How To Handle Fear and Fear Aggression in Dogs

  • SumoMe

When most people think of aggression, dominance aggression typically comes to mind, especially these days when some popular trainers feel as though every abnormal behavior is a result of a dogs struggle for dominance and “pack” status.  Fear aggression, however, is MUCH more common.  There are actually about 21 different forms of aggression.  Not all fearful or fearfully aggressive dogs bite, they may only growl or bark aggressively in situations that upset them.  These dogs generally react inappropriately when they sense an intrusion and worsen if they feel cornered.

Many people feel that fearful or fearfully aggressive dogs have been abused or have otherwise suffered from some extremely traumatic event.  While this logic is reasonable and understandable, more times than not it is because something did NOT happen.  That something is socialization.  Improper socialization can make accepting new things difficult when dogs become adults.  Anything from a blowing leaf to hats to men to only men with beards, etc….  Socialization is SO important!

Signs of fear and fear aggression include head held low, wrinkling of the nose, lips curled with many teeth (front teeth and back teeth) showing as the corners of the mouth are pulled back, ears are back and usually pinned to the head, raised hackles, tail tucked, body lowered, and possibly fast panting.   The body language with dominance aggression differs in the following ways: head held high, just the front teeth (incisors and canines) show when lips are curled, ears are up and forward, tail is upright and stiff or with a slight stiff wagging motion, stance is upright and stiff, and usually the mouth is closed (no panting).  See the diagrams at the end of this post for examples.  It is paramount to differentiate between these 2 forms of aggression because they are treated VERY differently.  If you approach a fearful dog the same way you approach a dominant dog, you will likely end up with a fearfully aggressive dog that will eventually bite.  Teeth motivate people.  Once a dog figures this out, it can be really difficult to teach them otherwise, not impossible, but very difficult.


There are many triggers that can cause a fearful response.  Approaches from dogs and people are very common triggers.  Many dogs show a fearful, or excessively submissive response to people they know all of their lives. I must say, in all fairness to dogs out there, that many people just bring this response on themselves.  A large number of people greet dogs in a very threatening and unnatural way when looking through the eyes of the dog.  Picture the scenario, you see a dog that you think is cute, you get excited and make a beeline towards him, making eye contact, arms stretched out, high pitched/excited tone in your voice, reaching and leaning over him as you come up to him.  I’ve seen people go right up to strange dogs and try to kiss and hug them!  Guess what folks, a dog that is fearful in this context is displaying normal canine behavior.  Dogs that are taught that this approach is how we humans do it, may be okay and tolerate it, but even many of them show signs of stress when approached this way (turn their heads away, lick their lips,  avoid eye contact, or lick faces excessively).

For comparison purposes, I will discuss a proper/normal canine greeting.  When one dogs sees another one and BOTH want to meet, the approach will not be a direct beeline, it will occur in more of an arc, or c-shaped direction.  Next is the doggie hand shake.  You know what the doggie hand shake is, don’t you?  That’s right, they sniff each others butts!  Nose to butt, not nose to nose.  There is a greater chance of the greeting not going so well if it starts nose to nose in two dogs that are tense and excited.  Next, they sniff each others flank area (side of the body just in front of the rear legs).  NOW, it’s time for the nose to nose part of the greeting.  See the difference between how 2 dogs greet each other compared to how people greet dogs?  Most dogs bites are the fault of people, the law doesn’t see it that way, but that’s the simple truth.


Children will often  trigger a fearful response for several reasons.  Children don’t always make the best decisions and will occasionally pull ears or tails and poke eyes.  Their movements are uncoordinated and clumsy, and older arthritic dogs commonly display pain aggression because of this.  Children can also be at eye level with many dogs and make direct eye contact and stare, which can be viewed as a treat by any dog. Speaking of children making bad decisions….  I remember a story from a few years back (can’t remember how many years, they are all kinda running together these days).  There was a young to mid age St. Bernard, no issues ever, a family dog.  I can’t remember how many kids, but I know there was one because suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the dog attacked the kid, and killed him.  It was all over the news.  People freaked out and wanted to give away or euthanize their St. Bernard’s because they were afraid that there was some genetic defect that the was causing them to snap and kill kids (talk about mob affect).  Well, come to find out, the kid had jammed a pencil into the dogs ear.  Moral of the story?  Don’t EVER leave children alone and unsupervised with any dog.  Things may happen that are not at all the dog’s fault, but tragedy is the outcome nonetheless.


Noises and noise phobias can certainly create a fearful response.  Many dogs are just naturally timid and fearful and will have difficulty accepting new things.  Again, socialization can help to either avoid or at the very least decrease the degree of fear that a dog experiences.



Your veterinarians office is another place that can illicit a very strong fear response.  We vets (in the eyes of your dog), I tell ya, are up to no good.  We are always poking and prodding and sticking with needles and sticking long plastic things in ears and trimming nails and squeezing anal glands, etc…  No matter how many times you or I try to convince your dog that we have his best interests in mind while I’m doing all these things to him, the message usually doesn’t get through.  Hell, it’s hard to get that message through to my head when I’m at the doctors office :-).  The best way to help your dog is NOT to freakout and say “it’s okay” over and over and over again for the entire appointment.  That goes for “you’re a good boy/girl” too :-).  This is application of human psychology at it’s finest.  What your dog sees is a change in you from a relatively relaxed body posture to one of concern.  You are concerned for him and his mental well being, but he thinks you are concerned about what he’s concerned about, me!  Lol.  The best thing to do is remain calm and avoid eye contact with him.  Absolute silence also helps TREMENDOUSLY.  I NEVER speak a word while examining an extremely fearful dog.  This is a big reason why I can examine dogs that many other vets need to muzzle without a muzzle.  Plus I know how to speak to them with my body language :-).

When fear turns into fear aggression a bite is the next logical progression.  Many fearful dogs go though years of giving fear signals and warning signals only to have them ignored, challenged, or suppressed.  A common way that fear aggression develops through the suppression of warning signals such as growling and baring of teeth.  Most people misinterpret these two displays as a threat or challenge that the dogs is giving them.  Our egos kick in and we essentially say “Oh no you don’t!  I’m not gonna let you get away with that,” and we either tell them to stop or punish them for doing it.  So, the dog is doing it’s best to say to the person that he is scared and uncomfortable and the human (inadvertently) tells him to shut it and stop giving warnings.  What’s a dog to do?  What’s left to convey that he likely fears for his safety, or even his life?  You got it, a bite.  This is why dogs “bite out of no where” or “turn on their owners.”  Plain and simple.


When fearful dogs bite, the mechanics of the bite/contexts are very predictable.  They will often choose escape if that is possible, but if they also have territorial/protective aggression, they may not.  These dogs often bite from behind, as you are turning to walk away or as you are walking away.  It is usually a “snap and retreat” type of motion, but there can be several bites involved or they can latch on and not release.  They also often will bite when they are cornered or when they are hiding under a chair or table and are being reached for to be pulled out.

There are many signals that dogs give us when they are uncomfortable.  These signals are called displacement behaviors, or calming signals.  They are very subtle, and many of them are either missed or misinterpreted.

  • Head Turning – The turn can be to either side, right or left.  It can occur in a number of contexts, such as an approach from another dog or you pointing a camera at your dog.  It can occur quickly (and he looks forward again) or the turn can be prolonged and held.
  • Squinting – This is a way of looking in the direction of something, someone, or another dog without making eye contact.
  • Turning Away – This is just a further progression of head turning that involves turning of the entire body.
  • Licking of The Lips or Nose – This will be quick, often missed, and is very common.  It is like a flick of the tongue, but can be more deliberate.
  • Freezing – Stopping all movements
  • Walking Slowly – Movement continues here, but they are in slow motion and are very deliberate.
  • Play Bowing – When a play bow is used but the dog who is bowing has a relatively stiff or otherwise motionless body he is trying to convey a bit of discomfort, not necessarily “lets play.”
  • Sitting or Lying Down – Either with or without giving you his back (turning away).
  • Yawning – Most people associate this with being tired.
  • Sniffing – Sudden sniffing either of the air or a spot on the ground.   This one is almost always missed or misinterpreted because this is what dogs do!  Right?  They like to sniff things, but in the context where something is making them uncomfortable, it is displacement behavior.
  • An Arc (C-Shaped) Approach – A direct approach is more of a challenge or assertion of status.  A C-shape approach is less threatening.
  • Lifting of One Paw – This is often used in conjunction with other signals, either while sitting or standing.


So, what to do, oh what to do?  Not so fast!  I want to talk about what NOT to do first.  Many people feel that all you need to do is bring the dog to the object or place him in the context that causes fear and keep him there until he is no longer afraid.  This is called flooding and, more times than not, has disastrous consequences.  It can be very difficult to prevent a dog from escaping when he fears for his life or his safety.  If you fail, and many more times than not people do fail, to will have taught him to be even more afraid than he already was AND you have damaged the trust he had in you.  Trust in a fearful dog is like gold, expensive and hard to come by.  Don’t chance losing it with flooding.


The cornerstones of treatment are desensitization and counter-conditioning (DCC).  During the DCC program it is important to NOT expose your dog to any of the stimuli that he is afraid of unless you are controlling the presentation.  Basically, this involves exposing your dog to the fearful stimuli, one at a time to begin and then in combinations, in a CONTROLLED manner, to a degree that does not illicit the fearful response.  Then, you reward your dog for remaining calm.  Start by carefully analyzing the situation that you want to work on.  Think about it step by step from start to finish.  As you do this, be very aware of what triggers your dog.  You want to be aware of the trigger as early in the process as possible.  Say your dog is relaxed, ears down (but not pinned to his head), panting normally with a relaxed jaw, and tail level.  Then, all of a sudden he looks up, stops panting, ears go up, tail stiffens and goes up OR tucks, and then the fearful behavior begins.  In the beginning, have the stimulus at a distance that causes your dog to just look at it/be aware of it.  Duration is the next variable.  At first let him see the stimulus, reward him for being relaxed, then make the stimulus go away or distract your dog and reward him again if he focuses on you and not the stimulus.  Over time, first allow for a greater duration of exposure, then start to close the distance.  When you close the distance, GO SLOW.  It is important not to rush because if he gets really frightened during the process he can loose ground.  If it happens, it’s important to remain very calm and go back to a distance that doesn’t frighten him.  Repeat the distance/duration process until he can be relaxed next to the stimulus or at least is manageable around it.

General Rules to Follow

  • Avoid all situations that lead to aggression during the behavior modification process.  Dogs are very intelligent and they are masters at reading body language.  They will learn things from every interaction.  We do not want a dog that is learning to trust to have a reason to regret trusting.  It will be that much more difficult to get it back after something like that.
  • Never reach over a fearful dog, especially if he is cornered or has no escape.  Instead call him to you as you squat down, turn your body sideways (so you’re not facing him), avoid eye contact (look at the floor near him, but not at him), and stretch out your arm with your hand held nearly at ground level, palm up and open.
  • Never disturb a fearful dog when he sleeping.  Instead, call him from a distance, whistle, or make the “kissy” sound.
  • Ask company to cooperate with you and avoid situations that make your dog uncomfortable.  This can be very difficult when dealing with family members that think they know better.  In these situations, it would be better to keep him in a crate in another room and just avoid the whole situation in the first place.
  • Put a bell on his collar so you can know where he is without seeing him.
  • Never pet him and tell him “it’s okay” or “you’re a good boy” or anything else in a soft calming tone while fear and/or aggression is being displayed.  Instead, wait for him to relax, then pet him and tell him he’s a good boy.  If the reaction is so severe that he will not relax, calmly remove him from the context.  Reward him when he does finally calm down.
  • Never physically correct or punish him.  Any kind of harsh treatment will only serve to confuse him and damage the bond between the two of you.  Remember, trust and the bond are paramount with a fearful dog.
  • Never leave fearful dogs (or any dog for that matter) alone with children.
  • Do not allow strangers to approach your dog.  Instead, allow your dog to approach them, but only after you have instructed them to stand still and not look at him or speak to him in the beginning.  If petting is attempted, only pet under the chin and chest, never on top of the head or the back.  DCC is paramount in this context.
  • Minimize sudden movements and loud noises.  Instead, keep it cool, calm, and collected :-).

Dog Language Diagrams


Fearful dogs are challenging.  They take time and patience, two things that many of us in this busy world are often short on.  A good number of people want quick fixes, kind of a “give it to me in pill form” type thing.  Create a way to loose weight that doesn’t require you to do anything different/require no effort, and you will be so rich you won’t need my advice :-).  Unfortunately, there are no short cuts.  In most cases great strides can be made, but many will never be normal.  Expecting an extremely fearful dog to turn into a happy go lucky stereotypical lab is unrealistic.  What is realistic is variable degrees of improvement.  I’d love to hear about your experiences, trials, and tribulations regarding this topic, please feel free to share.


Pictures provided by : Earthworm, eszter, mike_w40, Ross_Angus, metalhead, marnanel, grodt1987, biblicone, indichick7, lantzilla, Chris Barker, RonaldWong

Diagrams from “How To Speak Dog” by Stanley Coren



127 thoughts on “How To Handle Fear and Fear Aggression in Dogs

  1. Thanks for the above – I found it very helpful. We have a 2 year old colliex . In the last 6-8 months she has become very fearful of dogs that she doesn’t know. She is also nervous of people that she doesn’t know and will back away when they try to pet her. With dogs she squats, pees and makes a wide arc to avoid them. if they come bounding at her she has started running away. Normally she is very obedient and recall is excellent but in this instance she will keep on running and hide until the dog is away.
    She has been going to dog class since she was 14 weeks old and is fine there and also fine at beginners agility because she knows all the dogs from dog class.
    I did a huge amount of socialisation with her when she was a wee pup so I can’t understand it. I take a neighbours dog for a walk every day and the 2 of them are great pals. We paid a dog trainer £90 to come out and he said’ Do you like everyone you meet?’ He also said we were not to let her on sofa, feed her after us, don’t let her through door 1st etc. We do all that, though she has never shown signs of dominance with us anyway and apart from the nervousness she is a joy to own. The trainer also sold us herbal stuff for nervous dogs. I’m unsure if it helps

    • Hello Heather, I’m glad you found this info helpful. I’d like to shed a bit more light on your particular situation. 2 yrs of age is when dogs reach social maturity and it is very common that little behavior issues become big ones around this time. A dogs’ critical socialization period is between 4-12wks of age (some sources say 4-14wks). So you got her after the period had ended. Whatever she was not exposed to during 4-12/14wks of age may be difficult for her to accept now. That is likely the issue, along with a genetic predisposition of being timid, and NOT that something bad happened. Something bad may have happened, but it is unlikely. The socializing you did was not in vain, but it would have served her better if done earlier. With a dog, context is extremely important. That’s why she’s okay in dog class and agility and not out on the street. To a degree, the trainer was right (and wrong :-) ). She will not like everyone she meets. She will likely never accept a boisterous greeting, from people OR dogs without desensitization and counter conditioning. What does the herbal supplement contain? There is one that I use called Anxitane and I get good results with it. Do not be afraid of using medications. Dogs like this need all the help they can get. They are very stressed and anxious. Stress and anxiety inhibit learning. Often times these meds are not for life, they just help us get the ball rolling :-). All that dominance stuff is not going to make a difference with her. You do want her to look to you for what behavior is appropriate in a given context, but you do not need to dominate her to do this. Sign up for my tips and I will send you a booklet on how to accomplish this :-).

  2. Hi
    Thanks so much for your reply. Sorry, I think you misunderstood me – we got her when she was 7 weeks old and I tried my best to socialise her. As a pup she adored other dogs and I used to actively seek them out so that she could have a play. We never saw her mother or father so its possible that one or other was timid. I also forgot to say that if a dog she is fearful of comes into her intimate space she bares her teeth at them. This morning she ran off in the forest because 3 black labs came bounding at her, yet last night at agility she played happily with a dog she had never met before.
    The herbal supplement is called Calm Down! and contains scullcap, chamomile, lemon balm, vervain and lime flowers.
    I wonder if it is possible to get the one you use (Anxitane) in the UK and if so should I try that?
    I hope you don’t think this is a silly question but, is it ok to let her on the settee with my husband in the evening. he just loves a cuddle with her when he comes home but the trainer said he was to get down on the floor with her which is uncomfortable. She shows no signs of dominance with us

    Many thanks – I very much appreciate your imput. As far as I know I have signed up for your tips

    • Heather, sitting on the couch is fine. What needs to be done is to have her defer to you in a variety of situations. My E-book will explain this and I will send it shortly. Remember, she does not need to be dominated. She needs to bond with you guys and learn to trust you in a variety of situations. I think Anxitane would be a better supplement than what you are using. It is safe, has no side effects, and does not cause sedation. Use it for a minimum of 2 months. You can get it online at many different online pharmacies, including mine and it does not require a prescription. It works by decreasing the frequency of alpha waves in the visual cortex, which makes visual stimuli (people and dogs) less stimulating to the brain.

      • Hi
        Thanks for that. I tried to get anxitane from and it said I couldn’t access on my server ? Then I emailed you to explain and this mailer daemon notice came back. Sorry, we were unable to deliver your message to the following address.

        Remote host said: 550 No Such User Here” [RCPT_TO]
        What will I do now to order it?

  3. Thank you for this information. I have two dogs (brothers), both fearful, one worse than the other.I have always wondered what had happened to them before I got them, but I have had them since they were tiny puppies, and they are now 8 years old. I have always tried to socialize them, around people and other dogs both, ever since they were puppies. Kaine, the dog who is the most fearful, is afraid of SO many things; loud noises, other dogs, strangers, kids, and quick movements. Sometimes I wonder if I had made it worse because I babied, protected, comforted, and caudalled him every time trying to let him know he was safe. Maybe that helped him feel safe with me for the only time he seems relaxed is when it is only him and I, and my other pets (another dog, 2 cats, and a guinea pig). His fear has never turned into aggression, probably because I step in to comfort him immediately, but his fear has created other dogs to be aggressive to him. I have stopped taking him to friends’ houses with dogs b/c of this (once he was attacked by a dog who has never shown aggression toward other dogs). I do still take him to dog parks but if there are other dogs close around, he hides behind me until they go on, and then he will wonder. Your advise seems helpful, but I am a bit confused about how exactly to relate this to my dogs. It is hard for me not to comfort them when they are so scared, especially Kaine (the least dominant) cause I feel so bad for him. Have I been going about this completely wrong? I assume that I have cause he hasn’t gotten any better in 8 years. Do I do as you say and only give him positive reinforcement when he is calm (which takes quite sometime)? Again, thank you for this article! I have always worried about his complete happiness because of his fear. I love them so much and want them to always be happy!

