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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello all,

This may be kind of a heavy question. I apologize if this isn't the best venue for it, but I need some wisdom. There's a lot of context, so please forgive me if this seems a little rambling ...

Fido is a border collie/chow mix, 8, neutered male. He's super-intelligent and very well trained. He was a medical service dog candidate who didn't make the cut because he's too vocal. One other issue I've found with him is that he gets nervous around people who obviously aren't fully present - addicts for instance, or someone with a serious mental illness. He'll give a bluff bark or two until I call him off and assert my "I have everything under control" alphaness.

My neighborhood has a rather severe drug problem and I've learned over time which streets are better than others for dog-walking, and which neighbors are best avoided. There's one character who especially worries me; after observing him from a distance for a few years I'm pretty sure he has schizophrenia. Whatever's going on, he's buried very deep inside his head. I have no argument with schiz at all, but I've seen him kick peoples dogs as he walks by. I just give him a wide berth and I've had no problems.

Until this morning, that is. There was a driving rain and I was using a giant umbrella, so I didn't see him coming. Fido launched into the worst fear-barking I'd ever seen. He was so scared there was nothing I could do to tone him down. At one point I looked up to see the guy in full-blown "Where the Wild Things Are" mode, arms flailing in the air, growling, stomping towards us. I got an adrenaline dump and I actually started thinking about my martial arts training for a second. Ultimately I pulled Fido along behind me by brute force and Wild Thing went on his way.

To get Fido refocused (and calm myself too!) I tried putting him through a few dog pushups. It was a lost cause. He just kept looking down the alley with really palpable fear. It broke my heart, and he was absolutely right to feel that way. Finally I just stroked him and told him that there are some people you just can't do that with ... not that the explanation will do any more good than dragging him along by the leash. But safety is paramount, and my first job was removing both of us from the situation.

Ultimately the solution is to move, and I'm working with a realtor on selling my place. I can control my own actions by staying out of this guy's way, but I have to teach Fido not to respond to this guy with the fear-aggression. That situation could have turned very ugly, and Fido did most of the escalation. I'd love to restore this guy's sanity with a magic wand, but the solution has to begin at home.

So that's what brings me here. How can I cut down on that fear-aggression? Normally if he doesn't like someone I can convince the person to give him a treat ... obviously that's not an option here. It's inevitable that we'll cross paths again, so I need to figure out something soon.

Again, I realize this is a pretty heavy question. Please understand that I'm not bashing mental illness; I sit on the board of my local NAMI chapter and am very active in mental health issues. But physical safety is non-negotiable. If this isn't an appropriate venue for my question I apologize in advance. But I could really use the help here.
 

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Welcome to the forum!!

That is a stumper...I'm glad your working with a realtor and may move soon-doesn't sound like a really safe place for you ;)

I guess I need a bit more info-Are you worried that he would attack this man? Or more worried for Fido's well being/sanity-not wanting to put him through that upset?
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
Good point.

Fido would never attack. I know from personal experience that in a physical altercation he would cower behind me. It's all a bluff. I'm worried about Fido's physical safety. I'm afraid that the fear-aggression will agitate this guy enough that he'll get physical in return and harm either of us. It's a safety issue for both of us, but mostly for Fido.

I also accept responsibility for not paying better attention this morning. If I had seen him coming, I would have had plenty of time to pull Fido out of the way. So that's part of the solution too. But I'm afraid that now that this guy has given my dog good reason to be afraid, Fido will now escalate his reaction next time we cross paths. I need to figure out how to circumvent that.
 

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Would have been an easy fix if you were just worried about him biting-just muzzle until you can move...But since your more worried about running into this guy again-that's tricky.


Can you practice a 'settle' command? Start by teaching him 'settle' when he's in a down position. Then up it a bit so that when he's playing around, you can say 'settle' and he'll go into a down position and just settle down. That may be the key-then if you see this guy again, you can cross the road and have him settle. It'll take some work though.
 

