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Barking at strangers

June 13th, 2005, 09:38 PM
Does anyone's dog bark at strangers when they are outside of their normal environment?

My puppy is 9 months and is SOOO sweet and lovable. Occasionally he'll bark at a dog, which I don't worry about much because he is well socialized with other dogs. However, at around 6 months he started to bark, mostly at men, but also at bikes, carriages and occasionally at women while we were out or on the leash... only out of my home. Anyone can come into my home and he showers them with kisses, it is when he is in a strange environment that he behaved this way.

When I brought him to the vet... which happened to be a few days after he began this behavior (and he barked at the vet) I asked why he would have started this and how I can stop it. The vet said it is probably out of fear and that he is insecure or "lacked confidence" to be exact. Yet, I still must correct the behavior. So I did. If we were walking and he barked at someone I would dink the chain... make him stop and sit down. We wouldn't resume walking until he was completely calm and submissive. It went away almost completely. However there are still occasions when he will act in this fashion. I correct it, and I'm hoping it goes away completely.

I brought Maximus to the vet for a checkup (he has a sensitive stomach) and he behaved this way again. He calmed down for the examination after I corrected him and though uneasy the whole time he made it through fine. Afterwards I was speaking to the vet and he would go over wagging his tail and lick the Dr.'s hands and once he went to pet Maximus, Max would flinch... back up and begin barking again. The Dr. said if he didn't know me for so long (and I didn't work there as a teenager) he would assume I hit the puppy in the face by the way he was acting. He gave me the number to a behavioral therapist for dogs, though he said he thinks Maximus will grow out of it. Considering Maximus is an American Pit Bull Terrier and people already think poorly of the breed I do not want to take my chances and become a poor representative of the breed if people see Maximus barking like that (not viciously, but almost a scared sounding puppy bark...however some people don't know the difference). I've had Maximus since he was FOUR WEEKS old... nobody hits him... unless my boyfriend or I are play fighting with him.

Does anyone know what could cause this or what I should do? This cannot be normal behavior... it's not vicious- but I don't want his fear to ever turn vicious. So I need to nip this in the butt.

Please let me know.
Thank you so much!

June 14th, 2005, 08:51 AM
This is fear agression and it is important to work hard on ending the behaviour as the context that sets it off can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint which makes it unpredictable. When the dog reacts this way around a person with little experience with dogs it can be very scary. And if the person reacts quickly there is a good chance they'll get bit.

Obedience training and other dog sports will help. I don't mean just doing an obedience class and the dog is fixed. I mean giving your dog a structured interactive program that is ongoing. Basically, put him to work, give him a purpose, and his confidence will improve.

You also need to train him so he is 100% sure that you are in charge. That he accepts that you are the one that decides what is a threatening situation, not him.

Here is some reading.

"The Cautious Canine" by Patricia McConnell Ph.D.
-this will lay out very clearly a classical conditioning and
desensitization process.

"Calming Signals On Talking Terms with Dogs" By Turid Rugaas.
-this will describe dog body language, displacement displays,
appeasement gestures.
-Additionally a videotape is available on Calming Signals. It is one
thing to read about signals of stress in dogs, it is especially
beneficial to see them on tape. This additional purchase is strongly

"Don't Shoot The Dog" by Karen Pryor
-The above book will lay out very clearly how all animals, including
humans, learn.

June 14th, 2005, 10:00 AM
Thank you for your response. I consider myself a pretty experienced dog owner and I know pretty much everything you said is correct. Maximus does a lot every week. We go to the various dog parks 4 times a week and agility once. That is five days out of 7 that he is out of the house doing something, often for 3-4 hours at a time. It's not that he doesn't know I'm in charge- once I correct him he stops... but it is the point that he feels the need to do it in the first place. Again, it's rare now... but do you feel it will subside completely or will he always have the idea in the back of his head to bark or certain people? I don't know what obedience classes would do since he already almost completely trained (we are doing some more work on the leash or off leash relationship). I live in New York City... what other sports can he do besides agility and dog park romping? All I've heard of was weight pulling and it seems a little dangerous or trashy (no offense to anyone who practices this sport...just the people who do that over here seem this way) to me.

