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Discussion Starter #1
I've been working hard at socializing Nala with all kinds of people and she's doing really well except for one thing. When on walks, she will randomly start growling and barking at certain people. It's unprovoked, and she's fine with everyone else around.

Today for example: after walking past multiple houses with people and dogs visible, she starts growling and barking at one particular couple. They were just sitting outside doing nothing. She didn't lunge, and she kept walking with me, but she was still barking and stuff.

The other day, we walked past a softball field, and she didn't care about anyone there except one guy sitting in a chair with his back to us. She barked and growled then too.

Basically what I'm wondering, is if this is normal, or if there is something I can do to help her get over it. I just find it odd that it's only certain people, and she seems to even be able to pick them out from a crowd and decide she doesn't like them.
 

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Correct her when she does it, so she knows you do not approve, with a firm correction appropriate to her age, size and temperament. Follow up the correction by asking for a behavior you do approve up, such as some heeling, sits, or downs (alternating sits and downs are often called "doggy pushups"). Then reward this appropriate behavior.

But, in addition, try and figure out what her triggers might be. Hats? Different race? Height? Weight? Anything no matter how insignificant it may seem that might be a trigger. If you can figure out what triggers the reaction you can start working to desensitize her.
 

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That reaction/response is usually because the dog has been allowed to set the 'rules of engagement'....who's nice...not so nice...etc. Visualize your walk....where is the dog? Out front....making the decisions/setting the 'rules'?
Don't get me wrong....the dog walking out front isn't bad per se but, they don't get to make the rules by barking/lunging/growling. They need to learn that you get to do the meet and greets first and they have to follow....looking to you...waiting their turn.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
That reaction/response is usually because the dog has been allowed to set the 'rules of engagement'....who's nice...not so nice...etc. Visualize your walk....where is the dog? Out front....making the decisions/setting the 'rules'?
Don't get me wrong....the dog walking out front isn't bad per se but, they don't get to make the rules by barking/lunging/growling. They need to learn that you get to do the meet and greets first and they have to follow....looking to you...waiting their turn.
When she has this reaction, she's right by my side, and we aren't even greeting the people. They are just sitting down within eyesight of the street we are walking down and she does it. Now, she never lunges though she just kinda stops and growls/barks. It's not a very loud or intimidating bark (she's 4 months) but it's not her play bark (which is much louder than this bark).

Even the yappy poodle next door and the min pin that lives behind us (who she's only met through the fences, the neighbors aren't very friendly) never made her growl. The most they get is a play bow and some playful barks. She doesn't bark when people come to the door, even if Elvis decides to bark.
 

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Dogs, like humans don't like everyone they meet. There may be something they do or maybe something she sees not related to the people that frightens her. You don't want to punish her for growling. Growling is a warning that she doesn't like something. If you prevent her from growling, one time she won't give a warning growl & may just bite. It's better to distract her from these people with food treats or a play with a toy.
 

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I agree with Dogsforme...you absolutely do not want to correct her at all for this behavior. As young as she is it's probably fear-based to some degree, and correcting her just exasperates the problem. Inappropriately applied punishment techniques create a lot of problems in dog training (and many other types of learning).

Personally I would recommend reading Control Unleashed (Leslie McDevitt) or Click to Calm (Emma Parsons) as a preventative and early intervention measure.

Barring that, work on your dogs ability to focus on you and redirect to you...starting in low-distraction areas and moving up to situations that might trigger the undesired response, praising heavily for passing by calmly or keeping her attention on you.

If you think it's safe, when she is concerned about someone you could let her calm down and refocus using your redirecting techniques (preferably to a sit or down) and ask the target person to toss treats to her without making eye contact or approaching her so that she has an untheatening positive association. As she gains confidence, reinforce her positive response by having them tossed from a shorter distance and, when she is looking forward to her reward, hand them to her directly.
 

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The idea is to set boundaries on your dog's behavior. Whether your dog naturally likes or dislikes certain people is not a boundary. The boundary is that you set the terms of her interaction with people and that she is not allowed to show hostility.

I'm going to assume that you yourself aren't hostile to these people.

Therefore, this behavior is intolerable. Correct it immediately and divert your dog's attention from the target. End of story.

Any diversion will work. But the best one is to teach a "Look at That" command. This will allow your dog to view a target as you instruct her to under your control.

This should be taught routinely to "hard case" dogs but there is no reason not to teach it to any dog - it is never a bad thing to have it in your behavior bag.

The idea that it is somehow a good thing for a dog to growl at people or at other dogs is nonsense. Yes - some dogs will growl or show other warning signs as a preliminary before attacking. But some dogs won't. And some dogs will warn sometimes and not at other times. Warning behaviors are always threats in some sense and you should keep that in mind.

There are different kinds of growls but unless you are very experienced dealing with levels of aggressiveness you should not try to figure that out.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks for all your replies :) I haven't been punishing her for the behavior, just trying to redirect her focus. Since it's only happened twice, I haven't had much of a chance to work on that, and I don't want to force her into a situation where she's scared and growling.

Poly- I think I will teach the "look at that" command. It would probably help alot, since she's so young and curious. She tends to get distracted by things she shouldn't and telling her to look at something else could help with that as well.
 

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Poly- I think I will teach the "look at that" command. It would probably help alot, since she's so young and curious. She tends to get distracted by things she shouldn't and telling her to look at something else could help with that as well.
The "look at that!" command is the basis for most of the Controlled Unleashed book above. Granted the premise it to teach the dog to self-sooth and to put desensitization on cue rather than to command the dog to do things because you said so by gum, but the cue is for the same behavior as what Poly was saying even if the mindset is not.
 
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