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my best guess....

this is a tuff one...how can you get the dog desensitized to something so...upredictible and potentially dangerous? is it possible for you to keep an eye out for this guy and play "look at that"...basically you take the dog close enough to see the guy, but not close enough to react...so long as he is looking at the guy and not reacting you are using your reward marker and rewarding fido. if fido reacts...you are too close to scary dude....and you need to back up to a point where the dog is no longer reacting.

it would be tricky as you couldn't predict the guy's behavior but it may work out...after all you don't want to approach the guy very closely anyway....it may just be a matter of being extra vigilant for this guy (sounds like you will be anyway)

does this help? i'll keep thinking on it, and post any ideas i have....keep us posted tho...



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This kind of thing is hard to give web-advice on especially since true Fear aggression sometimes turns into actual aggression and a bite occurs. Fear aggression can be a results of so many things that, unless visual observation of the animal, owner, and situation is possible it will be just guesses.

Go to the book store and grab a book on the body language of dogs. Watch your dogs body language, and actions in different situations. Also, watch your own body language and emotional responses. Your dog will sense them, and feed off your reactions also. Remember, our own bodies will release different scents in response to different situations and our dogs can smell them. If you are walking your dog while on edge, a long time pet will be on edge. (some breeds more than others)

If I had to wager a guess, it would be a combination of things are causing this problem. First, you are already nervous about the area and what your dog will do. Second, the dog already has the mindset to bark in fear, which makes the target of this response nervous, then you get tense or subconsciously upset. Finally, when the target exhibits it's own fear response (throwing a fit, waving arms, yelling)then everything erupts, and the owner may or may not be able to get the situation under control.

Escalation is the most missed problem with dogs and will cause the most problems.

As always, this is just my opinion based on my personal experience.
 

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i was just re-reading my earlier post...i think it sounds like i meant you to follow this guy around...not so....just be prepared when you see him to take advantage of the situation. also, after re-reading your post, it sounds like you have many opportunities to desensitize.....carry treats, whenever you spot a potential trigger, play look at that...reward your dog for remaining calm....

the advice that scenthound gave is good also. it does sound like you are on edge about who you will be crossing paths with, and this is very likely to transfer to your dog. even if you think that you are controlling your reactions, the body language cues and things that you put off are so subtle it is impossible to control all of them.

another option would be to drive your dog to a neighborhood that you feel more comfortable in and work on desensitizing to strangers....practice the process with people that you aren't nervous of, but don't necessarily know, the more you reward fido for calmly approaching people, the more likely he is to do it with all people. you don't even have to get close enough to the people that they will need to give him a reward, you can do that....

if you do get into a situation where fido is starting to react, try not to give him time in that situation for the reaction to escalate. turn around immedietly and head in the opposite direction, not at a running pace, but at a quick pace...the further from the trigger, the less reaction you should see from fido....

hope this helps



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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Thanks so much everyone.

You all have great perspectives. I think you're especially dead on, Scenthound. My dog is very keenly aware of when I feel threatened, which happens a lot in my neighborhood. That, and this guy strikes fear into pretty much everyone simply with his appearance - tall, skeletal, balding with a few random shocks of thin hair, and deadened eyes. And of course that's aside from my dog's fear factor of someone who's not fully lucid.

On Monday I plan to call our regular trainer who knows Fido pretty well. This morning after class I had a nice cathartic chat with my martial arts teacher about situational awareness and de-escalation. That'll go a long way toward prevention too. It's a separate conversation, but I also have big ethical qualms about self-defense against someone who can't fully understand what's going on. So I'm doing everything I can toward prevention.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Fawkese1, it looks like we cross-posted.

Now that I think back, he had a terrible time with some really embarrassing lunges and such when we first moved into the neighborhood. At the time I extinguished the behavior by giving him a pop-quiz as he hunkered down. Sit! Stand! Spin! Speak! Down! Anything to distract him and make him forget about lunging. He hasn't done that in 5 years. This guy is a special case of course, so I like the idea of carrying treats. Cross the street, give a munchie. Perhaps eventually he'll be glad to see this guy because it'll mean a munchie. Munchies trump pretty much everything don't they? :rockon: It's certainly worth a try.
 

