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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
We rescued Addy in November, 2011. At that time, she was 3 years old and had been through several "homes."

Her first family had raised her for breeding... when they were unable to sell the puppies for the high dollar amount they thought they would get, they discontinued feeding her on a regular basis. Eventually, they took her to a small dog rescue who placed her in a cage that was two sizes too small. When we got her, the end of her tail was a mess from continual beating on the cage, her ears were shredded where small dogs were allowed to repeatedly bite her through the cage, and her snout/jowls showed similar scarring. She weighed in at 89 pounds.

When we took her in, we were told that she had some behavioral/socialization issues. While she is the third English Mastiff we have had over the years, she is the first that had behavioral issues and looking back, I don't think we originally understood the depth and breadth of what that meant.

We brought her home and would marvel at her attitude... if she decided she was hungry she would go to her bowl and woof. If no one came to fill the bowl, the bowl would suddenly go flying across the kitchen towards whichever room the humans happened to be in. Everything about her was like this - as though people where fairly superfluous except to do the things that the dog required. So we worked with her, taking her for walks, teaching her commands, etc. She was definitely a "yellow dog," especially with small dogs, but also with very nervous or hyper dogs.

Over the last year, some of that "guarding" behavior has lessened both in terms of her comfort/trust level with us giving her more confidence, and in terms of understanding the expectation to "leave it" is nonnegotiable.

Where we still struggle is in her level of closeness with us. She loves the grand kids and like our previous mastiffs, she is the quiet guardian, overseeing all play and interactions in that alert, majestic way that the giant breeds do. She comes to greet us when we come home and waits patiently to be loved on, but then goes about her business. Unlike our previous dogs (mastiff or otherwise) she doesn't need closeness from her people (although at about the one year mark, that began to shift to her seeking us out at times). She also doesn't lick or reach out to "touch." The aloofness feels really weird, because we have never had a dog that was like this even though they have all been rescues. Is there anything our family can do to break through this wall?

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Maybe, maybe not.

It's possible that it's a response to her history, and you're just going to have to continue to be gentle, patient, and provide good things and make your association a positive one.

It's also possible that it's just her personality, in which case it's always going to be her personality and you're going to have to accept that your view of what having a dog means. She doesn't sound frighten or traumatized. She sounds like a self-contained dog who enjoys her people and her life, but doesn't necessarily feel the need to be on top of them or enjoy being pet. Find ways that interact with her (continuing training, walking, and just being around her), don't force attention on her, and appreciate her for what she is, instead of what you expect her to be.

And given the amount of time you've handled her, the fact that she greets you and enjoys company and sounds like a well adjusted, happy, loving dog who just isn't physically affectionate makes me think it's probably the later.
 

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It's difficult to teach a dog to lick ... it's also rare that someone has that as a problem :)
1. What happens if you blow in her face? Can you play with her and pester her so that she licks rather than nips?
2. If you rub her belly, scratch her ears, inside of her ears, rub hard on her back knee until it straightens, scratch the base of her tail... does she lick you once or twice as a thank you?
3. Does she like to be brushed? ... Or just sit on the floor and pet her while watching TV?
4. Can you play with her? Play catch, or play catch the kibble?
 

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It's difficult to teach a dog to lick ... it's also rare that someone has that as a problem :)
That is what is so weird about it! What dog doesn't attempt to lick their people? :p

1. What happens if you blow in her face? Can you play with her and pester her so that she licks rather than nips?
She never licks during this type of play and never nips... instead she will rub her face with her paw and if she is feeling frisky, she will roll over on her back, pull on her snout with her paws, put one of her paws in her mouth, and play dead. Then we rub her belly and when we stop, she does the whole routine all over again (which appears to be attention-seeking behavior).

2. If you rub her belly, scratch her ears, inside of her ears, rub hard on her back knee until it straightens, scratch the base of her tail... does she lick you once or twice as a thank you?
Randomly she will lick me once or twice. Often when she does, she will suddenly stiffen and get this startled look on her face like "oh no, what did I just do."

