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Sudden Fear of certain men - fear period or something more serious?

March 1st, 2009, 03:34 PM
My little cattle dog female who is not fourteen weeks old has been coming to work with me at a high end pet food store since she was seven weeks old. She's met approximately 2500 people in that time, and several hundred dogs.

She's extremely well socialized, very well mannered, is housebroken and is doing very well with training (come, sit, heel, down, stay, wait, paw, leave it, drop it, etc.). She's great with children, women, and 98% of men.

She does have some submissive urination issues, but only with people she knows (the girls I work with mainly), and it's purely excitement based. We've handled it by completely toning down her greetings (no touching, no talking for ten minutes - and a potty break whenever one of the girls arrives to empty her beforehand). Aside from that she is very self assured, as cattle dogs tend to be.

Of course, part of the cattle dog temperament is wariness with strangers, which is why we've gone to the extreme with her socialization to this point. She approaches everyone with friendly, polite caution, which is acceptable. The problem lies with the 2% (or less) of men she has decided she dislikes.

In these cases she will remove herself from reach, and if cornered by the offending individual, she will even growl to try and put distance between herself and the man involved. Until recently I could get her to take cookies from the men and left it at that, but yesterday I had to break out the graham cookies with carob icing to get her to take a treat from a man she is particularly fearful of. Even then, she felt the need to snatch it and run.

The men don't seem to have any common characteristics, apart from being manly men, very gruff and butch. However, some of her favourite customers fit that same description. To the point where aside from the other girls on staff, these manly men she adores are the only other people treated to the cattle dog sprinkle greeting. :rolleyes:

Anywho, the current plan is to stash a pack of 100% organic turkey meat hotdogs in our work fridge and keep them on hand to be tossed from EVERY man who comes through the door.

But ANY other suggestions would be welcome. It's generally accepted that herding breeds mature quicker than the general population, so I'm wondering if perhaps she's experiencing a fear period early. She went through her initial fear period at 7-8 weeks and got through it with flying colours.

Any recommendations?? :confused:

Gail P
March 1st, 2009, 08:44 PM
...and if cornered by the offending individual, she will even growl to try and put distance between herself and the man involved.

I would avoid the situation above, she's telling you she's not comfortable with it. Don't let her be cornered and force the situation, that's when fear can turn to aggression. Instead, use the treat idea but don't try to make her come to him. Give him the treat to hold and let him spend a bit of time chatting with you. Tell him to avoid eye contact with her while talking and just ignore her. He can break off pieces of hot dog (or whatever treat you choose) and toss them in her general direction, or let them fall near his feet but basically ignore her until she is comfortable coming to him. It may not happen at first, but she'll begin to get the idea that nobody is cornering her and she's safe to come and get the treat. Also if size (height) is an issue it may help for him to make himself smaller, eg. sit down on a stack of dog food or something while talking. Eventually she should be willing to take the treat from his hand and become friends. When a dog is shy or fearful, often the bigger deal you make of it and more you try to force the issue the bigger the problem becomes.

March 2nd, 2009, 06:10 AM
Thanks Gail, that's pretty much how we're handling it at this point.

I'm just perplexed at her discretion. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to her fears. Like I said, her very favourite men are those same big burly types.

Such is life with a herding dog... :rolleyes:

Gail P
March 2nd, 2009, 10:00 AM
Such is life with a herding dog... :rolleyes:
Why do you say that? :confused: Mine are all herding breeds and herding mixes, a rough collie, 4 border collies, a BC/lab, a cattle dog mix (maybe BC/ACD), and a mix that may include Australian Shepherd/Catahoula Leopard Dog and/or GSD. I'm just not sure what you mean.

March 2nd, 2009, 10:36 AM
Here's my 2cents....
I think your dog is not actually looking at the physical aspect alone but also the scent. May be he's picking up a scent that he is not comfortable with.

March 2nd, 2009, 11:08 AM
Here's my 2cents....
I think your dog is not actually looking at the physical aspect alone but also the scent. May be he's picking up a scent that he is not comfortable with.

I totally agree. I have had several dogs that react to scent as well as color -(they get natural socialization since I am of 'color':laughing:). This is not uncommon.

March 2nd, 2009, 02:22 PM
my late beagle was terrified of my daughters east indian friends and would cower and bark at them. Brina will not go to men that have heavy aftershave on no matter how many treats they try to give her. even daughters boyfriend if he's too heavy handed applying his aftershave will get her fearsome look when normally she's all over him and on his lap if he sits...

March 2nd, 2009, 04:29 PM
Why do you say that? :confused: Mine are all herding breeds and herding mixes, a rough collie, 4 border collies, a BC/lab, a cattle dog mix (maybe BC/ACD), and a mix that may include Australian Shepherd/Catahoula Leopard Dog and/or GSD. I'm just not sure what you mean.

Then I'm sure that most of your dogs score in the "genius" to "above genius" range on the doggy IQ scale. ;)

Alas, as with many geniuses (and athletic geniuses to boot) their motives are not always obvious. Figuring out a retriever is easy. A beagle, even easier. A rough collie, even, for the most part, handleable. A BC, an ACD, an aussie, etc... well, those of you with Jack Russells understand... lol

I love the smell train of thought. Incidentally, what set off her fear flare up on Saturday was a man who smelled of last night's bar. After that, the next few men she came in contact with she avoided. I can't say for sure what the previous fear-evoking men smelled like - I didn't really get close to any of them, at that point I was just monitoring the situation, trying to judge her reaction, her bounce back, seeing how she would handle it, etc.