    • Hi Lilla,

      Your situation is EXTREMELY common. People, with the best of intentions and biggest of hearts, often inadvertently reinforce the wrong behaviors. When a dog gives a fearful response, it is human nature to try to reason and rationalize the fear away by consoling and coddling their dogs by saying things like “it’s okay” while petty then and speaking in a soft tone with a look of concern on their faces. What your dog sees is you being relaxed, then suddenly you being concerned/stressed. He does not know that you are concerned for him. He got stressed, then you got stressed, therefore you must be stressed out about what he’s stressed out about. Make sense? The reason other dogs target him is because they know he is displaying out of context behavior and they are trying to tell him to knock it off. This protocol, along with the e-book I will be sending to my subscribers, will help you help him. It is never too late to help. Many dogs in this particular situation (long standing stress and anxiety) greatly benefit from medication. Dog parks are not the place to start. There are too many variables that are out of your control. This could lead to a worsening of the situation. Starting with him and one dog that is very mellow and could really care less about him would be better. Do not give in to the temptation to coddle him. Like you said, it makes YOU feel bad if you don’t coddle. In the long run, it will help to make him better if you don’t. If you decide to stop, be prepared for an escalation of his behavior the first few times you stop. This is because he is used to getting a certain response from you in a certain context. When you stop giving the response, he will think you have not notice the signals he is giving and he will likely signal more. Persist through this and reward him when he calms down. Desensitization and counter-conditioning are paramount for proper treatment in this situation. Ignoring the behavior alone will not help much at this point.

  4. Hi Dr. Mark,
    It is such a breath of fresh air to read an article on canine behaviour written by a vet who obviously knows what he is talking about… and please be assured I do not mean this in a patronising way! *smile*. I say this because of personal experience and if I had not trusted my own judgement/knowledge my current dog would have been euthanised 4 years ago because of ‘major aggression to other dogs’ in the surgery waiting room. Her problem? She was having a very severe response to ‘human’ medication which she had been on for 7 days – not, I hasten to add prescribed by this paricular vet, but his first comment was… “there’s only one way she will be going, and it won’t be home”. This vet knew my dog from 8 weeks old and she was then 8+ years; he knew she was a fearful dog (she was neophobic before 12 weeks) but had never shown this type of severe aggression before. I was appalled and told him I felt it was due to the new medication. I wrote up a report on the changes I had observed in her behaviour, succeeded in having her medication changed and she was back to normal (for her) within 10 days. She is now a very senior citizen aged 12 years (albeit with many health problems)still active, still learning, and is the joy of my life. I often wonder why behaviorism is not given a more central role in the training of veterinarians as, imho, it plays a huge part in canine responses, both physical and phsyiological, to traumatic events in their lives. In my 20+ years of owning, training, competing, but most of all, loving dogs, I am still humbled by them and what I can learn from them. They are such a unique, wonderful, complex species and I never tire of observing their behaviours and learning what they mean in different contexts. Thanks again for a great article!

  5. Hi Therese,

    Thanks for the kind words. I agree, I wish more veterinarians had behavior knowledge. More and more vet schools are incorporating behavior into their curriculums, but there still is a huge lack of knowledge. I’m glad you followed your gut with your dog. There’s no way euthanasia should have been recommended. I think that recommendation is made more out of fear of getting sued than what is in the best interest of the patient and/or client. Many vets out there either give advice that is outdated (dominance/correction based) or refer dogs to trainers when who they really need is a behaviorist. Not to imply that trainers don’t play a VERY important role in a dogs life, because they absolutely do (my father was a trainer), but some issues are not about training. I recently had a behavior appointment for a French Bulldog with dominance aggression. He was perfectly trained. He knew all of his commands, but he would attack the wife when the two of them were on the couch together. A little restructuring of their relationship was all he needed, and it saved his life :-).

  6. Hi Dr Mark
    Your article was informative – although I have studied up a lot on fear aggression. My dog, Sierra, is a rescue whom I acquired at 9 months of age. She was always fearful (she was not socialized one bit – I know her background…) but at 18 months had her first “incident” She snapped at a kid who was petting her. Things went from bad to worse until she was around 2 and a half years old…when I just stopped making eye contact w strangers and people stopped approaching us. Recently, she turned 3, and she has started back up w reactivity towards old people – some who approach us and others who are just walking by. Luckily, we are working w a trainer (who passed this article on to me…) and we may soon begin DCC. She is medically cleared and is also on 160 mg of Clomicalm/day. My question – I have done a LOT wrong in the 2 years Ive had her…how much damage can I have caused? I know she doesn’t trust me…even though I dont intentionally put her in fearful situations, just walking her around the block brings up possible problems every day. I live in a condo w no yard in an urban area…

    • Hi Maria,

      An urban environment with no yard can be a difficult situation for a dog like this. Difficult, but not impossible to get some improvement. It would be unrealistic to expect her to be a “happy-go-lucky” type dog, that’s why I say improvement. It is good that you are working with someone. I would also suggest Xanax for the really difficult times and maybe in the beginning of DCC if her fear is severe. If yur dog reacts to visual stimuli, Anxitane works well too. Don’t beat yourself up about the things that you have done wrong. A lot of people do the wrong thing with love as the intention. Undoing unwanted behavior takes time and patience. The good thing is that dogs live in the moment. They do not obsess about the past or worry about the future. Once you reshape theit reaction to a situation, things will start to improve. With many of these dogs, however, it is a life long endeavor. I will be sending my book “How Dogs Learn and How to Actually Get Your Dog to Listen to You” to everyone who signs up for my blog. It will help you to apply the knowledge the trainer will impart to you. Best of luck and let me know if you have any questions.

  7. Thank you. I will be looking in to the 2 drug therapies you recommended. I am hoping to get a consult with a vet behaviorist sometime this summer. How do I sign up for your blog? Is that the same thing as signing up for the email tips?

    • Maria,

      Vet behaviorists are hard to find, but well worth the search. Yes, the sign up is the same as the email tips. Remember to go slow and to breakdown each scenario into every component that causes and issue. If you have any problems or if other issues develop, don’t hesitate to contact me :-)

  8. Thank you for your article. I have a 10 month old Havanese that was rescued from a puppy mill at 4 months old. He was in a foster home for 2 months, and we adopted him in January, when he was 6 months old. He’d had hardly any socialization. He’s great with us, affectionate and playful. He is submissive, and will roll onto his belly when we pick him off our bed to take him outside in the morning, or put on his harness or leash to go outside. He will sometimes (but not often) urinate a tiny bit when we first come home. He is fine with other dogs, of all sizes. He stays to himself if he’s in a room with another dog, but if he’s outside in an area where he is free to run, he has lots of fun playing with other dogs. But he’s terrified of people. He will cower to avoid them, and sometimes will urinate in fear. I bring his favorite treats for counter conditioning, but he’s so scared that he’s not interested. He used to run if he heard anyone by the door, but now he will do a low growl and bark, and if someone walks in, he will bark and bark. We recently went camping and he claimed the whole outdoor space as his, and if anyone else was outside he would growl and bark at them. When we had him on our kayak, he even growled/barked at someone passing us in another kayak. I’m concerned that his assertiveness in barking could lead to biting. Any tips on warming him up to people when he is uninterested in treats when he’s afraid? I’ve just started using some Bach remedies (Mimulus, Aspen, Larch), but can’t yet tell if they are working. Thanks again!

  9. Hi Emily,

    This is a VERY common scenario with puppy mill dogs. The biggest points to remember is to not encourage the barking behavior while at the same time not suppressing it. He is barking more as a bluff to make things stay away. If he is not interested in treats or a toy when other people are around, these people are way too close and the distance needs to be increased. You may need to start desensitizing him outdoors first, them move closer to the heart of his home. Remember to go slow. Forcing him to interact with people will not work and will make matters work. I would avoid people who think they can love the fear out of him, because they can’t and they will make matters worse. If you follow the instructions in this post, you will be on your way to improving your dogs’ fear. I stress improvement, because a complete cure/happy go lucky dog is not a realistic goal. Please keep me posted on your progress and do not hesitate to ask questions :-). Thanks for reading!

  10. I found your article very interesting and informative. I have a brand new German shepherd,11weeks old and he is displaying very aggressive behavior towards all other dogs. He snaps and barks continuously until he is completely removed from the situation. I took him to a puppy kindergarten class and he went after every dog in the class, he eventually wound up getting bit in the face and needed some stitch glue from the vet. I thought about returning the dog to the breeder but he assures me that the behavior can be corrected. I have been walking the dog continually and trying to socialize him with friendly calm dogs that I know but the situation remains the same. If a dog walks by my house he barks and runs towards the dog ready to attack. The situation is extremely upsetting to the entire family and I was wondering if you would give me your opinion on this matter. By the way I got your card from a very nice woman named maryann. She was very nice suggested I take a look at your website. I am really hoping to find some sound advice and help to train my dog.
    I hope to hear from you soon

  11. Hello Rita,

    Mary Ann told me she gave you my card. She is a sweetheart and is always looking to help. Now is the time to really get on top of this behavior. He is still in his critical socialization period and should be in a puppy class. Even though you had a bad experience, I would try again with a different class. These classes and trainers are not all created equal, let me know if you want suggestions. A major part of what you are going to need to accomplish is to get your dog to look to you for direction and stop making decisions on his own. Sign up for my e-mail tips and you will receive a copy of my book on how to accomplish just that :-). At this age, if you follow the recommendations in the book and socialize him properly (bringing him to dog parks and around other random dogs will make things worse) you should be fine. Do not think that he will out grow this, he will not. He is behaving the way he is because of the dynamics of your relationship. Most people give/show only love in the beginning. They want to make the new dog feel loved and wanted, and other “mushy emotions” like this. What your dog really needs is what all human kids needs, structure, routines, rules and boundaries, and then love. If you would like an at home consultation, please let me know and do not hesitate to ask questions in this forum :-).

  12. I recently adopted a 2 yr old German Pincher. He came into my house without a fear in the world. But when his foster dad of 8 months left him with us “strangers” and he lost his dad and his pack of 4 dogs he lived with, his whole behavior changed. He became very fearful of all noises, and people. He is great with me and my son, still a little timid around my husband. But anyone who comes over, he barks at like crazy. Then came the growling. Now he will still do that, but if he gets use to the person, he will lick them and push his head under their hand for a pet…but if they get up and leave the room, when they come back he will lunge at them. He also will be fine one minute, then growl in their face the next minute. He has never bit anyone. THe closest he came was at the vet’s when they bent 3 needles trying to give him a shot. When they took that muzzle off he snapped that them. It has been since then that he started the lunging. I want to socialize him more, but I am afraid of anyone getting hurt. Oh, and we adopted another dog who is very happy and submissive, and our dog loves other dogs. they get along great. But we were hoping that if our dog saw the other dog loving people and not being afraid, it would help him. I did help him to brave some areas that use to scare him, like the bathtub, and now he loves to jump in. But it didnt help with people. I am looking into in home one on one dog training, but it is so expensive. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

    • Amy, thanks for reading. How recent is recent? It can take some time for him to adjust and develop trust in you. the big thing here is that you do not want to suppress his warning signals. Take detailed note of every single thing that is happening when he growls and/or seems uncomfortable. Then, try to desensitize and counter condition him to each component of the scenario. These dogs take time and patience to show improvement. Most will never be totally “normal.” A realistic goal is progress, not perfection. Some specific advise to the questions asked include : 1) When a person re-enters a room, have them follow the same avoidance strategy as when they first greeted him. In his eyes, the greeting is happening all over again OR he feels as tough they are about to approach him and he feels threatened. Be sure to reward him for NOT reacting when people re-enter. Have friends come over and practice this. 2) If you feel uncomfortable in a situation with him, teach him to wear and tolerate a basket muzzle. This way he can be around uncomfortable situations and everyone can be safe. If you are worried about what will happened, he will pick up on that worry. He will not understand that you are worried for a different reason, he will just see worry. He’s worried, now you’re worried, logically there must be cause for concern and he is correct for being worried. That make sense? 3) follow the advice in the post about how people should approach and interact with him. If you are going to be around someone that you know “has a mind of their own” and will not follow your recommendations, leave your dog at home or in another room, etc… Avoiding these people will be important to not loose ground that you may be gaining. Getting a professional to help you may be a little pricey, I charge $100/hr, but it is WELL worth it in the long run. Don’t wing it and use human logic if you are unsure of how to proceed. Write back anytime with questions or concerns. Hope this helps :-)

      • We adopted him 5 months ago. I do yell at him when he growls because it is a natural instinct, and I dont want it to go any further. It does make him stop. But I do worry about the fact that he may just stop warning, and just start biting. So what do I do when he growls and lunges? My mom ignored him for a while, then Hamlet (my dog) started forcing his head under her hand so she would pet him. So now she talks to him and pets him, but occasionally he will still freak out on her, and it does seem like it comes from no where. She can just be sitting and talking to me and he will be licking her and wagging his tail. Then walk right back to her and growl. I muzzle him when we go to the vet, and because of that, muzzles REALLY upset him. So I am trying to not use them when people come over. I do have a trainer that I am thinking about working with, who charges $75/hr but because she lives 30 minutes away, it actually ends up costing $150/hour because of drive time. I want to find someone closer to my house, but I cant find any that use the same positive approaches as her. THanks for the help.

        • Amy,

          Also, the pushy behavior he displays should not be responded to (shoving his nose under someone’s hand). He should be asked to sit. If he complies, he can receive attention. If he does not, he should be ignored. The way he is being pet could (and likely does) have something to do with his reaction. How and where on his body is being petted when he reacts? Where are his ears and what are they doing? You said his tail is wagging, what position is it in, upright, level with the ground, or held low? What kind of wag is it? Is it a stiff wag with movement only at the tip? Or does the wag start at the base of the tail? A positive reinforcement trainer is going to be well worth the money and a good one is hard to find.

  13. Amy,

    The key to getting this under control is to avoid all circumstances that elicit the unwanted response during desensitization and counter-conditioning (DCC). He should only be exposed to the in the manner described in the post. DCC should absolutely not be attempted when many people are over or is there is a party going on. It should start with him and 2 people, one of which is you. In the beginning the other person should be someone he is familiar with and they should do the things that set him off with other people, but the 3 dee’s apply here. Did you receive your copy of How Dogs Learn and How to Actually Get Your Dog to Listen to You?

    • Okay, let me give you a little more info, then I will quit bugging you, since you are not my doggie therapist, lol. We have an out of town guest right now, and it has made me aware of quite a few things. First, we know the best way to introduce him is to have him outside when the guest comes into the house, then let our other dog in to get all his crazy wiggles out, then let Hamlet in and the guest ignores him. Hamlet pretty much has ignored the guest too. There were a few growls, and it seems to be if he moves too fast or has an object in his hand…which made me realize that all the other times he went from being friendly to acting up, the person was walking with something in there hands, swinging it, or moving swiftly. So this does help me. I thought my next step was going to be having 1 person a week, that Hamlet doesnt know, come over and ignore him, so he gets use to people in our house. BUt after reading your post, I’m thinking I may be wrong. I really did want to have that trainer, but she told me today that she wont do it until I take Hamlet to the vet and had extensive testing done to make sure it isnt a tumor pushing on his optic nerve affecting his vision, etc. I really believe it is fear aggression, and I have seen alot of improvement in his fear in the last 5 months. So I really dont want all the testing done. He was at the vets for a normal check up 3 months ago and had a clean bill of health. So I am looking for another trainer at this point. I did not check my email yet, and I will and I will read the info you sent. Thanks again for all the great advice.

  14. Amy,
    Optic nerve tumor??? What makes her suspicious of that? Seems strange, although the first rule of behavior modification is to make sure there are not underlying medical conditions. Swift/sudden movements are big trigger for fearful dogs. You should try to DCC to this with people he feels comfortable with first. Next, he should be DCC to people he doesn’t know, but without the added intensity of sudden movements. When you start to have strangers make the sudden movements, they should start with just barley moving suddenly. As for the holding objects issue, start with small objects and work up to (slowly) bigger ones.

  15. “Amy, thanks for reading. How recent is recent? It can take some time for him to adjust and develop trust in you. the big thing here is that you do not want to suppress his warning signals. Take detailed note of every single thing that is happening when he growls and/or seems uncomfortable. Then, try to desensitize and counter condition him to each component of the scenario. These dogs take time and patience to show improvement. Most will never be totally “normal.” A realistic goal is progress, not perfection. Some specific advise to the questions asked include : 1) When a person re-enters a room, have them follow the same avoidance strategy as when they first greeted him. In his eyes, the greeting is happening all over again OR he feels as tough they are about to approach him and he feels threatened. Be sure to reward him for NOT reacting when people re-enter. Have friends come over and practice this. 2) If you feel uncomfortable in a situation with him, teach him to wear and tolerate a basket muzzle. This way he can be around uncomfortable situations and everyone can be safe. If you are worried about what will happened, he will pick up on that worry. He will not understand that you are worried for a different reason, he will just see worry. He’s worried, now you’re worried, logically there must be cause for concern and he is correct for being worried. That make sense? 3) follow the advice in the post about how people should approach and interact with him. If you are going to be around someone that you know “has a mind of their own” and will not follow your recommendations, leave your dog at home or in another room, etc… Avoiding these people will be important to not loose ground that you may be gaining. Getting a professional to help you may be a little pricey, I charge $100/hr, but it is WELL worth it in the long run. Don’t wing it and use human logic if you are unsure of how to proceed. Write back anytime with questions or concerns. Hope this helps” – DRMARK

    Thanks for sharing. We had an almost the same dilemma here in our house with our puppy just like AMY had.
    I’ll try those tips and rules as you suggested.

  16. This is a great post! I have learned so much. My corgi has had 3 fear aggression episodes in the last week, and by reading your post I see some of the warning signs have been there before. I am doing research now and talking to behaviorists in my area to fix this problem before it gets worse.

    My dog’s fear signals have been subtle, but the reactions have not. We were in obedience class and working on a long sit/stay. I wasn’t holding her leash and was probably 10 feet away facing her. All of a sudden she bolts toward another dog and starts to aggressively attack it. There weren’t any puncture wounds but she did get a mouthful of fur. The other dog did fight back. Thankfully no one seriously hurt, but I definitely don’t want that ever happening again.

    Regarding tail position, I know that’s a strong indicator of stress. But my corgi is tail-less and I have to go by her ears mostly. That’s probably why I’ve missed some early warning signs.

    I appreciate the section where you talk about treatment. Some information doesn’t go that far and I’ve been at a loss. The behaviorists I’ve spoken with have also suggested counter conditioning.

    Thanks again for your article! It has really opened my eyes.

    • You’re welcome Erin. I’m glad you found it helpful. The things us humans do to dogs, for whatever reason, as far as tail-docking and ear cropping are concerned really interferes with their ability to effectively communicate. It not only disrupts communication between our dogs and us, but also between other dogs of different breeds and conformations. You will need to focus on her ears and her body posture, IE is she stiff or relaxed? Also watch jaw position. If she goes from having her mouth open and panting slightly to closing her mouth and becoming stiff, that’s a red flag that something may be about to happen. Yawning, lip licking, scanning with the eyes, and averting of the gaze can also be other subtle signs of stress. Find a good behaviorist that uses positive reinforcement. Negative punishment should never be used with fearful dogs, it will make the situation worse.

      • Thanks for your reply Dr. Mark! She has done that gaze. Up until these incidents, I always thought it was just a general distraction and was working on her focus (and wondering why I wasn’t having much success). Now I know it’s a stress reaction that I need to work on. She also scans with her eyes and turns her head like she has to know what’s going on with the other dogs in our class.

