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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello,

We have a 7 months AmStaff/Pit mix female, who is a rescue and we got her a month ago. She was found as a stray, but based on the scars in her face, she probably was used as a bait dog and let go, because she was just "too nice".

Nearly everything is going great so far. After the 2 weeks "shut down" phase, we started talking walks in our neighborhood (before we were only "roaming" in our fenced in yard). While she is overly friendly to people, she seems to be afraid of dogs, especially bigger ones.

She is not aggressive towards the dogs (maybe yet? but I don't want to get that far), but just freezes in place if we meet one. One example: There was a bigger (I'd guess around 28-30" tall) poodle mix and a small (10-12") poodle mix coming towards us with their owners. I told them from afar that I didn't have many encounters with dogs yet, she is a rescue and I don't know how she would react. I stood with her, me between them and her, and waited for them to approach/pass by, while talking gently to her. She then went in their direction to greet (it looked like it, tail waggling, ears forward), but I then saw, that she was totally steering in the little dogs direction. The bigger one approached her and tried to sniff and she just froze in place, tail between her legs, licking her lips and ears close to her head. She didn't move for about a minute, until the poodles went on their way (everybody was on leashes and mind you, the bigger poodle was tail waggling and friendly, as far as I am able to tall). Next day we saw the same dogs from afar, my dog sat and started shaking and was just starring at them (no, we didn't meet them that day).

As for the friendliness to people: As soon as she spots a person, she stops dead in her tracks, starts tail waggling and doesn't want to come with me as long as the person is in sight. She absolutely loves people, wants to say hi to everybody and give out kisses and tail wags.

I need help for both! Sure enough I want her to be okay with meeting other dogs (meaning: not being scared, but able to walk away if she wants nothing to do with them) and I want her to be friendly with people, but not friendly to the point we can't have a walk because she wants to great everybody (and I don't even want to know what the people think, having an AmStaff/Pit intensely staring at you, without them knowing the dog).

Any suggestions how to tackle these two? We have a trainer coming in on Saturday, but I want to start doing something about it now.

Thanks a lot in advance!
 

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Do you have many friends with dogs? If you can get a few people with trustworthy & friendly dogs that can help you with this then that is definitely easiest.

When you see dogs approaching I'd have her do some "look at that", have her look at the dog, then she gets a treat, look, treat, look, treat, etc. As soon as she switches from interested to nervous/submissive (ears back, lip licking, a "hunched" sit, avoiding eye contact with the on coming dogs) then just neutrally walk away putting distance between you two and the oncoming dog(s).

Over time the distance between her and the oncoming dogs that cause her to "switch" should shorten. When you progress to the point that an actual interaction will take place, really make sure it's with quiet, smaller dogs -- older dogs are often great at this as they have no interest in playing so it's much more low-key of a greeting.

When we first got my girl she was terrified of new dogs (to be fair, she had good dog skills as I'd seen in the shelter, she was just so shell shocked that she was scared of EVERYTHING). I found doing lots of low key greetings with older low-energy and relaxed small dogs helped a lot. The first time she played with a younger small dog I could visibly see her confidence sky rocket and she got braver and braver with each interaction after that.

Definitely discuss with the trainer as of course advice from someone who actually sees the issues and meets your dog is going to be much better then blind internet advice :) The biggest thing is to make sure to continue exposing her in a really gentle and slow manner to positive interactions with dogs until she gains confidence in her social skills! She may never be the most outgoing dog, but being able to at least be cordial to other dogs is such an advantage.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thank you for your reply!

Well, we have friends with dogs, but one is totally untrained (the smaller one with which I'd like to try a meet & greet size wise, but don't know about it since he is really, totally untrained and non-reliable) and the other one is an older, but much bigger (golden retriever mix) dog, who's only problem is food resource guarding, but well trained other wise.

I tried what you suggested yesterday, the problem is, when she switches (it was directly at our garage door when coming home, two dogs on the other side of the street), she doesn't move, I can't get distance between us and them, because she is just staring and shivering.
But, I found out that it is not the same with every bigger dog. We meet a huge mastiff/bulldog mix of some kind (the only thing I really noticed was that he was huge and really muscular/bulky). The owner wasn't confident in his friendliness towards other dogs, so we tried to walk past each other, but both dogs really seemed to want to have greeted each other. Bri was not afraid at all, tail waggling, trying to get to him, jumping on the leash, ears forward and all that with only about 10-15 feet distance between them.

