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The other day at club training we were discussing reactive dogs and how that gets started.

A person (not in the club) had recently gotten a puppy. Cute 8 week old baby with all that puppy fuzz. She took the puppy everywhere and, of course, eveyone wants to pet, hold and interact with the puppy. In addition, the person already has two older dogs in the house.

By 12 weeks old, the puppy was acting defensive and reactive. Her husband would come home and the puppy was barking at him and backing up. Out in public, at the sight on an approaching stranger the reaction was similar. It was worse with an approaching dog. At a mere 12 weeks old. This is a well bred dog that had shown confidence previously. As a baby he would often lay down when no one was interacting. What happened?

Here was the back story.
When out in public, the owner let the people come up to the puppy. And that means everyone. Bending over, petting, picking up and loving on this puppy while she stood at the other end of the leash allowing it. For a baby dog, it was simply too much. This baby had NO security offered by its owner. The owner was happlily gabbing while the puppy was all alone out there at the end of the leash being bombarded with new people and, on occaision, new dogs.

In her own house she got the puppy home and simply turned it loose with the older dogs.. and while the older dogs were good, it was a lot for a baby to take in. New place, away from siblings and everything different.

At first, the puppy recovered. Sometimes he ran back to his new owner and her reaction, while affectionate, was not supportive. This is a BABY. Babies need support and they need to know you have their back. That never happened.

By week 12, the puppy had it figured out. EVERYTHING out there in the world had to be dealt with by him. His owner was nice, but neither protective nor supportive and clearly did not have his back. As a baby it was simply too much and so the reactivity started. The puppy learned if he raised hackles and barked and looked tough he could get people to leave him alone. This owner created the reactivity in this puppy.. and now, as a future competition dog, this puppy had issues that needed to be fixed. At 12 weeks and with good advice there was improvement.

BUT, without that.. the dog would have simply escalated reactivity and with size and maturity become very hard to handle. This is a common issue seen in older dogs and quite a few rescue dogs. Even a genetically confident dog can end up being a reactive dog if handled poorly as a puppy.

So, folks, when you get a puppy do not let every person in the world handle your puppy. If someone wants to meet the puppy, let it be the puppy's idea and, if the energy level seems too much (as can be with young children) say NO and then take the puppy out of the situation. That is advocating for your dog. IF you have other dogs at home, put them up.. let the new puppy learn about the new environment first. Take it slow. Let the puppy meet the other dogs through a gate.. or even crate the other dogs and let the puppy approach.

As your dog matures and you go out for walks stay off the phone and pay attention. See the approaching person or dog (or squirrel!!) first and then place yourself between them and your dog. Take your dog a safe distance to the side. Work on sit and focus as the person (and their dog if they have one) goes by. Let your puppy or dog know you have their back. ALWAYS carry a reward (food is best for puppies). Don't let your dog become overwhelmed.

If you adopt an older dog, the same rules apply. Don't let your dog hang out at the end of the leash while you are distracted. Pay attention. Have your dog's back. If they become focused on something, move back, get their focus back on you. Reward the focus. Be clear (dogs like black and white). Be consistent (sit means sit not sit until you get distracted and the dog wanders off).

Prevention can be 9/10ths of the cure. Once a dog learns reactivity "fixing" can be difficult (but is sure can make some $$ for dog trainers!)
 

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3GSD. Well said.

Although, I would like to point out an act of the owner that was "rewarding" or confirming the pup's reactive behavior.

"Sometimes he ran back to his new owner and her reaction, while affectionate, was not supportive."

The simple act of affection can reward a behavior. A pet or ear rub is affection. This affection was telling the pup, "Your reaction is acceptable."

4 weeks is a very short time to instill and reinforce such behavior.

I recall when my dog was 8 weeks old. He took a deep dive and long swim in the schnauzer cuteness pool. Everyone who saw him wanted to interact, play, pet......essentially to maul the pup. Fortunately, I intervened to prevent most. The few that were allowed had close supervision and were short duration. I would always stop the human, get them to kneel, hold out their hand palm up, then allow the dog to sniff. Now, they could pet, only pet. Never to pickup or play with him. Now, Shadow is 3+ yo and is a very people friendly and confident. I allow meetings with strangers with the same set of instructions and keep the meeting short. I've had people come running to him to meet, Shadow backs away, I intervene to stop the human and deny the meeting. Generally, they will grumble something to me in Chinese, I just let them know that the dog will bite. Sometimes a little fib can eliminate an inconsideration.
 
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