Fearful Barking at People, Especially Children

Dave was picked up from the person who bred him at ten weeks old. It’s obvious that before this he had met few people and probably no dogs other than those he had lived with.

Another red flag should have been the aggressive unfriendliness of the male German Shepherd that was Dave’s father.

His young gentleman owner does all he can and it’s not his fault. The seeds were already sown.

A cocktail of under-socialisation and ignorant breeding.

German Shepherd pup fearful barking at peopleA cocktail of under-socialisation and genetics – ignorant breeding – has produced a five month old puppy who already does fearful barking at people he doesn’t know and has nipped a child.

Dave will bark at anyone approaching him, particularly if they look at him or he feels they may touch him.

He’s is taken to work with the young man so life for him should be good as he spends little time alone. Work is a retail outlet with staff and with the public coming and going.

Dave is tethered under the man’s desk and is okay there so long as he’s ignored.

When he grows to be a large adult German Shepherd, if Dave continues his fearful barking at people this will be a big problem. The new dog law of 2015 states that a dog need only cause someone to feel intimidated for the owner to be in trouble.

Dave barked at me from the moment I arrived, hackles up, and continued to do so on and off for much of the evening. This barking wasn’t the sort of fear that meant he was backing away or wanting to hide – it was full on barking in my face. GO AWAY!

Despite himself, he was friendly from time to time. Because he’s just a puppy I didn’t feel at all intimidated with the barking right in my face. I was more concerned about how to help him and we made a start. I shan’t document here just how, as assessment is so important in cases like this so that we get it right.

In the three hours Dave lay down just twice, for only a minute. He was restlessly pacing and reacting to noises or my own movements all the time. From time to time he took himself out of my sight, only to start barking again as soon as he came back and saw me again like I had suddenly arrived.

Being on high alert during the day too, the puppy must be seriously sleep-deprived which can’t be helping his emotional state.

As I explained, it’s not the barking itself that’s the real problem – it’s a symptom. We need to work on the emotion that is driving the fearful barking at people. Over time he needs to be helped to feel people are good news.

Unfortunately, the young man, desperate, had been introduced to Cesar Millan’s programmes by a friend and he manages to stop the barking – by scruffing the pup. This can’t possibly help the feelings of fear that drive the behaviour. The very opposite in fact.

But scruffing works. Temporarily. It scares him. The pup dare not bark.

Scruffing also looks to anybody watching like he’s doing something about it. ‘Disciplining’ his dog.

I pointed out that because Dave is scared of people, if his owner then turns on him too, people will be even worse bad news. (If he had a child scared of dogs, say, then physically punished him for screaming with fear, scaring him further, would that child feel better or worse about dogs?).

The other problem with physical punishment is that as Dave grows bigger it will take more than scruffing to stop him. The stakes will have to rise. Where does this lead? In some cases a meek dog may just shut down. In a dog like Dave it can only end up with increasingly aggressive behaviour, maybe even directed at the source of the punishment, the man himself.

I was called out because the young man wanted a dog that would share his life. The fearful barking at people, especially children, isn’t what he expected and he’s out of his depth. He wants to learn how to help him and has now already made a start.

Our project is to help Dave to feel better about people. There is only one way to do this and it’s by forming positive associations. This will be a long and hard road requiring patience, understanding and consistency.

Certain precautions need to be taken, Dave needs to be muzzled when children are about. At work he will be either behind a barrier or on a harness and lead. He will wear a yellow vest with ‘I Need Space’ on it to discourage people approaching to pet the cute pup. He will be given a quiet store room leading off the office where he can spend time peaceful and safe. Hopefully he will relax and sleep for part of the day.

I go to many German Shepherds who bark aggressively at me when I go into their homes, that have to be kept muzzled, on lead or even left out of the room. I don’t remember going to a German Shepherd with fearful, aggressive-sounding barking as extreme as Dave’s at just five months old.

But, with the dedicated young man on his side, his outlook is good.

Here is a good article by Linda Michaels: Puppy socialisation and vaccinations belong together. Left too late, as in the case of Dave, the horse has bolted so to speak and now we are playing catch-up.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Dave. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important,particularly where any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page)

Nipping and Barking at Other Dogs

The problems they want to resolve are for Shadow to stop nipping them and to stop barking at other dogs. Both issues are really just symptoms.