Oh well, I guess you're right. For now I continue the treats and calm talking and trying to get her not to shut down and then see what the trainer says on Saturday. Can't wait!
 

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My girl is definitely like that. It doesn't seem to have anything to do with the size of the dog but there must be some body language cues going on that are too subtle for me to read. I can see the more obvious ones, but my girl knows from like 20 ft out if she wants to meet that dog or not. Some dogs she is super outgoing with and others she runs away from. Definitely GSD's & Chows are ones that she runs from more consistently (but we have met ones that she goes right up to too!) and she actually loves most big dogs. We've met a bunch of pyrs, leonbergers, st bernards, irish wolfhounds and she gets on with them like a house on fire (they don't always agree and give an air of exasperation at her annoying puppy-ish anitcs).

So I totally get that seeming-randomness.

It sounds like when she switches to that nervous stage that she's literally frozen in fear. It may be a case where you actually want to FORCE her to move, literally apply strong pressure on the leash until she takes a step away. Like when you wake up from a bad nightmare and you're too scared to move but as soon as you move it snaps your brain out of it (OK I know it's more complicated with post-dream stuff but general concept).

My girl is really scared of motorcycles and will do the freeze and shake thing when they are nearby. I have to drag her a few steps (luckily she's only 45 lbs) until her brain kicks in again and then the usual fear antics are displayed (tucked tail, zig-zagging steps, ears back). Those are healthier in my mind then the frozen-solid mental state because her brain is at least kind of working and acknowledging my soothing tones. She's too scared to take treats, but she's aware of my presence. Working with her in that state has led to improvement (getting her far enough away until the scared tactics recede enough that she'll take a treat and then just treating and treating and treating).

Now a motorcycle can go right by us and she'll hunch up, but she not longer shuts down.

Hopefully the trainer can give some great insight once she observes the behavior!! She sounds like a great dog from your other posts so hopefulyl this is worked through smoothly :)
 

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I can comment on the friendly to people part of it - I wouldn't worry about it. Our pup was like that when he was that age, and then eventually grew out of it. Your pup is a social butterfly, at least with people, and that is good. After a while, your dog will mature and get 'desentized', so people won't be as exciting to him anymore. Just give it time. But for now, it's a good thing that your pup loves people, and exposure to all different types of people at this age is really good.
 

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My Beagle, Pikey, loves people. He goes up to strangers, wags his tail, and hopes to be petted. He is different with dogs; he's not afraid of them but wants to growl and bark everytime he sees one go by the back yard or passes him when we are out walking.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Thank you all for your input to this!

So the first training session went really well, she was an angel (even though I don’t know if that’s good, since being on her best behavior, the trainer doesn’t see anything to work on :D ). But, at least, she greeted the trainer as if she was a long lost friend, kisses and jumping for everyone! (We have to work on that as well :) )
Our trainer was very impressed with her, that we already managed to teach her a good sit, down and solid stay (at least inside with not to many distractions) and was especially surprised that Bri is so trusting, given her history (used as a bait dog).
We talked about the issues I have on walks, with looking out for people and being very selective dog wise, so our next session (today) will be going out in the big wide world and taking a walk to see what’s going on.
What surprised me a lot was that the trainer is not using treats. She said praise and cuddling is enough for the easy stuff, to let Bri know she did the right thing. The treats come into play for harder things, like a recall outside off leash or huge distractions. Whereas I was giving her treats for nearly everything Bri did. By now, she is kind of expecting it for me, so I probably should follow suit with the trainer’s method and give less and less.

I’ll definitely report what comes out of today’s “walking” lesson!
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 · (Edited)
I totally forgot on reporting how the "walking" lesson went:

Well, Bri is really a fast learner. She understood heel pretty fast, obviously we have to work on consistency and endurance of this command, but I think she gets the basic concept of it. She sits at every road crossing (this was something I started to train with her from the beginning, so no surprise for me :) ) and, if no one is around, listens well to me calling her (kind of "recall training on the leash") or the command "come on" (which I use for, you sniffed enough, let's go!).
What the trainer said (and did) with other dogs or things in general that make her tense/capture her attention (joggers, birds, plastic bags in trees, just to name a few), make her sit and explain what the things are. This works really, really well. Sure, she still is trying to greet the joggers, but is much easier redirected, the attention to me/us is back much faster. Also, I use this method in our backyard, where Bri gets a little territorial if she sees neighbors outside in their yard. Just talking to her explaining that it's their yard and they're allowed to be there seems to help a lot (not that she understands, I know, but just the calm voice explaining helps a lot in calming her down and her knowing that everything is okay).
The only problem with the other dogs was, we had no direct encounter, only on the other side of the road kind of thing.

