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Rescue dog - wonderful with us, doesn't like anyone else (long)

KelB
January 2nd, 2008, 11:47 AM
OK, my first question - and it's a loooooong one. Sorry in advance.

A bit of background first:

A month ago, my husband and I adopted Katie, a two-year-old lab/doberman rescue dog. We fell in love with her the second we met her - she was exactly the dog we were hoping to find. She was a bit shy when we first went to visit her at the foster home, but came over to us within minutes and was sweet and affectionate. By the end of our 1.5-hour visit, she was sprawled out on my lap and I was a goner.

When Katie came to live with us a week later, she was excited to see us and didn't fuss or cry at all when the foster mom left. She's a great dog. She listens well, shows no interest in biting or chewing anything other than her toys, and - most importantly - is ridiculously sweet, snuggly and loving.

We had a couple of people drop in over the next two weeks. One girl, Katie was completely scared of, even though the girl got down on the floor so as not to be threatening. Another couple Katie showed mild interest in, but kept enough distance that they couldn't touch her.

Over the Christmas holidays, we went away for a week to visit our families and brought Katie with us. It was a disaster - Katie was super-scared of EVERYONE. She was generally OK with being in the same vicinity as people, and would sometimes even sniff at them or brush up against them - but would run off if anyone even put their hand out to her. We asked everyone to just ignore her completely, thinking that she'd warm up to people in her own time. But as the week went on, she got more stressed and tense and her behaviour got more unpredictable. Early in the week, she snapped or growled a couple of times when she felt trapped or cornered. Later in the week, she was doing it more often, sometimes for no reason that we could figure out. :sad:

Needless to say, this experience was pretty stressful (for her AND for us.) The adoption agency didn't know her story, but didn't think she'd been abused. We didn't think so either, considering she was so immediately trusting and loving with us, and hasn't exhibited any other behaviours I've been told are common for abused dogs (peeing in the house, etc.) So is this a common behaviour for rescue dogs? Is it something that can be worked on, even though she's not a puppy? Are there any recommended socialization classes for adult dogs in the Brampton or Mississauga area? We want to do whatever we can to fix this, but I'm not sure that a regular obedience class is the way to go... especially if no one can go near her!!

Sorry again that this is so long, but any advice or words of widsom would be greatly appreciated!

white wrabbit
January 2nd, 2008, 12:37 PM
could it of been that she was out of her environment she was just getting use to your place as her home, and then with a bunch of new people around in a different house.

sounds like she needs some more interaction with people.. i would start introducing her to more at your house get her more use to strangers coming in and going to learn that not all are bad people.. and take her after a bit to other peoples house but come home not spend the night..

CearaQC
January 2nd, 2008, 12:44 PM
Maybe she just lacks confidence.

I don't like to be around many people either and if introduced to too many, or feel claustrophobic at the store, I will go into mega anxiety mode and also get snippy. Understand totally how the dog might feel.

Now, animals are notorious for sensing emotions. If humans are constantly projecting fear, worry, anxiety, the dog will definitely pick up on that and act accordingly.

When socializing, going to new places, try to ooze positive energy... like you know where you're going, everything that is happening is because you want it to, and because it's so fun doing it as well.

If you react calmly and don't project negative emotions, the dog will eventually come to see that stuff is peachy and there is nothing to worry about.

Animals live in the moment, and we silly humans often live in the past or future and rarely in the present.

KelB
January 2nd, 2008, 01:10 PM
Now, animals are notorious for sensing emotions. If humans are constantly projecting fear, worry, anxiety, the dog will definitely pick up on that and act accordingly.

When socializing, going to new places, try to ooze positive energy... like you know where you're going, everything that is happening is because you want it to, and because it's so fun doing it as well.

This is what my husband told me too, and I know you're both right! I had a really hard time staying happy and positive when she was freaking out... apparently Katie's not the only one who needs to work on her behaviour. ;)

White Wrabbit, thanks for your advice too... might be a good idea to try bringing other people into our house first. And yes, shorter visits to other people's homes will hopefully be better! We definitely understand that this was a long, stressful trip for her.

