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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Lila - our big bernese/poodle cross is a fun and good natured dog. She likes most people, except old ladies wearing hats, which is totally weird but we are working to get around that. My cute little elderly lady neighbours are helping me. I am not worried about that - we'll get there.

One thing that is becoming a bit of a problem is this: when we are out after dark, and there is someone nearby, she will take a wide stance and bark a loud and low warning bark for me. That's fine and in the bernese part of her nature. I always accepted that and would briefly 'thank' her and calm her down. No harm done. This has generally, though not always, been occurring within her territory (right outside our house).

Lately though, she is taking things to the next level by actually confronting strangers. This happens almost every time. She will woof and woof and walk right up to them with a low growly woof. People that know dogs put out their hand and the next thing you know Lila has made a new friend. It is actually cute because she transforms from a big guard dog to a big friendly puppy within about 3 seconds.

People that do not know dogs need to be rescued - I have to pull her away. She has never bitten anyone or snarled or anything like that, but still - it is not good. It is embarrassing for us and very stressful for the poor guy (or girl) just parking his car and walking home in the evening. I always apologize and the responses vary from "oh don't worry - she just wants to play" to a terrified glare from the passer-by as they have seen their life pass before their eyes. I used to say "don't worry she's just a puppy", but now realize that if you really don't know dogs that is small solace - the individual is bound to feel little relief in anticipating they are about to be viciously mauled by a young dog rather than an old one.

So far I have been avoiding taking her out at night off-leash - even though she is a star during the day off leash. But from time to time this is an issue even on-leash because someone will walk by to find a big dog woofing at them. Sometimes I do not see the poor pedestrian coming! I hate seeing them get a fright.

Thoughts? This more extreme protective behavior also seems to have coincided with her first heat cycle, so I suppose that could have something to do with it, but I would like to extinguish this form of the behavior if possible. I mean, if someone were to come into our house I would want her to react this way, but pedestrians need to be able to use the sidewalk without being harassed by this big dumb dog!

Any ideas?


D
 

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First thing to think of is if she has issues with her eye sight making her not be able to see as easily at night causing things to appear scarier than they are. Bernese and poodles can be prone to eye issues
Secondly, you might want to take some reactive dog classes or work with a trainer. She's worried about the people approaching her. I wouldn't take it as protective, but more of a 'I better act aggressive before they're aggressive to me and try to hurt me.'
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks. Next time we are at the vet I will look into the eyedight thing. I do think it is protective behavior though. It happens when people are walking across the street as well. Of course you could be right.
 

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Like Asher said, make sure to have her examined for a medical problem.

If she is a puppy and this rather suddenly cropped up, she may be going through one of the later fear stages, where they suddenly become worried about things that hadn't bothered them before. If this has been going on for some time (longer than a few weeks), she is likely a reactive dog or a leash reactive dog. It sounds like she is apprehensive of people approaching her, and you should treat it as such. Continuing to put her in those situations WILL make it worse. Puppies are often joyful and outgoing, but as they age they may become more and more threatened by strangers approaching them. The Bernese side of your dog is "aloof with strangers" which can, become "afraid of strangers" if your breeder was careless with choosing her breeding stock's temperament.

As your dog ages and matures, it may get better, but it also may get worse. I would enroll in a reactive dog class with a positive, rewards based trainer to get this under control as quickly as possible. The early you begin training your dog to seek you out for comfort and direction, the better.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks. Rather than panic, I have started to try to extinguish this behavior with treats, and we are making some progress even with just one session.
D
 

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Thanks. Rather than panic, I have started to try to extinguish this behavior with treats, and we are making some progress even with just one session.
D
Take a look at the reactive dog sticky at the top of the Dog Training forum. It has plenty of useful information and links to additional resources to help you.
 

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On this forum most folks want a quick fix. Understandably so, people don’t have a lot of time to solve issues. Much less for deep training. But know that it’s easier for you, to get inside your dog’s head, than it is for her to get inside yours! Meaning, you’ve got a lot of varying conditions written into your comment. Sometimes what she does is okay, or sort of. She doesn’t mean harm, sometimes a little warning, but not to worry about hats, little old ladies. Actually you like her sense of protection …. etc., etc.. . She’s reading a lot of different cues off of you, because that’s all she has to do in her life. Is react to you. And every single interaction with you (believe or not, for good or bad) is “attention” from you which is what she wants!

Couple of things to consider. Her puppy view of life is maturing. A once simple existence has just gotten a lot more complicated. And her compulsion (instinct) to make choices has grown along with it. It’s not the heat cycle itself, but the process of maturing, and gaining maternal instincts.

Dogs learn through repetition and consistency. Dogs also learn through (often unintended) permissions. They test, it works, they repeat. And when there's a payoff, all the better. In your mind, you have to decide which of her behaviors (which side of her personality) takes precedence. Do you want her fun and spontaneous? Or do you need to predict her? Because she only knows the difference between family (her “group”) and those who aren’t. Whether ladies are wearing hats, guys are parking cars, or they're people with unfamiliar scents, is all questionable to your dog, and triggers reaction. Everything is foreign to her, as she is figuring out the world. At the moment she’s “resource guarding” (you). You are her priority, and she’s making “canine” decisions (unfortunately) all alone. Your series of corrections, per differing incidents, can be confusing. And the only thing she’s really learning …. is that you have the power to say no.