        And yes, positive reinforcement is the only way I train. She’s a smart dog. I just need to figure out how to work through this. I’m learning more and more now that I know it’s a fear response and not that she’s just distracted by a fly on the wall.

  17. Dr. Nunez,

    Thank you for the educational post. I have been scouring the web for information about my dog’s issues and have found nothing else to be helpful.

    My husband and I adopted a 6 month old black and tan coonhound mix from the Human Association about 5 weeks ago. We also have a 12 year old chow/lab mix who doesn’t have what can be negative traits of the chow. In the beginning, the pup was not dealing well with the old dog but things are much better on that front now.

    The pup is anxious (I could tell he was timid but I have now learned that the staff at the Humane Association was worried about his anxiety but they didn’t tell me that when I adopted him!) but I can deal with most of it as my 12 year old was anxious and fearful in his younger years but developed into a wonderful, well adjusted dog. He’s not happy go lucky but he’s happy and that’s all I care about.

    We were making good progress with the pup until July 4. I was walking him on our street and fireworks went off (I didn’t expect it – they were backyard fireworks, which are illegal in my state!). Now, he is petrified to be outside with me anywhere near our house. He sits and shakes and gets into this zone where he doesn’t hear me, etc. We go back in, he hides in his safe place and then is alright again in 5-10 minutes. He will be outside our house with my husband (albeit with a little anxiety) and will even go on a walk with him down the street! I have to drive him to a park. Inconvenient for every time he needs to do his business!

    I’ve been giving him small treats on our park walks to reward him for not being anxious and have even gotten him to sit in the back yard with me for 20 minutes; I had to drag him out but once he was there, he shook for about 4 minutes and then with treats and time, stopped shaking and hung out for a bit.

    He starts dog school on 8/1 but in the meantime, do you have any suggestions besides what I’m already doing? He looks to the sky a lot and even looks at the ceiling when in the house! If we drive to the park and on our return park in front of the house, he’ll look up at the sky when I open the door and not want to get out. He associates me and our street with fireworks and it’s stressful for both of us.

    Thanks for your concern about man’s best friend!

    • Hi Liz,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m going to respond as I read it.

      What were the issues between the two dogs in the beginning? You said the up was not dealing well with the old dog. How so? How was this remedied?

      That stinks that you guys got blindsided like that with the illegal fireworks. If only people would follow the rules, right? Continue doing what you are doing as far as sitting in the yard and rewarding a relaxed state of mind. Also try letting your husband get the ball rolling by starting the walk, and then join in at some point.

      The biggest mistake that is made with fearful dogs is going too far too fast. It can be VERY tempting to do this (I tend to be a little impatient sometimes too :-) ), but please resist. Take baby steps with things. Also, NO punishment. If they are teaching any aversive techniques in the doggie school, be very leery. The most important thing with these types of dogs is trust. It takes a lot of time to build trust, but one second to lose it.

      Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions are concerns. Thanks for reading :-)

      • Thank you, Dr. Mark.

        The pup was getting very jealous of the old dog. When the old dog was getting attention, the pup would come up to him and growl. The pup would also growl at the old dog when he got up after lying down. These behaviors have stopped but I can’t claim it it because of anything the humans did to stop it. We still supervise them and never leave them alone, not even for a second.

        We sre still going slowly with rewarding while being in the yard, on walks, etc. It is very slow and the pup is still scared of most noises, light fixtures in the house, etc. I still have to cary him to the yard on occasion so that he’ll do his business. I am learning the definition of patience. We have someone like you from our local area coming this weekend to assess the pup to see if we should be doing anything else.

        Thank you!

  18. Thank you for the wonderful article! I have a question about a more specific situation, if you have the time and interest. I have a two and a half year old portuguese water dog who is so sweet, loving, and affectionate to me (a female) and my female friends and strangers on the street. He tolerates my male roommate, but does not attempt to really be affectionate toward him.
    This dog was originally my dog with my ex-boyfriend. He did not show signs of aggression as a puppy, and he was socialized with people and went to doggie daycare several times a week, plus to the dog park with both of us. He has never shown any serious signs of aggression toward other dogs, especially since he was neutered at 1 year.
    I moved abroad for six months and during this time, my dog lived with my ex-boyfriend and apparently started showing signs of fear aggression toward women. I was told that he would try to bite any female whom he was meeting for the first time, but never had any issues with males.
    Now my dog has been living with me for over a year (he was always more ‘my dog’) and has adjusted well, although during this time he has bitten both of my brothers (whom he sees infrequently) and a male friend of mine. He growls and will snap at male strangers who approach him (in the scary manner which you described above, and especially when cornered). He rarely displays this behavior toward women, and only when they aggressively approach him and try to pat his head. I have managed to keep him from biting any strangers by just saying “he bites” or “he’s not friendly” but oftentimes those warnings, along with my dog’s growling and teeth baring, fall on deaf ears to people who think “all dogs love them” or people who have been drinking.
    We live in a city so it’s not possible to avoid all people while walking him so I’d be unsure as to how to begin DCC. I have experimented with just ignoring him when he displays aggressive behavior and with attempting to show him that I am comfortable around men, but now I suppose I need to stick to one response.
    My dog is my best friend and I am terrified that someone will approach him, he will bite, and that person will pursue it legally. I also absolutely hate that I have to shield him from everyone we see when we are out walking.
    Do you have any insights into why his gender wariness flipped when he came to live with me, and if that means anything with regard to the method I should pursue as I try to change this behavior? I thought maybe the dog was just extremely loyal and was holding out for his ‘father’ to return, but I do hope that is not the case. Also, there are some males whom he instantly likes and trusts, including my father, most older men, and a couple of men I’ve dated. I wouldn’t say that they’ve uniformly approached him in the best way, but he showed them affection without pause. I feel like that gives me hope, and he also does tend to warm up to people quickly if they back off after a bad initial encounter. Any advice?

    • Hi Helen, thanks for the comment. It is difficult to say why he was aggressive towards women with your ex and not toward men with you. There are many forms of aggression and most of them are rooted in fear and anxiety. He may also have protective aggression along with fear aggression. Why he is gender specific is hard to say.

      To begin DCC with him while living in a heavily populated area is gonna take some planning. You are going to need to start taking him out when there is the fewest number of people around. So, probably early morning and late at night. Also, look for specific areas that are not heavily populated in general. Get a Gentle Leader and always have it on him when he is out or around other people. This tool will allow you to redirect his gaze towards you in an easy and humane manner. Reward him when he makes eye contact with you.

      Other than this, follow the recommendations in the post and you should be able to make some progress. Sign up for my tips at the top right hand corner of my home page and I will send you a copy of How Dogs Learn and How to Actually Get Your Dog to Listen to You. This will be of great benefit as well. Keep me posted and let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for reading :-)

  19. Dr. Mark
    Thank you for your article on Fearful dogs. We have a lab/chesapeak mix who is almost 4 years old. We have had him since he was 8 weeks old. When he was a year he got sick had to be put on steriods for about 6 months. It was after that time we have noticed that he is fearful of young children. One two occasions when the young child tried to pet him, he snapped at them leaving a bruise on their arms. I am worried everytime someone comes over that the dog does not know. How do I train him to be OK with young people? I think both the dog and child are afraid. I have never had a dog like this before and would like to keep him – what do I do?

    • Hi Michelle,

      Young children can present a special challenge when dealing with fearful dogs. They are often a height that makes direct eye contact almost impossible to avoid, they almost instinctively reach out to the dog to pet on top of the head, they are often very excited to see the dog, and their movements can be jerky and erratic. All of these things can be very scary to any dog, but especially one that is fearful. The approach here would be one of desensitization and counter-conditioning, but it’s not that straight forward. If the child is afraid, the dog will sense it and that will make the dog uneasy. Plus, safety is an issue. Can your dog be in the same room as a child and be ok? At what point does he become uneasy?

  20. I just looked at your website and am hoping you can give me some hope. We have a 5 year old male boerboel (about 140 lbs) . He was extremely well socialized as a pup and attended training. Somewhere along the line he started getting aggressive towards my daughters and has bitten both of them. I cannot take him out for walks as he is now both human and dog aggressive. He is medically clear. We recently took him to a dog trainer (with 30 years experience) who assessed him and told us that he was “fear aggressive” and that I was “unstable” because I was afraid that I could not control him if we were out on walks. His recommendation was to euthanize. I still want to give our dog every chance to rehabilitate and to train myself to become more confident. Will DCC work with him; should we medicate; and realistically what is the best that we can expect. Thank you.

  21. Hello Irene,

    Sorry to hear about this situation, very difficult and frustrating. How much of this post applies/have you tried? Were is warnings (growling and barking) ever supressed? Before you make ANY decision as permanent as euthanasia, I would recommend that you find a behaviorist, preferably a veterinary behaviorist, and get your dog evaluated. Trainers are great and they improve the lives of dogs and their owners, but some issues are beyond the scope of some trainers, even those with 30 yrs of experience. This seems like a case were I would absolutley recommend trying medication. Anxiety is a very strong component here, and anxiety inhibits learning. I would recomend Prozac, Xanax, and Anxitane to start with. Medication alone will absolutley NOT work and care should be taken. Sometimes anxiety can actually cause dogs to hold back some of their aggression. So, in some dogs, if you decrease the level of anxiety it can lead to an increase in aggression. This is not common, but can happen. A realistic expectation is to end up with a dog that is manageable, not perfect. He will never be a happy go lucky dog that you can trust in any situation. There will always be a degree of management that will need to be employed depending on the situation. A cure, unfortunately, is not realistic.

  22. Thank you for this post, I found it very insightful. I have a 5 year old female Rottweiler who was a doll baby . . .until 1.) she was attacked by two Jack Russells simultaneously and 2.) she encountered a nasty stray cat in the backyard.

    Needless to say, she now displays fear aggression towards any small creature – including my cat. Previous to her encounter with the stray cat in the backyard, she was best buds with my cat, even after the Jack Russell incident. They slept together, she’d let him bully her without responding, followed each other around the house – it was all good.

    But the stray cat jumped onto her face like an octopus and somewhat shredded her muzzle. After that, sadly my cat bullied her one day (as he had done many times previous without incident) but on this particular day, she let him have it. It scared me to death. Now, when the cats around, she’s “tracking” him with her eyes. It’s like she’s always concerned where he is, if he’s coming up behind her, etc. And if he moves too quickly or tries to get on the floor from the sofa, she stands up.

    I’m currently awaiting delivery of 3 pet gates for the interior of my home and an in-home behaviorist will begin working with us next week.

    But my concerns are growing and now I’m completely stresed out, which I know isn’t helping. I seem unable to control my own fear now. Because two days after the incident with my cat, she caught a groundhog under the deck and killed it. I am now PETRIFIED for my cat after witnessing that.

    I guess my question to you would be . . . is it unrealistic to think that maybe someday, myself, my dog and my cat will all be able to move freely about the house again with help from a behaviorist? What’s the best possible scenario I can expect?

    • Hi Staci, I do not think it is unrealistic to once again have harmony in your house. How old was your dog when she had the run in with the Jack Russells? How old was she when she had the run in with the cat in your yard? How did the appointment go with the behaviorist? Desensitizing and counter-conditioning will work wonders, it just takes time and patience :-). Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any questions :-)

  23. Hi DrMark,
    Thank you for responding. When she had the incident with the Jack Russells, she was two. And the incident with the cat in the yard was recently and she’s 5. The behaviorists are coming to the house once a week and so far, only one appt, so we haven’t started the real work yet. But I have hope and after the behaviorist met her, he was pleased and said we could definitely work with her. Fingers crossed :-)

  24. This is very helpful information! I’m a volunteer at the local shelter and I’m currently working with a very reserved dog (I’ve dealt with shy dogs before, but never a fearful one). She’s a female “shepherd mix” (she looks like she may be mixed with Chow Chow) about 5 years old. She came in during the summer after she was hit by a car (I was one of the people who found her and I sat with her until animal control got there – she didn’t want me to touch her, but she crawled into my lap when animal control pulled up). We don’t know anything about her past before this, other that she was in a home (she was wearing a flea collar when we found her). She had her leg amputated and is recovered now, but her behavior hasn’t improved. She growls and occasionally snaps at people who move at her (one man leaned over a chair and reached for her yesterday – I quickly told him she was fearful and not to touch her…she growled at him and I gently gently moved the leash to remind her she was with me [I didn’t want to take her away because I felt that would reinforce the behavior, like you said], and she stopped growling and reached forward to sniff him). She tolerates the staff people and doesn’t growl or nip at them anymore, but she doesn’t seek out affection. I’ve been working with her for a few days in the quietest outdoor area. The first day she didn’t want anything to do with me. I sat with her and talked in a quiet calm voice (without talking directly to her – I kept my face turned away so I wouldn’t be tempted to make eye contact). At the end of that day she was comfortable enough to let me pet her chin and cheek. On the third day I brought my friend and told her not to look at or touch the dog. We sat there and talked to each other and the dog got comfortable and almost chummy with me. Now, she’s more or less comfortable with me and I can pet her all over. She rests her head in my hands and I rub her chin and up over her eyes. She lays down against my leg and yesterday she put her remaining front paw in my lap. She still displays a lot of fearful behavior when we’re outside (sniffing, panting, yawning), but she’s slowly getting better around me. Now she seeks out affection by nuzzling my hand and laying her head in my palm. Today I’m hoping to grab a fellow volunteer with calm, kind energy to meet her like you suggest (sitting down, sideways, and letting her go up to the person). Since I’ve spent time with her, I can tell she’s a wonderful girl and she wants to trust and love people, but she’s too afraid to open herself to them unless they spend hours just sitting with her. Thank you for posting such an informative blog!

  25. I have a dog that shows signs of both Fear agression and Dominance aggression (depending on the situation). I also have another dog that has very submissive bahaviors. So what happens, is when my fear/dominance agressive dog gets freaked out by something, he will immediately go tackle and stand over the submissive dog, while growling, and rolling the submissive dog around. Teeth are showing, but I dont believe he actually bites the submissive dog. Besides this problem…the submissive dog now tries to fight back while being tackled, which leads to the other one acting more agressive. I can only get the agressive one off from the other dog by physically pulling him off, which escalates the whole situation. Then when he is off, the submissive dog comes running and growling and biting at the agressive one which I am trying to pull away. I physically can not handle this situation. The dogs are both over 100lbs each, and it just seems to get worse and worse. What should I do?

    • Context is everything when interpreting canine behavior, so I’m not surprised that your one dogs’ behavior is different in a different context. However, dominance aggression is not very common. When you say “when my fear/dominance agressive dog gets freaked out by something, he will immediately go tackle and stand over the submissive dog” you are describing redirected aggression. Your dog cannot get to what is bothering him, so he is taking it out on something near him, your other dog. Your other dog is submitting and this would normally make the aggressor back of, but it is not working. Therefore, your submissive dog is starting to take it up a notch and keeps coming at your aggressive dog after you pull him off. You need to get both dogs to consistently defer to you in a variety of situations, get them to learn to relax in a variety of situations, make sure they both have plenty of exercise, and, at this point, your aggressor will likely need some desensitization and counter-conditioning to the things that set him off. This is a situation that can be improved, but it will take some time, patience, and commitment from you :-)

  26. Glad to hear that this situation an be improved!! How is the best way to teach the dogs to defer to me at all times? And what desensitizing techniques should I use so that I dont instill more fear?

  27. We rescued a lab mix when she was 4 months old. She is not quite 2 years old. She has always loved other dogs, but about a month ago we were walking with her on a leash and another dog ran up to her and attacked her. Since that time whenever we are walking and she sees another dog whether it’s behind a fence, barking from inside a home or out walking with their owner our dog, Maggie starts lunging toward the dog, hackles raised and agressive barking. She is never aggressive towards people. Do you think we should try to increase socialization opportunities with other dogs—like doggy daycare—or would this be counter-productive? What actions should we take when this situation occurs on a walk? Thanks for the article and your time.

    • That stinks that she got scared that way. Not only does the event itself stink, but so does the timing. Dogs reach social maturity at 2 years of age, and they can have behavior changes at that time. What you need to do is desensitize her to the other dogs you encounter on walks. Use the dogs that are behind a fence. Get far enough away from them so your dog will not react, but close enough for your dog to know they are there. Reward calm behavior with whatever is most motivating to your dog, treats, toys, affection, etc… You may need something that is VERY motivating in the beginning. SLOWLY close the distance over a period of days to weeks. Going to close, too fast is an extremely common mistake. If she reacts, the good stuff goes away. If she’s calm, the good stuff stays. This will help her to form a positive association with strange dogs and her favorite thing. Taking her to dog parks and doggie daycare CAN help, but it depends very much on the temperament of the other dogs that are present at the time. Some dogs will trigger a reaction from other dogs that normally do not react at all. Take these avenues with caution. Things may go well because the context is different.

  28. Thanks for the info… my heart is breaking b/c our 9-month old chihuahua/schipperke and 8-pound “hybrid” is displaying aggression toward visitors to our house. He has nipped the back of the legs of a couple teenagers that have visited, always when they are walking away from him – he’s lightning fast. Today he bit a 7-year old girl in the back when my daughter was trying to socialize him. I had told her to not do this without me around as I am definitely alpha and he obeys me the best. He just seems completely frightened when someone comes through the door :(

  29. We have had our Smooth-Coated Collie mix, Daffy, for almost 3 years now. She is a rescue and there was no information known about her past. The shelter we got her from had several dogs (I mean maybe 15-20) to roam around a common room where potential adopters are permitted to walk around the chaos that was the huge pack of dogs. Daffy was one of the more timid ones, only approaching us when no other dogs were around. We quickly learned she has some dog-to-dog aggression but we have worked with her immensely on it and she has improved significantly while still on a leash. When we first brought her home she was shy but warmed up quickly. 95% of the time she is a great dog; walks well on a leash, playful, lovable (although is picky about affection/cuddling), and obedient. She learned the basic commands pretty quickly and we continue to work on that daily. That other 5% of the time, she is a completely different dog. It almost seems like a bipolar disorder because in a split second she’ll growl and snarl and snap (she’s bitten my boyfriend twice and my dad a handful of times). We can’t always pin-point the causes of her outbursts. Sometimes its when someone enters a room without announcing their presence (I think she gets startled). The two times she has bitten my boyfriend it had to do with feet. The first time, she was licking his foot and he tried to take it away when she growled and chomped down on his foot, breaking the skin. The other time she was in the room with us has we were decorating for the holidays when he tried to move away from her and she snarled and attacked his foot, again, breaking the skin. I respond by yelling “No!” and approaching her. She then immediately becomes submissive and lays down on her side, exposing her belly. I reacted this way mostly out of anger and surprise and I recognize that it was the wrong way to react. She has also lunged at me and my mom as we walk past her when she’s laying on the couch.

    The hardest thing about Daffy’s fear aggression is that it is mostly unpredictable so its hard to completely trust her. We’re always on alert in certain situations, especially when there’s an overwhelming amount of new or unfamiliar smells (which I think had something to do with her biting my boyfriend as we were decorating). Ultimately, I want her to be comfortable with us as a part of our family in all situations, even when she’s afraid.