I will research this a little bit... but I would love to hear what all of you think. Thanks again db7.

Oh yeah... and I am definitely contacting the animal behaviorist- I already left a message for him. Hopefully he can help me figure out what would cause this in Maximus and what the best way to handle it would be. I'll let you know how it turns out... hopefully this guy isn't a quack.

June 14th, 2005, 10:14 AM
I think we 'nip things in the BUD' - having him nip things in the butt might lead to trouble. :p I am sorry I couldnt resist. :o
He is entering his teenage stage and often this can magnifiy his insecurities. I am sure your vet is wonderful, but he is not accurate in his accessment of the 'head shy' behavior. Even famous trainers will make this statement when they should really know better. They test the dog by waving their arm swiftly over the dog's head and if the dog shies away they assume he has been abused. People often come to us with rescue dogs determined that the dog has been abused because of head shy behavior. Not so. As your dog is a testament to your kindness he is just a sensitive/insecure soul, and if someone I didn't know came at me quickly with their hand I might back away too.
His behavior will worsen and his insecurity will grow unless you start becoming a confident, consistent leader. Right now he doesn't believe anyone will keep him safe - so he must keep the world away with barking which can easily grow to growling and snapping. What you are doing sounds like it is working, but you need to hone your skills to a deeper level.
Instead of waiting for behavior to show up, you should read his signals and stop the thoughts in advance. The slightest ear twitch or muzzle stiffening gets a correction and redirection to a job. Get his mind on you not the distraction. Make sure he knows a good 'leave it' or 'be easy', so you can teach him how to behave. You take charge and greet the person he is nervous about to show him that you can handle things. He should not be forced to greet anone unless he shows interest first. Sometimes if you take things slowly at first they will progress much faster in the end if you don't force it.
Take him to the vet when you do not have an appointment - desensitize him. Teach him that barking at the vet will not be tolerated, but he must relax with good manners when he is there. Hang out there for a long while until you see him relax and take a deep breathe (bring lunch). The vet should not approach him - wait for him to approach the vet. Then the vet should greet him with a soft face and voice and then walk away. Max feels too much pressure even when someone is being nice - so help him get over it.
He needs to look to you when he is feeling insecure or has a question about anything and you need to answer. This will give him confidence in your leadership and will start to give you confidence in yourself. Every time he looks into your eyes - reward him with soft praise 'good check in, Max'.
P.S. just read you last post - yes this can stop. We worked a mature Pit with aggression recently and in 2 lessons and homework with his family he is great now and doesn't even think of behaving badly.

June 14th, 2005, 10:53 AM
You are very good. I even said to my vet "why would he be fearful? Doesn't he trust that I would protect him?". I am very loving to my pup... or to any pup for that matter- however I am strict and confident. I will never let him get away with ignoring a command, I do not yell, flip out or hit. I just force the behavior and then reward his actions. Like if I say sit and he doesn't, I will dink the collar and push his butt down... now that he is older I do not have to do that anymore but I don't know what else I can do to make him gain confidence in me. If we are walking and other dogs bark, I will dink once I feel the vibration in his neck... or once he focuses on them and seems to gain excitment. I try to do the same thing with people, however because he has stopped behaving like this for the most part I often don't catch the behavior until he is already barking... because I'm not always expecting it from him.

We go out and play together, we go to the dog parks and agility. I reward him whenever he behaves well. I mean it's so often that he has been completely house broken since we was 12 weeks and I STILL jump up and down, clapping and saying "yay max!" when he goes to the bathroom! He gets all proud and wags his tail, and sometimes he does a little hop with me! When I reward him he shows a major response... he loves to be good. He is a great dog, don't get me wrong I love him with all of my heart- and I don't need absolute perfection- I don't want to break his spirits... but I won't tolerate him showing any aggression- which is what this will lead to.

