Goldie probably already had the seeds of timidity before they got her as a young puppy. If she had encountered many more people sufficiently early it would have helped, but they were caught in that trap of having to wait for vaccinations before taking her out (another matter I frequently write about). She’s now fourteen months old.
She barks at people.
One thing is for certain, if they had not been the dedicated owners they are, putting in so much love and training, the small gun dog Golden Labrador could now be a great deal worse.
It didn’t take her long to stop barking at me. It was a treat to visit such an gentle, friendly and well-trained dog.
Goldie has a lovely life, just tarnished by her fearfulness of certain people in certain situations.
Training alone doesn’t address this fear.
When out she will walk nicely, looking up and engaging with whoever is holding the lead. Keeping and holding attention is very valuable for managing situations but it it doesn’t get her to feel differently about an advancing person. It merely takes her attention away from them.
(It’s common for dogs to feel uneasy when approached. See the pulse project).
For what we want to achieve, Goldie needs to change how she feels. Distracting her by getting her to look at them instead is avoidance. It’s like telling a child who has seen a masked man at the window to pay attention to his Xbox.
Emotions drive behaviour. She barks at certain people. This is driven by fear.
To help to address this fear, she needs to register the person. Direct approaches are intimidating so they should always arc. They should keep at a distance where Goldie is aware but not reacting.
Looking at the person will then trigger goodies. Food can rain down.
Training her to keep attention on the handler is perfect if caught unprepared or too close, but it won’t change how Goldie feels. It’s merely management. They want to be able to relax and trust her to react calmly by herself. She won’t unless she loses her fear.
People invading her space.
Another responsibility of the owner is to protect their dog from unwelcome attention – who doesn’t want to touch a beautiful Labrador, after all. A yellow ‘I Need Space’ vest should help greatly.
Off-lead Goldie is less likely to react to an approaching person as is usually the case. She will have freedom to increase distance, something she doesn’t have when someone comes to the door of her house. At home the stranger is walking directly towards her.
They could of course train her to settle on a mat away from the door when someone comes in, but this is a big ask when she’s scared and reacts with barking rather than hiding.
Training will have its place later. For now she should be kept away from the door when someone arrives. Standing people are more threatening, so she can join them when the person is sitting down. They can then work on the person ‘triggering goodies’. It worked well with me.
They can desensitise her to the knocker too. Starting with Goldie at the door beside them and letting her see them knock whilst dropping food. They can do various kinds of knocks: short, multiple, loud and soft. Then can then have a family member the other side of the door knocking while another feeds her inside. Gradually they can increase distance and later make the knocks unpredictable. This will need hundreds of repetitions over a period of time.
When she eventually becomes more confident and relaxed, training her to go and lie on her bed away from the door when there is a knock on the door would be reasonable.
One last thing. They would like to take her places like the pub or a cafe without fearing she may suddenly have a bout of aggressive-sounding barking when a person approaches.
Goldie should end up with the ideal mix. Emotional stability and great training.