    Your article was very helpful and I thank you for that. I’ve been doing a lot of research to try and help Daffy and your article was by far the most thorough and I will most certainly take your suggestions to practice. Do you have any specific suggestions for me to try? I’m trying to make this work for her and my family, but its causing a lot of tension. Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hello Lexi, the situation you describe is not unusual. Many fearful dogs learn to be comfortable is many situations, but not every situation. The key to understanding this is setting realistic expectations. It would be great if Daffy could be trusted in all situations, but unfortunately this is unlikely. There is a strong genetic component that causes a dog to be fearful/timid, just as in people. Life experiences can increase or decrease the behaviors that their genes dictate, but expecting the behavior to completely disappear is not realistic. It’s the age old “nature vs nurture” debate. You are absolutely correct with the triggers you have noticed, namely when she’s startled. As far as the feet thing, I suspect that it is movement that triggers it, especially if the foot becomes stiff before, during, or after movement begins. Stiffening of the body, in whole or in part, can be interpreted as a threat by any dog, but especially a fearful one. It could also be that she was enjoying the taste (yuk!) and did not want her treat taken away. As for the couch, that’s a valuable piece of real estate and she was guarding it. If she does this, she should not be allowed on the couch, ever. Situations were there is a lot of commotion, loud noises, new people, lots of movement, are going to be very difficult of her. Biting as someone is moving away is also classic of a fear biter. Once a dog learns that teeth are powerful motivators when placed onto human skin it can be difficult to stop her from biting in all situations. It becomes more an issue of management than one of cure. If you feel “iffy” about how she will react in a given situation it would be better to avoid that situation rather than seeing how she does in it. A better approach would be to set up a similar situation when you are able to focus fully on her and try to desensitize and counter-condition her response. If she is sight reactive, there is a nutriceutical called Anxitane that works VERY well. I make visual stimuli less stimulating. Your vet should be able to get it for you, or you can get it from my website, It does not require a prescription and has zero side effects or drug interactions. Thank you so much for reading and for your question. Please let me know how things go and if you have other questions, please do not hesitate to ask :-).

  30. I have a 10 month old Australian Cattle Dog who is afraid of smaller children. She was exposed to everything as a puppy because I know this breed all to well. And they usually are a one person dog. I started right away when she was just a little under 10 weeks. And have continued…

    She around 6 months started to show signed of fear of different things. People, noises and children. Even though she had been exposed. So I worked on desensitization and counter conditioning. Especially with people. We worked from a distance she was comfortable with and worked her up. She know goes and meets all adults and older kids, generally around 5 and up on the kids.

    We are having a major set back with kids from age 2 to 5. She gets freaked out and scared if they come up to her. She looks as if she will nip if they rush any closer and I usually have to back the kids away from her so I can be off on my way.

    I don’t want to avoid the issue and I’m looking how to get her adjusted to this age group. Especially since I have family with kids who visit often.

    I have been trying the same process and it worked really well. She got to the point where she would seek out kids around that age and sit nice and calmly around then and have then pet her on her chin and take treats. Then within the last 4 weeks she went backward again…

    I was out and about with her and a kid came running up trying to pet her. She backed away showing signes of being uncomfortable. As I blocked the child and my dog and told the child not to run and grab at her. I asked the kid to come and stand next to me. I bent down on my knee blocking the child and the dog. I waited for my dog to approach. I then did not have the child pet her. I just held the child’s hand in mine with some treats. My dog gladly came over sat next to us and took a lot of treats. But as soon as I took the child’s hand to per her chin she backed away real fast. I told the child, sorry she is not ready to be petted and we walked off.

    I don’t get it. Why was she fine then all of a sudden went backward?

    This happened twice that day. Another child around the same age wanted to pet her. She did the same reaction but this time as the child approached her from the side my dog spun sideways and nugged her hand away with her nose. Not nipping or anything just pushed it away and wouldn’t let her near her so I just had the girl had her a treat and off we went…

    It’s so frustrating! I want her to be good with kids…

    What is the best way to desensitize her to this. It’s also hard to get find kids to even work with at a distance at this time since we are now into winter and snowing..

    • Hi Sharon,

      It is not all that unusual for dogs to be fearful, or at the very least concerned, about children in this age group (2-5 yrs). They are just learning to walk and their movements a jerky and uncoordinated. This combination, coupled with the fact that she is at near eye level with the child, the eye contact that the child will likely make, and the fact that children like to reach out to touch and will often grab ears or poke eyes makes accepting these children difficult. Her display of looking like she will nip is a warning signal, and should not be corrected. Your approach to desensitizing and counter-conditioning needs to be applied instead of correction. The difficulty there is that kids of this age can be difficult to control during the D&S process and they are at risk during the process. Even if you use a basket muzzle, your dog can still bump them pretty hard and hurt them. It is good that she responded well, but she could have had something happen that let to the back slide, like a poke in the eye, and it may have gone unnoticed. Conversely, the backslide may have no motivating factor and could have just happened without a reason. The approach that the child in question took more than likely was the trigger for the back slide, and it is not unusual for that to happen. With it happening twice in one day, I’m not at all surprised. Had she been fine with all kids, family and strangers for some time (1-2 years), then it would have been much less likely for her to backslide. How long had you been working with her before this incident? It sounds as though you are doing things correctly. The problem is the approach that the children took, and that is something that is very difficult, if not impossible for you to control. During the desensitizing and counter-conditioning process it is extremely important that the patient not be exposed to the stimuli that causes the problem. I would avoid all strange kids in the beginning, at least until she is very comfortable around the kids in this age group that she routinely sees. It’s okay for her to greet, but for now, strange kids should just stand there and not try to reach for her or pet her. Giving a treat if she is calm and relaxed is fine. Above all else, safety is paramount. Do not take chances if you have doubts. She is still maturing and will not reach social maturity until she is 2 years of age. Things can change at this time, for better or worse, so be on the look out :-)

  31. Sorry forgot to add a few things on to the Australian Cattle Dog.

    Am I flooding her to much by even having the kids hand her treats? or should I just back off from this too?

    It’s kind of bizarre because she will even go up and approach the younger kids on her own. Smelling them and sometimes licking their hands or face. But as soon as they go to pet her that’s when she will back away.

    She gets wale eyed and head turned sideways, ears pulled back and tail between the legs.

    I talked to the breeder we got her from and they told me that was not typical behavior for a Heeler. My dogs parents where very friendly and lovable with kids.

    My dog has been around children too. I have three boys who adore her and are very gentle and great with her. Like I said, she loves older kids just very fearful of the younger ones. ages 2 usually to 5. She loves babies. If I hold my nephew on my lab. age 18 months. She comes over and licks and licks and licks him. It’s one they can talk and really understand their own behavior she freaks out…

    • Thank you for the responds back! We had a little set back with people too Yesterday. We where at training class and still working on socialization, desensitization and the counter conditioning process.

      As we approached people and got her focus back on me and gave her a treat. She was doing great for weeks with adults. She would actually that go to people to them licking their hands tail wagging super fast reallyand happy and friendly. Then yesterday she got that deep look at this woman. I tried to call her out of it. She lost her focus on me. I moved back about 2 feet got herto attention back onto me. Nothing happened to her in the last few days. The only thing was I came down with the a slight cold and felt a little under the weather. Not sure if she senced that and was acting on my emotion. I was to still real happy and upbeat though. So I don’t think that could have been it.

      I’m not sure if this is just typical Cattle Dog behavior since people keep telling me so many negative things about the breed. (That they aggressive to people and other animals and very territorial aggressive ) Which is why I’m working so hard with her. Working the NILF routine letting her know I’m the Alpha. Because I do have to believe a lot has to do with training and socializing. I just want to get it make sure she is well rounded and accepting of people before she gets to old.

      Roxie is now 10 months. Any experience with this breed? Could it also be her age too? Also yesterdays incident was the following day after the kid incident.

      Then yesterday at training as we approached a stranger from a distance
      got to her attention on me then when calm gotcloser

      • At 10 months of age, she is still developing, mentally and physically. She will reach social maturity at 2 yrs of age, so expect some ups and downs/boundary testing to occur, especially at the 2 yr point. The reaction she gave the woman could have been instigated by something the woman did, or something that she was wearing, etc… It likely went unnoticed to everyone except your dog. You handled it correctly. Remember, just because something like this happens it does not mean you have lost ground or that there is not hope. Continue doing what you are doing, I wish more of my clients were as diligent. And remember, progress, not perfection :-)

  32. Hi Dr. Mark, I enjoyed reading this article, thank you! My husband and I have had our fearful/shy Vizsla puppy, Gus, since he was 10 weeks. We didn’t know this when we got him, but his mother is fearful of strangers. So I think some of our puppy’s shyness is inherited.

    We have been working on socializing quite a bit and now at 6 months we thought we were seeing improvements. He is now starting to warm up to strangers in our home after he meets them a few times, and the people he has gotten accustomed to, he absolutely loves (and he remembers them now). While we are out on walks or in Petco, for example, he is completely fine until someone looks at him or bends down to pet him; he will retreat, but then he will slowly reach out and lick their hands for a second. I try to really positively reinforce this by praising him and giving his treats when he is friendly. Sometimes he will bark /growl at new people, but this behavior has been getting better.

    Well, just as a started to feel that maybe his fearfulness was managable, our vet has freaked me out by saying that we should find a trainer for him. I guess while he was there to be neutered, he would hide in the back of the cage and snap at anyone who tried to get him out. Our vet said he was obviously very afraid and cornered, but now our vet’s obvious concern has me very concerned!

    I guess my question is, isn’t this fear-agression towards a vet somewhat normal, or is this a big setback for us? Will seeing a trainer or an animal behaviorist really help? Also, Gus is terrified of children. While we don’t have any, we plan on starting a family in few years and I worry that he will never be able to be around them. Any advice? thanks!

    • Hi Jackie! Love the name Gus! I love it so much that it is the name of one of my dogs :-). The is definitely a genetic link to fearful behavior. This is often over looked and it is assumed that the dog must have gone through some sort of traumatic event to make them this may, when in fact it is genetics at work. His behavior is very appropriate (in Pet Co when approached by strangers). The barking and growling is also appropriate, we is telling everyone that he is uncomfortable, not that he is aggressive. If he has not been through obedience training, he absolutely should. It may not help to fearfulness very much, but it is still important. What happened at the vet hospital is not unusual. It is a VERY scary place! Couple that with the fact that most vets do not have a clue as to how to deal with this, and it’s a recipe of trouble. It is not a set back at all. These ups and downs are expected. Remember, progress, not perfection :-)

  33. Hi Dr Mark,

    We have 4 dogs, 3 terriers (13 yr male, 10 yr female, 6 yr male) and a dachshund/chihuahua mix (3 yr male), all fixed.

    Our problem is the 6 yr old male terrier. He’s a rescue and we have no info about his background. When he first came to us, he was very submissive and fearful(rolled over on his back and urinated, always deferred to us in every situation, etc) but in the last year or so has become increasingly aggressive with the other dogs, and occasionally us. Any time he’s aggressive, we are in the room; he’s never attacked the other dogs when we’re not there, so we must be the problem, yes?

    He gives very little warning before he attacks one of the other dogs. Sometimes it’s simply him sitting in my lap and I ask him to get down so I can go to do something and he will suddenly stiffen and snarl, show teeth, then on his way off my lap he will attack one of the dogs. This all happens in less than 5 seconds. He also sometimes snarls and gets mouthy at me or my husband when we correct him on different things he does.

    He’s just today been put on amitryptyline and I know we need to do behavior modification work with him, but I don’t understand what that would actually be. He gets timid and starts ‘displaying’ even if we praise him for good behavior. I’m 100% certain he would bite me and I therefor don’t interact with him in ways that might cause that to happen.

    One final thing, he loves his crate and when he’s aggressive he immediately asks to go in there. We always let him in it, thinking it’s best to remove him from the situation. Is that the correct thing to do?

    Thank you, and I’m so sorry this is so long!

    • Hi Micki,

      It is not unusual for a dog to behave differently in the owners presence, especially i regards to other dogs in the house. Unfortunately, we often cause the issue by reinforcing the wrong pecking order. We tend to view their interactions with an eye for judging what’s fair. For example, one dog takes the other dogs’ toy and we feel that he should not have done that. So we go over to that dog, take the toy away, and give it back to the other dog. This is a recipe for problems. See my post on interdog aggression and it will clear a lot of things up for you.

      Many times warning signs, such as growling get corrected/suppressed and you wind up with a dog that “attacks out of nowhere” or with very little warning. If he growls, it is not a sign of aggression, it is a sign that he is uncomfortable and the situation needs to be examined. We need to find the trigger and desensitize him to it and counter-condition his response. The snarling and mouthiness he displays when corrected is appropriate because that is a scary thing for a fearful dog. A better approach for him would be to call him away from what ever is going on, ask him to sit, and then reward that behavior. Ignore what you do not want, and reward what you do want. If being in your lap is an issue, then he cannot have that piece of valuable real estate, at least not until he earns it by not showing aggression.

      The praise can be a little much for him as well, especially if the people involved are really excited, reach out quickly to him, make eye contact, and lean over him. Try taking it down a notch by speaking softer, bending down as apposed to leaning over him, avoid direct and prolonged eye contact, try put you hand low to the ground with your palm facing up and only attempt to pet him chin. This is a much lees treatening way to give praise to a fearful dog.

      Removing him from the situation is a good thing, but the crate should not be used as punishment. It would be better to give him the time out in another room, that is less desirable. If he loves his crate, he could interpret being in there as a reward, kinda like punishing a child by sending him to his room that has TV, internet, and phone :-).

      See my post on interdog aggression, it will help clear things up.

  34. We have a 6 month old male Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mix, Fletcher. We brought him home when he was about 6 weeks old, shortly after we lost our 14 year old Brittany Spaniel. We also have a 6 year old male Silky Terrier,Gromit, and our children are 17 yrs old and 10 yrs old.

    We started seeing fear aggression toward strangers when Fletcher was around 3 months old. We enrolled him in a 5 week puppy socialization class and from the first week that he spent cowering under a chair, he made significant progress. By the end of the 5 weeks he was interacting with all of the other puppy owners, although he still snapped at most of the puppies if they came too close to him. Once or twice he started to engage in play behavior, but he always seemed very tense. He frequently snapped at the vet tech teaching the classes, but she was very patient and calm and he came to trust her. She pointed out that his snapping and barking was a defensive behavior that he was using to send the message to the other puppies to “stay away”. He did not snap or bark at the other puppy owners, just the puppies. She also pointed out that when he snapped, he was not making contact with his mouth. She said if he was intending to bite someone, he was capable of biting them.

    We decided to enroll him in another 5 week puppy class to continue his socialization because we live in a very remote area and even on walks we rarely encounter other people. Unfortunately, he was focused on herding the other puppies and we agreed with the vet tech that it wasn’t advancing his socialization skills.

    Two days ago we had friends over for dinner, 2 adults, no kids. They are dog owners and understood our concerns with Fletcher’s fear aggression (barking, lunging, snapping). They agreed to mostly ignore him and avoid eye contact…no talking, no petting, no moving toward him. We watched him closely and after the initial barking and one jump up on each of the couple, which they corrected appropriately, he seemed to be ok with them. After about 20 minutes, the woman went to the bathroom and while she was walking down the hall back into the living room, Fletcher caught sight of her and charged at her, barking furiously. It happened in a split second and he lunged at her, jumped up and caught the hem of her sweater in his mouth. He removed a mouth-sized chunk of sweater, but did not bite her hands or arms.

    She responded very calmly and told him firmly to get “down” and within a few seconds he had stopped barking. Within a few minutes, he was laying on the floor, calmly, as though nothing had happened. Throughout the next hour we visited in the living room, Fletcher lay on the floor behind the couch. At one other time, he was sitting close to the chair where she was sitting…she was not talking to him or looking at him, but he was staring at her. A few minutes later, while walking past her, he lunged at her and she quickly corrected him. He then ignored her the rest of the evening.

    We can see that with the BC intelligence he “over-thinks” things and we’re having a hard time understanding what is going on that is triggering these behaviors. He didn’t like this woman for some reason, even though she behaved correctly and did not challenge him…and she certainly wasn’t fearful of him.

    We know we need to get started on some training/behavior modification right away and we’re kind of at a loss of where to start. Should we take him into more public, social situations? If we are walking him in a crowd, should we muzzle him just to be safe? He’s never shown a single moment of aggression to anyone in the family. We are regularly in his face, playing with his face, looking at his teeth, playing with his feet, his tail. It may be a cliche’, but within our family, he is just the perfect dog!

    Our friends suggested his fear aggression may be based in being separated from his mother too early (6 weeks)…is there any support to that theory?

    Any help or advice you may have would be GREATLY appreciated! Oh, and “Laissez les bon temps roulez!” from some fellow Cajuns! :)

    • Hi Michelle,

      It sounds like you had a vet tech that knew what she was talking about in the puppy class. I agree with what she said. Fear has a strong genetic component, and 6 weeks of age is too young to take a puppy away from it’s litter. Dogs learn how to be dogs and properly interact with other dogs between 4-8 weeks of age. 2 weeks doesn’t sound like much to us, but it is a long time to them.

      How was the jumping up corrected? This is an important question.

      The reaction Fletcher had to your visitor returning from the bathroom is very common among dogs with aggression issues. Dogs live in the moment. I his eyes, she had left and the situation was totally new. She was reentering his domain and the greeting was new. She likely felt more relaxed about things since it had been going well. She should not have been the one to tell him to lie down, that needs to come from someone he respects and if not afraid of. Be very careful about correcting him. If he is told not to growl, he will stop warning you of his anxiety and will go right to biting. Take the growl as a sign of him being uncomfortable, not as one of a show of aggression. It is very important to not allow these episodes to happen because he learns peoples weaknesses from each episode. Have him on leash when people come over, at least for the time being until you can really work with him. The best thing to do is to find a behaviorist, not a trainer, to help you with him. It is in a BC’s DNA to herd things, and they do it through intimidation and nipping. Exercise is paramount for this (and every) breed. If he has a ton of pent up energy, he will be more likely to resort to what his genes tell him to do and he will not be as relaxed as he should be. I tired dog is a happy dog. He is a working dog and needs a job. Did you sign up for a copy of my book? It will help to shed a lot of light on what to do to get him to listen to you.

      Laissez les bon temps roulez! and Geaux Tigers! Always good to hear from a fellow Cajun :-)

  35. Dr. Mark – I had a brief reply back on the twitter post.

    I adopted a 6.5 year old JRT on 2/5/11 from a rescue started by hospice workers. The rescue asked if I minded if the previously family contacted me.

    I’ve worked/volunteered at a shelter and been through a gauntlet of owner surrenders and their excuses – I said of course. I wanted to know everything I could.

    I knew that my dog’s owner(s) had to be dead because of the rescue I got her from. It was a bit more than that.

