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Ralphie has always been a little...weird. He's got quirks. We deal with them. Whatever. But I would really like to have other people's insights on they "why" of these quirks, if there even is one.

He's always had some stranger danger issues. He does not want to be touched by strangers on walks. Does not like them in the house. He is perfectly fine walking past them on walks, even brushing against them once when I slipped and pushed him a bit, as long as they don't try to touch him. We put him away when strangers are in the house.

So, his quirks is that if there is another dog anywhere in the vicinity, strangers are no longer an issue. They are beings to be loved and who will give him treats and cuddles. You have a dog? Sure, you can walk into my yard unannounced and I will love you and rub myself against you. No hesitation. Our neighbors had a party in their yard and there was three dogs there, and Ralphie joined the fray without hesitation. He was pushing toys into people's hands, begging for food, crawling into laps if people let him, stealing the yard game toys. Nobody would even think for a second he had stranger danger issues. He did not give any stress signals, and wanted to go back and have fun when we left.

Busy, crowded spaces with lots of dogs? THRIVING. Everyone is his friend. We had his first agility trial last month, and he was a tad overwhelmed when we first walked in, but once he had a chance to settle he would have let everybody in the building pet him. This was a brand new building he had never been to before. He wanted to crawl in people's laps, if they walked by he would push his head toward them, barked for attention if someone ignored him, he tried to steal someone's lunch, he spent five minutes getting loved on by a lady he had never met before in his entire life. It was like his BEST DAY EVER.

And I'm just like...what? I mean, he isn't even that interested in the dogs (although he does like to play with other dogs). He would rather interact with the humans. He completely ignored the dogs after he figured out it was just like in class where we ignore dogs. But, I would expect a bit of stress or ducking out of the way when being handled by strangers, but....nothing. If they stop petting him, he asks for more or tries to follow them. He's loose and wiggly and behaves exactly as he does when his most favorite people visit him.

I just...I don't get it. I mean, I'm fine with it, it makes him good for dog sports, for sure, and makes boarding him at doggy day care easy, but why are strangers so terrible when they are dog-less, but the best thing ever when dogs are around, no matter the location?
 

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My guess is that he gets a lot of confidence from takes a lot of social cues about the "okayness" of humans from other dogs, but I'm interested to hear what other people think!
 

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My guess is that he gets a lot of confidence from takes a lot of social cues about the "okayness" of humans from other dogs, but I'm interested to hear what other people think!
That's what I guess, too. It's like, complete freaking 180 though!

I guess he does occasionally decide that people are okay on his own, but it takes a certain combination of factors that rarely align and I'm not entirely certain of. Like, one minute he is calmly watching people stroll by. Then, he goes complete wiggle-butt for absolutely no reason other then someone smiled or laughed or had some other bodily function and DRAGS me to them. He drug me across the ice one time to greet a neighbor's house guest walking up their drive. Would not call off, but I guess I wasn't too worried or trying very hard because the person knelt down and opened her arms and Ralphie had gone full wiggle-butt. He had never met her before, there were no dogs, but he greeted her like they were the best of friends and raced back to our hard to dig his toy from the snow and bring it to her.

He's just...so weird!
 

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We had a dog in the shelter where I worked that was like that with people. If he was with a person he knew and trusted, he was amazing with strangers. But if there wasn't someone he trusted, he was bad news bears.
 

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I agree that putting a confident and social dog with a fearful dog can sometimes drastically change the fearful dog's behavior.

Another thing to consider is, perhaps people are less likely to directly approach and immediately instigate Ralphie's attention in dog situations - maybe because they are already socializing with each other or focused on their own dogs? Like, Ralphie is the one to enter the space and instigate, versus in people-only situations the person might immediately notice and take Ralphie's space/'force' his attention? Also, in dog situations, even if a person is interested in Ralphie, it sounds like dogs are so motivated (and distracting) that he doesn't think about (or fixate on) the person.
 

