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I have a 1 year and 2 month old Australian Shepherd, Jordan.

My Aussie also seems to only act "aggressive" or on guard, to whomever he chooses is a threat. We can pass by a bunch of people and he might just look or maybe even want to play and be friendly, but all of a sudden he'll go absolutely crazy with someone else! So usually I just tighten my grip on the leash while keeping the leash loose and watch for any signs from him until we pass just in case he decides he wants to lunge at someone (either because he wants to play or because he wants to suddenly become a guard dog).

So tonight, I was outside on a sidewalk talking to one of my friends and a man was approaching to walk by us. Jordan was sitting nicely next to me while I was chatting, but I noticed the man and calmly gave Jordan the "stay" command. The man approached and Jordan continued to sit but look very alertly at the man. I figured since he was sitting, he was obeying his "stay" command; usually when he notices something and goes on alert, he will stand (if he is sitting) and that's my cue to hold on to him. Since he was still sitting, I figured he might just be staring and that's okay with me, since he also often just sits and stares as well. But suddenly, when the man passes behind me...Jordan just LEAPS at him and tried to snap at him! Out of reaction I immediately yanked his leash back and had him lying down (note that I mostly use positive reinforcement training and only positive punishment when he is unresponsive/uninterested). I was so shocked and apologized profusely, he was not hurt and in fact just kept walking and muttering something. I was very upset and blame myself for not being on guard and just holding on to him, but it's really exhausting that I won't know if my dog is going to react badly or just ignore someone during these situations. Sometimes, he will growl if he sees someone from afar, and when he does this I go somewhere else with him, but from my observations, this time he really had no warning I could go by, other than his usual "staring" which has been harmless at other times.

Are there any solutions to this? Is there a reason he is acting like this? He gets walks/playtime/training refresher almost everyday, meets new people and dogs at least once a week. I have tried distraction methods like toys, treats, and "look at me" command, but once he is distracted, nothing will entice him (and only at this time do I resort to popping the leash) I have yet to find a toy or treat that he just has to have more than his "distraction object" (usually other dogs). Any advice, questions, and opinions are welcome, I want to correct this before any worse can come of it. At this point, I really have to just keep avoiding strangers like the plague but I don't want him to misunderstand this as "strangers = danger" or something...

Thanks!!
 

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Where did Jordan come from and how old was he when you got him?

We rescued a 4-5 year-old lab who came from a history of extreme abuse (including being beaten to unconsciousness with a 2x4.) Despite this, he was generally very friendly.

Shortly, though, I started to notice aggressiveness toward seemingly random strangers we'd encounter during our long walks. It turns out they weren't really random.

Cubby displayed an extreme dislike toward men with cigarettes (we suspect he had been burned with lit cigarettes,) men with toolbelts or men with tripods, such as a surveyor or photographer might use. We formed a pretty clear picture of his abuser. It became a relatively simple matter to avoid these triggers by crossing the street or reversing direction.

Cubby was a store dog who went to work with me every day and we did have a couple of dicey incidents. He took exception to a news crew who had come in to interview me on camera about some downtown redevelopment. In another incident, a salesman came in with a still-smoldering cigarette that he had snuffed out just outside, Cubby pinned him up against the wall the moment he came in. He never bit anyone or knocked them down. He just scared the crap out of them.

I had a good idea where his abuser lived and I will admit to regular fantasies about paying him a visit. "Hey, remember that black lab pup you used to abuse? Well, he's 115-pounds now and we'd both like to talk to you about the way you treated him."

It's possible that your dog has a history and those random strangers all have something in common.
 

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The look at that game is more effective when your dog is still under the threshhold. Now that you have a general idea of what his trigger points are, and you know what his alert behavior looks like, you can do distance work with distraction and decrease the distance over time. It involves predicting potential reactions and is a long process.

In a situation like the one you described, in the future, I would opt to start moving away as you see Jordan become aware of a person that will set off triggers. This will provide him with the option to distance himself from people he is uncomfortable around, without having to confront the situation and react inappropriately. I realize you didn't think the person would take the path they did, but if you can predict possible outcomes, then mitigate based on those possibilities, you can provide alternative outcomes and reduce his need to protect himself.

When I learned BAT, one of the components was actually running away from the stimuli when beginning to work through FA. The thought is, if you are running away at the first sign that the dog becomes aware of a "trigger" person, (and making it a fun run) you begin counter-conditioning the dog to the fear stimuli. If you can engage this before the tension starts your dog sees that person as a trigger to a fun game of catch "mom", (then slow down, ask for a sit, facing away from the person, and treat), rather than "oh shoot, here comes something I'm afraid of and may come into my space".
Over time we were taught to phase out the run and just ask for a sit, facing away from the person, etc, etc. If you click, or mark the second he sees the person, then run, your dog should begin looking to you after he notices the person, for a reward and further instruction.

