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Hi everyone,

My pup, who used to be the friendly wiggle butt of the neighborhood has recently become much more cautious and concerned. He was so carefree and easy going, and wanted to meet everyone, and that has changed.

About 3 months ago (he was 14 months), he started overly focusing on humans at a distance. Like, he would see movement two blocks away, realize it was a human and just stare and refuse to walk. Occasionally, he would even lay down on the ground, as if he's stalking them. Once they were out of eyesight, he would continue on. He also is very aware of every sound, ever garage door opening, every car door, and just stands and watches. Since then, this behavior has become more common. Whereas before he would do this to maybe a quarter of the people he sees, now he does it to half. If someone he is concerned about comes close, he sometimes barks in alarm. While people with hats, hoodies, large backpacks, and men tend to be the most common targets of his concern, sometimes it seems completely random to me. He has always been a very observant/curious dog (stopping to watch every movement in the neighborhood), but whereas before he'd want to say hi to every single person, now it has transitioned into caution/concern.

I am trying to work on this using all the typical methods: desensitization, counter conditioning, focus exercises, etc. However, I haven't seen much progress just yet.

He has been socialized so much throughout his life. We go on lots of walks in the neighborhood, lots of day trips, he comes to the office downtown everyday, etc. so it's not that he hasn't been exposed to this throughout his life. I know that puppies do go through fear period, but this seems to be too long to be a fear period, and he seems too old for that too. So my question is not so much about how to train him out of this (unless folks have more unique suggestions than what I listed above), but more about how and why this happened?

I've never before had a dog at this age, so don't have much of a frame of reference for how they develop. I always assumed that to be a scaredy-cat kind of dog, they must've experienced some kind of trauma or just been undersocialized. I feel like I've done everything by the book, trying to be an excellent puppy parent and feel like I failed him somehow. Why is this happening? Is this something I could've prevented? Where did I go wrong??? :redface:

Thanks in advance,
- DAPP (Defeated and Ashamed Puppy Parent)
 

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Hi everyone,

My pup, who used to be the friendly wiggle butt of the neighborhood has recently become much more cautious and concerned. He was so carefree and easy going, and wanted to meet everyone, and that has changed.
He is growing up.

About 3 months ago (he was 14 months), he started overly focusing on humans at a distance. Like, he would see movement two blocks away, realize it was a human and just stare and refuse to walk. Occasionally, he would even lay down on the ground, as if he's stalking them. Once they were out of eyesight, he would continue on. He also is very aware of every sound, ever garage door opening, every car door, and just stands and watches. Since then, this behavior has become more common. Whereas before he would do this to maybe a quarter of the people he sees, now he does it to half. If someone he is concerned about comes close, he sometimes barks in alarm. While people with hats, hoodies, large backpacks, and men tend to be the most common targets of his concern, sometimes it seems completely random to me. He has always been a very observant/curious dog (stopping to watch every movement in the neighborhood), but whereas before he'd want to say hi to every single person, now it has transitioned into caution/concern.
I wonder what YOU did during all of this. I am guessing YOU became concerned as well and then that fed his concern.. and it is a cycle. You probably stopped.. looked at what he was looking at. If he is concerned today, what do you do?

YOU being non-reactive and acting like it is nothing is your first step. Get out a toy.. get something going.. get him to refocus on you and make it HAPPY.. a game.

Your dog may have entered a fear period and you may not have handled it well. Since you have no real idea the genetic make up of your dog, the fears and lack of recovery are probably genetically based. No man has abused this dog (no one has abused this dog) and he is acting like this. MOST of the time when dogs are like this NO ONE abused them. It is largely genetic based. Typically this shows up around 16-20 months (IME).

I am trying to work on this using all the typical methods: desensitization, counter conditioning, focus exercises, etc. However, I haven't seen much progress just yet.

He has been socialized so much throughout his life. We go on lots of walks in the neighborhood, lots of day trips, he comes to the office downtown everyday, etc. so it's not that he hasn't been exposed to this throughout his life. I know that puppies do go through fear period, but this seems to be too long to be a fear period, and he seems too old for that too. So my question is not so much about how to train him out of this (unless folks have more unique suggestions than what I listed above), but more about how and why this happened?
I do not know what exactly you have done or will do. Socialization is NOT letting every person in the world pet the puppy. If you did that, it can backfire at some point as the dog does not believe you are his advocate (especially a genetically weak dog). I am not saying you did as I do not know. Socializing is NOT letting everyone touch the dog. It is taking the dog out and about. It is about letting dogs see new things. It is about them learning that you will be their advocate and not let everyone touch them or handle them and that you are their safe place.

Again, you may have done all that perfectly. I do not know. The basis, again, is often genetic.

I've never before had a dog at this age, so don't have much of a frame of reference for how they develop. I always assumed that to be a scaredy-cat kind of dog, they must've experienced some kind of trauma or just been undersocialized. I feel like I've done everything by the book, trying to be an excellent puppy parent and feel like I failed him somehow. Why is this happening? Is this something I could've prevented? Where did I go wrong??? :redface:

Thanks in advance,
- DAPP (Defeated and Ashamed Puppy Parent)
Fearful dogs are usually hard wired that way. Getting a mixed breed rescue dog is always a crap shoot. That said, EVERY puppy is a crap shoot. You improve your odds with a well bred dog and a knowledgeable breeder. HOWEVER there are many breeders out there that love their lines and cannot see the issues in temperament (kennel blind). A LOT of AKC Breed Ring dogs with breeders that have been in that breed for years have temperament issues (breeding for one trait.. looks.. ).

