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Our boxer is now 10 months old. We've had him enrolled in two training courses (each six weeks long) and we want to continue with classes to get him therapy certified.

He's never had issue at the classes with strangers or family members coming over our house. However, lately he's been very skiddish with people he doesn't know. For example, if the neighbor and I are talking outside and he is in the front with me, he will bark and not approach the neighbor. Yesterday my wife took him to get work to let him see the residents (she works at a resident care facility which is a reason for him to bee a therapy dog) and he was afraid of people, growled with hair up on his back at times, and even peed trying to stay away.

We never hit him and only raise our voice if he is doing something he shouldn't. And throughout training he did excellent to where the trainers were asking if we were going to do the advanced courses. He lets the other trainers pet him and play with him.

We want him to be great with people. I'd appreciate some help with fixing this problem before it gets worse. Thanks!
 

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It's not just conventional "training" that's required, the socialization process is paramount when your goal is to have a therapy dog. And that process should be very specific. Certainly your trainers should be guiding you towards your goal, or at least recommending specialized trainers who can.

Sometimes dogs don't have the genetic makeup within themselves to achieve what it is we're hoping for. It could be that you're fighting against nature, and trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I'm not sure if this is the case without really knowing your dog, but still something to consider. In my opinion the best therapy dogs aren't really "built" per se -- they're uncovered in due time.

Also, raising your voice at your dog as a correction is quite likely to be counter-productive. The exception being if you're deliberately trying to counter-condition for instances when residents might inadvertently become loud due to medical or psychological reasons. I would try to find other, more gentle means of communicating with your dog whenever they've behaved inappropriately, rather than raising your voice.
 

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It's possible that he's in a fear period and this is a phase that will pass, or it could be that this is just the way he is. It's important to never force him into social situations that he doesn't feel comfortable in. If he shows signs of stress, allow him to back off. Let him know that he doesn't have to approach anyone he doesn't want to. If he's in a fear period, forcing him to interact with people when he doesn't want to will create a bad association with strangers, and if he's naturally nervous continuing to ignore his fears will not help anything.

I also agree with petpeeve's analysis of the situation.
 

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It's not just conventional "training" that's required, the socialization process is paramount when your goal is to have a therapy dog. And that process should be very specific. Certainly your trainers should be guiding you towards your goal, or at least recommending specialized trainers who can.

Sometimes dogs don't have the genetic makeup within themselves to achieve what it is we're hoping for. It could be that you're fighting against nature, and trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I'm not sure if this is the case without really knowing your dog, but still something to consider. In my opinion the best therapy dogs aren't really "built" per se -- they're uncovered in due time.

Also, raising your voice at your dog as a correction is quite likely to be counter-productive. The exception being if you're deliberately trying to counter-condition for instances when residents might inadvertently become loud due to medical or psychological reasons. I would try to find other, more gentle means of communicating with your dog whenever they've behaved inappropriately, rather than raising your voice.
You are exactly correct. We never thought of it in terms of training him around people per se, it was more training him in general. He's very smart and is excellent in classes. He is great with the trainers and other owners in class as well. Which now I'm thinking that since he he started training before he was 6 months old he associated the class with a comfort zone.

To be clear as a dog owner, I'm not in his face raising my voice. It is more of a raising my voice when he is somewhere I'm not and I see him doing something he shouldn't be doing. For example, if we are in the kitchen and we see him doing something in the living room (digging at our couches lol) we will yell "Wrong!" (in line with his training) to get him to stop. We aren't running up to him and freaking him out.

I thank you for your input. I never saw therapy dogs temperament in that way!
 

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It's possible that he's in a fear period and this is a phase that will pass, or it could be that this is just the way he is. It's important to never force him into social situations that he doesn't feel comfortable in. If he shows signs of stress, allow him to back off. Let him know that he doesn't have to approach anyone he doesn't want to. If he's in a fear period, forcing him to interact with people when he doesn't want to will create a bad association with strangers, and if he's naturally nervous continuing to ignore his fears will not help anything.

I also agree with petpeeve's analysis of the situation.
I'm hoping that this is just a period spell for him! lol

He's too great of a dog to come across to strangers in this way. My wife knew as soon as he started to show these signs to get him out immediately. We are both afraid that this is how he'll be and what is hurting us is that we feel we did something wrong to promote this behavior. Not only do we feel terrible as a dog owner, but embarrassed that people think we did something to him for him to develop it.