The way it usually (but rarely) will happen is like this: lets say I see a neighbor and we begin talking... Maximus is fine. Max is sniffing him, kiss his fingers and once the neighbor goes to pet him it's a quick duck, back up and bark... while wagging his tail. At one point I was thinking he was trying to play as he does this to my boyfriend when they play fight. But now I think it's like he's saying "On my terms buddy...not yours". I quickly dink and make him sit... it's embarrassing too!

I will start trying what you have told me so far... I know for a fact you are right- it's just applying these methods takes time and of course...making them work.

June 14th, 2005, 12:08 PM
my only comment is he is georgeous.

good luck, its worth the effort!


June 14th, 2005, 12:12 PM
Sounds like you're approaching things ok. Timing is critical with the commands on this, you've got to catch it right at the perfect moment.

I had a situation where I brought home a mature dog that had been on a farm. I live in the inner city so boundaries are a lot closer and it took a while to help the dog adjust to other strangers being around. She would go all guard doggy at the sight of anybody. I taught her a "neighbour" command. I would use the command and give praise whenever I caught her approaching any of my friends independently in a friendly manner. I didn't want to eliminate the guarding behaviour but I wanted her to relax and not guard when the neighbours were in their yard. The dog won't approach strangers in the park etc. until I tell her "neighbour", which is exactly what I wanted.

Another thing you should work on is a whoa command. A command that stops the dog in its tracks regardless of how strong a drive it has to chase etc. It is not a "no" command but a stand still command. It is a command to do something - stand still and focus, rather than a stop what you are doing command.

It is a command that saves dogs lives in situations such as chasing squirrels across the road for a hunting dog, or herding moving cars for herding dogs.

June 14th, 2005, 12:27 PM
Thanks Eleni... he's such a camera hog... I love it, lol! And thanks again DB7... I will start trying all of your techniques. I'm confident he will turn out fine, like I said he's a great dog- just that he developed this lack of confidence issue. Considering that I'm obsessed with him, I think we'll get it completely stopped soon. (LOL...I really am, my boyfriend makes fun of me all of the time.)

:thumbs up

June 14th, 2005, 01:26 PM
Just thought I'd add... Pups go through a phase with very low inhibition and high exploratory drive that starts around the time they are weaned and lasts until about the age of your pup. It helps them with their ability to quickly learn the reality they live in as they develop. Then they naturally move into a cautious phase at the time where they are well on their way in their physical development and becoming more independent. This cautionary phase helps them keep out of trouble in a way. Knowing your pup is in this phase should give you some comfort that your pup's behaviour is in part natural due to his youth and is not necessarily a predictor of his behaviour as an adult. Especially if you are working on shaping/breaking his behaviour.

June 14th, 2005, 01:26 PM
Max is like an Arabian horse right now - even when he's good you have to be ready for anything. This requires you to be on top of him at all times.
I would not encourage people to pet him for now. Give him more time with a person and let them hold his favorite toy, then have them ask him to do some tricks and when he is sitting and calm they can calmly and softly say good boy and approach him from the side or under his chin - not the top of his head.
You sound like a great mom!

June 14th, 2005, 01:51 PM
Thanks guys,... really. Raising a puppy is kind of like raising a child and you sometimes think to yourself "is this the best way? I hope I don't screw up". Comments like the both of you make are soothing to me and make me feel confident that this problem is small, and will be taken care of soon enough. He warms up to people extremely fast... well except the vet- he is always weary of him now. At first he LOVED the vet- couldn't stop kissing him. Now he's like "I'm not so sure you needle sticking, body probing freak". So I think between both of your comments I pretty much know what the next few steps are. I will keep you both updated.

Tenderfoot- the only two issues I have with Maximus are this occasional barking and the occasional selective ear at the park. Both of which you mentioned I should find more ways to have him learn to trust me and confide in me. So this is definitely something I am going to do with him while applying the methods we've spoken of.

Additionally, just to make sure... do either of you feel that my boyfriend and Maximus rough playing together has anything to do with this behavior? They both get sarcastic with each other, like two kids... it's cute, but I just wanted to make sure. Like Max will run over with his toy and drop it on my boyfriends face and then run like hell! Then my boyfriend will catch him and lightly punch him (like jokingly) and push him around while Max play bites his hands. If Max starts running around the house (to make us chase him) sometimes my boyfriend will pinch his butt (like his upper thigh or next to his tail) and make a funny sound, lol (i know ... we're crazy) and Max jumps and starts play fighting with him again. This is all stuff that I wouldn't expect to cause insecurities... but I think hearing a second opinion would put me at ease. Can there be a bad way to play?

