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fear of strangers

October 23rd, 2006, 01:32 PM
Hi. Been awhile since I posted. Here's my situation. I have a very well-behaved two-year old toy poodle named Molly and a 10 month old Brussels Griffon named Nemo. My boyfriend and I got Nemo back in July as a six-month old puppy from a breeder who kept him a few months longer because of an abnormally large soft spot on his skull.

He's learned very quickly to sit, stay, and lay, but he has this crazy fear of strange people and dogs. And that fear leads to growling and snapping.
He is also afraid of sudden movements and noises, but those mostly cause him to run away, not snap. We took him to beginner obedience class and he pretty much failed in the socialization part. He snapped at any dog that came right up to him, as well as any children that came close. We just finished the class, and frankly, I don't think it did him any good. He was always tense during class and stressed (he shed like crazy). He's just as fearful as before, and the trainer felt that the only option was to see a behaviorist one-on-one. She recommended some people, and we are about to give it a try, but before I spend this crazy amount of money, does anyone have other ideas?

He's a very loving puppy when it comes to people and dogs he knows. He loves to play and give kisses. In fact, he has a hard time stopping giving kisses. He has never tried to bite me or my boyfriend or any members of my family. Nor has he been aggressive towards Molly or my boyfriend's parents' dogs. It seems to be only people and dogs he is unfamilar with that he becomes so terrified and aggressive towards. And frankly, his behavior stresses me out.

Anyone have any ideas? Can anyone tell me what exactly happens on one-on-one time with a behaviorist? This problem needs fixed and as soon as possible.

October 23rd, 2006, 06:06 PM
First of all, is their any possibility that his behaviour is being caused by a health problem (since you mention the soft spot on his skull)???

I have never had one-on-one time with a behaviorist but I have done private behavioural counselling with my trainer. They should be very thorough and will seemingly be asking for your dog's life story (from diet, exercise, routine, behaviour, training to specific incidences etc..) It's very important that you only use positive reinforcement with such a fearful dog.

I would start working on desensitizing him to his smaller fears and work up from there.
For the bigger fears which I assume are strange people and dogs, find out how far away he needs to be from them without reacting. It might be 20 feet or it could be 50+ feet. This is where you will start praising and rewarding him and/or doing fun things that he likes - maybe fetching, tugging or just a tummy rub! The idea is to create happy feelings when he see's something that scares him and praising him for not being fearful. Also, at this stage, I would keep him away from strange dogs/people when you aren't training. If you do see strangers, distract him from them as much as possible (without coddling him!). If possible, have them avoid direct eye contact with your dog, don't let them approach or hover over him and toss treats toward him. Same with dogs, do not let strange dogs approach your dog - you want to do everything you can to stop your dog from feeling like he has to react.

Reading up on Calming Signals and TTouches and their groundwork "leading" exercises willl help.

Lastly, I know its hard but you cannot let his behaviour stress you out or upset you. You need to lead by example and remain calm and confident in these situations. Otherwise he will pick up and feed off of your anxiety and act worse.

October 24th, 2006, 06:21 PM
Thank you for your advice!

I don't believe it's any kind of health problem. He was at the vet recently and had his checkup, with a full bloodtest and everything was normal. His softspot is almost completely gone, thank goodness.

I will try harder to keep calm when he reacts. I know he feeds off my body messages.

My boyfriend and I will also try the techniques you recommend, i.e. trying to turn scary experiences into happy ones. There are no miracles, and I know that. We'll just keep trying until he loses his fears.

October 25th, 2006, 07:10 PM
You can try keeping a pocket full of his favorite treats when you are out with him. When you come upon someone new slip them a treat and ask the to offer it to Nemo. He should soon catch on that strangers=treat.