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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I know there are dozens of threads on this and I've read most of them. But, I do think that every situation is different so I'm hoping to get some customized advice for my sweet pooch, Liberty Belle.

She's a Humane Society dog who is person-reactive. (she loves dogs). I've had her for two months (she's almost a year old now) and she is doing great--catching frisbees, heeling on hikes, leaving my dinner alone on the coffee table when I go back to the kitchen for my forgotten beverage, minding me most of the time, etc.).

I live alone in a house with a large, fenced yard and rarely have visitors. Liberty is best friends with the neighbor's dog and the neighbors. Given 2 minutes, I know the process for introducing her to new people and it has worked probably 7/8 times (the only time it didn't work was when a different neighbor dude showed up in Liberty's ditch to fix a fence--it's a confined space, he's a big guy surrounded by tools and what not and making a lot of noise--so, I'm still of the mind that with the right process I can do successful introductions). But, the problem is of course that proper introductions are not always possible (can't really ask a stranger in the woods to participate, and the participating person has to be willing to endure a minute or two of aggressive behavior as we lead up to Liberty taking a treat from their hand!).

The first problem scenario we have is when we are out hiking and happen upon a person or person with dogs. (We go hiking very early in the morning in the woods/river and rarely see anyone--maybe once a week and it's only once a month that I can't easily avoid them.) Usually, Liberty wants to play with the dogs but once that is over or doesn't happen, she starts barking like crazy at the person. I can't break her attention and have been forced to hold her just to let the person escape the situation. I know this is not good but...the only other options in that moment seem to be letting her charge the person to the end of her leash or...never leaving the house (because people turn up unexpectedly in this world).

The second problem is when someone unexpectedly walks up the driveway (this happens maybe once a month). Liberty meets them at the gate barking very aggressively (she's a small dog, only 35 pounds thank God--but this is serious aggression--nonstop barking, teeth bared, body tense, etc.). She proceeds to completely ignore my pleas for calmness, and it is just such a frantic situation because I am trying to explain to the person what is going on while dealing with Liberty, etc.

I really did think this were getting better and I guess they are, but today four people came walking up my driveway and she flipped her switch--nothing I could do would break her attention, I could not get her back to the house or to come to me or anything. Unfortunately, the events in question happen randomly and rarely, making it difficult to implement any kind of behavioral management plan for improvement. I'd hate to have to keep her in the house all the time to avoid a situation that only happens once a month.

Help! And thanks!
 

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Hi and welcome.

A few things come to mind, first is that it's early days and it can take three months or so for a dog to settle in.

Second, I wonder what breed she is. Some breeds are more barky with strangers than others.

The main advice is to take things at her pace. Distance is your friend. She will have a radius of space around her where she feels safe.

It's called flight distance, anything within that space triggers her fight or flight stress response, which you may have heard of. Find out what that is and keep her far enough away from people that she is aware of them, but relaxed. Reward her for being calm with something fabulous, like frankfurter sausage or a very special toy.
she starts barking like crazy at the person. I can't break her
This happens because you are already too close. It's too late, like trying to steer your car after you have driven it over the cliff edge. You need to be working at a far greater distance. Your goal is to train that she doesn't need to react; not to stop a reaction in progress.

If you can take her to a place where she can see people in the distance and just sit with her observing and rewarding, that would be a good training place. Doing that from a 'safe' place like your car might help.

But this -
the participating person has to be willing to endure a minute or two of aggressive behavior as we lead up to Liberty taking a treat from their hand!)
This is forcing her to interact with the person, which she is trying to tell you she isn't ready for. Please stop doing that - it's NOT helpful for her.

The aim of this is to change your dog’s emotional response to the stressful thing (the person) by repeatedly pairing it with something good. In time, your dog will learn that scary people mean sausages appear and this creates something called a positive conditioned emotional response (+CER).

This website explains it in more detail - it is about dog/dog reactivity but the same principles apply - Care for Reactive Dogs

have been forced to hold her just to let the person escape the situation. I know this is not good
It might be good, if you can teach her that you holding her is a good thing. You are holding her to comfort her, sooth her, keep her safe. You become her safe place - you want her ultimately to seek you out when she is scared as an alternative to kicking off.

