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

2760 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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My dogs love other dogs....they don't even react when one is freaking out behind a fence- but I think they would come completely unglued if a large, stuffed dog started coming towards them.
Update: The behaviorist evaluation went very badly. He was extremely aggressive (toward the life-size stuffed dog "walking" toward him) to the point of biting the stuffed dog. He was all hackles and puckered mouth and assertive forward movement (with his leash attached to the wall so he couldn't actually run around). The behaviorist believes he's very aggressive and that I will never be able to fully trust him around other dogs, though with a lot of work I should be able to teach him to stay calm. Her guess is that he was never socialized with other dogs as a young puppy, and that this may be a big part of the reason he was dumped by the side of the road (which is how he ended up in the shelter) - as she said, "nobody dumps Lassie."

I don't know what to do. We live in a neighborhood and city where people just let their dogs run out the front door sometimes or wander around outside, or where they can escape fenced yards all too easily. Any place I would like to take him hiking (a big activity for me, and one I'd really looked forward to doing with my dog) runs too big a risk of running into unleashed dogs. He's already 70+ lbs and not done growing, and I'm not very large. I just don't know if I can face a (dog's) lifetime of nervous, highly vigilant walking and the tremendous amount of work this will require. Of course I expected that owning and training a dog would be a lot of work, and I'm excited to do that work, but this is a whole other level, and the stakes feel so extremely high. I'm single and don't have a high-paying job; I don't know that I can afford private training, much less the real financial and emotional costs of something going wrong (that is, if he actually hurt another dog).

I know some people will think I'm a horrible person if I consider trying to re-home him somewhere where he'd have space to run but wouldn't be around other dogs (I wouldn't just give him back to the shelter), but I feel I have to weigh all the factors here both for myself and my dog, and if just walking him every day is too big a risk to him and me, that option has to be on the table... if I could even find him a new home. Which is a thought I totally and completely hate, but I just don't know if I can do this. I know that sounds weak, and it feels absolutely shameful (believe me, "strong and stubborn as hell" is a much more common description of me), but... I just don't know what to do. Any (non-judgmental) thoughts and advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
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