Fear Stage? How To Handle It?

This is a place to gain some understanding of dog behavior and to assist people in training their dogs and dealing with common behavior problems, regardless of the method(s) used. This can cover the spectrum from non-aversive to traditional methods of dog training. There are many ways to train a dog. Please avoid aggressive responses, and counter ideas and opinions with which you don't agree with friendly and helpful advice. Please refrain from submitting posts that promote off-topic discussions. Keep in mind that you may be receiving advice from other dog owners and lovers... not professionals. If you have a major problem, always seek the advice of a trainer or behaviorist!


Miss Black- Magic's 'Ria'
Barked: Mon Dec 31, '12 9:37am PST 
I'm fairly sure that Ria may have hit a fear stage in her growth now. She's approx. nine months old, and was socialized like crazy as a puppy, but there were some moments where I did question if she would recall one or two incidents for the rest of her life and I'm not entirely sure if that's what this is.. Or... If it's a fear stage that she's going through. She's Lab/Border Collie and you can see many of the breed traits(if not all) of each in her.

In her house, if someone new comes in, she simply gets excited and wants to be best of friends, leaping about and trying to get as much attention as possible. In fact, it's something we're working hard at to teach her how to greet guests properly.

Outside is another story however. She LOVES people... Yet, if a strange person(age doesn't matter, can be a small child or a grown adult and gender doesn't matter either), or animal, then she's instantly into a barking frenzy of "I want to meet you... But I don't know you, who are you? Omg.. Are you a nice person?!" And for a moment it's like she REALLY wants to say hi, then suddenly the barking starts up and she's lunging at the end of her leash before dodging back as if she were playing with the rolling waves of the ocean on the shore. But... with people. It's almost like she second guesses herself.

Once they say hi to her and pet her, she's perfectly fine.

Now.. the incident that happened as a puppy, was because I live in townhomes, when I had my pooches outside, I noticed a group of young girls(10-13) had all noticed the cute little eight week old puppy and were making a beeline for us. So I immediately bundled up my dogs, and began heading toward the front door. These children quite literally, SURROUNDED US on my own step, and began reaching for my puppy. I became furious. Not only did they not ask, but they surrounded us on my front step and were terrifying and overwhelming my new puppy. Charlie was fine of course, he just wanted attention. But I was absolutely livid at this point. Ria cowered, and I instantly stepped in front of her and spoke up, telling them it was RUDE to not ask before approaching, that they had SCARED my new puppy, and how did they know my other dog wouldn't have bit them? They were startled, to say the least, but backed off slightly while I gave them an earful on manners and SAFETY with dogs, before scooping up my pups and putting them in the house.

I have now taken to standing up for my dogs diligently. If you don't ask, you don't pet. Simple. And trust me when I say A LOT of children around here feel they can approach without asking. They assume because these are townhomes that all dogs here are friendly. Not the case. I foster dogs from time to time and not all of them like children at all!

I do wonder if that incident effected her view of strangers outside of the house though, and if that's where her uncertainty lies with new people. In house, again, she is perfectly fine.

Ideas? Thoughts? Ideas on how to handle it? I'd like to start working on this behavior now and get it nipped in the bud, or at least close to, by the time I have my baby(late next summer) because I would love to be able to walk my dogs with the stroller safely without them reacting. I've got Charlie 90% worked through on his leash reactivity... Ria, however.. I'm not sure where to start. I've never had a young puppy that I've raised before, and I've never had one that had issues with strange people. Kind of new to me, lol.

Occupy Dog St.
Barked: Mon Dec 31, '12 12:13pm PST 
I think the correct paradigm for socializing pups should be completely based in 'the dogs program.' Protecting a pup is crucial, but there is a huge difference between protecting them when YOU feel like someone is crossing the line versus when THEY feel like someone is crossing the line. Sometimes when we try so far to do the right thing, we focus on things being a certain way instead of letting the dog lead the way in these precious moments.