The nipping is a symptom of over-excitement.

The beautiful German Shepherd is nearly seven months old and still really just a puppy. She is already big.

She jumped up at me and mouthed. The excitement of my arrival triggered more behaviour. When the man sat down she flew all over him, climbing onto the back of the sofa rather like a cat!

ellis-creaseshadow2As a younger puppy, the lady and the two boys took Shadow to excellent training classes for several weeks. She knows all the basics.

Understanding the request or cue (I don’t like the word ‘command’) and actually doing it are two different things though. That’s where motivating her comes in.

Shadow’s a typical teenager.

In the picture she has been asked to lie down – something she knows well. I suggested not repeating the word ‘Down’ but just waiting. The lady points at the floor.

Just see Shadow ignoring her!

The lady outlasted her and after about a minute the dog did lie down. She then rewarded her with something tiny and special.

The lady then tried again, and sufficiently motivated this time, Shadow lay down straight away.

This isn’t bribery or luring because the payment wasn’t produced until after she had done as asked.

As the day wears on Shadow becomes more hyper.

She has two walks a day and plenty of exercise but even that can backfire. Walks should be just that – walks. Walking and sniffing and doing dog things, not an hour or so of ball play after which she arrives home more excited than when she left.

It’s then that she may charge all over the sofas and anyone that happens to be sitting on them – nipping or mouthing the younger boy by in particular – he’s twelve.

He may simply be watching TV and ignoring her. She stares at him. If he continues not to react, she will start yipping. Then she will suddenly pounce on him and start nipping him.

She now has the attentions she craves.

He often behaves like an excited puppy with her, so understandably that’s how she regards him.

If they don’t want to be jumped up at, mouthed and nipped, the family needs to sacrifice some of the things they like doing and help teach her some self-control. They need to tone down they ways they interact with her and exercise her brain a bit more.

Shadow is another dog generating its own attention and we will deal with it in a similar way to the last dog I visited, Benji.

Barking at other dogs is a symptom also.

In Shadow’s case it’s a symptom of fear, following a very unfortunate incident at exactly the wrong time in her life. It will have coincided with a fear period when, like a human baby may suddenly start to cry when picked up by a stranger, the puppy can become fearful of things.

they need her to stop nippingWhen Shadow was a young puppy, a much larger dog broke through the fence and chased her round her garden. This happened twice.

She was terrified. The garden was no longer a safe place for her.

She now increasingly barks at dogs she hears from her garden and there are dogs living all round them. She barks at other dogs on walks – particularly on days when she’s already stirred up.

To add to the problem, the next door neighbour got a new puppy recently.

Shadow rushes out of the house barking now. If he’s out, she runs up and down the fence barking at him.

She is in danger of having the same effect on the poor puppy as the invading dog had on her.

They will only let her out on lead now – the one and only good use for a flexilead. As soon as she barks they will thank her and call her in – maybe encouraging her with the lead. They will reward her as she steps through the door. 

All the surrounding dogs can actually be used to Shadow’s advantage.

They can work on her fear of other dogs at home. This should help how she feels about other dogs out on walks.

They can have ‘dogs mean food’ sessions in the garden.

When she’s in a calm mood, they can pop her lead on and go out into the garden with her for a few minutes. Every time a dog barks they can sprinkle food on the ground. Fortunately Shadow is very food orientated. She also loves a ball so they could throw that sometimes too.

Even if she alerts and they themselves hear nothing, her much better ears may have heard a distant dog – so they should drop food.

When next door’s puppy is out in the garden they will work hard, with food and fun, so that she will eventually come to welcome his presence. It would be nice to think the puppy’s owner could be doing the same thing the other side of the fence.

If Shadow barks, she will be brought straight in. She will learn that if she’s out there and quiet good things happen. If she does bark at the puppy, she will come straight in and the fun stops.

Shadow has grown up quickly into a big dog. They were able to accept nipping, mouthing, jumping up and barking at other dogs from their puppy. These things are becoming a problem for them now that she’s an adult-size German Shepherd.

Some feedback seven weeks later: 
We are doing short daily training with Shadow both inside and outside, going well.
She is barking less out in the garden.
She doesn’t pull towards other people or bikes when out walking as much so going in the right direction.
We are playing with her when she is good so please with this.
Walking to heel so much better and barking less to dogs outside.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Shadow and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Scared Puppy. Scared of People. German Shepherd.

