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Let me explain my dog's background, breed, and temperment first.

We adopted her from the SPCA at 5 months. She is now 9 months. She's a black labrador mix. We think the mix is either shepard, beagel, or possibly husky. But she LOOKS almost 100% like a lab. Just slightly thinner and more muscular.

Her temperment is very calm and good natured. Even in the SPCA she was labeled as a very 'easy' and well mannered dog. She was completely relaxed, even when all the dogs around her were clearly unstable. My wife and I have been doing alot of research into training and psychology. We watch Cesar Millan, I've read his books, and I understand the pack leader mentality more than the average dog owner I suspect.

Overall, she's a great dog. We always encourage a calm submissive state of mind. She never gets anything unless she is relaxed. She is not fearful, I would describe her as confident. She is VERY high energy. We usually get her about 1-2 hours of vigourous exercise per day.

She walks calmly on her leash. She plays with dogs well. She's not ever aggressive with dogs, she's very well mannered and overall, very well trained.

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BUT. Lately - when we've been taking her out for walks, she has started acting very alert and on guard. Her ears are constantly up and moving. She's not afraid of any of the sounds she hears, but I can tell she's on high alert. It's not a pack leader thing, because she KNOWS I'm the pack leader. I've done a very good job of this. Sometimes when she goes into her high alert stages, I make her sit, sometimes lie down, and wait until she's calm and relaxed before continuing the walk. But it seems like this sometimes amplifies the problem. Once we stop, she seems to sense there's something wrong, and goes into even more of a high alert stage. OR if she does relax, she just reverts back to alert mode as soon as we start walking again.

This has caused a tendancy to bark/growl at random people that she finds intimidating. Sometimes it's someone on the phone, sometimes it's a homeless person who looks a little shady. Sometimes it's a big fur coat etc... She would never attack or bite, but the growling and barking is an undesirable behaviour.

When she does this, I stop, give her my correction sound. Which is a SHHH (like Cesar's). Depending on the intensity of her misbehaviour, I will simply give her a SHHH, or I will stand infront of her and the object she's concerned with and block her. If it's really bad I will crouch down, turn her away from the object and force her to look at me until she calms down. Anytime her ears go up, or her eyes fixate on the thing that's bothering her, I give her a SHHHH and try to revert her attention back to me. If I need to, I will lay her down on her side until she relaxes.

She responds to my corrections, but it hasn't prevented the problem from happening. The other day, she was in a relaxed state of mind, we turned a corner and a grocery store staff member was having a smoke break. He was wearing a flourescent coat and she just exploded with aggressive sounding barking. I can understand that she was just startled... but she scared the crap out of him. She would not attack, but that's not the point. Why can't she just relax?

This seems to happen more often at night, or at dusk.

I should also mention that it's not always when she's in high alert mode. If she's in that state of mind, I can somewhat see how she'd be easily startled. Then all you need to do is prevent that state of mind, which I try and do anyways. But this behaviour also happens sometimes completely randomly, even when she's 100% relaxed. She can be walking perfectly relaxed and then just suddenly explode at random times, at random things.

How do I correct this? Are my corrections I'm using not effective? Should I stop forcing eye contact? Has anyone had this problem before? How can I nip this in the butt?

I realize she's still a puppy. So maybe she's still just learning, and once she calms down a bit, the problem will go away. But what if it doesn't? Is this normal puppy growing pains? Or are these early warning signs of more troublesome temperment issues?

Any help would be appreciated, thank you!
 

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9 months can be a fear period. It can also be when pup's vision changes to include things at a greater distance, so they "notice more". Add to that raging adolescence. Your dog is worried about stuff. Tssting her and forcing her into a down isn't going to make her feel better about stuff. Forget about dominance and pack leaders. Find a good positive reinforcement based trainer who can help you change those situations for her into a positive thing, and give you tools to change the subject for her when she's concerned.
 

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I also have a high-energy large breed pup, he's only 5 months (raised him from 7 weeks). Without some correction, he'll bark at every person and every animal on the street. We are gradually getting it under control. Cesar's patented "shhht" seems to be less effective with enthusiastic puppies, but that's no reason to abandon the concept.

I'm not a big fan of the "alpha roll", maybe if he gets so excited I can't control him otherwise. But if you use it, remember that once you start, you have to hold it until she's completely calm.

"Forcing eye contact"? I haven't read all Cesar's books, so I guess I missed that one. My experience, zero eye contact is better. Interestingly, I find that softly spoken commands are usually more effective than shouted ones.

I noticed you said "Sometimes" you correct a high-energy state. Change that to "Always".

She knows you're stopping because you are concerned (they always know), she just doesn't know why you're concerned. In addition to stopping when her energy level escalates, stop randomly, just for a moment, long enough for her to sit maybe or lie down. And of course always stay calm. She can learn that you can stop for any reason, or no reason, you aren't worried so she doesn't need to be worried.

I also noticed that if I'm paying too much attention to the dog, it seems to make it worse. As if, when he looks up at me and sees me looking down at him, it's a reason to be worried. Eyes forward seems to help.

One other thing I do is, I use a command "with me" (it works whether I say "stay with me" or "come with me", "hey dog, you're with me, remember") which really just means "pay attention to me." It doesn't work in his most excited state, but in the early stages of "alert" mode, he'll turn his head to me when I say it. I always reward it. It's good to have an attention-getter, so you don't have to stop all the time. Quickly taught in a few minutes with a handful of treats.

When we go to a dog park, he acts like every other normal dog, none of the barking we get on our neighborhood walks. That gives me some reassurance that I don't have a serious aggression or dominance problem.
 

