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Discussion Starter #1
I adopted Dilly-Dally, a 1 year-old (or so) mutt, at the beginning of March. Thus far, she's been the perfect dog for me - well behaved, even-tempered, affectionate, and obedient. However, a number of recent incidents have made me wonder about her past, and what I can do to help her.

Every now and then, a person will 'set her off'; she takes up a defensive stance, and starts barking aggressively. She doesn't bite or attack, but she's clearly trying to drive the person away, and will try to follow them as they leave. I generally resolve it by positioning myself between the two of them, and body-blocking until she calms down. I'm worried because, even though she's not attacking, it seems like only a matter of time before she does. It seems to be a fearful reaction rather than aggressive, but fear often immediately precedes aggression, and I'm not sure what to do.

It's always towards men, but I can't figure anything out after that. The particular incidents were as follows:

1. Homeless man in the park who kept staring at us. Honestly, I felt like this was a good reaction, which is why I didn't think much of it at the time.

2. Security guard from the next building over, taking a smoke break about 50 feet away. Large (6+ feet, 200+ pounds) man of indistinguishable race, wearing a heavy, puffy coat and scarf due to the cold weather. Again, given the circumstance (alone in the dog run, with a big guy standing in a dark alleyway nearby, looking at us), this seemed like a normal reaction at the time.

3. A close friend - 6+ feet tall, caucasian. Very little experience with dogs; I assumed it was just bad body language. I had him crouch down and turn away, after which she attempted to murder the poor guy by drowning him in saliva.

4. Random man standing outside the dog park, watching the dogs play. 6+ feet tall, lanky, caucasian, once again watching intently.

5. Upstairs neighbor; I'd just called regarding water leaking through the ceiling, and he came down to discuss it. 5'6" asian guy, like myself; he was very obviously nervous and tentative before the dog. I assumed that is what set her off.

6. Random man in neighborhood pet store. He had his arm in a sling and was moving oddly due to injury; I assumed the unusual posture & behavior scared her. Caucasian, approximately 5'9" tall, over 50 years of age.

7. Random man in dog run. Over 50 years of age, caucasian, about 5'10" tall, average build. This one puzzled me, because as far as I could tell, he did absolutely nothing aggressive.

Each man is obviously giving off some sort of warning through their body language, but because I never notice them until after she starts barking, I can't tell for certain what it is. Incident #1 happend in mid-march, #2 a few weeks later, and #s 3-7 in the past two weeks. Something seems to be accelerating things; is it just because she's now bonded to me, and is acting to protect me?

I am completely at a loss as to what I should be doing next. 99% of the time, she's confident, happy, friendly, and energetic. Sometimes, though something happens that clicks in her head, and I have no idea what, or why.
 

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Well you've already made the first step in identifying one of her triggers: men. Now, can you narrow that down any more? Were they wearing hats, or lots of clothing? Were they all rather large or tall people? Were they looking at her or directing their "attention" in your general direction?

I knew a dog who used to hate silver-haired men the most. Does it mean a silver-haired man abused him? Maybe, maybe not. I don't think there's ever a way for sure that you can know whether a dog was abused. I know it sounds farfetched but I have heard this hypothetical scenario as an example..

Dog is walking in park. Steps on sharp rock just as he is looking at a man going by. Now man = pain.

Man didn't really cause pain, but just based on the way the dog's mind works, it is possible they connect a person with a not-totally-related event. Especially if it happens more than once. (Maybe living in a home with a man who screamed a lot, though not at the dog, etc)

You may want to start rewarding each time she looks calmly at a stranger so her reactivity doesn't continue to get worse and she can re-associate people with something good.
 

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I cant really give any advice, but I can say that my dog used to do something similar. She was never comfortable with unfamiliar men, but she hated men who had a beard or a ladder. My friends dad had a beard, and although she saw him regularly she always reacted exactly the same, growling, barking, hackles raised looking like she wanted to kill him. But I also know she would never have done anything to any of them (except one windowcleaner, who was unfortunate enough to have a beard and a ladder :p joking!)