Monty is a scared puppy and he’s not yet five months old.

A good number of the German Shepherds of all ages that I have been to over the past year have been the same. They have been reactive and scared of people coming into their homes. This is a high percentage compared with other breeds.

Scared puppy Monty is no exception. It’s sad for a dog so young to be thus burdened.

The importance of early socialisation

scared puppyMonty came from a breeder who had a lot of dogs but not many human visitors. I am a firm believer in puppies having a lot of handling by lots of different people from a very young age.  This is more likely to happen in a home environment than a breeder’s with several litters and lots of dogs, probably kept outside the house.

Monty’s owners chose a shy puppy and so he has not only inadequate socialising to humans but an unconfident nature also. Genetics also play a part. This is not an easy combination for a guarding breed like German Shepherd.

It was even worse with my own scared puppy, German Shepherd Milly. I took her home from a client at fourteen weeks old – a truly terrified puppy-farm puppy who hadn’t had any interaction with humans whatsoever until twelve weeks old. Then, shaking and frozen with fear, she was carried to their car.

Milly was in the same state when I carried her into my own house a couple of weeks later. She was terrified of all humans including initially myself.

I have worked hard with her ever since. Now the initial surprise of someone arriving is a few woofs which is to be expected and she settles fast. It will never be ‘job done’.

Scared puppy

Little Monty (with those huge ears!) is a self-controlled puppy. He is not destructive and seldom jumps up, it is like he is being careful. He’s very affectionate – but he is easily frightened.

On walks he is jumpy and skittish even with birds. He feels very threatened if a person approaches, particularly when he’s on lead – people can’t resist saying hello to puppies! The scared puppy will lunge and bark.

His humans will be working hard to show him that he can trust them to look after him by how they themselves react. They need to help him out. They will give him the positive associations with people that he needs and always giving him an escape route if he needs it.

Other dogs

It is also important that Monty learns right away always to touch base with them when another dog appears. There is a disproportionate number of dogs afraid of German Shepherds having been attacked by one.

Likewise, it’s important for Monty to meet only stable dogs so he, too, learns that dogs are not a threat.

His recall so far is good. However, a mix of being a scared puppy, a guarding breed and not being under complete control when out would not be a good scenario for the future. This needs work.

The lady suggested my methods were ‘alternative’. Modern positive methods used now by all principled modern trainers and behaviourists educated in learning theory. The days of old-fashioned punishment-based dog training is long over.

TV programmes and many dog training classes still use force and harsh commands and negatives. For instance, if he is harshly told ‘leave it’ when approaching another dog along with a jerk of the collar, what message does that give to a scared puppy?

The IMDT, the Institute of Modern Dog Trainers, is fast changing this.  How much better ‘Good Dog’ and encouragement – and food!

German Shepherd Terrified of People

White German Shepherd puppy is feeling stressed It is sad to see such a young dog so scared.

Darcy is only five months old. At home, with family and close friends, she is relaxed, friendly and biddable. She is surprisingly calm for a puppy, she doesn’t chew things and she is house-trained.

The problem is ‘other’ people. When I arrived her hackles were raised high all along her back, she was backing away and barking like mad. This carried on for a while. She would find the courage to come a bit nearer and then back off barking again.

The natural reaction of humans is to either tell the dog to be quiet, or to pet and ‘comfort’ her. They were doing both these things. Scolding a dog for being scared isn’t appropriate, and stroking is reinforcing her fears – telling she is rightDarcy is looking a little happier now to be frightened. I am showing them what are the appropriate ways of reacting. You can see on the right she is yawning – a sign that although she now looks in settled position she is still anxious.

Out on walks Darcy shrinks away from people and other dogs. She has already started to bark at things she hears outside the house or garden. One can imagine what she will be like as an adult German Shepherd if something isn’t done now.

Darcy displays all the signs of a puppy who has not been handled by a sufficient number of new people before she even leaves the breeder. One or more of the following factors could also contribute to the cause: being born to a fearful mother and maybe of a natural nervous disposition anyway, kept out of the way in another room or a shed for the first eight weeks of their life, possibly some inbreeding.

I shall be helping Darcy’s family for the next few months, maybe longer, helping them to understand her and to help her gain confidence. There is no quick fix and we can’t put the clock back.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.