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I have a territorial dog reactive dog and have started a class for this issue. We have been taught to play the game "who's that?" It uses clicker training, so the dog has to be pre-trained to the clicker.- This is real easy and you can find loads of info on the net on how to do this.

So we sit up in a bedroom window and wait for people to come by walking their dog. She loves to watch out the window. When a dog comes and she focuses, but is still not over the threshold (out of control) I say "who's that?" then click and treat when she looks at me. A dog that is trained to a clicker if still under the threshold should respond whipping their head towards you since they know something extra yummy is coming. The idea is that when she looks away from the stimulus and at me it stops her behavior from escalating and calms her a bit since she is expecting a treat. After she gets the treat, she goes back to focusing on the dog and showing some signs of distress, so we continue to do this back and forth until the walked dog is out of view. I haven't been doing it long enough to say if it will have a benefit while we are walking, but it does keep her from getting too frenzied in this particular situation. Next, i'm going to try to bring her far out in a Petsmart lot and play this when we see dogs going in and out of the store from afar. I'm assuming after doing this training for some time, she'll start to associate seeing other dogs with treats and praise and the aggitation should eventually fade away, then the clicker and treats can be phased out.

What we are doing is basically a version of "watch" or "look at me" that you may have come across.
 

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I agree with Pawz and Rose. Not only are you very likely dealing with a developmental fear period but using punishment to treat the barking (the symptom), rather than classically conditioning/using positive reinforcement for the fear (the actual problem) is very likely to actually worsen the issue. Reactivity is fear based, it is not about alpha or leadership or calm assertiveness...though staying calm is ALWAYS good for your working with your dog.
Rose's suggestion of the "Look at That" game is a good one. It not only gives your dog something Else to do when she is startled, but works at the same time to classically condition the trigger to be a non trigger. If you look on Youtube there are several videos of people practicing this exercise with their dogs. It comes originally from the book/dvd "Control Unleashed" by Leslie McDevitt.

As for CM.. Well. I think if you have a look around this forum, many of us have pretty strong opinions about his methods. Not his energy, but his methods.
Google: Beyond Cesar Millan for statements from behaviourists, trainers and scientists on their statements on CM and his methods.
 

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I agree with Pawz, Rose, and Cracker. The methods you're currently using, while well intended, could make it worse. You don't want to smother these reactions by him, by forcing him to be calm and submissive. You want to deal with it. I have a reactive dog, worse than yours is at this point, and if I just tried to get him to be calm the way you are, he'd keep reacting badly, in fact, he'd probably get worse.

Getting your dog to focus on you is great! But, doing it by kind of pretending there's nothing for him to be curious or fearful of isn't the way. When your dog is having these reactions, he's also getting a rush of adrenaline. His body chemistry is changing. Instead of asking him to sit, and look, you should probably move him away to a comfortable distance, where he stops reacting. This is called his "threshold". Then, once you're there, use the commands he knows to get him to focus on you, while actually doing something. Sit, then, down, then shake, whatever you've done with him. That way, he's actually doing something physical, instead of just sitting. He's able to work off a bit of that adrenaline and focus on you.

Your puppy is at the age where he might be experiencing a fear period. It's a natural part of his development, and it means that some things may scare him or startle him that never used to before. The way you deal with this can greatly influence how he reacts. Don't become stressed, or frustrated. He's a scared puppy. Move him away, and get him busy on something else.

Moving away is not a surrender, you're not "chickening out" or giving him the idea that you run from your fears. That's what I originally thought. I was given this advice, and I didn't think it made sense. I didn't want my dog to be a scaredy cat, wouldn't avoiding these situations make him MORE fearful? But, the people here have helped immensely. When you move him away, you are taking control of the situation, showing him that you can take care of it, you can take care of him and yourself, and no one is in any danger. This will give him the idea that he doesn't need to be scary (or be scared) and bark and react, because you have it under control.

As for Cesar, I'd really, sincerely recommend that you rethink your adherence to the pack theory. Dogs are not wolves, dogs of today don't travel in packs. They have a social hierarchy among themselves, but that's a bit different. And, they definitely know you are not a dog, so trying to be a pack leader doesn't make sense to them. He may be going along with you, but, most likely because that's his personality.
 

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If your dog were a Cardi, I'd say that they were behaving normally for the breed LMAO! ;-)

Maybe your dog is just very mentally alert and showing suspicion. After all, homeless people don't look normal. They don't smell normal. They probably don't move like a normal person. Your dog is smart and knows this and is just letting you know that he/she senses a problem.

Personally, I'd rather have a mentally alert dog then one that is a dead head. Dead heads are easier to own, but alert dogs are so much more fun to train, because they are so responsive.

If you don't like the suspicion, then you need to work on finding your dog's threshold and work on re-socializing them towards unusual things, especially if you failed to socialize your dog as a puppy towards unusual things.

Have you tried enrolling the dog in casual obedience class? Working with your dog can instill his/her confidance in YOU as an owner, because it builds a bond. It may not solve all of your problems, but an obedient dog that is tuned into its handler is much easier to handle in stressful situations then one who is not.

Nine months is an age where their hormones are kicking into hyperdrive and they're coming into their own personality. It could be another fear period starting up, too.

Ps- Cesar Milan is a savant, but most dog owners are not savants regarding animal behavior. You may want to rethink your training and consider reading authors more like Ian Dunbar, and Patricia McConnell.
 

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Be very careful at this time. As Pawzk9 said, this could be a fear period. Be sure not to subject your dog to scenarios that upsets her during this period, or overly comfort her, or you could have a permanent issue.
 
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