However, for her it was never fearful, and there was nothing in her past to suggest a problem with them. It was just her way. She also hated GSD's, with no provocation. And she was part GSD :D But again, she would never have hurt one. She just acted like she wanted to.
 

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so.

behaviors you will likely see from physical abuse cases:


turning the head rapidly from side to side in presence of fear trigger

licking lips obsessively

obsessive chewing

on leash dog may be walking fine and suddenly attempt to dart off to the side

a sort of half sit/half down. dog's butt is on ground, forelegs splayed out, making the body lower than a normal sit.

obsessive shivers.


aggression



it could be the fear aggression of a formerly abused dog.

or it could just be defensive drive. personally, to me it sounds more like the latter.


to stop her, you'd need to identify the real common theme in all the scenarios. one thing that each situation shares.
 

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Ugh, well that list confirms what I've always had a feeling about with Wally.

He'll do many of those - only ones he hasn't is aggression, obsessive lip licking and chewing.

Probably explained a lot of things like he used to be afraid when I had objects in my hand.
 

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A lot of what people think is from abuse is just lack of socialization. Sadie would react the same to kids, but I had her since she was 7 weeks, she was never abused by one. Just not socialized.

Read about desensitizing a dog to something. Using the clicker, I got Sadie to the point where 9/10 times she goes to the kid asking to be pet. 1/20 times she is uncomfortable but lets them pet, 1/20 she tries to hide. That was in about 4 months of work. I am optimistic that she will be at 99/100 soon. And this was with her NEVER letting a kid pet her before I started working on the issue. Yours is only afraid occasionally! It should be easy! :)
 

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This list is not really all that useful. You will also see all of these behaviors i n fearful dogs who may or may not have been abused (genetic shyness) and dogs that are unsocialized or incorrectly socialized.

so.

behaviors you will likely see from physical abuse cases:


turning the head rapidly from side to side in presence of fear trigger

licking lips obsessively

obsessive chewing

on leash dog may be walking fine and suddenly attempt to dart off to the side

a sort of half sit/half down. dog's butt is on ground, forelegs splayed out, making the body lower than a normal sit.

obsessive shivers.


aggression



it could be the fear aggression of a formerly abused dog.

or it could just be defensive drive. personally, to me it sounds more like the latter.


to stop her, you'd need to identify the real common theme in all the scenarios. one thing that each situation shares.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks for the replies, everyone. I think I was hasty in suspecting abuse; I had the same reaction again this weekend, this time to a guy flying a kite. Unless she was once attacked by a five-foot kite shaped like an F-16, this seems to be a clear indicator that it's a socialization issue rather than abuse.

That said, though, I still can't find a discernable pattern other than the fact that it only happens with men. We live in a high-rise in a dense neighborhood, so she encounters literally hundreds people without incident every day (sometimes thousands; I live six blocks from Wrigley Field, and have taken her on walks on game days. She doesn't exhibit a hint of nervousness even when surrounded by a throng of drunken Cubs fans). I really and truly have no idea what sets her off.
 

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My dog has very random reactions to men also. He will be fine with everyone we see for days and days, and then someone sets him off. There is absolutely no detectable pattern and, only once, the reaction was to a woman. I am starting to think my dog has some kind of other sense, that he knows when someone is too intense or unbalanced.

I know that my dog spent his early puppy-hoood in a kennel situation with less than ideal socialization. I think this answers why he has some issues. I also think he is temperamentally sensitive and very aware of what is going on in the people around him. I watch other dogs that seem blissfully happy no matter what is going on around them. My dog, on the other hand, seems to be a barometer for the mood of those around him, both people and dogs........
 

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I've decided it's not worth my time to speculate too much.

I've had hope for about 2 months, she has only really barked at men, several of them. No children, only one other dog out of dozens. One woman but she was really acting weird and pretty threatening. I would have barked too she was freaking me out.

She reacts a bit poorly to being tied out when I'm working in the yard, but she obviously prefers it to being in the house when I'm outside and being loose is not an option.

But who knows, maybe a man tied her out and beat her?

Doesn't really matter. All I can do is learn to read her, learn her personality and behavior and work from there.