The other thing I'm not sure of is this: what's the proper way to correct her when she growls, barks or snaps at someone? I assume she's doing it out of fear, so I don't want to scare her more... but I also don't want to tell her "it's OK" and have her think she's being praised for being aggressive.

Ack, I feel like such a novice! :o

Frenchy
January 2nd, 2008, 01:22 PM
I think it was a natural reaction for your dog to react this way , it was too early for her to be with so many people over the holidays.

She may had been abuse , she may just lack socialization. I fostered females from puppy mills , who never had any human contact other than someone throwing them some food or take away their puppies. It does take time for them to get used to people , to live in a house etc.... be patient , these dogs need a quiet environment and to be introduce , little by little , to people.

I do believe an obedience class would help , but you need to explain to them how your dog is , to make sure they put her in a right class. One with not too many people , one who will do positive reinforcement.

Like I said , this will take time and patience , lots of loving too !

Lissa
January 2nd, 2008, 06:06 PM
It's very hard to form a sound opinion online but it certainly sounds like Katie has fear issues. Having said that, a month is a very short period of time for a dog (especially a rescue) to adjust... Katie is still adjusting - she will likely behave a great deal differently over the next few months (for better or worse depending on how you socialize, desensitize and train her).

We had a couple of people drop in over the next two weeks. One girl, Katie was completely scared of, even though the girl got down on the floor so as not to be threatening. Another couple Katie showed mild interest in, but kept enough distance that they couldn't touch her.

First of all, I have to say that Katie is showing remarkable self control... It is excellent that she knows her limits and is clearly showing you (and strangers) that she is uncomrtable and needs to keep her distance.
What you do in these situations, as well as what the strangers do will have a profound effect on Katie. You need to research dog body language and in particular calming signals - you need to recognize all the warning/stress signals she gives off before she growls or snaps (something as small as tightening her mouth or flicking her ear!). Dogs are masters of body language - we humans tend to miss the majority of what our dogs are trying to tell us UNTIL the obvious signals surface like growling, yawning, lack of focus etc... Looking into TTouch and Rescue Remedy may also be a wise idea. Equally important is that you start building a bond with Katie - the best way to do this is through training. She needs to trust that YOU will protect her (so she doesn't start protecting herself by barking, lunging, snapping and biting). A month is not long enough for her to have complete trust in you, especially since she's shy - its a long process.
I would have handled this situation by having people ignore her completely, creating a positive associataion and keeping the sessions short (removing her from the situation if I couldn't pay 100% attention to her).

Over the Christmas holidays, we went away for a week to visit our families and brought Katie with us. It was a disaster - Katie was super-scared of EVERYONE. She was generally OK with being in the same vicinity as people, and would sometimes even sniff at them or brush up against them - but would run off if anyone even put their hand out to her. We asked everyone to just ignore her completely, thinking that she'd warm up to people in her own time. But as the week went on, she got more stressed and tense and her behaviour got more unpredictable. Early in the week, she snapped or growled a couple of times when she felt trapped or cornered. Later in the week, she was doing it more often, sometimes for no reason that we could figure out. :sad:

Christmas is a very stressful time - going away and being surrounded by strangers (especially if no work was done prior) is the last thing Katie needed. I understand there was no choice but unfortunately Katie was put into a situation where there was very little chance for her to succeed.
It is an excellent idea to have people ignore her... If any interaction was to occur the humans should not make eye contact, any sudden movement, corner the dog or force themselves on the dog (all of these things are threatening and overwhelming to Katie). People should arc toward Katie (instead of approaching face on), stand sideways with relaxed posture and toss treats in her direction (trying to create a positive association). There should be no petting right now but when Katie is ready for that, people should never bend over her or pat her on the head (always stroke a dog under his chin or side of his neck and work your way up - although some dogs never appreciate having the top of their head fussed).

We didn't think so either, considering she was so immediately trusting and loving with us, and hasn't exhibited any other behaviours I've been told are common for abused dogs (peeing in the house, etc.) So is this a common behaviour for rescue dogs? Is it something that can be worked on, even though she's not a puppy? Are there any recommended socialization classes for adult dogs in the Brampton or Mississauga area? We want to do whatever we can to fix this, but I'm not sure that a regular obedience class is the way to go... especially if no one can go near her!!