We do not care about him being a therapy dog in the end game, we just want him to feel safe around people he doesn't know. Is there anything we can do to help him? We take him to pet friendly stores (home depot, pet stores, etc) when we need to go and to the dog park and he is always good. I'm not sure if he is simply used to the routine or what it is. I'm just looking for advice on what we can do to help him right now.
 

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I'm hoping that this is just a period spell for him! lol

He's too great of a dog to come across to strangers in this way. My wife knew as soon as he started to show these signs to get him out immediately. We are both afraid that this is how he'll be and what is hurting us is that we feel we did something wrong to promote this behavior. Not only do we feel terrible as a dog owner, but embarrassed that people think we did something to him for him to develop it.

We do not care about him being a therapy dog in the end game, we just want him to feel safe around people he doesn't know. Is there anything we can do to help him? We take him to pet friendly stores (home depot, pet stores, etc) when we need to go and to the dog park and he is always good. I'm not sure if he is simply used to the routine or what it is. I'm just looking for advice on what we can do to help him right now.
Most likely, it's nothing you did. Some dogs just have anxiety in their genetics, and socialization and training can help, but it will never be "cured". Work on obedience skills and focusing on you when passing strangers or encountering scary situations. Strangers do not have to pet him or interact with him in any way, and it's important that your dog knows strangers are going to pop up every now and then, but they are irrelevant to him. He does not have to interact with them, nor does he have to react to them.

Don't worry about what strangers think. They aren't important.
 

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It is probably genetic. A soft, out going confident dog is genes as much as training.

When you bought your puppy, did you go to a breeder and tell them you wanted a therapy dog? Boxers are a bulldog based breed (with Mastiff) and were bred to be protectors and to help move cattle for butchers. That is their "design." A bit mistrustful of strangers is in their genetic make up and at 10 months old, the genetics start to flow. I have seen some real nice Boxers on farms around livestock. Yours sounds typical of those dogs (not dangerous but suspicious of strangers). I have also seen some Boxers doing Protection and earning titles in IPO.

Your dog may well fail at being a therapy dog although he may be a Canine Good Citizen. The breed is not noted for traits that would make for a good therapy dog (tho I am sure there ARE Boxers that ARE therapy dogs, it seems that their genetic traits typically do not lend to this).

I often see people trying to make a dog that is genetically one thing into something it's not. I think it is because they love the look of certain breeds but would like those looks in a dog that behaves like a Golden Retriever or a Labrador retriever. Dogs behave based on their genetics and those genetics were contrived by people so the dog would do certain work (which may now be obsolete!).

Good Luck with your puppy. He sounds like a good dog, but maybe not a good Therapy dog.
 

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I'm going through a similiar problem with a Lab mix rescue that wasn't well socialized. To help him gain good socialization experiences at 1.5yo, I took him into PetsMart every morning. Most of the staff is patient enough to let a dog bark, to walk away, or to ignore the dog, so he can approach and sniff. After a year of doing this, my dog is no longer 'fearful', but he is reserved around people who don't know how to approach a strange dog ... and so my dog tells them - 'Excuse me, we haven't yet been properly introduced.' And he says this assertively and with authority ;-) He quickly becomes friends with People who stand up, don't stare, and give my dog a chance to sniff them. The others get barked at, but not threatened. BTW, people can give him treats ... and then he'll still bark, if they don't accommodate his schedule for introductions [I hope that in another year of working with him, I can shorten his schedule, but that's another story].

In any case, there are some people that your boxer likes. See if you can figure out what they do correctly. Try to instruct new people to do those behaviors. If you don't see a pattern than ask them to stand up straight [don't loom over the dog], don't stare, and give the dog a chance to sniff them on his schedule without moving. Also, many dogs are head shy and don't like people to reach over to pet them, preferring to have under their jaw caressed. No dog likes to be patted on top of the head, but many dogs learn to tolerate it. Your dog may prefer a butt scratch to a head scratch?

Also, my dog is more comfortable with people who also have a dog. Is yours that way? If the owner of one of the dogs in training pets your dog, is that OK. How about if the spouse holds their dog - can they pet your boxer? Does your boxer ever get playdates with the other trained dogs? I've noticed that my dog is more friendly when he's tired after a 30 - 60 min. playdate. On the other hand, if a stranger gets him excited, then he gets more reactive, even with people that he knows.

Hope that helps?
 
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