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Discussion Starter #1
We have a 4.5 year old Lab who has a problem with anxiety. It's negatively affecting us and him in 2 ways:

1) He'll go outside to relieve himself, but if he's left out there alone (in a fenced in back yard) for more than a few minutes once he's done, he noes nuts. He's chewed and scratched up the entire wooden frame around our back door. It's a nice yard with different areas (grass, dirt, trees, toys, etc) and a garage for him to go into but he just sits at the door and whines. The vet gave us some tranquilizers for him when he was younger but they didn't help and we didn't like the idea of medicating him. If we go out for a few hours and leave him in the house, he's fine. He won't destroy things there.

2) We recently opened a shop and because of #1 have to take him with us. Whenever a customer walks in, he jumps up and starts barking and growling. The more attention he gets, the more he does it. We normally just tell people to pretend he's not there. When they listen,. within 5 minutes he's sniffing them and becomes friendly. He wont bite anyone - if they try to touch him before he's ready, he just runs away. The only time he doesn't behave this way is with children - whom he loves. They can jump all over him, even if he doesn't know them, and he eats it up. Unfortunately, his behavour with adults has scared a few people away and we cannot afford this.

He's behaved like this since we got him from the Humane Society when he was 12 weeks old. He went through a training class and was fine in every other sense. He's great off the leash. He listens, comes when called, and won't even run off after a cat or other animal.

I hope someone can give us some suggestions. My wife is getting quite upset with him due to his behavour with customers.

Thanks,

WB
 

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Why can't he just stay in the house while you're gone? He's obviously more comfortable there, and he's actually safer too.

If he's food motivated, I'd be feeding him out in the yard and giving him treat-stuffed toys out there too. If he isn't finding it interesting himself, MAKE it interesting for him.

As for the store, this is a definite case of where your customers throwing treats to him will make him feel better, but I don't really feel like it's appropriate for that environment. I'd leave him home or in a back room where he won't be bothered.
 

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Leaving him home, in the house, would pro'lly be detrimental in the long-run as we are at work for 10-11 hours a day and don't always have the opportunity to come home and let him out. We do occasionally leave him when we know we can get back in 3-4 hours. I'm afraid that if we left him home regularly for long periods that it would start new bad behaviors.

Bringing him to work with us isn't a problem in itself as we run a pet friendly, tropical fish / aquarium shop (www.mondoaquatics.com). The only problem is the barking and growling when people walk in. We've tried asking customers to give him treats but until he's comfortable with them, he just shies away and wont take the food (and he's _extremely_ food motivated). It seems, the more they try to be friendly with him, the more he barks and growls. Even if they get down to the ground on his level, he does the same - bark, growl, and run away if they try to touch him.

The only way to avoid it is to just completely pretend he's not there. Then he just sneaks up behind the person, sniffs them a few times, and everything is fine. Most people just don't get over the being scared part enough to ignore him though.

We've tried positive reinforcement when he does behave in front of customers. We praise him and give treats. But 5 minutes later, he back at it when the next person walks through the door. I've tried distracting him by giving him a poke on the shoulder or rear hip and making a noise when he starts. If I can see the person walking to the door before they actually get inside, I can prepare and tell him to 'stay' as they walk in. This works until I ultimately have to leave the office and go help the customer. After a few minutes of staying, he eventually sneaks out and starts his lunacy.

The biggest problem is when we're either busy or don't see approaching customers. That is when he really has opportunity to scare them. Even though we tell the customer to just ignore him and that he won't bite, all they see (and rightly so) is a 100 pound black dog with big teeth growling at them.

We've tried scolding him putting him in a closed room for a time-out when he misbehaves. Sometimes this works for a short time but usually after a few minutes he's whining, scratching and jumping at the other side of the door.
I usually wait for a lull in this before letting him back out as I don't want him to think that behavior is acceptable either.

I'm looking to correct/stop this behavior, not for a solution that involves finding a different place for him to stay all day. I otherwise enjoy having him there with us and feel safer when I have to leave my wife alone at the shop when he's there.

Thanks again,

WB
 

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Scolding will do no good and might actually make him more fearful if you continue to do it.

Honestly, the best way to counter this stuff is to a) reduce the dog's level of anxiety and b) slowly bring back in the scary object/person at a pace that best suits the dog. By barking and growling, he is vocalizing it loud and clear that he is uncomfortable with the situation. His refusal of food is a HUGE clue that he is immensely nervous inside. As for breaking stays, how can you expect him to stay when he is very afraid of someone that is coming?

Fear is the sort of thing that there is no easy fix to. It takes a long time, careful planning, and even THEN the dog might never reach 100%.

At the least, I think he should have some time to himself in the store, perhaps in a back room where he can lay on a bed or in a crate and eat a stuffed Kong. When people come in, YOU might want to try giving him treats if he won't take them from the stranger. You can also try to have a friend (who he doesn't know) practice coming in and out of the store and not paying him any mind.

Believe me, I know how hard dealing with fear is. I've been rehabbing fear in my own dog for the past year. The best advice I can give you is to listen to your dog - he is telling you plain and clear how is he feeling. Rehabbing fear is the kind of thing where you must be able to pay attention to your dog almost all of the time. If people are coming in and he's loose and you can't tend to him, the problem will never be solved.

You may want to look into a behaviorist, but I have a feeling that they're going to tell you a lot of the same things as I'm saying to you here.
 
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