It also might help to consult a good behaviorist who specializes in fear behaviors. Hope this helps.
 

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Cubby's been gone for seven years. My story was just an illustration of what might be going on with the OP's dog, Jordan.
 

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RonE -

Thank you for your response! I'm sorry to hear about Cubby's history, good thing you rescued him from such a terrible situation.

The thing is, I "rescued" Jordan when he was 8 weeks old from a pet store that boasts that they get their pups from breeders. They even gave me papers with basic (vague, really) information from his sire/dam, I think the point was just to prove he's purebred if anything. He was a very shy puppy that I mistook as calm and mellow, and looking back, he was probably freakin' traumatized from being shipped halfway across the country, away from his siblings, and stuck in a display case meeting randoms strangers all day (he was in the store for 2 days before I took him home).

After a few months with him, I noticed some interesting personality quirks so I decided to contact the breeder he came from. I looked up their website and noticed that they were no longer breeding Jordan's Dam (no reason stated). The email I wrote to them just asked about their temperament, living environment, if he was from working lines or not, and what happened to the Dam. Unfortunately, I never heard back from them, which I leaves a sour taste in my mouth. The point is that I really don't know much of his history, and he's been with me since he was a little over 8 weeks old.

A really good point you have though is that he does seem to have a "preference" for his triggers...mostly males, very rarely females (I think he's only growled at one from what I remember), and the more "suspicious" looking they are (wearing a hat, bundled up, carrying something) the bigger chance he'll react badly, especially at night.

3doglady -

That sounds like a really great strategy, I will definitely have to try this with him. He loves games of any sort so I hope this combined with a nice toy will keep him focused on me and realize how much he isn't in danger! I'm on a bit of a budget so I'm in DIY mode for the time being, and hoping he will improve, but if not, I will definitely look for professional help. Thanks so much for such valuable information!
 

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Not to nitpick, but please don't call your dog a rescue! You bought him from a bad situation but the only way that pet stores will stop selling dogs is if people stop buying them.

On topic, I use tons of yummy treats when I'm desensitizing a dog to a stimulus they like. Break out some freeze dried liver or lunchmeat on your walks so he starts to associate strangers with positive reinforcement.
 

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Rescued -

My apologies, I won't use it in that context again. I didn't mean to say he's a rescue dog at all, hence the quotes around it...I do not blatantly tell people in real life that he's an actual rescue, of course, because he is not. I honestly believed that I would never buy a dog from a pet store, until I met Jordan. Our family dog was a rescue (RIP Hiro!) and the other 2 we had I bought from a friend who had puppies. But I've always wondered...if nobody buys the dogs from the pet stores, what happens to those dogs? Don't they deserve a good home too?

Jordan has some freeze dried beef and chicken that he enjoys, and some other treats as well, but for him, once he's locked on to his stimulus, he could care less about the treat. He'll behave and walk by without any problems but when I praise him for it and treat him, he takes it, then spits it back out while looking at the stimulus. Not sure what's going on there. Any other time, he's a saint for some treats! One day I'll find his kryptonite...one day. Thank you for your response, Rescued, I appreciate it very much!
 

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Rescued -

My apologies, I won't use it in that context again. I didn't mean to say he's a rescue dog at all, hence the quotes around it...I do not blatantly tell people in real life that he's an actual rescue, of course, because he is not. I honestly believed that I would never buy a dog from a pet store, until I met Jordan. Our family dog was a rescue (RIP Hiro!) and the other 2 we had I bought from a friend who had puppies. But I've always wondered...if nobody buys the dogs from the pet stores, what happens to those dogs? Don't they deserve a good home too?

Jordan has some freeze dried beef and chicken that he enjoys, and some other treats as well, but for him, once he's locked on to his stimulus, he could care less about the treat. He'll behave and walk by without any problems but when I praise him for it and treat him, he takes it, then spits it back out while looking at the stimulus. Not sure what's going on there. Any other time, he's a saint for some treats! One day I'll find his kryptonite...one day. Thank you for your response, Rescued, I appreciate it very much!
Not a problem! I didnt even notice your quotation marks :) Just as background, pet stores usually just keep marking down the puppies until they sell. Not to my knowledge has a pet store puppy ever been euthanized because they were there too long.

I would almost try treating at long distances (sit, treat, up, keep walking) like at the other end of the street. Slowly move down the street towards the stimulus and when you notice that he is no longer attentive to you, back up and dont go as far next time. If that makes sense.... I have the flu right now so I'm kind of loopy haha.
 

