the best of best yummy treats and I know my dog/pup understand it when I can have them settle on the floor and I can throw and bounce treats off of them. But the training is done in small steps and lots of repetitons.

You need to teach your pup to focus on you. You start these excercises at home, when the pup isn't stressed. Then after you know the pup understand "Watch Me" then add a small amount of distraction.

With most fearful, weakneved or just reactive pup/dogs obedience is the key to having them be more calm and confident. There are tons of training you can do without going to class, until you pup has advanced to a better comfort level.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Thanks for your help, WT. I work daily on attention, but haven't started "leave it" which is a good command to learn. I will work on obedience and not worry so much about socializing for the time being. Every outing is negative and I need to get the pressure off of this puppy. I'll return to socializing, at a distance, when I have better attention.

I would love to read further thoughts if anyone else wants to contribute. Thanks.

Ava
 

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When you work the leave it command, some people drop the food on the floor say leave it then after a while they tell the dog ok. I preferr to pick up the treat and give to the pup/dog at first, then we can give permission to eat later.

When you first stary, you can you your hand or use your body to block the pup from getting the treat. When the pup isn't so intense about the treat then pick up the treat and say take.

Always make sure you are using the yummy treats and this is a fun game. As long as the pup has fun with leave it at home, when you need to start using outside, all they remember is it was fun and great treats.
 

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One you get those two commands working then you can work more on socialization. ?The pup reacts badly, then you use the leave it and watch me command, as soon as the pup looks at you big treat. See you are rewarding for the proper behavior and telling the pup that the bad behavior isn't what you want.
 
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