Personally (unless it’s a completely trained) I wouldn’t want a beautiful dog that size, and off leash, to approach anyone, much less with a low, growl. That's just not a good condition. And then having her decide whether or not to be friendly. I just read a comment (on DF I think) where it’s recommended that NO one should be allowed to approach your dog, much less handle it. That means training the dog to keep a safe distance from others. It’s part of “Good Citizenship Training.” The dog should be walking and heeling at your side. Pausing with you. And proceeding with you. Following your lead.

And if you do choose to mingle, the dog would do so on your instruction to “sit” and “wait” (not move). In other words (to the dog) you are in charge. (One) you’re teaching her to focus on you! (Two) teaching the dog to follow your decisions, and not be making independent decisions on her own. So with you being in charge at all times, that will actually be more reassuring to the dog, giving her confidence that she doesn’t have to choose “fight” or “flight” if it came to that. In fact, you are protecting her (not in reverse).

As you are teaching her to “sit” and “wait” … and she is learning to do so reliably over and over and over again, then move up the training into the middle of distractions. Mark the behavior with a VERY high value treat. (It can count as part of her meal). “Sit, wait” (the minute she does, give food)! Charge your mark, so she knows the exercise will be fun, and do it over and over twenty times. Then build duration into it! Sit, wait (she does) but don’t treat until you give a release word. “Done” (then treat only on that word)!

First you have to teach this behavior at home (of course). Can do it through marker training. A friendly, motivating, fun, rewarding system that captures the dog’s attention (which is short) while not wearing her out with long sessions of boring commands. Say you’re watching TV. Once she knows “sit” and “wait” call her over, and mark success with a treat. Do this randomly all through the day. Build in the duration. Then move it outside with distractions. In the yard. Then on a long leash (with a friend). Then with unfamiliar people.

Training just takes time when you want to cement that behavior into her being.

By the way, she’s not a big dumb dog at all! You’ve got one of the brightest mixes al’round. A dog bred for “working” (working on command) crossed with a Poodle (well known for independent thinking). And boy, do you ever want to put a lid on that kind of behavior ... as soon as you can! Speaking from experience (30 yrs. of it). ��
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
If anyone other than me read the post from Pacificsun, and the other excellent responses from other members on this thread, you might like to read this page about the basics of clicker training (I did not know what 'charging the mark' meant, for example):

https://www.training-your-dog-and-you.com/Charging_the_clicker.html

I know there are lots of resources out there. I found this one to be particularly good for a beginner.

Dave
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 · (Edited)
One thing we have started doing is going out in the early evening, which is the time she has been a little jittery. This is early dusk - I am not ready to do this after dark.

From time to time I will give her a treat for walking nicely. If I see another person/dog that I think will trigger her, I will wait for her to see the person and become alert. When I can, I catch it before she growls (her woof starts with a low growl and it then escalates). Then, and this is the trick for me, I do some training - sit/down/stay/whatever in order to earn a treat. This makes it clear to her that even when someone is there, it is business as usual and nothing to worry about. It also prevents the misunderstanding that I am rewarding her for growling. I will drop the leash and do a little 'session'. She is very focused, and I feel no danger of her running off or anything. By the time we are done, the potentially triggering stimulus is either gone, or better yet, she has subconsciously been desensitized to it by virtue of being exposed to it during the training session. It becomes non-novel, and therefore not a threat and trigger.

We have done this a few times and it seems to be helping.
 

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Have you taken her to the vet to have her eyes checked? Both Bernese Mountain Dogs and Standard Poodles are prone to Progressive Retinal Atrophy, and one of the earlier signs can be trouble seeing at night. If she is only acting like this at night, I would be very concerned about vision loss, especially if it's something that has just recently started.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 · (Edited)
Very worried about that too. No issues were detected when we had her worked up at 6 mos. but I am going to the vet on Monday and will draw this to his attention. Any other advice about what to draw to the vet's attention would be welcome. Obviously he will look at her structure and general health, but overall she seems to be doing well. We waited until she had a heat period before considering spaying her (and will get to that this summer), and she has really filled out and seems strong and has a good gait with no soreness or anything. When she was younger she was prone to ear infections but a little vinegar seems to have addressed that, and overall things seem good, but this possibility of poor eyesight is concerning.
 

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PRA is one of the diseases screened for in the Embark genetic test. You could do the test if you want certainty about it - a clear eye exam isn't conclusive in a young dog.

It's frustrating that there are still so many dogs out there with it, as such a readily available genetic test can detect even recessive carriers. So, it can be avoided altogether by just not breeding any dog that has PRA, and not breeding together two carriers of PRA.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
sigh - but there is no treatment anyways, we will not be breeding this dog, and we would not give her up...
 
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