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Just as background, pet stores usually just keep marking down the puppies until they sell. Not to my knowledge has a pet store puppy ever been euthanized because they were there too long.
Aw that's sad :( but definitely a relief to hear they don't euthanize (I would hope they don't kill off what's making them money! ugh) or end up being tossed to a shelter, where they might be euthanized. It would be so much easier if puppies weren't so damn cute. Then it would be a breeze to rid pet stores of their existence.

I think I know what you mean with the treating at a distance. I will definitely try it out with him on our walk later today as well. Thanks again. Please get better soon too! :)
 

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Aw that's sad :( but definitely a relief to hear they don't euthanize (I would hope they don't kill off what's making them money! ugh) or end up being tossed to a shelter, where they might be euthanized. It would be so much easier if puppies weren't so damn cute. Then it would be a breeze to rid pet stores of their existence.

I think I know what you mean with the treating at a distance. I will definitely try it out with him on our walk later today as well. Thanks again. Please get better soon too! :)
The puppy pet store near my house gets in 6-7 puppies per week. they usually start out at 8-900 but I've seen the pups get marked down to as low as 199 if they've been there a while. They all eventually get bought. There's such a high markup on puppies that I guess its still profitable. you can actually look up all large breeder inspection reports on the USDA website if you want more info about your dogs breeder.
 

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I just sent a request for a report, so hopefully I'll get to know more about my breeder or at least the status of the pet shop I bought from.

Also, on our walk today, right when we left the gate there conveniently was a large man with his face wrapped up in a scarf right by us and Jordan definitely noticed him. He was approaching in our direction as well, and from what I know, the way he was dressed (covered face) may set Jordan off. He was too close to do a treat distraction so I initiated my first trial run of "chase mom" game...and it was a success! Woo hoo! I had brought one of his new christmas toys with us this time, a large rubber, purple bone that squeaks; I called his name, and squeaked it to get his attention, and right when he looked at me, I took off and he just totally forgot about the guy! Well, until we stopped. By now we were further down the street (I wish I can give you some measurements but I suck at estimating) but still close enough that Jordan kept looking back at him while we slowed to a walk. So then, I called his name, squeaked again, and he went for his toy, leaping around and having a good time. Much better than worrying about some random stranger walking by, right? Yay! I'm glad that I now have a way of turning spotting a stranger into a fun game to ease him of his fear. Now if this even works when he sees other dogs...we'll be unstoppable. That advice is GOLD!! Thank you!
 

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I just sent a request for a report, so hopefully I'll get to know more about my breeder or at least the status of the pet shop I bought from.

Also, on our walk today, right when we left the gate there conveniently was a large man with his face wrapped up in a scarf right by us and Jordan definitely noticed him. He was approaching in our direction as well, and from what I know, the way he was dressed (covered face) may set Jordan off. He was too close to do a treat distraction so I initiated my first trial run of "chase mom" game...and it was a success! Woo hoo! I had brought one of his new christmas toys with us this time, a large rubber, purple bone that squeaks; I called his name, and squeaked it to get his attention, and right when he looked at me, I took off and he just totally forgot about the guy! Well, until we stopped. By now we were further down the street (I wish I can give you some measurements but I suck at estimating) but still close enough that Jordan kept looking back at him while we slowed to a walk. So then, I called his name, squeaked again, and he went for his toy, leaping around and having a good time. Much better than worrying about some random stranger walking by, right? Yay! I'm glad that I now have a way of turning spotting a stranger into a fun game to ease him of his fear. Now if this even works when he sees other dogs...we'll be unstoppable. That advice is GOLD!! Thank you!
That's great news. I'm so glad to hear it went well. Eventually, you will want to phase that part out. Who wants to spend their walks running away from strangers..... but it's a great start.
 

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3doglady- Yes, I am just happy to finally find a way to divert his attention away in a positive manner :)

Also, not to threadjack my own thread, but I received my breeder inspection report today and the news is not good...turns out this Aussie breeder supposedly run by a woman and her family, is run together with a few other people in a large puppy mill type setting. Honestly, I should've known better, since he IS from a store. The reports stated that the Australian Shepherd kennel was two small for the two dogs they kept in there, and the conditions of the kennel were crude. "The lack of housing in these enclosures does not properly shelter all dogs from the elements or allow the dogs to sit, stand, and lie in a normal manner." I am so sad right now! Their website makes it seem like they are a big happy family with Australian Shepherds running around on their ranch, but the truth is, they are caged up along with a variety of other dogs (reports listed Bloodhounds, French Bulldogs, Boxers, etc.) in an environment that welcomes disease and discomfort. I already know puppy mills are terrible places, but I think the shock is really from being misled to think my dog came from a loving home.

I gave Jordan the biggest hug after this. And all he wanted to do is offer me his rope toy to play. Dogs are so amazing.
 
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