    The history I received was from the daughter in law of the deceased male owner. She told me that her in-laws (father in law and step-mother in law) decided when they were in their 70’s that they wanted a puppy. Against the family’s wishes they bought Babe an AKC Jack Russell as a puppy from a breeder.

    Babe spent the first 6 + years of her life on a back porch in some sort of make shift box. There was a doggy door so she could go outside. She was fed primarily scraps off the kitchen floor which was for the most part her only interaction with the humans.

    When family/friends would visit Babe was often alone and without water or dog food on the porch/box thing.

    October of 2010 the male owner died. In December of 2010 the female advised she didn’t want Babe and that her step-son should do something or Babe would be PTS.

    The son traveled to get Babe and bring her to their city (a couple hours from where she was living).

    I assume that these folks (the son and daughter in law are in their 50’s-60’s) based on conversation via email.

    The son works 50 + hours a week. The daughter in law (who I corresponded with) has Lupus and a balance disorder. Keeping Babe wasn’t an option and an agonizing decision for them to make. They did love her. But she is constantly under foot and the woman was afraid of hurting herself or Babe if they got tangled up. Thus they found the rescue I adopted her from.

    I know she was adopted and returned per the daughter in law. The rescue did not tell me that information. I don’t know why she was returned.

    The rescue brought her to my home to do a home visit. I saw this plump little JRT walking up the sidewalk and was in love with her.

    The gal had parked by a neighbors house and they had two crazy black labs that were barking insanely at her and trying to get at her through the fence. Babe completely ignored them. The rescue gal told me she had Babe about a week as a foster. She had her own two cocker spaniels, and was dog sitting two labs while Babe was there and that she got along great with the other dogs. She had taken her because her other foster family had a cat that she was not fond of.

    Within a few minutes of the rescue worker leaving I took Babe for a walk over to my friends place a few blocks away. They too have a JRT – a neutered 4 yr old male.

    On our walk (I live in a very dog friendly area) we ran into at least 3 other dogs. They all just chilled as “normal” dogs do with each other. We got to my friends house and their dog – who LOVES other dogs but has a terrible way of showing it — immediately started to chase Babe around trying to hump her. He also humps humans constantly. She was not impressed. She hid behind me and that was the extent of it. We didn’t stay long.

    I took her to meet my sister she has cats. The cats weren’t too thrilled but otherwise they were fine with each other. She was fine with all the dogs at my sisters apt complex.

    I took her to Petco to get everything we needed and she was extremely social to the other dogs. I had the perfect little princess – dog friendly, cute, and super sweet.

    Pretty much immediately after that she was attached to me and her dog friendly attitude has ceased.

    I can take her to work and do quite often. Another co worker adopted an aussie mix puppy the week after I got Babe. So we had both our babies at the office along with our bosses golden doodles and any other dogs that show up. She HATES them all. She loses her mind when she sees other dogs. We live on a busy corner – dogs come by all day/night. She goes crazy when she sees them. Bigger dogs set her off more than dogs her own size.

    When we are on a walk I know the triggers and try to avoid them. I change directions with her, we cross the street, etc. The other JRT she wants to kill 99.9% of the time. We can take the dogs on a walk together – it takes her a few minutes to not want to tear his face off though. She sees him often enough that he’s not a stranger to her. But my hopes have faded for them to ever be friends and for me to ever add another dog to our family.

    I can’t keep her even remotely confined from her triggers. She can see out our windows and doors so someone just walking by with their dog sets her off. Most of the neighborhood dog owners have been educated by me that she isn’t dog friendly and to keep their distance. There is one black male scottie that is 8 years old that she actually likes in the n.hood and she will cordially greet him.

    I can take her to Petco/Petsmart and Pet Expos and its like she knows to be good or we won’t stay(she won’t get her treats). But she will let them know don’t get near me. At a Pet Expo I took her to this summer I was holding some small puppies and she was interested in them and even kissed one.

    If I’m in my room and she sees a dog she runs from the door to the window and back carrying on and then she’ll run to me like come on let’s get them and then will keep running to me like why are you not with me on this?

    I was incorrectly sent vet records from the son/daughter in laws vet for their own dog. So I suspect that she was with their dog while living there. Plus she lived with foster dogs. Plus for the first day or two she was fine with other dogs. I hate that I don’t have a dog friendly dog and that I can’t foster or even consider adopting another pet. Re-homing is a passion of mine. I love her dearly she’s my crazy little monster. But for the past 11 months her attitude hasn’t changed towards other dogs. She is oblivious to geese, ducks, birds, etc. But anything with fur – fox, squirrels, coyote, elk, rocky mtn. sheep, marmots, etc. (animals we run into commonly living in CO) she wants to kill.

    She does the Jack jump and happy dance to go on car rides (yes we need doggy goggles she likes sticking her head out the window and rolls it down if I don’t lock it), she loves to go hiking, to go for walks, and for some reason she loves to go to my day job. She and my 10 yr old nephew are best buddies.

    I thought it was fear aggression and her being protective of me because I do love her and because of her past neglect. But she def has hackles, heavy breathing, snarling, etc. So maybe it’s straight up aggression??

    • Hi Kim,

      Sounds like you have your hands full with her. How were her aggressive displays handled in the beginning? This sounds more like protective/territorial aggression to me, and the history fits. With her being relatively isolated on the porch for most of her life, she likely became protective of the backyard. This type of aggression/behavior is self rewarding. Every time she barks at someone or something, she makes them/it go away. This causes her to feel good, thus the self rewarding. She did not do this with you in the beginning because she hadn’t bonded with you yet and did not feel the need to protect you, and she did not do it with the puppies because she didn’t that they were a threat to you. Have you tried a Gentle Leader? Have you been through any obedience training? Group classes for obedience are a great way to get her used to being around other dogs without wanting to kill them. Also, teaching her the look or touch command can help to get her focus on you when other dogs are around. One of the main rules to follow when treating territorial aggression is to avoid the stimulus. She cannot be allowed to look out the windows, ever, during the desensitizing process. This is key because of the self rewarding thing. This process is discussed in my book, How Dogs Learn and How to Actually Get Your Dog to Listen to You. Sign up on this site for your free copy :-)

      • I have the “walk in sync” lead & harness. I got it at a Pet Expo from the trainer that created it. My dog was on stage as the test subject and she was the perfect little darling up there demonstrating it. She does much better on it then on a traditional harness. Hers clips in the front of her chest versus between her shoulders. She doesn’t pull as much with it versus a traditional harness. I’m not opposed to the gentle leader but I’m afraid with a gentle leader she’d snap her neck or get out of it.

        I admit I get frustrated with her when she goes crazy. She is very smart. She knows if I say let’s go this way instead or let’s cross the street – that I’m just trying to distract her. Sometimes I try to get down on her level and tell her to relax (like she can understand and obey me). She gets so tense and worked up and then I get frustrated with her.

        I’m afraid to take her to a class with other dogs. I know I’m the one that needs training on how to train her. I spoiled her from the get go. She really is a very sweet and loving little pup.

        If I lived in the country it wouldn’t be an issue.
        I rent a ranch style ground level apartment with a shared unfenced yard on a busy corner. I put up window treatments to deter her from seeing outside and have moved furniture as best I can so she can’t see outside. The set up of the place doesn’t really allow for me to block her 100% from the outside world. Plus she has super hearing and can hear a dog a mile away even when we are inside with doors an windows shut.

        Even though she’s 7 years old – she acts like a puppy and still has a ton of energy.

        I will def read the book and try the look/touch commands to see if that helps at all. Thanks for the reply!

  36. I have owned shepherds my whole life and have never experienced the problems I am with our current one. He is 1yo and we have had him since 8weeks. He has severe fear aggression of people. We live in the country and anytime someone knocks on the door he lunges and barks at the door. I took him to group training with a trainer that is “experienced” with aggressive dogs. We trained in a garage with about 15 other dogs/owners and it proved to be too stressful for me and the dog. The last time we went another person talked to me & made eye contact with my dog & the dog lunged at him. The trainer intervened and my dog bit him. He got the dog under control but the whole time the dog is training there he is looking for an escape out of the garage. The trainer said he could take him for 2 weeks & make him a better version of himself (for $$) but I am worried that I may get a dog back in worse condition. I have 6 kids and hubby & he is great with them but I want a dog I can take places & feel comfortable if I leave him to go on vacation. There are lack of trainers willing to work with him. I’m guessing my best approach is a muzzle & trips to parks with few people to start but I feel like I will always have a problem dog unless I get some professional help. I appreciate any suggestions. Thanks!!

    • Hi Jill,

      Dogs like this are very difficult and frustrating to deal with. Most people want a dog that they can take anywhere and have them be relaxed, happy-go-lucky, and social. The reality of the situation, however, is that he will likely never be this way. Dogs have their own personalities and behavioral predispositions, just like people. His demeanor has a very strong behavioral component. We can make dogs like this better or worse, but a complete change in personality is unlikely. Exposure to losts of different things during their critical socialization period (between 4-14 wks of age) can help the dog accept new things as an adult, but doesn’t guarantee it. The bottom line here is that he is fearful, and will likely always be. It is unrealistic to expect him to turn into a happy-go-lucky type of dog. It also sounds like he is developing territorial/protective aggression. You do not need a trainer, you need a behaviorist. Following the suggestions in this post can help, but to really set yourself up for sucess you need to find a veterinary behaviorist, or at the very least a good positive reinforcement type trainer. Correction based training will likely make your dog worse. Time is of the essence, this will get worse, especially around 2 years of age when social maturity is reached. Go here,, to find a veterinary behaviorist near you.

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  39. I think this is one of the most important information for me. And i’m glad reading your article. However want to statement on some common issues, The site style is ideal, the articles is in reality great : D. Good task, cheers

  40. I have a 4 year old Cane Corso (Italian Mastiff) who also shares a home with a 2 lb Yorkie and a poodle/chihuahua mix. He has always been fine around other dogs, especially small dogs. However, late last summer, he got approached and attacked by an extremely aggressive larger dog…and has been aggressive towards other dogs ever since. It doesn’t matter what breed of dog it is…or the size. Walking him is quite challenging as my neighborhood is super dog friendly, plus a lot of folks don’t like to use leashes, so I spend a lot of time peeking around corners to make sure there aren’t any dogs nearby. Unleashed dogs often run up to us, which sends my mastiff into a growling/lunging frenzy…and I’m afraid that one day the wrong dog is going to approach us and there will be a fight. Is there anything at all I can do to fix this? I don’t want him to seem like a bully…or hurt another dog, because he truly is a sweetheart.

    • Hi Jen,

      I can certainly appreciate your situation. There are many factors that effect how our dogs respond to and recover from events like this. It is very important that you remain as calm as humanly possible when there is a confrontation. How did you respond to the initial episode? Do not start to wind the leash and hold tension on it when you see a dog, your dog will sense the tension and respond to it. You will have to get your dog to start looking to you for the appropriate behavior in any and all situations (deference). Next, he must be taught to relax in a variety of situations so that this state of mind becomes generalized. Once he consistently defers to you, and has learned to relax in a variety of situations (I have a protocol for that too), it is now time to start to desensitize him to approaches from other dogs. This is the really difficult part because it’s not always easy to control the other dog involved, especially if they are off leash. Any exposure to a dog that is out of control or “a problem” or really ANY dog will set you back in the desensitizing process. The gist here is to expose him to the presence of another dog at a distance that he can see the dog, but not react to it. He is rewarded (with whatever motivates him) for calmness, and the reward is taken away if he is not calm. This process is repeated as the distance gets shorter. My book, How Dogs Learn and How To Actually Get Your Dog To Listen To You, explains the entire process and much more. Did you sign up for it? It’s free :-)

  41. Hi,
    I have a similar situation to many of the above comments. I have 2 Mastiffs (mostly English, but Dad was half Neopolitan), that will be 2 in June. They are litter mates. They are each 140 lbs. I brought them home at about 8-9 weeks of age. They were in farm setting with kids at their original home, we have no kids but one older (10 years) Boxer/Rottweiler mix. All the males are neutered. My problem is that the older dog was very aggressive with the other 2 when they were puppies. There were a few incidents between them that ending up with one of the pups needing stitches. The other never required vet attention, but did have a few interactions with the older dog. We knew the older dog was not very well socialized with other dogs but had seemed to get along with puppies before that. The big problem was that after an altercation started , the pups would submit but the older dog would keep attacking until we could intervene. One dog is now scared of everything, and has bitten 2 people which is scary given his size. He is terrible at the dog park, if another dog appraches him he sees it as a threat and goes on the attack. We did take them to puppy training and they would try to hide under the chairs from the other dogs. The other one is frightened of and aggressive with kids and scared to death of thunder. He does fine with other dogs at the dog park as long as they are not aggressive towards him. When we walk him on a leash though he will lunge at passing kids and people. He does well with adults IN the dog park when he is off the leash. Any suggestions? We still have the older dog, but he has gotten less aggressive with the other 2 as they have gotten bigger. I feel terrible since I cannot help but feel that we caused their anxiety. I love these dogs but they are so big I feel I have to be responsible with them around other people, but i don’t want to keep them locked up in our home forever. Thanks for your advice

    • Hi Lisa,
      Fearful dogs can be difficult to manage. I say manage, because it is unlikely that they will ever become the “happy-go-lucky” dog that most people envision. There is a very strong genetic component to this behavior. Just as in people, some dogs are more outgoing than others. Also, what they were or were not exposed to during their critical socialization period has a significant effect on how accepting they are of new things as adults. The key with these dogs is to go slow, and have patience. Desensitizing them as discussed in the post is the best way to help them over come their fears. In many cases, medication is what really helps them overcome their fears, specifically Reconcile, Xanax, and Anxitane. These may not be needed forever, but they will definitely help to level the playing field.

  42. I have a 20 month old Great Dane. I’ve had him since he was a pup (8 weeks). We did the puppy school…it was fine. He has extreme fear aggression, guarding, and anxiety issues. He’ll stand at my door, tail tucked, growling at anyone he sees…even if they’re three houses away. If someone comes to my house…he tries to chase them out the door. I’ve worked with a behavioralist, but he doesn’t seem to be making much progress. Maybe drug therapy? I’m at a complete loss here. Tonight..he bit a friend of my daughters. She was petting him, she moved her arm, he bit her. I’m scared to have people over, I’m not happy about what this puts HIM through (I just KNOW he’s got to be miserable). Any helpful advice or words of wisdom would be GREATLY appreciated. I love m big goof and I want to help him through this.

    • Valerie, fear and anxiety can be very challenging, to say the least. These dogs are on constant high alert and the things that set them off are often very subtle and can be overlooked by those around them. For example, with your friends daughter, she may have made eye contact when she moved her arm. Or, she may have moved her arm too fast, or to tensely. What has the behaviorist recommended/what kind of methods are being employed? How long have you been working with the behaviorist? Medication is often needed in these cases. This behavior is often genetic and anxiety inhibits learning in dogs, just as it does in humans. Taking the anxiety down a few notches helps. Every time he growls, he is trying to tell you that the situation is making him uncomfortable. If he is growling at someone 3 houses down, he gets uncomfortable very easily, and you certainly have your work cut out for you. I would not hesitate to try meds, specifically Reconcile, Anxitane, and possibly Xanax. The behavior modification techniques employed are paramount, to say the least. Any kind of positive punishment or negative reinforcement should be avoided. These techniques can make things worse. Exposing him to something that makes him uncomfortable at a level he does not react to is the key. If he can observe, without being overly anxious, you have the opportunity to reward the state of mind that you want and he has the opportunity to see that noting bad happened. It is PARAMOUNT, in the mean time, that all situations that make him uncomfortable are avoided. If that means he cannot be around anyone but your immediate family, then that’s what we have to do. I know this is not optimal, but there is no other way. Every time he exhibits aggression, he learns people weaknesses and hones his skills of manipulation. Once a dog realizes that he can manipulate people with teeth, it can be extremely difficult to get them to stop employing that method. If he is growling at people 3 doors down, deny him visual access. Every time he barks and growls at someone through a door or window he will get worse and worse because it is a self rewarding behavior. He is trying to make them go away, he growls and barks, and they leave (even though they were just walking past the house anyway, he think he has made them leave). This is a self rewarding behavior and it will worsen over time. He is approaching social maturity and it is likely that things will get worse without serious intervention. Do not allow him to greet visitors. Put him in another room, behind a closed door, when people are entering your house. Once everyone is settled, he can be allowed to mingle (only if it is safe, muzzle him if there are doubts), but everyone should ignore him. No one should even make eye contact with him. If your company cannot abide by this rule, do not allow your dog to mingle, or do not allow that person to be in your home.

  43. The strangest thing about the bite incident is that he’s been around this girl multipe times before. The fact that it occured by the fron door leads me to believe that he was stressed by something/someone outside and misplaced his anxiety to her. I’ve covered the front picture window so he can’t look out there, if he begins to show signs of agression while looking out the door I immediately remove him. When someone comes over he is removed from the room or put behind a gate until he is able to calm down. I’ve instructed everyone the comes into my house to ignore him to the point of preending he’s not there. I have a bowl of treats by the front door that I instruct the guests to nonchalantly throw to him, without looking at him, while we talk…trying to associate good things with new people. Little by little I let them get closer to the gate and let him sniff at them. This whole process takes about 20-30 minutes sometimes. I understand that being behind a gate could add to the stress, but I don’t see any other way to accomplish this. We’ve talked about getting him started on Amitryptoline (did I spell that right). It’s not just at home with new people that he shows extreme anxiety…car rides are HELL for him. There’s extreme panting, “pacing” across the back seat (as much as a Great Dane can), so much that he gets so worked up he can’t even concentrate enough to accept treats. We’ve been working woth the behaviorist since October. I can’t say that he isn’t making ANY progress, because he made enough that she fealt ok to suspended the training for a little while…only for this to happen. I don’t scold him, yell at him, or use physical force at all when he growls or barks at the door because I understand he’s doing it out of fear and he can’t help it. All I do is redirect him and/or remove him from the situation. Some times are better than others. He seems to be more agressive with women and children, but men don’t seem to bother him. THAT part i am TOTALLY baffled by. If I walk in on him silently standing at the door, just watching someone outside, I immediately treat and praise him, This, hopefully, is associating calm, quiet behavior with positive results. I’ve used the muzzle…but he still charges and jumps. There are times that he gets SO worked up that it results in the expressing of the anal gland and my WHOLE house has that nasty scent. I know it’s not his fault, I’m not angry or upset with him at all. I’m just trying to find a way to help him through this. I know with him being such a big dog this kind of stress and strain just CAN’T be healthy.

  44. Hi Dr. Mark,

    I enjoyed reading your article and the subsequent posts, but now find myself more confused over my situation than ever. My dog, a 2 1/2 year old American Bulldog, has what I (and I’m certainly no expert) would have considered territorial issues before reading the above. He gets very agitated when someone comes into our house that he doesn’t know, and I’m afraid given the chance would bite a guest. Recently, my wife had him out for a walk when a neighbor approached them and reached out his hand to which my bulldog snapped at him. Luckily, he wasn’t nicked or hurt but I’m afraid we won’t be so lucky next time.