Miss Black- Magic's 'Ria'
Barked: Mon Dec 31, '12 3:22pm PST 
I'm sorry, I think I might be misunderstanding what you're saying.

Are you saying that I was overprotective when the group of children came up? I had a few issues with it. Firstly, they overwhelmed and scared my puppy by surrounding us the way they did. Secondly, they did not ask, not even once, if they could approach or pet my dogs. Thirdly, I'm a HUGE advocate for 'ask before you pet' due to a lot of fosters and rescues that I've dealt with that HAVE NOT liked strange people at all, or have even been unpredictable or potentially unsafe with children. Whether my own dogs are safe or not, I will continue to advocate for 'ask before you pet', even if other kids parents won't/haven't. It's a safety thing, just as much as a courtesy thing.

And.. I'm not sure if you're saying that I should LET Ria lunge and bark incessantly at strangers until they approach? Because I consider this behavior unacceptable and would much rather have a dog that can control their impulses, or is taught how to greet people appropriately. I am fully aware that a majority of this is likely mine and my fiance's fault, but I'm looking for advice on how to change the behavior, not "just let the dog lead the way."

Again, I apologize if I misunderstood, and thank you for your input.


forever loved
Barked: Mon Dec 31, '12 3:37pm PST 
I don't think you did anything wrong with how you handled the children. You are also correct that you should never allow her to lunge at people like that. Tonka, some things you have been stating as fact in several threads is a bit off (or at least not explained very well), in my personal opinion. OP, I hope others will chime in to give you better advice then what I can. One thing I know, is that you as the owner need to control the situations Ria is in to the best of your ability. You may not always be able to do so, but in whatever situation you are in, try your best to remain calm. Ria needs to know that you are there for her. Wishing you the best of luck.puppy

Edited by author Mon Dec 31, '12 3:39pm PST


Occupy Dog St.
Barked: Tue Jan 1, '13 12:45pm PST 
OP, I didn't really have any exact feedback about the children, simply because I wasnt there. Only you would know how your pup was reacting based on her body language. Because I don't know all the nutts and bolts, I can only give ideas to work off of. Which, I didn't really do in my last post. I have small chuncks of time around here these days, so committing the time to finish my thoughts are not on the front burner! Sorry, about that.

Here are some ideas you can try now, regardless of why she is reacting the way she is.
- Make time in controlled environments where she can be offleash to introduce her to new people.
- DON'T make 'greeting' the person into some kind of activity, just let it happen organically
- ANYTIME she encounters a new person, tell them that they have to give her time to make the first connection. Encourage people to 'let her pet them'
- If your dog has a solid foundation for learning, teach her a 'make friends' cue where you make greeting people into a game. (Use HIGH quality treats, meatballs, roast lamb etc)
- Try not to give her feedback, assurance etc in situations you know she has a 'back door/escape route/safe zone. allow her to develop coping skills on her own

Also, look at your routine at home and ask yourself if her life and environment is enriched and interesting to her. If she's not encouraged in developing problem solving skills and helped in learning new skills/behaviors she won't possess the foundation sometimes needed to help a dog through issues outside of the home.

Also practice telling people to 'STOP' while putting your hand up in gesture. For some reason this is a VERY awkward behavior for some people to do and should be practiced and rehearsed. That would have stopped the group of girls that 'circled you' on your porch.

Also, when you give people permission to pet her, what kind of things are you looking at IN YOUR DOG that makes you think she is open and willing?

Edited by author Tue Jan 1, '13 12:49pm PST


Giant Shih Tzu
Barked: Tue Jan 1, '13 1:23pm PST 
You were MORE than justified to feel angry at the audacity of those children. When Gunther was that age I was very strict on who could pet him, and them asking for permission was a must. He is very friendly with strangers! I just didn't trust children to be gentle with such a small, fragile pup. Now, it's fine, he greets strangers of all ages and I don't worry a bit.

