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Barking and reactivity in newly adopted pup, aka Am I screwing up my dog?

2755 Views 16 Replies 13 Participants Last post by  titiaamor
Hi! I would really love some advice (and encouragement). It might take a few paragraphs to get this out but here goes... I'm 31 and single, living with a roommate in a duplex apt. A month ago adopted a very large 9-month-old male pup (Great Dane/American Bulldog/??? mix). He had just been neutered the week before adoption. He is sweet and mellow most of the time, submissive toward people, and was totally chill for the first 2 weeks - he would come up to me or visitors and lie down belly up, he didn't bark much, and he didn't have a problem seeing other dogs when we were out walking (I walk him 3x a day).

His behavior has begun to change, and not for the better. He is still sweet and submissive to me and people, though he doesn't offer his belly so readily, which makes me a little sad! Worse, he barks (loudly, since he's a big dog) a lot at new noises/passersby (including my upstairs neighbors, who have been nice about it but I'm afraid are ready to kill me). I am trying to ignore the barking and teach him a "quiet" command, but when he barks in the middle of the night I just need him to shut up. I'm afraid if it lasts long, my neighbors will think he's mean, and worse might complain to my landlord, which could cause all sorts of new problems.

The biggest problem is that he is suddenly SUPER reactive to other dogs. I think that started after we were walking past a fenced-in yard down the street and a Doberman rushed out of nowhere aggressively barking his head off (and a few similar incidents - there are a lot of dogs in my neighborhood whose outdoor time is mostly in a yard or porch). He has gone up and sniffed a few dogs, but then when they make a movement that startles him, he starts his barking/lunging routine that is very hard to calm, and sounds/looks scary. I'm working really hard to turn away from other dogs we see on walks and training incompatible behaviors (sit/stay, watch me, etc) and I think it's getting a little better, slooowly. But since he didn't have this problem in the first place, I worry that I'm doing things that inadvertently CAUSE the behavior. And I'm nervous that he'll start being reactive to kids or others who do something sudden, though he's been fine so far. I'm sure my nervousness doesn't help, because he can probably tell I'm nervous when he meets kids, etc (I'm trying hard not to show it, but...).

Walking my dog is now incredibly stressful - it's the worst part(s) of my day. I'm working on all sorts of training, reading everything I can find ("Click to calm" is great!), and I'm going to have him evaluated by a trainer at the local SPCA this weekend to talk about next steps. I'm not going to give up, but I'm just really stressed and frustrated and nervous that he's not going to get over these new issues - not to mention that I gave them to him somehow! Thank you for any tips/advice/support!!
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Take a deep breath! :)
I agree with Shakespaw, that sometimes it takes time for personalities to come out. When pups are nervous being in their new homes, they can be a bit reserved.
Also, if you are nervous about things, your dog will pick up on that nervousness, and may feel he has to "protect" himself and you.

A quick bit of info on my situation, in the hopes that it will make you feel better. When I got my first puppy, Harper, I was a first time dog owner, and he was 8 weeks old. He (unlike your dog) was soooo tiny that I was nervous about walking him, especially when we came across other dogs. I am pretty sure he picked up on that. He became pretty reactive around some people, and all dogs, partly due to my nervousness, but, maybe, partly just due to his personality.

I was SO sad. I had been looking forward to taking him hiking, camping, on doggy play dates, all the fun stuff you can do with dogs, but he barked and pulled on the leash and growled and lunged. I felt like a failure, and was bummed.
I got lots of advice here on helping with his reactive issues. I was told to AVOID other dogs at first. I couldn't figure that out. I didn't want to AVOID the problem, I wanted to fix it. BUT, what I didn't realize was that these "reactions" he had caused stress hormones to go crazy in him, and just as with humans, when you have shocks, or things that really upset you, it can take a long time to calm down. I was told it could take days and weeks for the stress hormones to subside for Harper, after having a reactive episode.

So, by avoiding his triggers, I would let him calm down. I walked him at odd hours, or in areas that I was pretty sure I wouldn't come across people or dogs (even if that meant driving to a different area). Very gradually, I started to do walks where we might actually see other people/dogs. When we did, I would back up or cross the street, or go down a side street, or whatever so that he could see the dog/person, but at a distance. Whatever distance worked (he could watch, but didn't react) was his "threshold". Gradually, the goal is to shrink his "threshold".

Now, he can walk by 95% of people without a reaction. Some people he just doesn't seem to like. Funny thing, the people he doesn't like are people I feel uneasy about too! And, we still cross the street when we see other dogs, but we don't have to get nearly as far away as before.

Bottom line, and what I've learned: every dog is different, just as with people, some dogs don't do well in every situation. With some dogs, you can correct issues, with some dogs you can only manage issues. Harper is manageable. But, he is who he is, and we love him to pieces, as he's a total cuddle bug and very sweet with us and people and dogs he knows well. So, we accept the dog he is, and we work to manage his environment. But, it is, in no way, as horrible as I envisioned when I realized his issues.
Sorry, turned out to be more then a quick bit of info, but I really felt for you, and wanted to share, it gets better!
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