3. Does she like to be brushed? ... Or just sit on the floor and pet her while watching TV?
She is not crazy about being brushed. When we got her she was so thin that I think it just wasn't enjoyable. Now she just approaches it as a chore that her people do to her so we try and make it as pleasant as possible with lots of praise and a treat afterward since she is very treat motivated.

At night, she sleeps on her bed next to ours. She will get up in the morning and lay her head at the foot of the bed until we ask her to come up. This is when she prefers to be pet... we will rub her ears and talk to her gently, and the next thing you know, she is snoring as though she hasn't slept all night. This is her time to be close and to seemingly relax.

4. Can you play with her? Play catch, or play catch the kibble?
She is not very playful per say. When we walk, she is all business - part of that is what we have trained her to do in order to manage her over-vigilance in regards to other dogs. Because of this, we take time at the end of the walk to just kick around the yard, talk to her, have a treat, etc. Like our other mastiffs, she is not much for a game of fetch. They all seem to burn out after the second or third time you throw the ball away... looking at you like you are a real dirt bag for throwing the ball away AGAIN when they just got their big lumbering bodies up to get it the first time.

You can get her to play chase you sometimes, and she is very agile for her height and overall size and seems to enjoy the interaction. We try and do that with her a couple of times a day, or engage her in her other odd behaviors such as this "talking" thing she does when she wants you to do something. Usually if you get her "talking" then she is feeling spry and will chase around a bit. :)
 

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Discussion Starter #5
It's also possible that it's just her personality, in which case it's always going to be her personality and you're going to have to accept that your view of what having a dog means.
We agree CptJack, but felt that we should put this out there and ask since we have already learned so much that we didn't know about dogs previously due to her over-vigilance issues. Both my husband and myself have had dogs in our life since we were small children and they all seemed well-adjusted... you just take for granted that what you have known dogs to be is what dogs are. Addy however is an outlier, and we have had to learn to understand and respond to these behavior needs in ways that build confidence and trust for all parties. We were just hopeful that there were other interventions (training, love, guidance) that we could provide for her that would allow her to progress even further.
 

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We agree CptJack, but felt that we should put this out there and ask since we have already learned so much that we didn't know about dogs previously due to her over-vigilance issues. Both my husband and myself have had dogs in our life since we were small children and they all seemed well-adjusted... you just take for granted that what you have known dogs to be is what dogs are. Addy however is an outlier, and we have had to learn to understand and respond to these behavior needs in ways that build confidence and trust for all parties. We were just hopeful that there were other interventions (training, love, guidance) that we could provide for her that would allow her to progress even further.

I think it's really easy to see it as some kind of failure or flaw, when a dog is something you're very not used to. What you're describing above with her, is pretty much my ideal dog and to some degree what I'm used to. My rat terrier, Jack, is very much a velcro dog in the sense that he must be near you, and would prefer to be within touching distance. He dances about and plays periodically, can enjoy being pet a few times a day. Mostly, he's a sweet, quiet, self-contained dog who isn't effusive with his affection. Contrast one direction is Bug (Boston Terrier) who is all over everyone, loves everyone, and EXPLODES WITH JOY whenever she's touched. Thud's kind of similar to her, but not so extreme.

The little mutt, I've had since she was 4 weeks old. She's EXCEPTIONALLY intelligent, VERY attached to her people, but she does. not. like. being touched. She will sleep on you, at night. She wants to be near you. If you attempt to touch her (even people she lives with) she will endure it or move away. She will sit beside you, but rarely on your lap. She will greet you from three feet away. She's SUPER attached, again, and very bonded, but she is just NOT INTO TOUCHING. She'll play fetch all day, lights up at any opportunity to learn/train/work. She just would prefer you keep your hands to yourself. She's been a learning experience.

What dog doesn't like pet and physical affection? More than you'd think, really. A lot tolerate it, some thrive on it, but it's no small handful of dogs who would just prefer you keep your human gestures of affection to yourself. It takes some getting used to, but I've found most of the progress has been on my end, with her being happier as I've gotten the message.
 
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