Don't be ashamed or upset. You have a dog and the dog is having an issue. NO DOG IS PERFECT. You are asking questions. That is good.

I would, at home, get active with this dog in play. Out on a walk and the dog becomes concerned? Redirect the dog's attention to you and make it fun. If people ask to pet your dog, tell them No and step between the friendly stranger and your dog and then engage your dog with you.

It is hard to explain this with words.. but the point is to make ignoring strangers and finding you to be the interesting thing and the safe zone the best choice for the dog to make.
 

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Thanks for the response.

A few things: as to breed, he is half golden retriever and half AmStaff. I don't want to get into the whole rescue vs breeder debate, but for me rescue is the only way to go, with all of the challenges that may or may not present.

I wonder what YOU did during all of this. I am guessing YOU became concerned as well and then that fed his concern.. and it is a cycle. You probably stopped.. looked at what he was looking at. If he is concerned today, what do you do?

YOU being non-reactive and acting like it is nothing is your first step. Get out a toy.. get something going.. get him to refocus on you and make it HAPPY.. a game.
So, I'm sure that the first time he did it, I was surprised and stopped because this behavior was new and I didn't know what to do. But I went home, did all the reading and researching I could, and by the second time, I was trying to counter condition. I'd see him staring intently at a person and try to make it a party - give him treats, talk in an excited voice, try to get his attention, etc. This is still what I try to do, but most of the time he just freezes. He'll sit down and refuse to move either towards or away from the human he sees many blocks away. He is also so intent on watching the other person, that he's not interested in treats, toys, happy voice, or anything. It's hard to keep him under threshold because with some people he's totally fine when they walk by, and with others, he spots them and stares them down from miles away. Instead of waiting for him to focus on the other person, I try to make it exciting before he's decided that it's someone who needs to be "watched."

What's funny (but I guess not that uncommon) is that during the day, we are downtown and surrounded by lots of humans and it's fine. But in our neighborhood, because it's suburban and there aren't that many people walking around, he'll see one person many blocks away and hyperfocus.

If you're saying he may be hard-wired to be fearful (gosh, I hope it isn't true!), does that mean the training will never really solve it?
Thanks
 

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Thanks for the response.

A few things: as to breed, he is half golden retriever and half AmStaff. I don't want to get into the whole rescue vs breeder debate, but for me rescue is the only way to go, with all of the challenges that may or may not present.
That is fine. Just understand that a dog is the sum of it's genetics FIRST and that training simply helps the dog. In many cases you can USE the genetics to train the dog. But I digress.


So, I'm sure that the first time he did it, I was surprised and stopped because this behavior was new and I didn't know what to do. But I went home, did all the reading and researching I could, and by the second time, I was trying to counter condition. I'd see him staring intently at a person and try to make it a party - give him treats, talk in an excited voice, try to get his attention, etc. This is still what I try to do, but most of the time he just freezes. He'll sit down and refuse to move either towards or away from the human he sees many blocks away. He is also so intent on watching the other person, that he's not interested in treats, toys, happy voice, or anything. It's hard to keep him under threshold because with some people he's totally fine when they walk by, and with others, he spots them and stares them down from miles away. Instead of waiting for him to focus on the other person, I try to make it exciting before he's decided that it's someone who needs to be "watched."

What's funny (but I guess not that uncommon) is that during the day, we are downtown and surrounded by lots of humans and it's fine. But in our neighborhood, because it's suburban and there aren't that many people walking around, he'll see one person many blocks away and hyperfocus.
You may be OVER REACTING and that won't help either. You need to refocus the dog. If that means walking the other way.. and then rewarding when he looks at you, then do that. TOO MUCH activity on your part (and you being stressed over the behavior) can exacerbate things as well.

If you're saying he may be hard-wired to be fearful (gosh, I hope it isn't true!), does that mean the training will never really solve it?
Thanks
His hard wiring may also be the beginning of aggression (you have an Am Staff mix). I do not know. I do not see the dog. Does his ruff come up? Ruff up and tail down is fear. No ruff up and stiff tail with perhaps only the tip wagging is aggression. Read your dog. LEARN to read your dog. It is not as easy as it sounds!

Hard wiring is what it is. Training can help redirect the dog and even mask behavior but the genetics never go away. Never. Ever. In a stressful situation, the dog will default to his hard wiring each and every time. Training MAY mitigate some of that and make the dog easier to handle when he is stressed, but it won't eliminate the behavior the dog has genetically.

Here is a totally different situation. We have had dogs in Protection target the (human) decoy's ELBOW instead of the center of the sleeve on the forearm. All sorts of devices and moves are used to encourage the dog to bite sleeve center. In training this is improved.

Now move to the trial field. Handler is nervous. Judge is standing there. Decoy may be someone new. ALL that training to target sleeve center? yup. Dog feels the stress, the nerves, the new person (judge) or even new field. The result is the dog targets the elbow.... and that is genetic.

The point is that you can TRY to train to mask genetically based behavior and get good results most of the time. Under stress the dog will likely toss all that away and revert to its genetic behavior.
 

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Just another quick thing. Your dog is a mix of two VERY different breeds. Being a mix it is unlikely that the parents were the best representatives of their breed since a serious breeder would not have allowed the cross to happen.

When mixing two very different temperaments the result is often not a tempering of each dog's basic genetic tendency. The result is often a confusion of traits and a dog in conflict.

In the GSD breed we have show lines and working lines. Show lines often tend to be nervy and lacking in confidence. One would think "Oh I will cross in some confident working lines and improve my show lines temperament." I would say that 90% of the time what you end up with is all the nerve and lack of confidence from the show line coupled with drive from the working line dog. The result is an unstable dog.
 
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