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Hi everyone,

We adopted a rescue dog from a local shelter about 7 mo ago. Our last Pointer/Dalmatian mix rescue had passed after a wonderful 16-yr life with us. This is now a our 3rd time adopting, and each one has been both wonderful and challenging.

"Nettie" (name from shelter) is a 40 lb female that looks like Jack Russel / Beagle / Boxer mix. She has been a more complex and demanding addition to the family. She is adorably sweet and loving, but it is clear that Nettie has suffered abuse at the hands of previous owners. She will inexplicably cower at times and shows extreme fear of anything / everything new or different.

When we first brought her home, the environment was both exciting and frightening. Her behavior would swing between showers of love & licks to fearful growls with some snapping. The snaps always seem to be scared warnings and have never really connected. She really did not bark at anything or anyone during the first 3 days. By day 4, she had clearly decided that the house was Nettie's domain. She became protective of anyone approaching the yard or front door - sounding very ferocious. The moment this person enters the house, however, she calms down into cautious curiosity.

There are 3 full time residents - me, my wife and our young adult soon - and Nettie has become fully comfortable with us. She is incredibly affectionate and playful and a simply wonderful member of the family. She hardly ever shows any fear-based aggression to us now. The only exception would be if we accidentally step on tail, bump her in side or something. If this happens, she immediately goes into cowering submission. It is kind of heartbreaking to see, but just give her an abundance of love to immediately bring back the happy dog.

We hired a local animal behavioralist to help with setting up the basic commands of sit, down, stay, come, heel, look-at-me, and go-to-your-place. The last one in the list is used when people come to the door. Nettie has to go to a designated bed and stay calm until the guest has entered and taken a seat.

This has been working pretty well, and she seems to be a very eager-to-please, trainable dog. The only remaining problem is the issue of fear and trust. With the exception of the 3 of us in the house and a couple of additional family members, Nettie has a significant problem establishing lasting trust with any individual. The behavior is kind of odd and confusing. She will often go directly up to a person and being licking their hand or leg. She may even jump in their lap. A few seconds later, however, Nettie will start growling and sometimes snap at the same person to which she had initially showed affection. Needless to say, people are understandably confused by this - as are we.

She has never landed a snap or bitten anyone, but it is clearly not a good thing.

We are not sure how to address the distrusting / fear behavior, and our hired trainer has not offered much help in this area. We are not sure wether to do some sort of corrective, scolding action or to perhaps try some other type of response. Thus far, the only generally effective strategy has been telling the individual to never make eye contact with Nettie. This seems to partially diffuse the interaction, but it is not a realistic strategy moving forward.

We desperately love this animal, but it is imperative that some sort of progress is made with the behavior.

Hoping someone out there has some effective strategies and recommendations.

Thanks much!
 

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Fear is often genetic, not necessarily created by abuse. It may be that you'll never have a dog who happily welcomes strangers and treats them as family, not matter what you do.

NEVER scold a dog for growling. That will make the problem worse, because if they're scolded for the growl, a low level warning, they go straight to the bite.

I would physically separate the dog from any strangers using a baby gate or crate. Allow her to see the strangers, but don't allow interaction. You might try giving her a very special treat like a stuffed frozen kong to keep her busy and instill the idea that strangers are good. Because she has snapped at strangers, though, I don't know if I would feel comfortable allowing anything beyond that. It is probably safer for everyone if she is kept separated.

I believe there is a term for dogs who initially show affection but later become fearful, but I can't remember for the life of me what it is. Perhaps someone else can chime in. You might consider contacting a behaviorist to help you since it seems she kind of wants to be loved on, but overcoming any fear issue can be a long and labor intensive process.
 

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Agree 100% with what Lillith said. I would almost guarantee this dog is genetically fearful and with that hard wired in all you can really do is manage it.

I have an extremely confident Male (intact) German Shepherd. He is very well trained. Guests OTOH are NOT well trained and want to interact with him (even LOOKING at him is interacting and he notices everything). I kennel him (full size dog kennel in my basement and another 2 in my back yard). He has NO need to interact with guests. None. All my dog has to do is accidentally scratch someone with a toe nail and if they complain he is a dead dog (because I must keep homeowner's insurance).

Separate your dog from guests. It is easy and the dog will be happier. If you go out and about with your dog and someone wants to Pet remember the word NO is a complete sentence. All will be better off for it.

DO teach your dog that the happiest and safest place in the world is next to your left side focused on YOU. My dog, even though he has NO fear issues at all has learned to default to that position if he has any questions or is confused by a command cue I give because sometimes I can be unclear. He goes to that position because that is a good place.. the best place.
 

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Two months ago we purchased a two year old sheepadoodle. She was a farm dog and had had 13 pups. Lady said she could not breed her again, hence the sale. Dolly is very fearful and has a few other issues we have never dealt with before, so we hired a trainer to come to out house. I thought our dog had been abused, but the trainer says she is unsocialized and it may take a year or two before she is no longer timid. Luckily for us she has never been aggressive,,,she just runs away from the situation, I feel your pain, It has taken until now for Dolly to be comfy around my daughter and grandkids, and even at that, one quick move by them sends her way back. I think I would try a trainer who specializes in fear aggression. Poor pup, hoping you can get her over this.
 

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My dog is anxiety and fearful as well. She is comfortable and a great dog with me and a few others, but that's it. I agree that a baby gate, positive reinforcement. Not making eye contact with her is good as well, and turning sideways is also a good idea. Maybe a time is all your dog need, some dogs take longer than others, but it may also be that that is just who they are.
 

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The hand and leg licking is most likely an appeasement gesture, often misinterpreted as affection. By licking, she is basically saying to that person "please don't hurt me". This is generally seen in dogs with underlying confidence issues.

I highly recommend reading these 3 readily available books. Each one should help you immensely. Collectively, they'll provide you with a solid foundation for understanding what is happening, and how to improve things.

Scaredy Dog, by Ali Brown

The Other End of the Leash, by Patricia McConnell

On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, by Turid Rugaas


I also suggest consulting with an actual, board certified behaviourist ... not a trainer.
 
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