    That said, I feel like we socialized Beason well as a young puppy. We took him for walks, to the park, and constantly had him out and about meeting new people. We retained the services of a trainer a while back because of his issues with guests and she enforced the need for us to establish ourselves at the pack leaders. That made sense to me because Beason is very clingy to my wife and often times won’t go for a walk if she is home but tries to stay behind. When they are sitting together on the couch it is almost like the dog is there to protect her from harm.

    I feel very comfortable outside of the house with Beason if it is just me or I’m with my wife, but after the recent episode with my neighbor my wife does not feel comfortable walking him without me. I, again, tried to rationalize the episode with the neighbor as the dog feeling the need protect my wife but after reading the above am not so sure that is the case. According to my wife, before he snapped he did the puppy bow which I previously thought was a submissive sign meaning he wanted to play. I’m now thinking it was in fact fear because the neighbor approached him incorrectly and bent over, hand out to pet Beason. Fear would also explain why Beason gets so upset when others come to our house.

    At this point, I’m at a loss and want to help our dog overcome his issues whatever they might be. I want the dog to be happy in our house and I also want to understand the issue and in turn offer some solutions, and have guests over or take the dog on a walk without fear. Any thoughts or suggestions you have, Dr. Mark, are MUCH appreciated.


    • Hello Lee,

      The situation you describe concerning entry into your home and the neighbor trying to him sound territorial in nature, but fear and anxiety can also be players here. It depends on what the rest of his body is doing at the time. It can be hard to read because of how Bulldogs are made. If his tail is tucked, fear is the underlying emotion, but this is difficult to assess because of their curly tail. He ears can give you a clue. If they are up and forward, he is confident about the situation and territorial/protective aggression is more likely than fear. If his ears are down and pinned to his head, fear is likely the predominant emotion.

      The pack leader concept is a bit outdated. Asserting dominance is not really the best way to handle things, especially in the case of fearful dogs. His clinginess leads me to believe that he has some degree of anxiety as the root cause of his issues. Many times the person who is being clung to is inadvertantly reinforcing that behavior, mostly by trying to console him when he looks stressed, or by having a conversation with him at the times he is clingy/stressed. The most common way this happens is someone pets them and says “it’s okay” in a soft tone. All this will do is make the anxiety worse. If Benson looks like he is protecting your wife when on the couch, he should not be allowed on the couch until this issue is dealt with.

      What makes this so difficult is the fact that it is very difficult for people to overcome who they are and what they feel. Our dogs know when we are happy, sad, relaxed, or fearful. If your wife is affraid or anxious about walking with him, he will know it. He will not know that it is because she is worried about what he may do. He will think that she is anxious about the same thing he is anxious about (the approaching stranger), especially if she starts to tighten up the leash in anticipation of what Benson may do.

      The place to start is with the information in my book “How Dogs Learn and How to Actually Get Your Dog to Listen to You”. Have you signed up for it? It will equipt you with the tools you need to help Benson worj through his issues, or should I say help you guys work through it :-). The key is desensitiztion and counterconditioning. The book will outline this process, but I recommend that you enlist the help of an experienced behaviorist (not a trainer). If this person does not use positive reinforcement methods, look elsewhere.

  45. Very informative site here. My dog is a schnoodle/jack Russell mix almost 2 years old. Ever since his first hair cut at 7 months of age he has become very fearful of strangers (including the vet), haircuts,the closing of the door of his crate, etc. His body language represents all of the diagrams above except for the dominant one. I truly believe he is fearful of many situations and I have tried training classes and a shock collar which was suggested to help but they were unsuccessful. He has gotten to the point where almost all situations lead to growling, barking, and attempts…sometimes successful at biting. Often times I have to put a muzzle on him to clip his nails, or trim his hair. The vet won’t even accept him without a muzzle. How can I help him feel more comfortable in everyday situations? I know he was not well socialized as a puppy as I live in the country and it was winter time when we got him, though I should have brought him to the nearest town for walks, and exposes him to more than just a few of our friends pets. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can handle my dog in situations where he barks and bites at me or someone for simply standing up too quickly or shutting his crate door?

    • Krystin, fear and fear aggression can be very challenging. Unfortunately you have several things working against you, the biggest is incomplete socialization. Things that dogs are not exposed to certain things during 4-12 weeks of age will often have difficulty accepting them as adults. Secondly, you cannot train away fear, you have to desensitize and counter-condition your dog. This involves exposing him to things he is fearful of in a manner that does not elicit a fearful response (this is covered in the post). Third, you got some REALLY BAD advice about using the shock collar, this usually makes fearful dogs worse and can cause them to be fearful of even more things. I would enlist the help of a veterinary behaviorist (if one is available to you). Most trainers are not going to be able to handle this properly. An easy way to tell if you have someone that knows what they are doing is to get their advice on what to do when he growls. If they tell you to “correct it” or somehow tell her to stop growling, RUN away from this person. A growl is a warning sign, it is a form of communication. If he is told to not growl, he will “bite out of nowhere.” Continue to muzzle him in the situations mentioned. The likelihood of him ever being able to be totally trusted in those situations is not good. Remember, safety first. Medication will probably help, Reconcile on a long term basis, Xanax for grooming and vet visits. Do not be afraid to use these. They are very safe and work well. Remember that he is literally fearing for his life. He needs the help that these medications can give him.

  46. Hi Dr Mark,

    Thank you for your article and informative replies to others.

    I have a mongrel whom I adopted when she was 3 days old. We bottle fed her then and she’s turning 4 this year. She attended obedience training classes when she was a puppy and the trainer actually scare the hell out of her when he was demonstrating dominance, by turning her over forcefully on her belly and pinned her down. She actually pooed all over that day..and avoided the trainer forever.. To make things worse, my dad had kinda shouted and kicked her when he was in a bad mood when she was about a year old.. My dog has problem going out, in fact she doesn’t stepped out at all. She will be in her own world and get so stressed that she would pant excessively and shed a lot after our attempted walks. But at home, she is a playful dog who performs tricks and plays a lot. In fact she’s very loving.

    Last month, my mum was cleaning the hamsters’ cages when suddenly she barked excessively at my mum who used the dog’s nail trimmer to ‘scare’ her. She jumped on my mum and bit her on her face and my mum ended with 13 stitches..and is very fearful of the dog.. We ended up boarding her at a shelter and would like to ask some questions if you can help..

    1) My dog has never bite before, her biting episode actually happened about a week after her heat ends.. Is there a possibility that it’s due to hormonal changes that causes her temperament change?

    2) Will sterilizing my dog help in her temperament?

    I visit, walk and bring her out every weekend now, she seems better, able to walk reasonably well and seems confident, however she was trembling and barking at everyone when I brought her to a new dog cafe.. She even actually bit someone (no blood but a bit bruised) who tried to pet her on her head when she was hiding under the chair..

    3) Is my dog more prone to biting people now?

    4) is there any additional recommendations you can provide and help me with?

    Thank you Dr Mark, will appreciate every advice you can give.


    • Hello Serene,

      Hormonal fluctuations can lead to behavior changes during the heat cycle, aggression being one of them. Spaying will stop the hormonal fluctuations. However, once a dog learns the teeth will keep people away, the aggression can become learned, especially in a fearful dog. Either way, definitely spay her. It will help her behavior and will help you avoid a number of medical issues in the future.

      Fearful dogs that eventually bite will learn very quickly that teeth are motivating. Since these dogs do not want people touching them, especially on top of the head while hiding under something, they will snap first and ask questions later. So yes, she will be prone to biting in the future. Also, many of these dogs have been taught to stop warning people that they are about to bite. This happens when people scold or correct them for growling. It will be your responsibility to warn people that she is fearful and to just leave her alone. If she wants to approach them, that is fine, but they should not approach her. Also explain to then the proper way to interact with her (covered in the post).

      The “trainer” (I’m using that term very lightly here) really did you and your dog a disservice by trying to dominate and pin her. The whole dominance theory in dog training is outdated and is the absolute opposite of what a fearful dog needs. It really makes me sad when I hear stories like this.

      The bottom line is that you will need to manage things when out in public with her. Do not let other people approach her and attempt to pet her when it is obvious that she does not want the interaction. Also, your mom and dad need to get on the same page that you are on and they should read this post, as well as my book How Dog’s Learn and How to Get Your Dog to Actually Listen to You (did you sign up and get the link emailed to you?). The more consistent everyone is with her, the better off everyone will be. I would also recommend that you find a behaviorist (not a trainer) in your area that uses positive reinforcement methods.

      Best of luck to you and I hope things work out well :-)

      Dr. Mark

  47. Hello Dr.Mark,
    I adopted a dog when he was about 1 year/maybe a year and half old. He is a border collie cross with a huge smile that loves people. I first got him he hadn’t ever been inside a house, was fearful of stairs, new rooms…pretty much everything. We have had him for 8 months now and through hard work he is a lovely boy with the exception of his social skills with other dogs. Since we got him we take him to the dog park almost everyday and that has helped his behaviour a lot. However, sometimes (especially if he hasn’t been in a couple days) he reverts back to this fearful and aggressive behaviour. I feel like we are taking one step forward and two steps back. He has started becoming protective of us as well sometimes. We discourage this behaviour and my husband and I do try to be the alpha dog in order to reassure him he doesn’t need to protect us. That said, at the dog park today he growled at the first dog and then tried to attack the second one. Usually I reprimand him and then keep trying to pet the dog myself while I get him to watch or make him calm about it. But today it was really very bad behaviour so I scolded him and put him on a short leash and left the dog park very mad at him. I fear I am loosing my patience with him. Is there anything that I could be doing to help him more. He has really come such a long way and it seems he just snaps sometimes and reverts back to old behaviour.

    Thank you,

    • Hi Dorothy,

      It is not unusual to take a couple steps back here and there when dealing with behavior issues. The reaction he has to these other dogs could be an appropriate reaction. If the other dogs came right up to him, met nose to nose, and were overly excited, he was telling them to knock it off. The nose to nose greeting is a rude one. This is the equivalent of a human greeting another human, when meeting for the first time, by trying to hug and kiss them vs a polite handshake. Then doggie handshake is the butt sniff :-). So, nose to butt is good, nose to nose is bad. It’s hard for me to say why your dog reacted the way he did because I was not there, but the rude greeting is a common problem and it really affects fearful dogs.

      The best way to teach your dog to take behavior cues from you (ie show that you are “alpha”) is to follow the recommendations in my book. Did you get your copy?

      I know taking 2 steps back can be frustrating. The best thing to do when you find yourself getting frustrated or angry (do not beat yourself up about it, it happens to everyone) is to remove your dog from the situation, ask your dog to do you know he will do (ie sit), and then get away from him and calm down. Go back to him when you regain your cool :-). Have patience and go slow. This is very much a process that will be life long in some form or another :-)

      Dr. Mark

  48. We recently took in a 5 year old Corgi five weeks ago. She is hand-shy and displays fearful responses when we try to touch her much of the time. We were told that she liked to be petted on her head and wasn’t a very cuddly, lovely dog. We can’t get much information from the original owner. The person placing the dog was her pet sitter. She has been left alone a lot the past year. The Corgi breed can be a bit aloof so we thought we knew what we were getting into but she has more issues than “just being a Corgi.” We have had two other corgis. She is very skittish and is fearful if we have a stick like object in our hand (ruler). It makes me wonder if she hasn’t been hit with something.

    We use a halter when we travel in the car to secure her with a seatbelt in the back seat. The first time I tried to put it on her she yelped and turned away. Now that she knows it means getting into the car when she gets the halter on, she lets me put it on without any problems. She is very smart and learns fast.

    We have taken her to the vet to be sure that there are no physical problems that are causing her behavior.
    We tried to groom her and she cried out and snarled when we got to the back part of her body. I had her on a lead upon a table outside since she did OK at the vet when she examined her on the table. I was hoping being on the table might help. I told my husband to stop and put her comb down as soon as she acted out. I kept her there for a few minutes not saying a word until she calmed down and then just placed her gently back on the lawn. I wonder if she hasn’t learned that this behavior works for her. When she doesn’t like something she can yelp, lunge and turned away, and it keeps people from doing what she doesn’t want done.

    I have been reading a great deal on helping shy and fearful dogs. She displays a lot of the signs of fear: turning her head away when someone tries to pet her, ears going back, yawning, lip licking, chewing and scratching, snarling, yelping when touched, lunging and hiding in small confined spaces. She will let us pet her head for brief periods of time when she comes up to us to greet us…on her terms. When she meets new people she is all excited to greet them. She will let most people pet her head for a brief time and then she is back to turning away and backing off.

    She loves our bed but will usually move away or get off the bed if one of us tries to sit down by her. She will get on her back looking very relaxed but if I try to touch her when she is on her back or side she is very reactive. When she was lying on her side she lunged at my husband’s face when he touched her very gently.

    I have been using the treat and touch method of desensitization to get her used to being touched and she has let me stroke her from her head to almost her hindquarters for a brief period when I have treats. I started with the comfort zone of her head and then just touched her backside without stoking then progressed from there. When/if she reacts I lift my hand and try later from a less sensitive spot. It is very slow progress and there are times I wonder if she will ever get to where we can pet and touch her in a normal fashion and groom her without her acting out in fear. It has been about four weeks of working with her so far.

    She is spending less time hiding and is beginning to interact a little more with us. She will occasionally come and put her head on my knee and lay down in front of me when I am sitting on the floor. I have been woken up with a Corgi kiss and if I don’t move too much she will lay down beside me for a bit but it isn’t consistent yet.

    We walk her once or twice a day and have a large yard for her to explore and chase squirrels in. She does well in the car, is usually OK with other dogs and has a lot of good qualities. She knows sit and stay. I am working on “Come” with her and the training helps her focus. She also has to sit and be touched when she does “Come.” She is in a better mental state when we are done with the training sessions and walks.

    The person we got the dog from will take her back but I want to give it at least a year to see if we can work through these behavior issues. It is heartbreaking to have her turn away when we try to reach out or yelp when we touch her.

    Do you have any idea how long it takes to turn a dog this old around? Can it be done? Any suggestions would be helpful. I have thought about working with a trainer but I want to be sure I get the right one.


    • Hi Mary,

      Fearful dogs take a lot of time and patience. Most of the time we can only hope for improvement, not a “cure.” The chances of her becoming a happy-go-lucky dog that will accept new people easily is unlikely. However, her issues can improve over time. The general rule of thumb is number of months per year of behavior. So, if this has been going on for 5 years, you should see improvement in about 5 months if you are diligent and patient. Your concern about getting the correct trainer is a good one. ONLY use someone who employs positive reinforcement methods. Anything else will make her worse. She does not need to be dominated, she needs patience, understanding, and time. And yes, dogs learn very quickly that a yelp or scream makes people stop in their tracks :-). It sounds like you have the right idea on how to proceed. Best of luck!

      Dr. Mark

  49. I’ve recently have purchased a Cane Corso female puppy at the age of 7 weeks. From the very begining she has shown signs of fear aggression towards the vet and the pet trainer at a local pet store. She is now 12 weeks and Im really really concerned that she has the white coat syndrome. She has been socialized and brought out to almost everwhere. She acts a little submisive at home when people come over, but she always allows them to pet her. No nipping or growling at that. She does pee a little when people come to greet her when we are out or at home. I have two young children and live in a nice neighborhood setting. I was wondering how to counter act the white coat syndrome. I knew the breed before I bought, but I never thought that I could/would have a nervious dog. Any help I would appreciate.

    • Hi Adam,

      White coat syndrome can be difficult. It very much depends on how your vet, and his assistant, handles her. This is a very difficult problem to desensitize and counter-condition. Your vet would need to be willing, and you would need the time, to stop by the hospital when you do not need to be there. Just hang out in the waiting room at first. Bring treats with you and have the staff come by randomly to give her a few. Slowly you can start to venture to other parts of the hospital (if your vet allows) and repeat. Ignore her when she’s nervous, and BE SURE to reward ANY signs of calming down. I have a post on how to make vet visits go smoothly,, check it out and let me know what you think. Most of the time, sedation is the most practical route to take. Xanax is the best medication for this purpose.

      Dr. Mark

  50. Hi! I’ve enjoyed reading this information. I have 2 dogs…and 2 questions. My first is for my Texas Heeler (Australian Shepherd/Australian Cattle Dog mix). She is nearly 2 and just seems to jump in the car with anybody. The other day I didn’t even know she was gone until someone pulled in our driveway asking if we knew anybody that had a dog & that she had jumped in the back of their truck. This is disturbing to me for many reasons. I don’t want her to want to get in anybody and everybody’s vehicle. I wish she was more timid with people. She goes running right up to everyone that comes around and is just looking for affection. She is in no way a guard dog or alerts us to anything or anyone coming up. She also chases cars :(. I socialized her a lot when she was a pup (got her @ 5 wks) and I have often wondered if that hasn’t been part of my problem. My second is for our German Shepherd. He is between 5 & 6 yrs old & new to our family. We just recently got him & were told that he had been abused before his previous owners got him. It takes him a while to warm up to people. He backs down from any sort of tense situation. He hides a lot & doesn’t like thunderstorms or loud noises. I would honestly like for him to be more of a guard dog for us. I keep them both in at night and they come and go (in & out) during the day as they please. I wish that our GS was more dominant and felt he was sort of in control of situations. Like I said, I want him to be our guard dog & for him to feel like he can alert me to danger should it occur. Thanks for any advice!

    • Hello Polly,

      I must say, the issue with your Texas Heeler is a first for me. I’ve never encountered an issue where a dog would actively seek out strangers and jump into their vehicles. I understand your concerns, someone may keep her, or she could get hit by a car. The only practical solution I have would be to prevent access. She should never have the opportunity to have access to someones car or be in the front yard, loose, to be able to chase cars. If she is an escape artist, secure the yard, or never let her out unsupervised.

      It is unlikely that you will get your GSD to be a “guard dog.” It is also unlikely that he was abused. Many people think dogs like this MUST have been abused because they are bred to be bold and protect, but, just like people, dogs can have different personalities. Some dogs/people are outgoing and confident, while others are more shy and reserved. If you want him to be a protection dog, find a good trainer that does this type of work, but I think that your dogs’ personality is not suited for this type of job :-)

      Thanks for your comment and for reading!

  51. Dear Dr Mark
    I found your website last night as I was sitting worried about a dreadful day I had had with my beautiful 12 1/2 month old black lab – it was so helpful and made me re-think things. I wondered if I could give you some detail?

    She is part of our family of two children (10 & 7 year olds), and we got her when she was 10 weeks old, although know her grandmother and mother very well, so was able to meet her weekly from the very beginning – a perfect introduction for us all. Although mostly a normal puppy, right from the beginning it was obvious that she had a very strong character and was very dominant. There were many occasions where she wanted to play but ended up getting carried away (she was a puppy I know!). At first our main issue was play biting and jumping up, which she did constantly, particularly to me. She ruined many a jumper and nipped me daily on my hands and body (even when I was turned away). After a long time of completely consistent training from us all, she calmed down and realised that it wasn’t acceptable. We would ignore her, turn our backs etc. when an episode started and walk away – very difficult when you have a nipping dog at your legs!! At first she was also very aggressive with other dogs, but as she developed she settled and became much calmer.