Gradually, over weeks and months rather than days, you can work on reducing the distance. This may mean you have to be selective where you walk - choose places with good visibility so you can give people a wide berth, or where you can turn and walk away easily. But - be aware that if your dog has had a stressful episode the stress hormone cortisol can stay in the body for some time. Thats also linked to her only being with you for a couple of months, her stress will be elevated already. Studies in dogs are inconclusive but it may be several days. That means that if her cortisol level is already high, the distance she was comfortable with on one day might be too close on another day. So the safe distance can change, watch her body language.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks for the reply Joanne.


A few things come to mind, first is that it's early days and it can take three months or so for a dog to settle in.

ok. she seems to be adjusting pretty well, all things considered and is definitely getting used to the noises around here.

Second, I wonder what breed she is. Some breeds are more barky with strangers than others.

not sure, she looks like a miniature black lab if there was such a thing, although she seems to have some herding instincts (but basically a lovable mutt).

This happens because you are already too close. It's too late, like trying to steer your car after you have driven it over the cliff edge.

good analogy! that is exactly how it feels.

You need to be working at a far greater distance. Your goal is to train that she doesn't need to react; not to stop a reaction in progress.

makes sense.

If you can take her to a place where she can see people in the distance and just sit with her observing and rewarding, that would be a good training place. Doing that from a 'safe' place like your car might help.

yes, I think I can work on this. I've been struggling to think of ways to work on this since it is such a random even that triggers it (IRL), but I can think of a couple of places where we can hang out in a field a hundred or so feet from a walking trail to simulate the issue.

But this -

This is forcing her to interact with the person, which she is trying to tell you she isn't ready for. Please stop doing that - it's NOT helpful for her.

fair enough. This is more or less how I was introduced to her at the Humane Society. When I first went to visit she was all bark and so they had me walk in front of her (with the trainers and Liberty behind) out to the field area and would reward her when she would approach me without barking as I sat in the grass avoiding eye contact. Within 5 minutes she was licking my hand and taking treats. So, this is basically how I have been introducing her to other people. I'm not talking about strangers on the trail but people like my neighbors. I see what you are saying (we are forcing the interaction) but...it seems like a little gentle "forcing" to introduce her to people she really needs to get to know (rather than waiting 6 months or a year or more until her reactivity is better controlled to make these important introductions. Same with the vet, this is what we did there. But, I totally take your point.

The aim of this is to change your dog’s emotional response to the stressful thing (the person) by repeatedly pairing it with something good. In time, your dog will learn that scary people mean sausages appear and this creates something called a positive conditioned emotional response (+CER).

This website explains it in more detail - it is about dog/dog reactivity but the same principles apply - Care for Reactive Dogs

Thank you, I will spend some time on this site.

It might be good, if you can teach her that you holding her is a good thing. You are holding her to comfort her, sooth her, keep her safe. You become her safe place - you want her ultimately to seek you out when she is scared as an alternative to kicking off.

That is what I initially thought and it seems to make sense to me; in these situations (really only maybe three in the two months she's been here) I have tried to be very reassuring (you're ok, you're ok) but the flip side is that I've read it can be a problem if she feels even more constricted (I'm inhibiting her flight/fight response which might just magnify her discomfort). I realize there are different approaches and that what works with one dog in one situation won't work or have the same effect with every dog in every situation. I've done this really only in those kind of "emergency" situations when the only alternatives are worse. Of course, it could be argued that I should never put her in a position where an emergency situation could arise, but...the only way to be 100% on that is to never let her out of the house ;-) I've tried to be very careful but am still learning of course.

Gradually, over weeks and months rather than days, you can work on reducing the distance. This may mean you have to be selective where you walk - choose places with good visibility so you can give people a wide berth, or where you can turn and walk away easily.


Good.