Katie could be a shy/anxious dog but even 1 seemingly insignificant incident in her past could have caused her to be fearful of strangers.
Reactive dogs (fear based) often appear normal until their trigger(s) is present. Any dog can become reactive - usually after a traumatic incident(s). You can always work on this and improve their reactivity but this is something that needs to be managed for life. You cannot cure a reactive dog but you can definately improve things.
I agree that regular OB classes will likely be disasturous for Katie - it sounds like she would be too fearful to learn. I would definately recommend finding a good positive reinforcement trainer/behaviourist who can observe Katie and then outline a socialization-desensitization-training program that you can do outside of a course (so that you can get into a course). You must do your research because a mediocre or punishment based trainer is likely to do more damage than good. If you can find a trainer who operates a "reactive dog" class that would be best; you want to make sure the individual you choose has experience with fear based behaviours (and you also need to see them in action before committing IMO).

The other thing I'm not sure of is this: what's the proper way to correct her when she growls, barks or snaps at someone? I assume she's doing it out of fear, so I don't want to scare her more... but I also don't want to tell her "it's OK" and have her think she's being praised for being aggressive.

I would never correct a dog who is reacting out of fear. Anytime she reacts, it is likely handler error... Either moving too fast, not paying attention to her, being inconsistence or poor timing etc... When you correct a dog for growling, you are teaching them to bite without warning. Its actually good for a dog to give an obvious signal like growling so we know what she's reacting too, from what distance... It gives you a starting point.
Ignoring the behaviour when it happens is good. But the best thing you can do is manage her and the environment so she does not react. Remember, dogs get better a what they practice! You also need to start an intense desensitization process (usually best done with dog savvy friends who can be instructed how to act and react). I personally wouldn't start in the home - I would choose somewhere "open"... Reactive dogs have a "threshold" (the level at which they react) - your goal is to figure it out, start from where she isn't reacting and can focus on you and SLOWLY move forward from there. For instance, some dogs will react when their trigger(s) is 30 ft away, others like my dog can remain calm until his trigger (dogs) is a couple of inches away.
Training basic commands (particulary self-control behaviours like stays, waits, call-off's, recalls and leave its) are imperative. You should also teach hand/finger targeting and other "fun" behaviours that your dog can do around her triggers (to keep her focus on you). For instance, one of the first things I did was put a "play bow" on command - its a non-threatening signal that has a positive effect on dogs. Training with Katie will give her more confidence and will create a deeper, more trusting bond. It will teach her to focus on you and that you are the giver of all good things.

I have a reactive dog so I have have almost every related book/DVD on the market. The best are:
Click to Calm, Emma Parsons
Scaredy Dog (book and DVD)/Fear not Focus, Ali Brown
Bringing Light to Shadow/How to Right a Dog Gone Wrong, Pamela Dennison

And a few general one's:
Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide, Brenda Aloff
Calming Signals, Turid Rugaas
TTouch, Linda Tellington Jones
Click for Joy by Melissa Alexander or Clicking With Your Dog: Step by Step in Pictures by Peggy Tillman will help with the basics of clicker training (which is IMO the best thing to do for Katie because it will build confidence)

Good Luck... I know there are definately holes in my post - its impossible to cover everything! I hope its understandable though!

KelB
January 3rd, 2008, 10:38 AM
Wow Lissa, thanks. I've read through your advice once and will have to go through it much more carefully, but it seems really helpful - and thorough!

I definitely feel bad about having to bring Katie to a new place during Christmas. Like you said, we didn't have much of a choice (other than leave her with a stranger here, which we obviously didn't want to do!!), and although we tried to limit the amount of people/activity around her and made a "safe" place for her with her bed, toys, food/water, etc, I know it still wasn't the best thing for her to have to deal with. Poor baby. :( Now it's just the 3 of us again, and doing what we can to help her along is our #1 priority for the year... fingers crossed.

Thanks for the book/DVD recommendations too, I'll definitely be looking into those. I'm really interested in clicker training because I've heard really positive things about it but don't actually know what it is. Off to the store after work today! :)