    However, unfortunately, recently, I have noticed a marked difference again and think I need some more structured help. I think I know the time when this all started: which was when I left her for a minute outside our little village shop to pop something in the post and when I came out an old lady was trying to say ‘hello’ to her (someone she had met many times before), and she absolutely went into full attack mode. Thankfully I was holding her lead and was able to stop her getting to Margaret, but I clearly did the wrong thing as I tugged her back and told her off. I thought this was a one off, but it happened again the following week with a couple of men (all of whom she had met before). This culimated in a number of situations today on a visit to a National Trust property.

    There were lots of people about and after a walk in the grounds which went well, she started growling and barking at anyone who walked past. Then full attack mode on at least three people who didn’t even try to communicate with her. She was in the sitting position at these times, and calm and the incidents came from no where with full force. Obviously the strangers were not impressed and it was all a bit mortifying. I took her away from the main path for a while and hoped that would help, but once we returned she started the dominant agressive behaviour again. At one point three people sweetly stopped (she had growled at them at the start), and I asked them to ignore the dog and they kindly did as they started to talk to me. Over the space of a couple of minutes things relaxed and they allowed the dog to approach them and smell their hand, and this was much better. It ended in a positive with me praising her for being a good girl.

    I just wondered what more I could do to help? I intend on taking her slowly back to these situations but to keep well back and over a number of days, slowly move forward to build her confidence, but I worry about the situations in the village where she just is in attack mode with not a lot of warning.

    Any advice would be gratefully received! Thanks so much.

    • Hi Tam,

      I can certainly understand your concern. Several questions come to mind. One question comes to mind right away, and that is has she ever been corrected for or told not to growl? MANY dogs that bite or show aggression have been told to not growl. Growling is a warning, but we often take it as disrespect or as a show of aggression. It is nothing more than a form of communication. The second question is, is she spayed? Hormonal fluctuations can cause behavior changes, aggression being on of them.

      Other thoughts…. You said that she had met many of these people before, but did she ever see them in the same context as when she reacted? If she had met them at your home, and then (in the case of the older lady at the village shop) they approached her at a different location, her reaction could be very different. As for the event, the crowd may have been a bit much to handle.

      Just because she had the reactions she had, it does not mean dominance is the root cause. What is the rest of her body doing when she reacts? Where are her ears and her tail? She could be a bit fearful or uneasy in these situations and she is giving this display as an attempt to keep people away. That doesn’t mean that she would not bite if pushed, but she would likely choose escape if possible.

      There are many other potential explanations, barrier frustration/leash aggression, territorial/protective aggression, etc… I would not ignore this and think it will get better with time. Your plan of desensitization and counter conditioning (“I intend on taking her slowly back to these situations but to keep well back and over a number of days, slowly move forward to build her confidence”) is a good one, but remember, safety first and go SLOW. The most common mistake people make in these situations is trying to go too far too fast. Look for another change in behaviors when she turns 2 (this is when dogs reach social maturity).

      See my post on Canine Body Language to help you interpret her state of mind during these episodes, Also, if things do not improve quickly, I encourage you to seek professional help as this is very unlikely to resolve on it’s own.

      Thanks for your comment and for reading!

  52. Very helpful information! Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I have a four year old Lab,Molly, adopted at six weeks from a shelter. She was well socialized as a puppy from that point on. We have a busy household with four children and everything works just as you said in our home when a stranger enters. If a visitor approaches directly, loudly or attempts to pet her right away, she backs away, tail tucked and barks. While her bark sounds scary, she has never progressed past that as we move her to another room. If the visitor ignores her when entering she either avoids or warms up to him/her. My biggest problem is taking her to the vet as I attempted to do yesterday. She stood panting nervously in the waiting room and I must admit I did everything wrong at that point (constantly petting her and telling her it would be OK in my “mommy” voice). Once we were in the examination room she hid tail tucked behind me and when anyone tried to approach her she growled, barked very scary like, and lunged. She also lost control and wet the floor. If not for the muzzle which I placed on her before we left. someone would have been bitten. The vet was very kind and realized Molly was scared but was obviously unable to examine her or give shots. We left with Alprazolam and Acepromazine and instructed to give her 2mg of one and 50mg of the other one hour before coming in again. Is this the solution or is another way to stop fear aggression at the vet’s office? She has been to the same office at least once a year since we got her, however, she is more difficult with every visit. Would changing vet offices make a difference? It was also suggested we try a mobile vet service that would visit the house, however, I’m concerned that this might make her fearful of all strangers entering our house.

    • Hi Tonya,

      Your issue is certainly a common one, and a difficult one to desensitize to. Have you read my post on how to make vet visits go smoothly? Unfortunately, sedation is the best option for all involved and I commend your vet for choosing the Alprazolam along with Ace, most use Ace alone and that will not help at all with the anxiety she is feeling. I do not think changing vets would help, and I agree with your thoughts on the mobile vet. She is already a bit anxious with certain people that visit, lets not big a huge source of fear and anxiety to her home.

      Thanks for your comment and for reading :-)

  53. This is a great article! I adopted an 8 year old Brussels Griffon just over a year ago who was used as a stud dog in a puppy mill. It’s been about a year now and after using similar techniques (although I am guilty of rewarding stressed behaviour a few times I’m sure) he has come around quite a bit. He still has a ways to go, especially when picking him up and I realize he will never be completely “normal” but he has a much happier attitude towards people now. I also found that having a predictable schedule really helped in the beginning. I think it was comforting for him to know what was going to happen most days, although with some peoples schedules that can be difficult. Thanks for the article!

  54. Hi there, I loved your article and appreciate all your follow-ups to the questions and comments.

    I have a 2 year old Catahoula, who has always been very shy. I adopted her at 12 weeks, after she was fostering for a few weeks in my state, after being rescued from a southern state. She was already spayed by that time. When she was a puppy, I did the most I could with socialization, out to parks, stores, etc. She still goes to doggy daycare, and used to go more often. Every since she was a puppy, she was submissive and shy meeting new dogs, and still to this day submissive pees when greeting some favorite people that she’s excited to see.

    She has her best dog and people friends, but always slow to warm-up to new dogs and people. Some of her friends she’s the more dominate dog. She doesn’t like when new people or dogs come on too strong. I tell people play hard to get and then she’s usually fine when people listen.

    She’s 2 now, and the past few months has snapped at a few dogs that she didn’t like. One was a close to a dog fight as I have seen with her, 5 seconds of dog scuffle and sounds. Another was telling a very pushy doberman that she doesn’t want to play. She stiffens, shows her lip, and if the dog doesn’t listen, she’ll rush in for a quick bark, snarl. Usually it’s also with a quick retreat.

    Yesterday she had an instance where she did this with a person. It was my fault, the neighbor isn’t a dog person, and I probably pushed it too far seeing if Maya could stand for a pet. Realizing it wasn’t working, we backed off, but then while just chatting, the neighbor moved closer to her, and then my dog rushed towards and barked/snarled at the woman. The woman isn’t a dog person, and they have never been comfortable with each other.

    It seems like she’s investigating and testing the barking/lunging and I’m really scared of making it worse. I’m very involved with her training, we do agility and obedience, and walk for hours each day. I know she’ll always be a shy dog, but want to make sure she’s a happy and well supported shy dog.

    • Chris,

      While the barking and snarling are concerning to witness, it may be normal and in context behavior. It is not aggression, it is a warning. It can be difficult for others to understand this, and that can lead to you trying “to do something” as to not look as though you are neglectful in the eyes of others. I would try to explain to them that she is timid and all she is doing is saying “stay away from me, you are making me uncomfortable.” You seem as though you have a really good handle on things. Don’t beat yourself up about the issue with your neighbor. People who “aren’t dog people” will almost always evoke a response in dogs that are timid/shy around other people. Keep up the good work!

  55. Hello,

    I have worked with 3 different trainers and they all suggested different approaches, some contradicting eachother.

    I adopted my dog Oscar at 5 months. He is now 15 months old and he is medium size but very strong. Before I had him he was in a yard with some adult dogs and a couple of his siblings. He barely had any human interaction…

    The problem I’m having with him is that he randomly lunges at strangers when I walk him on-leash. It’s not everyone, although around my building and in the hallways of my building I can guarantee that he will jump up and bark as I pull him back. He is very sudden about it. No warning growl or trying to run away. I have to watch his facial expression or sometimes I tug the leash to see how stiff his neck gets. That’s the only way I know he will do something. He is worst with men… Other times though, if people don’t make eye contact with him and just randomly pat him he’s fine with it.

    At the dog park there are no problems. He is probably distracted by the other dogs, but people can come up to him and pet him and he doesn’t care. He might just run away like puppy playing, but it does not look like he’s bothered at all.

    Other times if I take him on off-leash trails and someone comes up it’s almost like he’s surprized by it and runs up to them and barks. Again, it’s not everyone. He’s very unpredictable.

    What I have tried so far is to feed him treats every time he saw a person on our walks or in the building. I did that for 2 weeks straight and he was great. It went away completely. Then I stopped with the treats and he was still fine. A month later he started doing the stuff I mentioned again. I started with the treats again in the building it made no difference anymore as there was no opportunity where he was calm to give him a treat. There was no event that might have triggered his set-back… so I don’t understand.

    When I have people come over he gets really excited. If he really likes someone he is still very puppy-like. Wants to jump on them and may even nip. I don’t let him. I tell him to stay away and then I say ok, if he tries to jump he gets sent to his crate, which he listens to. Also, if he doesn’t necessarily like the person, he will listen. He’s not running past me in this mouthy frenzy like he does outside.

    He also has a huge dislike for skateboards, rollerblades and scooters as well and that’s an instant reaction…

    I don’t know what to do. The 3 different trainer advices I received have helped in different aspects but nothing is really showing results with this big issue and I feel like I’m running out of time to fix this as he’s getting older.

    Please let me know if you can help.

    Thank you

    • Dear Julia,

      Unfortunately the conflicting advice you received from the trainers you have worked with is not unusual and is quiet common.

      It sounds like Oscar was not well socialized to humans (“Before I had him he was in a yard with some adult dogs and a couple of his siblings. He barely had any human interaction… “). I can understand why you see his reaction as “random”, but I can assure you it is anything but. Near the heart of your territory (around my building and in the hallways of my building), and when strangers approach you (worst with men) it makes sense that he is worse. This is territorial/protective aggression. It is also not uncommon that he shows little to no warning. Someone along the way has told him to stop warning (he was likely corrected for growling and/or barking). I see this all the time. People are attempting to stop aggressive behavior by telling their dogs to not growl or bark at people/things, but what they are actually doing is telling their dogs to stop verbally communicating that they are uncomfortable with a situation. Now, the dog is left with only snapping, lunging, and biting. The triggers can be many, and may be as simple as eye contact, or as complex as eye contact from a tall, skinny man with round glasses.

      The entire context of the situation needs to be taken into account when interpreting canine behavior. On the leash, around your apartment, is VERY different than off leash at the dog park, and that is different than off leash on a trail. Your dog knows the difference and his behavior shows it. It’s not as much that he is unpredictable as it is difficulty in recognizing his triggers. Start looking at the entire context, and not a person. If he reacts to many different types of people (tall, short, male, female, long hair, short hair, etc) his behavior may be more a question of location and situation vs certain people.

      The key to giving him treats in an attempt to desensitize and counter-condition his response is timing and consistency. The treat needs to be given BEFORE he gets worked up, not in an attempt to calm him down. He needs to be rewarded for not reacting, not while he is reacting in an attempt to calm him. You did not continue for long enough the first time, and it’s hard to say why it did not work the second time, but I would guess that the stimulus was too strong (the stranger was too close, even if this distance worked the first time). Try getting far enough away from the stranger that Oliver does not react, reward calmness, and close the gap very slowly. Trying to go to fast will guarantee failure. The set back occurred because he knows his reaction will make people go away. This is a self rewarding behavior that will get worse over time. So, in the time between when you stopped the treats and when you started again, he became more territorial/protective and now the treats are not as effective at the distances (between you and the stranger) as they were initially.

      There is no secret or magic thing to do to help with any issue. There is good advice, and bad advice, and you have likely received some of both. It seems like his is visually reactive and has a strong prey drive (many dogs that freak over skateboards, rollerblades, and scooters do). There is a nutraceutical called Anxitane (find it here, or ask your veterinarian) that is great for visually reactive dogs. This will not be a cure, and is not intended to be. It can, however, help facilitate desensitization and counter-conditioning. Prozac and Xanax can also help and are not meant to be long term in most cases. Trainers are great, and play a very important roll in the lives of our dogs, but a behaviorist may be what you need at this point.

      Thanks for reading!

      Dr. Mark

  56. We recently took in a dog that is a 1 year old terrier mix. He was evalutated at the shelter out doors and did great…They said…. I am getting very mixed signals from him. He does great when he is our on walks tail up ears forwasd and always walks with a loose leash. At our house inside he is afraid of the world. He wants to hide in his crate and never come out. If he is out side in the yard he does not want to come back inside. He is very very stressed all of the time constintaly stretching and yawning even if he is just in the kitchen alone. He has no interest in any thing, so I am having a hard time getting him out of this state. I have tried treats and toys of all sorts but he is to stressed to even look at them Every once in a while he will take a treat and then retreat again. He has been aggressive with our other dogs. Luckly our pack is very balanced and they ignore his lunging and nipping. He has not been unsupervised with our dogs because of this. I do feel like they may be a great step in helping him gain confiedence. I take him out in the yard with them for small amounts of time. I introduced them one by one to them. He has shown improvement with the dogs and even played a little with them. It seems like every day I get home from work and by bed time I feel like he is making progress and then the next day we are back a square one. I can tell he is highly stressed all of the time and he has never been punished or pushed but I do not want this level of stress to turn into aggression. Do you have any suggestions or thoughts? Thank you

    • Hi Theresa,

      It sounds like you have a very fearful dog on your hands. Dogs like this require A LOT of patience, time, and consistency. Anything that is new to him can take him quite a while to accept, if he every accepts. I just finished rehabbing a dog that was kept outdoors all of her life. She is MUCH more comfortable outdoors vs indoors, but she has made significant improvement. Doorways for these types of dogs are tricky. Be sure that it is clutter free on both sides. Also, make sure it is quiet and there is not a lot of motion as he is entering the house. Anything that startles him (particularly sights and sounds) can cause him to form a negative association with the door. ALWAYS reward him with what he finds the most motivating when he enters the house. It’s important to not react when he does and go slow. He is also still pretty young, so hopefully his behavior will improve over time. Following the recommendations in the post and my book will get you on the right track :-)

  57. Hi Dr Mark,
    I have an 18 months old male Shih Tzu and I am a female owner. I have had him since he was 8 weeks old and he has been socialised with dogs from all shape and sizes. He is also well used to kids, men and women. When I go away I leave him in the boarding facilities owned by my local vet and everything goes well there. They adore him and would have him at any time. Now and again he also stays with trusted friends.
    Recently, my friend offered to mind him while I was away. She has a female Jack Russel and the two dogs met before when my dog was a puppy. Both dogs are neutered. We assumed the dog would get on well as per previous encounter. Unfortunately, my friend’s dog was being aggressive towards my dog and refused any contact with him. He was trying to socialise but she was having none of it…no bum sniffing etc… Life became unbearable for my friend. Anyway it was then decided that we would put my dog at my friend’s local kennel. However, once there he refused to leave his kennel and was very aggressive towards the woman who runs the facility. He wouldn’t let her enter the cage to be fed . Surprisingly enough, he would only let her young son in and take him out to play with the other animals. He didn’t stay there long and was returned to my friend’s house were he was back to being a happy dog, playing with their kid and the whole family. He particularly likes her husband who had drove him over.
    The Kennel owner suggested my dog may have a problem with women! I am surprised asthis has never been an issue. I am upset by the situation as I have often left my dog with friends of different sexes etc…and he has always been well behaved and loving.
    I hope it is nothing serious! Having said that I should add that a lot of changes happened in a very short of time for him. So he might have been scared. Indeed, he travelled to my friend’s house on a Wednesday evening lateand the car journey 3hr. He travelled well in the car though as he is used to cars, buses and train. I had to put him in his old crate though.Then he was faced with an aggressive dog upon arrival and sent to the an unkown kennel by Friday! My dog is back tomorrow morning, so I would like to know if there is anything I should do in particular? I would tend to think that the whole situation in which he was sent away etc…may have disturbed him but he should be fine. I guess next time I will not try to leave him at a different kennel and stick to his usual kennel.

    Can you advise me?
    Thanks you

    • Hi Audrey,

      The difference in his demeanor when at your friends boarding facility may have been a result of a few thing. First, he was not with you and that’s a pretty big change in his day to day routine. Second, he was stressed at your friends house, and then was brought to a boarding facility (which is a REALLY stressful place in general). Third, who knows what the lady is like at the boarding facility. So people give off vibes that dogs pick up on and react to. It sounds to me like that’s the case, it was just that woman, not all women. Or, it could be all the changes in a short period of time. Many/most dogs will have issue with that. There were many things that lead to the things you describe. I would not put too much credit into what the boarding place said, unless of course things continue or get worse :-)

  58. Dear Dr. Mark,
    Great site, im learning a lot!!
    first the histrory:
    We have a 1 1/2 year old jack russell/lab mix (dexter), we have had since he was 7 weeks old. he was socialized at dog parks, around kids and family since we got him. we have 2 daughters 7 and 9 and he is great with them (so far). They have always played with him, dressed him up and he seems to not be bothered at all.
    Until recently, we didnt have any issues or suspect any problems with him. He is super smart, obidient, easy going. He is great with other dogs except recently when his ball is involved he’s possessive and will start a fight if another dog goes near his ball. He is obsessed with ball fetching, he could do this for 12 hours straight if you let him.

    But, the real issue recently is that he nipped (and broke skin) on the hand of a 8 month old. We were at a family members house and Dexter (12 months old then) was sitting between my husbands legs, the baby crawled over and dexter initially licked his face like crazy. then he got very still, ears back and when the baby lifted his hand dexter bit him.

    Since that incident we have been paranoid of him around kids. We started to notice his awkward hehaviour around kids. Has twice growled as a kid walked by, mostly just wants nothing to do with them. He seems to dislike some and love the others. when ever they are around he seems to stare at them, looks timid.
    He loves all adults and kids that he knows well (like neighbours, friends and neices).

    He seems to have some social issues, he doesnt really allow any body to pet him, doesnt growl but its like he has no time for that, he just wants someone to throw him his ball. With the 4 of us only, he will cuddle and sleep on our laps etc. he’s actually very cuddly with us and very calm submissive. he does bark at every little noise he hears all day long.

    we called a dog behaviourist to have him assest. she asked he be on a leash when she came through the door (hes not a leash dog, especially in his own house). when she entered he barked like crazy as he usually does for every little noise he hears but otherwise he didnt growl at her. She put him on a chock collar and took the leash. Walked him around the room and positioned him directly in front of her and stared at him. Dexter got very aggressive, barked and growled at her. This was the first time we have ever seen him like this to any child or adult. We were very shocked as he has never displayed behaviour like this.
    The behaviourist said she wont handle him any more as he is too aggressive, she said from the moment she walked in, she saw nothing but abnormal behaviour from him and that he is not “workable”. Her only prognosis was that he is “genetically aggressive” and we need to put him down as soon as possible! She said he will bite again.