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That is certainly a possibility. He does like to be the instigator in social situations, if he decides to be social (without the presence of a other dogs). He likes to stand and watch and will sometimes decide that the person is worthy of his attention. But he's also approached people and then decided he wanted nothing to do with them. And absolutely, if there is a dog, he wants to play with the dog, but he will shortly decide that all the humans are more entertaining and chooses to play with them or solicit attention.
 

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Another thought, it could also be an accidentally learned context... classical conditioning. Like perhaps he had fun with a dog, playing with the dog put him in a very loose and social nature, and HEY the human in that situation was fine too. And if it happened again, and again, and again... He could have generalized "when there are humans around dogs they are awesome."

This would be easy to test. See if removing the dog would still illicit the same response towards the human. This would tell you if the dog IN the context is a variable, almost like an environmental cue... or if dogs simply trigger this social state and if their absence after the fact does not change Ralphie's behavior.
 

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Another thought, it could also be an accidentally learned context... classical conditioning. Like perhaps he had fun with a dog, playing with the dog put him in a very loose and social nature, and HEY the human in that situation was fine too. And if it happened again, and again, and again... He could have generalized "when there are humans around dogs they are awesome."

This would be easy to test. See if removing the dog would still illicit the same response towards the human. This would tell you if the dog IN the context is a variable, almost like an environmental cue... or if dogs simply trigger this social state and if their absence after the fact does not change Ralphie's behavior.
I have tested it! He does still enjoy the presence of the human if the dog has left. Once he has interacted with the human and gets to know them, he 's fine. The party I mentioned before was a prime example. All the dogs had gone home, except for Ralphie, but he was still soliciting attention. However, how he reacts to that human again in a separate encounter can be iffy. If he hasn't seen that person in a long while and only met them and interacted with them for a few minutes, he might not remember them and therefore not want anything to do with them. If he's spent a longer amount of time with a person, perhaps been fed some treats, and they come around more frequently, he will remember and greet them happily, with or without a dog.

Also, he will accept a dog-less person he previously met and did not like if they return with a dog. The person actually thought he was a different dog, lol. And when the dog leaves, the person is still fine.

I can also see how classical conditioning could have happened. We've been going to classes since he was 6 months old, and of course he's received a boatload of treats and awesome things in the presence of dogs (not playing with them, though). So I could see how "lots of dogs and humans about" might equal "happy fun good time." It would be a prime example of 'dogs do not generalize well.' But he's also received plenty of treats during his reactivity phase passing groups of people, watching people, etc. Class is once a week, but walks are pretty much every day!

I just find it so interesting how his brain somehow sees that strangers are bad if they don't have dogs, but his best friends if there are dogs in the general vicinity. And then he wants ALL of the attention. Its always just baffled me!
 

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Kane does something similar. He's fearful and even with people he's met and liked, he's still very cautious and stand-off-ish when he meets them again. For example when I bring him in to work with me, he'll go to people's offices (men in particular) and stand in the doorway wagging his tail and doing a happy grumble, but he won't go in. If they call him in he'll either leave or he'll crouch down and crawl in very carefully, then leave quickly. BUT occasionally I have brought both Kane AND Pepper in to work. Pepper is over-the-top excited to meet any and all new people so she's goes running into the offices without a thought and guess what? Kane follows her right in and is pushing and shoving to get there first and to get attention. Go figure.

In my case I think it's the attention that make him act that way. When he's the only dog he's the only one getting attention so he can be choosy. Sometimes being cautious gets him even more attention than if he were confident. He does really love attention and can even get "jealous" of another dog getting attention over him so when Pepper is there he wants it all to himself.

The other thing is - I do believe Pepper's confidence and trust give Kane a little boost of confidence that he doesn't have when she's not there. However, it doesn't work with total strangers, it only happens with people he's already met. With a total stranger he won't go up to them no matter what.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
It's almost sad sometimes to see a dog who wants to be loved but is too scared to ask, even from people they know! It's good that Pepper gives Kane confidence!