June 14th, 2005, 02:03 PM
Raising a puppy is kind of like raising a child and you sometimes think to yourself "is this the best way? I hope I don't screw up".
LOL! When it comes to puppies and children, there is no right, wrong or best way, and I can guarantee that we all do screw up on occasion. :D You'll do fine, though. You're certainly on the right track by asking for advice from more experienced people and professionals. :thumbs up

June 14th, 2005, 02:21 PM
Writing4fun- I know, you're right... thats what I meant to say but must have forgotten to finish- haha, I flip through my thoughts too quickly when I'm typing. There is no right or wrong, it depends on so many circumstances and you have to do what you think it the best. I am not a trainer (obviously) but have always had dogs, volunteered at shelters, vet offices, etc throughout my life... and still today. However, when it's your own dog with the problem you get nervous and need second opinions, lol!

I can't tell you how much I love this site and how great it is to speak with so many people who really know what they are talking about. When Maximus was sick, my bf suggested I find a site like this (as he uses one for sports). I should thank him... but then he will just make fun of me being obsessed with animals :p

June 14th, 2005, 03:55 PM
The BF playing with Max should not be responsible for his insecurities. They are having fun and the only consequence to that would be if someone else accidentally played in a manner that Max is used to and Max came back with intense play the person wasn't ready for - it could be intimidating to the person.
We had a Rottie that growled like he was going to take your head off when ever you tickled his sides - it was his way of laughing. We always had to warn people because he would have scared them to death. Had he ever landed in a shelter (God forbid) they would have thought he was aggressive and probably put him down. But some Rotties just laugh differently than the rest of us.
Not to be too picky but yes there are very wrong ways to raise kids & dogs. Never raise them through fear or violence. I know that goes with out saying with this group of wonderful people but I just couldn't let that one slide.

June 16th, 2005, 10:54 PM
Tenderfoot- you're the best :thumbs up

I found a Dr. Borchelt who is an animal behaviorist. I spoke to him today- explaining all of these issues we spoke about. He said it isn't a big problem as of now and shouldn't be hard to work out. It's $450 dollars for unlimited sessions until we conquer the problems (leash, fear, and to "come" to me in the park). He would be working with us both, and have follow-up visits. Is that price about right? And do you think that is the best idea?

Even the Dr. said it's not a tremendous problem, and I know it's not as of now. However, as a responsible dog and APBT owner I would like to make sure Maximus grows up to be a well rounded individual :D

I just wanted your imput.

June 17th, 2005, 09:39 AM
Wow, for $450 I will come to your house and stay the week and get you guys on track. I find that price to be outrageous. Just as a point of reference we charge $50/hour and are usually done with you in 1-3 sessions. I think that is a huge commitment of money for something that isn't that hard to work on.
I would even say get our DVD - it's on sale right now - and then call us for advice and it would still be cheaper than the good Dr. and probably get you as much or more - but I know it's hard when we are so far away.
I do like that it's unlimited training for that price so you are guaranteed help for the life of the dog. If you can afford it then it might be worth it.

June 17th, 2005, 11:01 AM
I'd be happy to spend $450 for the peace of mind. But make sure you meet some of the dogs that have been re-habilitated and speak to the owners too.

June 17th, 2005, 06:45 PM
That's it. We are raising our rates! :crazy:

June 18th, 2005, 04:41 PM
I know it seems pricey... but don't forget- I live in New York City, so everything is much more expensive... which is why everyone is so much poorer! lol... except for the dog trainers! :-p

It's funny because I want to get this guy to come help us out but Maximus hasn't acted in any of these ways lately. He has been going right up to people perfectly, answering us at the park perfectly. The only thing is the leash... he still pulls if theres a reason to. I guess I'll give it a week or two and then make my decision.