    This was very upsetting, besides the one nip and his general awkwardness towards strange kids he is a happy, smart, healthy puppy! Everyone who knows him loves him and think hes a great dog. how can i put him to sleep??

    I think from reading and researching since that behaviourist left ive come to the conclusion that he sounds like he has “fear aggression” ??? I CANT kill my dog.
    Any thoughts or opinions would be appreciated, we are very upset and hope that she was wrong. we are very outdoor type of family, on the beach or boat or camping every weekend with lots of kids around. my kids have lots of kids at our house. Ever since that assesmnet I lock him up in a room when kids come over, we dont allow him off the boat and on the beach. Its really not a fun life for us or him.


    • Hi Monika,

      I’m sorry that you are going through this and I understand your frustrations. I have several thoughts.

      Dogs reach social maturity at 2 years of age and many behavior changes can happen surrounding this time.

      Concerning the incident with the 8 month old child….. The face licking that you described is NOT a good thing. Excessive liking can be a pushy thing, not a lovey thing. Many dogs will try to assert themselves with face licking ( Kids can be scary to a dog because they are uncoordinated and jerky with their motions (many times they accidentally poke eyes, pull on ears, etc…) and they are smaller and at eye level. When the child reached over Dexter to pet him that pushed Dexter over the top. Many dogs do not like to be reached for or petted on the top of the head, especially with strangers (of any age). In addition, he was in your husbands lap. When in an owners lap of grasp, many dogs will display protective/territorial aggression. I tend to see it more in little dogs that get carried around a lot or picked up when they start to bark or get stressed.

      The growling that Dexter is now doing is a form of communication, NOT aggression. If the warning is not heeded, aggression will likely result. It is imperative that you DO NOT tell him to stop growling. Many people are embarrassed when their dogs’ growl in front of others and want to appear to be doing something about it, but do not fall into this trap. He is trying to tell you that something is making him uncomfortable, listen to him. Examine the situation and try to desensitize and counter condition him to the stimulus.

      I disagree with your trainer on all accounts, well, almost all. I cannot guarantee (no one can) that Dexter will never bite again. Once a dog learns that people can be manipulated with teeth and their is no motivating consequence when this happens, it can be difficult to stop this behavior, especially in times of stress (he will reflexively go back to what he knows will work). The trainers reaction to the situation tells me 2 things, #1 She doesn’t know how to handle a dog like this, or #2 She’s worried about getting sued if she tries to rehab him and him seriously injures someone.

      His avoidance behavior when strangers approach is normal for him and it is not inappropriate. Some dogs are more social than others, and that’s OK. The problem arises when people push the issue and try to force him to interact because “all dogs love me” or because he is too cute for them to resist. This is where you need to step in and do what ever it takes to stop them. People just do not listen, lol. There have been many times where I’m out walking/working with a dog that has issues and people will stop their cars in the middle of the street, actually get out of their cars, and try to come over to pet them. Some people listen when I ask them to not approach, but some do not unless I get down right nasty.

      The bottom line here is that I do not believe Dexter needs to be euthanized, but he does need to be properly managed when kids are around or when he is in stressful situations and he needs a good behaviorist and a trainer. Here are good websites to find both:

      Best of luck to you and keep me posted!

  59. Dr Mark,

    I have been doing some research and came across the posts above.

    I have recently rehomed a Vizsla bitch of approximately 5 years old 3 months ago. We were told she was good with children etc.

    She is extremely affectionate and I thought settled in well however, within the first 2 weeks she nipped a male visitor when he appeared in the lounge unannounced and then again 2 weeks ago she nipped male visitor when he walked into my hall and she was in her bed in the lounge. It sounds as if people come and go in our household but that is not the case and to be honest we don’t have that many visitors either. She is so quick she will give a short bark then runs, bites/nips them at the back of the leg just below the calf and runs back to her bed. Also her recall off the lead is very good unless she meets someone who appears from round a corner then she will run up getting quite close to them barking aggressively. If off the leas she will also see off other dogs with constantly barking/growling at them. Initially she would bark as soon as we let er off the lead but we have stopped that with ‘no, quiet’ and ‘good girl’ if she responded positively, we felt this was a verbal warning to anyone/thing not to come near – even if there was no-one/thing in sight.

    At the moment if anyone visits i am sitting with her and asking the visitor to ignore her. Once she stops sniffing and puts her head down i tell her ‘she is a good girl’ other than that I ignore her but have one finger loosely on her collar ready to restrain her if needs be.

    We have managed to get through almost 2 weeks without incident and managing situations ie visitors as described above or off lead where there is plenty of space with very little people/dogs and if spotted changing direction.

    How do we progress from here and at what pace?

    Thank you in advance.


    • Hi Jo,

      It sounds like we have 2 main issues, protective/territorial aggression and fear aggression. The protective/territorial issue is easy to spot. What leads me to believe she has fear aggression is the fact the she nips when people turn their backs. Fearfully aggressive dogs will nip and retreat when people turn their backs. She is deciding what to do on her own, without checking with you first (deference). The first steps to take are to get her to defer to you on a consistent basis, and to have strong obedience training (sit, stay, heal, and come). The time to start teaching this is not when you need it. These things need to be taught when distractions are low. My book, How Dogs Learn and How To Get Your Dog To Actually Listen To You, covers all the basics you will need to get your dog to defer to you on a consistent basis. This is where you need to start. The next step is to teach her to relax in the presence of strangers. The “3 D’s” chapter in the book will describe the process. If your dog is food motivated, but will not take treats in the presence of a stranger, the stranger is too close and your dog is too stressed. You are on the right track with having people ignore her and allowing her to approach them. Have them give her a treat, her favorite treat that she does not routinely get, once she shows signs of relaxing (see my post on the canine language to brush up on their body language).

  60. dr. mark hello, im writing you in respone to your post. i have a 20 month yr old i think full german shep…. i was told he was half lab, but he doesnt look lab nor does he act it! he is very fearful of strangers. when we are outside i admit ill call him to me bc i never owned a gsd before and i have no idea how to raise one. we have gone to the dog park a few times and he did great with the other dogs and had fun, but when a dog first approaches him his hair stands up and he stands still… when he does this i often say ‘be nice or its okay’ until the butt sniffing has past…. but when other people in the park approach him to pet him he runs away. the only time i ever seen him get angry at a dog is when they try to hump him…at the park a husky kept trying to hump all the dogs and they were all getting angry and nipping at the dog. he has also pinned our chiuaha (sorry not sure how its spelled) under him because he tries to hump his head in his sleep. hes never hurt him though. im assuming how i raised him and protected him has done negativevthongs to him…. have i destroyed this dog? i love him so much and id be devistated if i had to do something drastic. i signed him up for puppy classes with a woman who specializes in dog training and a lot of experiance with gsd. it doesnt start for a month and i feel overwhelmed and i dont know where to start first. i have also set up an appt for him to be nutered. … its odd because when my vet took him in the other room to draw blood, he did nothing to the vet tech, but when he came back to me he started barking again…. i know this article was written awhile ago but any help would be very much appreciated. thank you

    • Hi Tamara,

      The behavior you are describing when a dog approaches at the dog park is relatively normal. Raised hackles and a stiff posture does not necessarily mean aggression. It does, however, mean that he is at attention and he is closer to aggression compared to a dog that is wagging his entire backside and trying to lick your face off. Saying “be nice” or “it’s okay” could be a neutral thing, or a bad thing. It likely does not help the situation. Calmness on your part WILL help tremendously, much more so than words will. Do not force him to interact with people and do not allow them to force themselves on him. He has a right to not socialize with certain people or dogs, just like you and I do. The behavior with your Chihuahua is normal and in context. If he wanted to hurt him, he would and easily could. What you are observing is a normal canine discussion :-). You have not destroyed your dog, and it is never too late to change things. He is reaching social maturity (2 yrs of age) and little problems often become big ones at this point. Neutering is VERY important, so is training. Keep those appointments. The barking at the vet is likely due to stress and anxiety and many dogs do better without their owners present. My book that you receive when you sign up on this site should give you a lot more insight. Have you received the link?

  61. I have an australian shepherd that is almost a year old we have had him since he was 5wks … we are not dog experts by any means and i didn’t learn until later that he was weaned to early … we live in a small apartment and sometimes we are too busy to walk him for 45 minutes a day but i read somewhere that he needs more mind stimulation than physical excercise? like i said i’m no dog expert so i’m not sure what to do… and with our busy schedule he can sometime be kenneled up to 5 hours at a time … we treat him too much like a human for sure approaching him with too much excitement.. he has become very bitey and i can’t understand why i’ll just be sitting there and he wants to mouth on my arm never breaking the skin but still it’s painful especially if i’m about to put him in the kennel or really if i reach for him in general he runs under the coffee table and shows all of his teeth if i try to reach for him and we have been trying to discipline it thinking it was dominance and now i feel horrible i do want to be a good dog owner my husband can be rough with him at times … so in reference to the dcc do i offer him my hand as the stimulation he is afraid of? can i still gain his trust back? also he barks at everyone and animal coming by how do i train that?

    • Hi Valerie,

      Having an Aussie in a small apartment is certainly a challenge, but it can be done. He does need mental stimulation, but he also needs physical exercise as well. Both are equally important. I would definitely recommend toning down your greetings with him, and anything else that causes excitement. Many people think excitement equals joy, but it does not. Dogs become programmed to be excited in a variety of situations and will learn that this gets them all kinds of attention, therefore they will continue to behave excitedly. The nipping is a result of this, and it is a natural thing for a herding breed to do. Humanizing will also lead to a plethora of problems. The mouthing he is doing is a result of attention seeking and play. When he hides from you, it is because he is spending too much time in the crate compared to the mental and physical exercise he is getting. Also, if the crate is used as punishment he can develop an aversion to it. You will likely continue to have difficulty if you do not provide the appropriate mental and physical stimulation. This is not a dominance issue, it is an issue of not enough exercise and not enough mental stimulation. Has he been obedience trained? This is essential. It will help to develop better communication between the 2 of you and will help to alleviate some of his mental stress. Also, harsh physical corrections will damage the bond between you guys, so I would stop that immediately.

      As for him barking at people and animals outside the home…. this is territorial behavior and it will get worse over time. Every time he barks at someone, they leave. At least that’s what he sees. In actuality they are passing by anyway, and his behavior has nothing to do with that. This is a self rewarding behavior, every time he barks, the stranger goes away. That’s a big pat on the back for him. I recommend that you block visual access to the street before this gets really out of hand.

      Hope these tips help.

  62. Hi there,

    I’m so pleased I found your article as your information and advice is invaluable.

    I wonder if you can offer me any personal advice; I have a 11 month old French Bulldog who displays, what I suspect is, fearful aggressive behaviour that I am struggling to deal with. We have owned her since she was 8 weeks old and she has always been overly submissive since we bought her home. We took her to puppy classes, walks in busy towns, new people in the home, and all sorts of socialising, she even went to the pub with us on occasion, all during the first 5/6 months of her life…and then things went pear shaped. We can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened or why, but a number of occasions show when she changed.

    Once at a local park a child came up to greet her, she submitted and the child petted her. We moved away to continue our walk and the child started chasing my dog. I paniced as the child wouldn’t listen to the parent and was chasing her towards the exit onto a busy road. I managed to catch up with her and had to grab her by the collar. Since this occasion I feel she lost trust in me and feels i am not in control of situations.

    Another example is once at the pub, a stranger was admiring her and came over to ask if he could pet her. I said yes as, up until this point, she had submitted to strangers and (in hindsight) probably not enjoyed, but suffered petting? However this time she reacted by barking herself up into a frenzy, the gentleman tried no eye contact and just holding his hand out for her to sniff. I reacted by putting her on my lap and saying ‘hey, it’s ok!’, which I now realise is the worst thing I could have done!

    Since these incidents things have gone from bad to worse, she is leash aggressive, off lead aggressive in public places and will chase dogs, aggressive to strangers in our home and even if we are at other people homes and a stranger enters their property she will react aggressively. She is also aggressive to strangers in public if they so much as look at her.

    We are currently working with a trainer and she goes to day care once a week for socialisation (where she doesn’t present aggressive behaviour but doesn’t interact like a normal 11month old puppy seems to, she just sniffs other dogs and has never played) however we feel this trainers methods aren’t working for us. She encourages us to follow after the person/dog whenever she has displayed aggressive behaviour and she says to continue with her off lead even though she will go after dogs. We find this stressful and confusing as she just gets so worked up and in off lead areas will only be off lead for about 5 mins as she will see a dog, her hackles will go up, her ears back and she will go after it.

    We feel lost and confused as all we want is for her to be a happy, well rounded dog. We have adjusted to the fact she will never be ‘normal’ nor ‘easy’ but we just want her to feel less anxious.

    What can you suggest for us? Do you think changing trainer would be a good start?

    Thank you for taking the time to read my post and I hope for a response from you.

    • Hi Tam,

      Several thoughts come to mind with the first incident at the park. The first part of the interaction sounds great, but things go wrong from there. The child chasing after your dog AFTER and appropriate greeting can make your dog very leery of strangers in the future, especially if your dog submitted and was relatively okay with the initial interaction. It’s as if trust was violated. In the future, it will take more time to develop trust because of this. It’s unfortunate, but you did nothing wrong here. You had her safety in mind, and did what you needed to do. I’m sure she was frightened by your reaction, but she will regain trust in you.

      At the pub, the “stranger admiring her” was likely staring/looking at her from a distance before he came over to pet her. So, the first thing she saw was a stranger staring at her, which very likely made her uncomfortable. Then this stranger now approaches, and couple that with the park episode where an appropriate greeting turned into a chase scene, her reaction here is not unexpected. The frenzy she went into was designed to keep the stranger away, it’s sort of like a bluff, but one that she would likely back up if pushed too far.

      It is not unusual for things to get worse once they realize that teeth and a good hissy fit makes people stay away. These behaviors can become generalized to other situations, mainly because it works! People will stay away from a dog that behaves this way. I should say most people, because there are some out there that think every dog loves them and they will push things WAY too far, making the situation worse. Do what ever you need to do to keep people like this away from your dog. This if flooding, and will likely fail, thus worsening the behavior.

      I disagree with your trainer. Do not continue off lead training. The reason is because dogs that are off lead will make people who are observing them uncomfortable. This will cause people to react in a cautious manner. Your dog will see this and not understand why these people are reacting the way that they are. She will only see a sudden change in body language, from calm to uncomfortable/cautious. She will view it as threatening and scarey and react to it. I also would not recommend following after people that she is being aggressive towards. This can make her more territorial and reinforce the display she gives when she sees a stranger (bark loud enough for long enough and they will go away). Also, if you are stressed by this, your dog will know you’re stressed, but will think it’s because of the same reason she is stressed, the stranger. All she sees is a sudden change in your body language, she does not know why and will think it’s for the same reason that she is stressed.

      If you are not happy with your trainer, definitely find someone else. Here are a couple of places to look

      Thanks for your comment and for reading :-)

  63. Hello,

    I have a three years old toy poodle. He suddenly became afraid of staying at home alone recently.
    In the past, he basically had no problem of me leaving for school. He would just sat on the couch or somewhere and saw me leave. About three days ago, he started to be afraid of me leaving and wanted to go out with me whenever I approached the door. His tail tucked and he was shaking a little bit. I felt he was nervous and scared, but did not know why. If I went back to stayed with him, he would calm down. But once I lifted and approached the door, he would be nervous again and tail tucked.

    I really have no idea what to do. Do you think he is sick or something around my apartment terrified him when I was not at home?

    Thank you


  64. I enjoyed your article and have been reading and relating to all of the emails above. I have an 18 mo mixed breed (rat terrier, beagle, whippet — at least that’s what people tell me she looks like) dog that I adopted when she was 4 months old from a local shelter. They hinted that she and her litter were from a puppy mill, but I never received any real information about her background. I chose her because she was the “friendly” one who got up out of the sleeping puppy pile and greeted me.

    To make a long story short, she was always shy and prone to shaking and panting in new situations. Puppy training class was a disaster, only I didn’t recognize it nor did the trainer who used dominance-based training. My puppy, Lola, spent most classes snarling at the other puppies who approached her and sniffing around the perimeter of the room with her tail between her legs. At about 6 months, she started reacting towards strangers, mostly men, by growling, barking and lunging towards them. At a year, she bit a friend when he entered our yard. She charged at him and jumped up. He yelled at her to get off and continued forward. Then she jumped up and grabbed his arm. The whole time I was yelling at him to stop moving and trying to grab hold of the dog as she circled him.

    Right after that incident I hired a behaviorist trainer who was wonderful. But, my dog quickly became friends with her and behaved perfectly whenever she was around. I think the trainer began to think I was imagining my dog’s aggression problems! Admittedly, she learns fast and has improved greatly. I also learned many strategies for planning ahead with social situations, including using dap spray and a thunder shirt to calm her.

    My question is about the seeming randomness of her reactions to people. Just today she freaked out at a local dog park when a jogger went by and chased, barked, growled, and jumped up on him as if she might bite. I was yelling at her to stop, but she completely ignored me. I was so frustrated because the guy was really angry (I can’t blame him), and I ended up yelling at my dog and putting her on a short leash for the rest of the walk. Nine times out of ten she will ignore joggers, but every once in a while they trigger something in her. I was wondering if it might be the presence of other dogs around who also bark or growl, but then don’t go into full chase-away-the-monster mode like she does. I noticed a lot of other dogs going stiff and doing low “woofs”, and then my dog freaked. Could it be a pack thing? She has never chased a jogger when it is just me and her.

    • Hello Metushka,

      I’m very glad you recognized that the initial trainer was not the one for your dog. Dominance based training makes fearful dogs worse. Many dogs react “seemingly out of nowhere”, but there is always a reason. We humans just have trouble recognizing what the trigger is. In the scenario you describe with the jogger, there could have been many triggers. It could have been something about the individual himself. He may have stiffened, or made eye contact for too long, or widened his eyes while making eye contact, or a combo of these along with many other possibilities. It also may have been the fact that other dogs reacted to him. It is very likely that the reaction from the other dogs lead to yours thanking things a bit further. It’s like the mob effect with people where normally reasonable people become not so reasonable when in an angry (or scared) crowd. Reactive dogs are tough because it can be very difficult to always know how they are going to react or what will set them off. To make it even more difficult, what’s sets them off in one situation, may not set them off in another. There may be a combination of things and we may not always be aware of the unique set of triggers in a given situation, eg she usually does not chase joggers, but did when other dogs began to show concern. It can be very difficult to desensitize her to every possible situation, so management becomes key in situations where she could become reactive. You need to be one step ahead at all times. The corporation of others is nice, but is not always possible (like with the guy entering your yard). In these situations, avoidance is key and she should not be allowed to be around people who refuse to listen to your rules :-).

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