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

2758 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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I would not blame you for getting rid of this dog. If you don't feel equipped to deal with this situation alone, that does not make you a bad person. You fully expected a dog to be a lot of work, and you're taking dog ownership seriously, but you weren't prepared for serious temperament issues and don't have the time and money to properly manage this dog. Not everyone can handle that kind of thing, and that's okay.

The problem with rehoming him is that it's going to be very hard to find someone who wants to take on a large, young, problem dog. If the dog is truly aggressive, that's a huge liability (for both the new owner and potentially for you, if the dog were to attack someone else's dog). I would think about getting a second opinion from another behaviorist to make sure this dog is actually aggressive and not reactive (I'm not sure that leashing a dog to a wall and making a stuffed dog approach it is a good test; I suspect my AKK would be frightened/aggressive in that situation, too, feeling as if he had no means of escape, when otherwise he'd probably back away). If he is indeed "very aggressive," euthanasia may be kinder than rehoming. But I am not going to tell you what to do; I really don't know enough about this situation. I definitely recommend a second opinion, though.
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I agree with getting another opinion; the more I've been thinking about the behaviorist's "test" the more it's seemed problematic to me too. I think the idea was that dogs in obedience classes there are hooked into the wall like Samson was, so she wanted to see if he could handle that with other dogs around (clearly no!). But there's also no way that it wouldn't have brought out the most extreme reaction in him. He has met a few other dogs close-up in the month since I got him and he was fine (though in one case he started barking and jumping when the other dog made a sudden move). Even yesterday, when he bit the stuffed dog, it was a small nip at the dog's ear that didn't look really mean to me, more like "I've been yelling at you to stop walking toward me, you didn't listen, so maybe this will get you to go away!"
Yeah, that doesn't sound "very aggressive" to me, more reactive. It does sound in that last example like he was trying to get the dog to leave him alone, not to initiate a big fight. My dogs both do the same (they are afraid of strange dogs rushing them and will bark, growl, and sometimes air-snap, but if we go for a walk with a friend and a strange dog, they calm down very quickly and ignore the dog for the rest of the walk). I think a good behaviorist will give you some strategies for dealing with this.

As for my dogs, they're small so I'm not as worried about them hurting another dog (most off-leash dogs that rush us outweigh them by more than 30lbs), but I figure that if I stick to on-leash areas and another dog does rush them and get hurt, that's not my fault -- it's the fault of the owner who was breaking the leash law. I find that getting between your dog and most rushing dogs and yelling at the incoming dog to get lost usually works, anyway -- plus many dogs don't want to get in your dog's face if it's also barking and growling. All but one of the dogs who have rushed mine have either backed off when I yelled or when one of my dogs snapped at them.
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