Once again, we went to a trial this weekend, and Ralphie was standing on a chair trying to get closer to people. He wiggled so hard he nearly knocked the chair over. He went over a jump, thought we were done, and went and visited the ring crew. Made like 3 best friends. Dog, what is your brain doing?
 

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Mikee has a similar issue. He's very sweet and friendly with people that he knows, but he's tentative with a "medium" alarm bark with strangers and kids that approach and pet him before he's ready. People who know dogs can see that the bark is not a 'warning' but more of an "excuse me we haven't been properly introduced, yet." ;-) Like Ralphie, He also gives a free pass to people with dogs. Behaviorally, Mikee seems to need an extra minute or two to explore and sniff the stranger before acceptance. Food does not help - he'll take treats AND he'll do tricks for the stranger ... but then bark at them. ;-)

People who are slow and gentle [good manners for meeting strange dogs ], giving Mikee more than a few seconds to sniff them, seem to have the best long term results. However, Mikee is a beautiful, Lab/Golden looking dog, so everything thinks he's friendly and well-socialized, and they don't give him any time.

My belief, following Dr. Ian Dunbar's advice, is that as an adult rescue, Mikee was not fully socialized with a large variety of kids, adults, and other strangers ... as well as normal situations, like some electric doors, etc. So, over the past two years, I've been exposing him to lots of different situations in a calm interaction. I haven't yet reached his 'everyone is friendly' threshold or 'kids are safe' threshold, but I have passed his ALL people are strangers and strangers are danger threshold. This summer, I plan to have some "puppy parties" for my 80lb dog with a collection of dog-friendly adults, and then a collection of dog-bullet-proof kids [we have a few kids in the neighborhood who have large, rambunctious dogs, so they are not scared of a non-aggressive, barking dog].

A similar set of parties, according to Dr. Dunbar's protocol, may help Ralphie also?
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Mikee has a similar issue. He's very sweet and friendly with people that he knows, but he's tentative with a "medium" alarm bark with strangers and kids that approach and pet him before he's ready. People who know dogs can see that the bark is not a 'warning' but more of an "excuse me we haven't been properly introduced, yet." ;-) Like Ralphie, He also gives a free pass to people with dogs. Behaviorally, Mikee seems to need an extra minute or two to explore and sniff the stranger before acceptance. Food does not help - he'll take treats AND he'll do tricks for the stranger ... but then bark at them. ;-)

People who are slow and gentle [good manners for meeting strange dogs ], giving Mikee more than a few seconds to sniff them, seem to have the best long term results. However, Mikee is a beautiful, Lab/Golden looking dog, so everything thinks he's friendly and well-socialized, and they don't give him any time.

My belief, following Dr. Ian Dunbar's advice, is that as an adult rescue, Mikee was not fully socialized with a large variety of kids, adults, and other strangers ... as well as normal situations, like some electric doors, etc. So, over the past two years, I've been exposing him to lots of different situations in a calm interaction. I haven't yet reached his 'everyone is friendly' threshold or 'kids are safe' threshold, but I have passed his ALL people are strangers and strangers are danger threshold. This summer, I plan to have some "puppy parties" for my 80lb dog with a collection of dog-friendly adults, and then a collection of dog-bullet-proof kids [we have a few kids in the neighborhood who have large, rambunctious dogs, so they are not scared of a non-aggressive, barking dog].

A similar set of parties, according to Dr. Dunbar's protocol, may help Ralphie also?
Maybe. I guess I don't really have many of those types of people to try. Funny thing is, the people we have over the most often, like close family and friends, he has never ever been afraid of. Accepted them at once. He's generally not concerned about strange kids and gives them a "puppy pass" sort of. He also knows most of our neighbors, and all of them have dogs, lol.
 
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