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Fawkese1, it looks like we cross-posted.

Now that I think back, he had a terrible time with some really embarrassing lunges and such when we first moved into the neighborhood. At the time I extinguished the behavior by giving him a pop-quiz as he hunkered down. Sit! Stand! Spin! Speak! Down! Anything to distract him and make him forget about lunging. He hasn't done that in 5 years. This guy is a special case of course, so I like the idea of carrying treats. Cross the street, give a munchie. Perhaps eventually he'll be glad to see this guy because it'll mean a munchie. Munchies trump pretty much everything don't they? :rockon: It's certainly worth a try.
distracting him is great...this is a sort of counter conditioning (changing the dogs emotional state when presented with a fear inducing trigger) tho...any stranger will work to start then build up to the ones that he really freaks out about...the idea (how i think of it) is to establish the response to seeing strangers...even if he doesn't react to everyone the same...establish the calmness, really reinforce it and then when you do see the scary ones it should help fido to be calmer with his reactions....
treats do trump almost everything....mmmm treats.....



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My first thought was the "look at that game"...which I see Fawkese has already covered :) so just wanted to agree

he was non compliant after the outburst because stress hormones take time to leave the system...I have seen dogs that dont respond well up to three days later...I wouldn't ask much of him after an outburst. :)



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^^ HAve to agree with Crio's point. There are all kinds of physiological responses to stress that can continue for hours/days.

As a dark example, there have been episodes of guard dogs who are shot while attacking and who keep going-all those horomones and adreneline keep them going when they shouldn't be.

so it may be very hard to collect a dog once they've gotten upset, and don't be frustrated-it's the same as us-if we get really mad it can take a while to calm down.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Oh, of course. The pushups weren't about obedience at all, they were about focus. So I wasn't mad at him, I just wish it had been more helpful.

For the record I'm not even mad at this guy. Cautious? Hell yeah. But he really can't be held responsible for his actions. His behavior was identical to Fido's fear-barking, and that's what scared me. There was no reasoning with either one, which was why it could have spiralled out of control pretty quickly.

Yesterday I invested in one of those hip-treat-thingies and stuffed it with his favorite stuff. It's a designer product kind of like summer sausage. Since then he doesn't even notice me as we walk; he just stares straight at my hip. He barely even sniffs anything. :D So between that and my awareness work, I think we're on the right track.
 

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I think the pushups were a super idea-to take his focus/mind off the guy and cool things down.

I agree-he totally can't. Unfortunately you cannot hold someone or force them to take meds, unless they are a danger to themselves or others-which is difficult to prove. Schizos and bipolars are the MOST likely to go off meds-which is sad because you can often get it really under control on meds.

Thats brilliant (treat bag hip)!!! :)
 

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Oh, of course. The pushups weren't about obedience at all, they were about focus. So I wasn't mad at him, I just wish it had been more helpful.

For the record I'm not even mad at this guy. Cautious? Hell yeah. But he really can't be held responsible for his actions. His behavior was identical to Fido's fear-barking, and that's what scared me. There was no reasoning with either one, which was why it could have spiralled out of control pretty quickly.

Yesterday I invested in one of those hip-treat-thingies and stuffed it with his favorite stuff. It's a designer product kind of like summer sausage. Since then he doesn't even notice me as we walk; he just stares straight at my hip. He barely even sniffs anything. :D So between that and my awareness work, I think we're on the right track.

it is soooo awesome you understand this and are not blaming the dog...thank you thank you.


I have a treat bag also...you may want to put it on the opposite side, or on your back, you don't want him to think u only have food when you have the bag. or for him to fixate on it....the bag will become his cue to "behave" and you don't want that. :):)

Good luck :)



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