Difficulty with people at a distance

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Difficulty with people at a distance

This is a discussion on Difficulty with people at a distance within the Dog Training and Behavior forums, part of the Keeping and Caring for Dogs category; Hi guys! My dog Mabel has an odd behaviour with people, only at a distance. She will bark at people from far away, even if ...

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Old 12-12-2017, 10:39 PM
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Difficulty with people at a distance

Hi guys!
My dog Mabel has an odd behaviour with people, only at a distance. She will bark at people from far away, even if she has met them several times (neighbours) or lives with them (my mom and brother). She only does this when people are far away, and once they get close she wiggles and is happy. Sometimes she does shy away from men, but warms up to them within a few seconds. It does not sound like a frustrated greeting bark, as it sometimes turns into this weird bark howl hybrid thing. I don't want people to think she is aggressive, as she absolutely adores attention from people and we are working towards her therapy dog title. I don't understand why she is behaving this way, as she is almost instantly happy when she gets within 2-3 m of the person she was just barking at. Does anyone here have experience with this? Is this just her alerting me that someone is there or is she frightened? She also does this in the backyard when people walk by our fence (our backyard backs onto a park and baseball diamond). Thanks!!
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Old 12-13-2017, 06:15 AM
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Mmmm sounds like reactivity to me. Hard to say if its fear based or not without seeing it. Might just be a burst of excitement at the prospect of meeting someone. Have you tried putting her into a sit or down stay immediately before she starts barking?
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Old 12-13-2017, 07:27 AM
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Normally I don't notice them before she does, and I'm not at all experienced with reactive dogs. Normally we just continue on walking and once she gets close she gets very excited and happy. She loves people so I'm wondering why she is reactive at a distance. I also don't know how to help her not do this, as her loud barking understandably frightens people. My plan was to start feeding her treats whenever I notice a person off in the distance and to stand and wait until they get closer... Does this sound like it might work? My aim would be to get her attention before she gets into her barking fit.
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Old 12-13-2017, 08:32 AM
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Lightbulb Click to Calm

Quote:
Originally Posted by MarvelousMabel View Post

Normally I don't notice them before she does, and I'm not at all experienced with reactive dogs. ...
.

I'm going to suggest that U buy a copy of Click to Calm, which is a terrific DIY manual for managing & B-Mod of reactive dogs - no matter what the cause, the fix is the same process.
It's written recipe-style, U can literally turn to the pages that deal with Ur own dog's "symptoms", in the latter half of the book, & start B-Mod immediately, or read the book cover to cover, then begin applying it.

Nothing in it is confrontational, suggests aversive tools, floods the dog, etc - safe, humane, & effective.
The how-to descriptions are very clear - the one thing i'd suggest is doing a lot of learning about dogs' body-language, concurrent with this B-Mod project, & learn to see YOUR dog's very earliest signals of anxiety or arousal.

all my best,
- terry

.
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Old 12-13-2017, 10:53 AM
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I hired a trainer to help me with my dog's reactivity, she would do the exact same thing. We worked on counter conditioning and while it was a lot of work and took around 4-5 months, Mia is amazing now. Any time she sees someone walking by or someone at a far distance walking towards us, she immediately looks to me now instead of reacting.
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Old 12-13-2017, 02:49 PM
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I had a service dog who worked for me for over 10 years and was normally rock solid and completely ignored strangers. But, she developed a similar tendency in her last year or so. She would see some people at a distance and become excited - either acting like it was someone she knew or someone that made her nervous.

With her, it was her eyesight. She was starting to have difficulty seeing people clearly at a distance. Same as you, once we got close, she would see the person more clearly, and everything was fine. As it got worse, she even sometimes needed to get close enough to sniff the person before she would completely settle down.

So, I would rule out vision problems.

Having ruled that out, the trick is anticipating when your dog is going to have a reaction and intervening. Quickly turn her attention to doing something she knows well - like sitting - anything she will do quickly and reliably that you can reward her for. The goal is to distract her from fixating on this person in the distance and get her to do something she is confident with and feels secure about. It turns her from a mindset of apprehension to one of knowing what to do.

Hold her attention (possibly with treats or a toy) until the "danger" has passed. Admittedly, this can be very disruptive to your walk for a while, but you should be doing it less frequently over time.

But ... and this is key ... you also need to reward her when she DOESN'T react. When you are approaching someone at the distance she sometimes reacts, and she hasn't reacted yet, praise her, be generous with treats, etc. Continue this as long as she doesn't react and until you have passed the person.

Without this reinforcement, anything you do to correct or distract from the behavior will be much less effective. She may ultimately figure out vaguely what you want her NOT to do, but not what you would rather she do instead.

In general, I train dogs that the best response to approaching a strange person or dog is to make frequent eye contact with me.

Hope this helps.
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Old 12-13-2017, 02:51 PM
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I should add that, as you are working on this problem, it is really important to watch your dog carefully so you are able to pick up whatever subtle sign she gives that she is about to react. If you have to wait until she has already started barking, it is a much more difficult problem to deal with (and a different strategy).
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Old 12-13-2017, 03:43 PM
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I think Foswick has a point with the eyesight. She may see the motion off in the distance, but not be able to visually identify what it is she is seeing. Until she is close enough to see what and who, it represents a possible threat, so she barks.
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Old 12-13-2017, 05:49 PM
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Thank you for all the advice! We went on a walk today and she did not react to anyone as we were walking along, of course I praised this heavily! I have no idea why she is reacting, as it is so selective and random (at least to me). I am worried about her eyesight and I think that a vet visit would be a good idea! She used to be afraid of the dark, but we started gradually walking more frequently at night and now she doesn't care at all about nighttime. I wonder if all of this is related to vision...
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Old 12-13-2017, 07:59 PM
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I just wanted to add that she seems to also bark when my neighbours dog is barking outside. I'm not sure if he influenced this behaviour because he constantly barks, so maybe she learned this from him?
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