But - be aware that if your dog has had a stressful episode the stress hormone cortisol can stay in the body for some time. Thats also linked to her only being with you for a couple of months, her stress will be elevated already. Studies in dogs are inconclusive but it may be several days. That means that if her cortisol level is already high, the distance she was comfortable with on one day might be too close on another day. So the safe distance can change, watch her body language.

OK, good to know.

So, at this point I think the plan is to daily take her out to an area where we can hang out a hundred or more feet from where people are walking and hand out treats when she notices a person but doesn't react. If she looks stressed or reacts, increase the distance. If she looks bored, get a bit closer.
 

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Just like it's hard to teach a dog how to heel while out on a walk, due to all the distractions, it's also very hard to teach a dog how to react to new people using surprise events like strangers walking up your driveway or random events.

Your best bet will be to enlist a friend or neighbor (that can follow instructions!) to help. As Joanne said, use distance and patience and reward good behavior while teaching her what response is "enough". Alerting, in my opinion anyway, is good. Carrying on after that uncontrollably is not.

But ot takes time and training to help the dog understand that. Especially with an older dog who may have been behaving this way for some time. Two months is a short time, you have lots of stuff to learn about each other. Just stay calm but determined...
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Just like it's hard to teach a dog how to heel while out on a walk, due to all the distractions, it's also very hard to teach a dog how to react to new people using surprise events like strangers walking up your driveway or random events.

Your best bet will be to enlist a friend or neighbor (that can follow instructions!) to help. As Joanne said, use distance and patience and reward good behavior while teaching her what response is "enough". Alerting, in my opinion anyway, is good. Carrying on after that uncontrollably is not.

But ot takes time and training to help the dog understand that. Especially with an older dog who may have been behaving this way for some time. Two months is a short time, you have lots of stuff to learn about each other. Just stay calm but determined...
Thank you, yes, I think that has been my struggle--I haven't had a plan in place for behavior modification that could be done daily with or without actual strangers surprising us. I think I have a better idea about that now.

That's a good idea to get a friend to play the role of stranger for some at-home practice. I will think it through and research it, but it might be something like getting this person to hover outside of the yard, far enough to be outside of Liberty's reactivity zone but close enough to be noticed. Then I can work on desensitizing and counter conditioning while keeping her under her reactivity threshold. Basically like the practice we could do in the field I mentioned earlier, but at home (which is very important IMHO).

Thanks again. Keep those suggestions coming!
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Just like it's hard to teach a dog how to heel while out on a walk, due to all the distractions, it's also very hard to teach a dog how to react to new people using surprise events like strangers walking up your driveway or random events.
Yes, you are so right about this. I spent two months working on loose leash walking out in the woods on a trail and it was kinda sorta working (she knew when the leash was tight and that she should back off, but I could never get her to stop testing that point); then, after two 10-minute sessions in the yard working on "heel" she was like a completely different dog when we did return to the woods.
 

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I don't want to plug a class, but I have a severely stranger and dog reactive dog and we did the Fenzi Dog Sport Academy "management for reactive dogs" class and it's been a lifesaver. There are a ton of tips in there of games you can play to take her attention off of the stranger, which we use when out on walks to move off the trail and let the other person pass by without incident.

It may seem like just a distraction, but management helps prevent her from rehearsing reactive behaviors and classical conditioning is always happening, so she's still making good associations as well.

I'd look into it, or search "magnet hand" or "the find it game" or "emergency u-turns" as those are the ones we use most frequently.
 

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I don't want to plug a class, but I have a severely stranger and dog reactive dog and we did the Fenzi Dog Sport Academy "management for reactive dogs" class and it's been a lifesaver. There are a ton of tips in there of games you can play to take her attention off of the stranger, which we use when out on walks to move off the trail and let the other person pass by without incident.

It may seem like just a distraction, but management helps prevent her from rehearsing reactive behaviors and classical conditioning is always happening, so she's still making good associations as well.

I'd look into it, or search "magnet hand" or "the find it game" or "emergency u-turns" as those are the ones we use most frequently.
I’m just doing a class there too, and I think it might even be the same instructor! (the Playway one) Finding it very useful as well.
 
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