Incidentally, I didn't mean to crack on herding breeds. Quite the opposite in fact. But their incredibly high intelligence makes them a unique challenge to train and live with (as I'm sure I don't have to tell you!!). My golden, for example, knew between 60-90 commands (depending on how strict your criteria is) and we even shot a movie with him and a few commercials. I thought he was brilliant - till we got our first ACD mix. She knows about five "commands" - but has a light grasp of the entire english language. Oh, did I mention she can also spell words she considers pertinent such as bath, walk, car, outside, poop, moms, work, sleep, upstairs, breakfast, dinner, treat, cookie, bed and van?

Which is why when my youngest began these unusual behaviours I posted here in the hopes that someone would trigger an idea as to what was causing it. I mean, I know how to desensitize her to men (although she's met and had good experiences with about 1200 in the past eight weeks, so it's not as if she's socially stunted) and I know how to teach her to simply remove herself from situations that do make her uncomfortable - but I would rather get to the bottom of *exactly* what it is about those men that makes her uncomfortable so that we can mimic that behaviour/motion/appearance/smell!/etc at home and deal with the issue more thoroughly.

I wasn't suggesting that herding breeds are lacking in temperament, or that for some reason such behaviour should be expected or (certainly not!) tolerated, but rather that peculiar quirks to us seem perfectly normal to a canine version of Einstein with Olympic prowess when faced with a situation from their point of view. It's my simple brain that is lacking the facilities to process the situation at the same level, thereby coming to a different conclusion and failing to see anything similar. Who knows, maybe they all had yellow shoelaces? ;) Or maybe they all lived with a guinea pig - I would never know... but SHE would!

Dog Dancer
March 2nd, 2009, 10:23 PM
I agree scent could be an issue, but let's not forget she's just a puppy still. It will take her some time to mature and find her total comfort zone. I agree with Gail that cornering her and forcing her is a bad scenario. She'll come around at her own speed.

March 3rd, 2009, 06:17 AM
I just want to point out that while the staff and I make every effort to ensure that she does NOT end up in a "stuck" situation, I cannot be everywhere at every moment. In addition, she does need to learn to deal with uncomfortable situations on her own.

My other girl has learned to simply remove herself from such situations by going behind the counter where customers are off-limits. She knows this is a safe zone. The odd time someone pushes that limit, she simply offers a little growl, more to bring me to the rescue than anything else. It is very effective. Generally as soon as the offending individual backs off and gives her space she will come out on her own and investigate the situation, and the next time they come in she's cautious but calm.

Tethering the pup to me is not an option at this point, as I don't want to reduce her options for flight if she feels uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the occasional odd person is a side effect of meeting 3000 people so far. Incidentally, her big sister (our rott mix) was at work with me all as well all day yesterday and she was fine with everyone (the old look at ME look how CUTE I am pet ME first! deal). For the next few weeks we're just going to bring the two of them to work and see if that gets her through this period with the least amount of conflict. In the meantime, my hubby has been acting big, gruff, and sometimes bizarre, making a game out of it.

While I agree that cornering her and forcing her are bad ideas, no one is forcing her to do anything. However, allowing her to "come around at her own speed" is a surefire way to have an adult dog still displaying the same behaviour. This type of thing needs to be tackled immediately, although the tactics are different for every individual.

We've raised dozens and dozens of pups, most of them severely stunted socially, many of them abused, some of them almost ruined by previous handling or lack thereof. (we run a special needs rescue).

It's not the "how" that's eluding me, it's the "why." For her to meet 2500 people (and this is a conservative estimate) all of whom pet her, coo to her, and a lot of the time feed her, what I'm really lacking at this point is insight as to why she's chosen these men in particular, and why she's reacting so far on the other end of the behavioural scale. It's only been about a dozen men... over the course of a week. Meaning it's a recent development, and represents an extremely small portion of the men she actually encounters. The remainder receive her standard, happy, submissive greeting, while another dozen or so receive her overly happy leaky greeting. (Still haven't figured out the link with these people either... :rolleyes:)

Also, it should be mentioned again that in behavioural terms herding breeds (the true, working breeds) mature faster than most other breeds. While the standard age for adult behaviours is six months (although sexual maturity comes later bringing with it a whole new can of worms) with herders it's generally around four months of age. This is usually what contributes to obsessive issues in herders, as people pass these behaviours off as cute puppy behaviours, not realizing that they're already in the process of part of the adult repetoire.

March 3rd, 2009, 06:39 AM
Most pups regardless of the breed, go through fright phases at around 4 months of age. It's not unusual for them to be fine with a person or object one day and then scared to death of it the next. I have no idea what the reason is for it, but mine have always come through it fine.
As for it being just certain men, could be just the way those men approach the dog, how they stand over the dog, how loud or soft they talk, scent. All can contribute. My dogs don't love everyone they meet and I don't expect them to either. If one of my dogs has ever shown fear or dislike for a person they meet, I've always been leary of that person. I'll trust the dogs instincts.