Speculating about past abuse is only useful for the entertainment value of pondering the possibilities usually. If you actually did know her real detailed history, it might skew the thinking with emotion and do more harm than good in the long run.
 

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Speculating about past abuse is only useful for the entertainment value of pondering the possibilities usually. If you actually did know her real detailed history, it might skew the thinking with emotion and do more harm than good in the long run.
While that's certainly a possibility, I also think it could lend some insights, especially if you're really at a loss for identifying triggers, etc.

Also when you first get the dog, if you find out, you can have a head start on what's going to set the dog off (I wish I knew that for Wally to be sure - I could have immediately started playing "look at that" or the like for kids or men or dinner trays, etc).
 

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Speculating about past abuse is only useful for the entertainment value of pondering the possibilities usually. If you actually did know her real detailed history, it might skew the thinking with emotion and do more harm than good in the long run.
Only if the trainer is emotional about it. Like any investigation, knowing more facts is better than less. A logical course of action can then be more easily planned.
 

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Only if the trainer is emotional about it. Like any investigation, knowing more facts is better than less. A logical course of action can then be more easily planned.
I don't know if I agree with that. I once had a dog who was petrified of storm drains. He would cross to the other side of the street on walks if he saw a storm drain and would always eye it suspiciously until it was out of site. Now, I couldn't care less if he likes storm drains or not and it was no big deal to just walk on the other side of the street, but if I wanted to desensitize him to storm drains would it have really mattered why he had that fear?
 

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I don't know if I agree with that. I once had a dog who was petrified of storm drains. He would cross to the other side of the street on walks if he saw a storm drain and would always eye it suspiciously until it was out of site. Now, I couldn't care less if he likes storm drains or not and it was no big deal to just walk on the other side of the street, but if I wanted to desensitize him to storm drains would it have really mattered why he had that fear?
Wow, this brings back memories. :D It took us a long time to figure out that the reason our new dog didn't want to walk past the end of the driveway was because there was a storm drain there. I imagine that he was afraid of the storm drain for the same reason he was afraid of trash barrels, and everything else he had never seen before. Now he still glances at storm drains when we pass but, the other day my DH came home from a walk and announced that Cherokee WALKED OVER a storm drain. Oh, the pride..........
 

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Discussion Starter #15 (Edited)
I agree about the worthlessness of speculation, but in my case, I'm trying to figure out what the trigger is; if I knew her past, I might be able to filter out some of the causes. But since I don't, you're right - spending time to figure it out is just wasting time better spent on observing & identifying the triggers.

Like I said, I live in a bustling neighborhood of a large city, so my dog literally encounters hundreds to thousands of people on a daily basis, usually with no reaction. It might even be different stimuli for each incident, in which case I'm really hosed (though I'm pretty sure the dude with the kite and the homeless guy, it was 'giant kite' and 'psychological disorder'). Given the small percentage of people she reacts to, it shouldn't be too hard to figure it out, but, thus far, the only consistent thing I've noticed is a 'Y' chromosome.

As much as I'd like to surround myself with only women between the ages of 19 and 25 and 1/2, I just don't think that's going to work. *sigh*
 

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read the post again...

it wasn't meant to be definitive as in "You WILL see these behaviors in abused dogs"

just some stuff I've noted as common themes from dogs who were known beyond a doubt to have been abused.

not a strict guideline...just personal observations...as is most of what I've posted.
 

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I agree about the worthlessness of speculation, but in my case, I'm trying to figure out what the trigger is; if I knew her past, I might be able to filter out some of the causes. But since I don't, you're right - spending time to figure it out is just wasting time better spent on observing & identifying the triggers.

Like I said, I live in a bustling neighborhood of a large city, so my dog literally encounters hundreds to thousands of people on a daily basis, usually with no reaction. It might even be different stimuli for each incident, in which case I'm really hosed (though I'm pretty sure the dude with the kite and the homeless guy, it was 'giant kite' and 'psychological disorder'). Given the small percentage of people she reacts to, it shouldn't be too hard to figure it out, but, thus far, the only consistent thing I've noticed is a 'Y' chromosome.

