His reactivity to any person approaching him was triggered by something else.
Previously the well-socialised German Shepherd had been fine if there was a person approaching him. Recently Danny has begun to show aggression towards people on walks. He will pull, lunge, bark and jump at people.
It came to a head when recently, off lead, he rushed at a man and leapt up at him, snarling. The man, understandably, wasn’t pleased.
Two-year-old Danny’s story is a perfect example of how, when one really scary incident occurs, it can infect something else that is seemingly unrelated.
A short while ago the daughter had been walking him when she was stung by a hornet. She screamed. She panicked.
At the same time a jogger happened to be running towards them.
What has a hornet sting to do with aggression towards a person approaching?
Danny will very likely have connected the girl’s screaming with the approaching jogger. He is now particularly aggressive towards joggers. The reactivity has spread to barking, lunging and jumping up at any person approaching him.
I always myself avoid walking directly towards any dog as it can be perceived to be threatening. Each time I visit a house I ask that the dog is brought to join me instead of my walking directly into the dog’s space. I learnt this the hard way in my early days of doing this job when a gentleman opened his front door with his German Shepherd beside him. He said ‘Come in’, so I stepped towards them. The dog leaped and grabbed my arm. No harm done but a valuable early lesson learnt!
The work starts at home.
In all areas of Danny’s life they will now be rebuilding his confidence in unfamiliar people so a person approaching will no longer seem a threat to him.
When someone unfamiliar comes to the house, he will be left to calm down before joining them. The encounter will be associated with good things. With me, after a noisy start, he was confident, curious and polite. I came bearing the gift of a stuffed toy which he certainly liked – he dismembered it. Not a good choice!
Danny barks if he hears a person approaching up the gravel drive. Territorial barking is what you would expect of a dog, but it need not carry on for long. Bearing in mind he has guarding in his genes, this might be harder work than if he were, say, a Greyhound.
Currently on walks he is controlled with a head halter on a tight lead and corrected with a jerk when he pulls. This won’t help him feel relaxed when he sees an approaching person. A calm dog walking comfortably on a loose lead will be far less likely to react in alarm. They will work on this.
How the family reacts when Danny spots the approaching person is key to his progress – and they will be working hard at this. Exact procedures differ with different situations so I don’t go into details here.
Here is one idea. If it’s a jogger running towards them, what should they do? A person approaching is what upsets him. A jogger approaching him upsets him even more. It may also fire him up to chase. As he’s okay with people coming from behind, why not turn around when a jogger appears and themselves jog too? When the jogger has overtaken them they can turn around and go on their way.
Jumping up aggressively at a person approaching him is a recent thing.
It shouldn’t yet be too much of an ingrained habit. With some work and appropriate response on the part of the people who walk him, he should learn to trust them not to force him any closer to a person approaching than he feels comfortable by arcing, going off at an angle or turning around. This distance should naturally reduce over time.
Should Danny be off lead now? I feel that universally when another dog or a person appears, a dog that won’t immediately come back when called shouldn’t have total freedom. It will never happen.
The dog law, tightened up last year (my slide show here), has no sympathy for a dog feeling threatened and reacting accordingly. If a person feels threatened however, that’s enough to cause big trouble.