Yesterday while on a walk though, we had a direct encounter. A teenager with his black lab coming up, well behaved dog, so we both stopped and talked a little bit, while the dogs were sniffing. His dog tried to get the butt sniff, Bri didn't really go for it though. She was tail wagging (though tail not up high but down), but tried more to get to the boy (to say hi) than to the dog.
The lab didn't really like that so we broke the meeting off and went our ways.
Not that I'm planning on doing that too soon, but would it be easier for Bri to meet other dogs off leash?

My trainer organized a dog party for her. So this Saturday we'll meet with her and some of her clients at a park (on leash), so that the trainer can also see how Bri interacts with other dogs.

It really kind of saddens me that she doesn't really have an interest in meeting other dogs, but more their owners and then gets a push back from the dog when she gets too close.
 

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She is still a pup so maybe you could visit a puppy school in your area? It's very important for her to communicate with dogs of her age who exhibit lots of playful behavior.

As for humans -- it's always better to have human-friendly dog than to solve issues with trusting to humans :) And it's very normal for her now to show interest to all humans "forgetting" about you. Don't worry, she hasn't formed the attachment to you yet. Play with her as much as possible and establish mutual eye contact whenever possible (you can try this exercise at home -- show her a treat, then call her name and hold the treat at your eye level for 4-5 secs, praise her if she holds the attention and then give her the treat -- this exercise is very simple but works miracles, do it 4-5 times per a session, 3 times a day and in couple of weeks you will see new sides of your new dog).
 

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She is still a pup so maybe you could visit a puppy school in your area? It's very important for her to communicate with dogs of her age who exhibit lots of playful behavior.

As for humans -- it's always better to have human-friendly dog than to solve issues with trusting to humans :) And it's very normal for her now to show interest to all humans "forgetting" about you. Don't worry, she hasn't formed the attachment to you yet. Play with her as much as possible and establish mutual eye contact whenever possible (you can try this exercise at home -- show her a treat, then call her name and hold the treat at your eye level for 4-5 secs, praise her if she holds the attention and then give her the treat -- this exercise is very simple but works miracles, do it 4-5 times per a session, 3 times a day and in couple of weeks you will see new sides of your new dog).
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I totally agree that it's far better to have a human loving dog than a fearful one. I'm not saying that she shouldn't like people or be excited meeting new people, but it is an extent that makes me worry, since it's always about the human and never about the dog (when meeting, normally other dogs get looked at, but not so much trying to get to as with humans).

Thanks for the tip, I will try that. As said she normally is good with the "recall on the leash", but if there is something/someone interesting, it gets a little harder (and yes, I do/did this exercise at home as well).

With the puppy class: I want to ask my trainer about this first, after she sees Bri interacting with the other dogs. With her history, very likely having been used as a bait dog, I have to be very careful that she has positive interactions and as little setbacks as possible.
 
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A month isn't that long, and 7 months isn't very old, so IMO give it time. She is in a new environment, and still trying to figure out her boundaries and relationships. You are wise to involve a trainer early on, and frankly I see your actions with Bri as entirely appropriate. As she matures and becomes more secure, you will see changes, but she may never be that crazy about other dogs, and that's ok. Our Samantha, really prefers people to other dogs, she is interested, but really doesn't play or interact much with them. That's her personality, and its ok. She is a well adjusted, healthy and happy dog, which is all we care about.
 

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Sure, ask the trainer first. She is in the age when she still should be able to form lots of friendly connections with other dogs and to learn a lot from them so it's just mainly about the choice of "right" dogs now and you praising her for little baby steps in the right direction.

Yes, some dogs for one or another reason tend to be more comfortable with people than with other dogs but that's really a sign of an unresolved issue that the dog learned to adapt to to feel better, but unfortunately it's never "normal" as communication with other dogs is one of essential need of a dog by their nature.

You just need to provide the right key stimulus to unlock the whole blocked behavior complex.
 
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