I first wanted to say that I don't think Ria's current behavior is due to that one incident. She felt frightened and a little overwhelmed in that moment, but that one incident is very unlikely to still be effecting her now. I think it sounds like she's being over-excitable, has a lack of confidence, and hasn't really been taught a more appropriate behavior when she sees someone new.

Seeing a new person sounds very thrilling for her, and not in a positive way necessarily. I would NOT advise starting these greetings with her off lead. I would instead communicate to her that the greeting will NOT happen until she is calm, and that the presence of someone new is very positive.

Lunging and barking is a big reaction from her, and it's telling me she's fearful and and unsure of herself as you said, so if it were my dog doing this, I would lead her in the opposite direction, cheerfully say "Let's Go!", and get a decent distance from the person she found so over-stimulating. I would then have her sit, and click and reward her for looking at the person calmly, then looking back up at me. What ever distance from the person it takes, that is what I would do. Slowly, you can shorten that distance. You're communicating to her that the presence of someone new is positive. Capture that calmness and she will associate it with strangers.

What you're doing there is rewarding her for having a calm reaction towards that stranger, teaching her the appropriate response, and discouraging the excitable reaction by moving her away. Once she sits calmly and looks at the person without any reaction at all, you can move closer. The moment she starts in with any lunging or barking, you repeat the process.

All the while, you remain confident and calm. No corrections needed. She needs to understand that new people are a GOOD thing, and she can be calm and confident as well in their presence. If eventually, she simply acts overly excited, as in happy, you would then teach her that the new person (you would need volunteers to begin teaching this) will NOT pet her unless she is sitting calmly. I've used this technique with all of my dogs in the past who had similar reactions to strangers, and it was fixed pretty simply with consistency!

Edited by author Tue Jan 1, '13 1:26pm PST


Occupy Dog St.
Barked: Tue Jan 1, '13 1:33pm PST 
Sorry, I misunderstood. I had it stuck in my mind that your dog was showing avoidance behaviors, not arousal behaviors.

In which case, I totaly agree with the previous statement that she doesn't get to greet anyone until she is calm.

Although I would still evaluate if the leash itself is changing her greeting behavior at all, or is causing barrier frustration.

Barked: Tue Jan 1, '13 2:06pm PST 
I think it's highly unlikely she remembers any of what happened.

You did the right thing in setting firm boundaries with the girls, but beyond that I wouldn't waste my time thinking about the situation ever again.

She sounds like a typical bouncy stinker Lab/BC mix. Full of vim and vinegar and testing the boundaries.

Do you have her enrolled in any sort of obedience classes? Sounds like what she needs right now are heaps of exercise and firm but patient and unwavering guidance to get her through this obnoxious age lol

In short, she sounds completely normal to me smile

We don't doodle!
Barked: Tue Jan 1, '13 3:24pm PST 
I'm trying to think back, but I can't believe I have EVER had a lab NOT go thru that obnoxious age where they act like your girl did.
I just continue along with controlled meetings, just as I did when they were younger, and it all comes out in the wash, no one has ever kept acting like that.
I agree with Trigger, it has nothing to do with her puppyhood, it is a NORMAL stage in a puppy's development.
We used to take our labs to a big 3 day Speciality every Spring in VA. The first day all the puppies were great, the second day they were barking AND growling at everyone, including the judges, and by the third day they were all back to normal again, loving everyone and everything.

Miss Black- Magic's 'Ria'
Barked: Tue Jan 1, '13 5:11pm PST 
Lol, thanks everyone.

I've never owned a Lab before, nor a Lab mix. Border Collies, absolutely, but this behavior is new to me. Granted, I've always had puppies approx. 8 months and up and different breeds, haha. Charlie was the youngest dog I ever personally owned(eight months when I got him) and all others have been well over two years, including fosters. Puppy phases are new to me, same with the obnoxious behavior.

She's definitely a sweetheart once people get to her and pet her though. Just collapses in puppy love of writhing glee. laugh out loud