As much as I'd like to surround myself with only women between the ages of 19 and 25 and 1/2, I just don't think that's going to work. *sigh*
The way we have dealt with it is to keep him in a heel whenever we are passing new people. I watch him and, if he makes even the slightest nervous twitch, I ask for a look, which means focus on my eyes. If that doesn't relax his posture completely, I ask for a sit and treat him as the person walks by. We have been working for 2 1/2 years to figure out what it is about the random people that make him nervous, but there really is not a pattern that we can discern. I hope you have more luck than us......
 

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Let's see, I'm walking my dog and she fires up at different men that may or may not be staring at me and large or small men.:eek: I'm from Chicago a long time ago Lincoln/Fullerton/Halsted area. If I had a dog like that I would have cherished her and every time she fired up at strangers I would have been throwing her small chunks of steak.:D
 

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I don't know if I agree with that. I once had a dog who was petrified of storm drains. He would cross to the other side of the street on walks if he saw a storm drain and would always eye it suspiciously until it was out of site. Now, I couldn't care less if he likes storm drains or not and it was no big deal to just walk on the other side of the street, but if I wanted to desensitize him to storm drains would it have really mattered why he had that fear?
Was it just storm drains, or did it include gutters and manholes? Was it a specific type or any metal opening on the street? Was she afraid of it all the time or just when water was running down the drain? Knowing the underlying reason would speed up the solution.

In your case it probably was just storm drains. But, let's take a hypothetical situation where the previous owner had a pool with a waterfall and he fell in and slide down the waterfall and panicked to get out. Fast forward, a few years and you end up adopting this dog. Now you notice that this dog is fearful of gutters so you desensitize him to it. Then you notice he doesn't like hydrants either so you desensitize him to that as well. One day you walk by someone washing their car and the dog starts trying to get away from the man with the hose. Then you try to speculate maybe he doesn't like certain men. All the while, the real underlying reason why the dog doesn't like any of these things is really the sound of running water. So you can run your self ragged desensitizing him to all these specific objects when the underlying reason was something else. In this situation, I rather know because I would like to address the root of the problem.
 

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Was it just storm drains, or did it include gutters and manholes? Was it a specific type or any metal opening on the street? Was she afraid of it all the time or just when water was running down the drain? Knowing the underlying reason would speed up the solution.

In your case it probably was just storm drains. But, let's take a hypothetical situation where the previous owner had a pool with a waterfall and he fell in and slide down the waterfall and panicked to get out. Fast forward, a few years and you end up adopting this dog. Now you notice that this dog is fearful of gutters so you desensitize him to it. Then you notice he doesn't like hydrants either so you desensitize him to that as well. One day you walk by someone washing their car and the dog starts trying to get away from the man with the hose. Then you try to speculate maybe he doesn't like certain men. All the while, the real underlying reason why the dog doesn't like any of these things is really the sound of running water. So you can run your self ragged desensitizing him to all these specific objects when the underlying reason was something else. In this situation, I rather know because I would like to address the root of the problem.
While I agree, it would be nice to know exactly what history a dog has.. But a rescue dog your not ever likely to know the past history. You can drive yourself crazy trying to imagine some past event.

In my case I thought maybe it was men with something in their hand, until the last few were empty handed. They were all approaching though, and it was a fear based thing I believe, not really aggressive just a single "I don't trust you" kind of bark. It disarmed me at first as it seemed way out of character One guy was even squatting and his toddler was petting her.

All I can do is observe, and try to see a common trigger. There's no way I can ever more then suspect an original event or cause, if there even is one.

You never know what can set a dog off. I had one dog with a huge fear of plastic garbage bags, simply because one blew up off the road at her in the wind on a walk one day. You'd think someone abandoned her in one as a pup or tried to suffocate her with one something.

Another was a candle holder I have carved like a face with glass eyes. After years of walking right past it she freaks out because the candle flame flickering through the eyes freaked her out for some reason. Forever more she growled at it and wouldn't stay in the same room with it for years..

I'm going to try recruiting men to approach Hope in non threatening ways and give her treats etc. to try to help, trying to speculate what caused it is a fools errand for me I think. It could be a reaction to an SPCA guy who seized her for all I know.
 
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