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How to deal with this: puppy is protective in non-threatening situations

Got a new, young, furry love in your life? This is the place for you to ask all of your questions-big or small! Just remember that you are receiving advice from other dog owners and lovers... not professionals. If you have a major problem, always seek the advice of a vet or behaviorist! Most important is to remember to have fun with your new fur baby.

  


Member Since
07/21/2012
 
 
Barked: Fri Dec 28, '12 6:14am PST 
Hi everyone,
I have a lovely belgian shepherd/collie/? mix - I don't really know what she is, I'm just guessing since I got her from the shelter. She is about 7 months old now and a very sweet dog, very smart but also quite nervous - she's easily excited and does not easily come out of that excitement (esp. when it's negative/fearful excitement). Right now I feel she's learning and taking on her instinct to protect her "pack" - she has become very protective. Sometimes it's very sweet like when I'm walking in the forest with my 2 year old nephew and she'll chase all the other dogs away from him (whereas if he's not there she's very playful and friendly towards other dogs). But other times it's difficult: it seems to me (though I might be wrong) that since she is just learning/experimenting with this new protective role, that she's completely overdoing it and can't really distinguish between situations where it's "necessary" and unnecessary to be protective. Like when I play with my nephew (or his mother for that fact) throwing him up in the air and he is laughing - she'll get very nervous and starts to bark at us. Even though I have a great, trusting relationship with my dog and she also loves my sister (the mother of my nephew). Or if my dad will fake-strangle me and I'm laughing - she'll also get upset. I react by saying no and putting her out of the living room (if we happen to be there) and closing the door - that way she can still see us through the glass, but can't run around in circles barking.

I have a few questions and am curious to hear your opinions/advice:

1) Is it since she's just discovering this protective side of hers that she's overdoing it and not distinguishing between threatening and non-threatening situations.

2) Am I handling the situation in the right way by putting her outside of the room? I do not feel comfortable just ignoring her, since it's bothering and scaring my sister.

3) Do you have any advice on generally making her more relaxed and less nervous - or is this something that will come with age?

Thanks for your replies!

Edited by author Sun Jan 6, '13 3:53pm PST

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Chandler

Code name:- Farmcollie
 
 
Barked: Fri Dec 28, '12 4:31pm PST 
Hey there, I have another breed that can have protective tendencies. I've handled them with a two-prong approach.

1. Comprehensive socialization. The dog must understand what is normal to know when protective instincts are not needed.

2. Obedience training. This provides the way for you to communicate your expectations to your dog.

Example: During his "teenage angst" period, Chandler occasionally overreacted to men in public places. I interrupted his behavior, took him away until he calmed down, then asked him to approach again, while focused on me. I'd then run him through his list of commands and tricks while also applying some counterconditioning. Essentially I waited until he could focus on his work, and then communicated what kind of behavior I expected from him around a man that I did not consider a threat.

I think the thing to keep in mind is that you are the adult human and should be the one exercising judgement. You dog does not realize that behavior can be "sweet" in one situation where there is no real threat, while it is a problem at other times. Yes, she is experimenting, but this is the time to teach her what is appropriate, and you need to be consistent about it. Without you reaching her, it will be difficult for her to learn good judgement. As the behavior might be self-reinforcing, I doubt that ignoring it will help.
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Member Since
07/21/2012
 
 
Barked: Wed Jan 2, '13 2:46pm PST 
Thanks a lot for your response, it's extremely helpful!

We do a lot of obedience (on our own and also once a week group training and once a week private session) and I am trying to socialize her to the best of my abilities by taking her to a lot of new places and letting her meet a lot of new people and I try to make these experiences positive (i.e. lots of play and treats).

I think I was a bit torn, subconsciously, between actively interrupting her behavior and ignoring it because I felt she needed to know that she can always bark when scared so she would never feel the need to resort to biting instead. But now that I've read your answer I have to say I completely agree: she needs my guidance so that she can learn when it's right to be protective and when it's not. And I think that by receiving this guidance she will also feel more secure. She needs to know that she has to look to me to decide whether a situation is dangerous or not and that when I'm calm, she should be so as well. She's been so extremely alert these past few weeks and I would just so much like her to know that when I'm fine, she should also be fine.

So you just used to take your dog away calmly without saying anything to him? Or did you say "no" calmly yet sternly and then took him away to proceed your sequence of commands?

Thanks a lot!
[notify]



Member Since
07/21/2012
 
 
Barked: Wed Jan 2, '13 2:52pm PST 
Thanks a lot for your response, it's extremely helpful!

We do a lot of obedience (on our own and also once a week group training and once a week private session) and I am trying to socialize her to the best of my abilities by taking her to a lot of new places and letting her meet a lot of new people and I try to make these experiences positive (i.e. lots of play and treats).

I think I was a bit torn, subconsciously, between actively interrupting her behavior and ignoring it because I felt she needed to know that she can always bark when scared so she would never feel the need to resort to biting instead. But now that I've read your answer I have to say I completely agree: she needs my guidance so that she can learn when it's right to be protective and when it's not. And I think that by receiving this guidance she will also feel more secure. She needs to know that she has to look to me to decide whether a situation is dangerous or not and that when I'm calm, she should be so as well. She's been so extremely alert these past few weeks and I would just so much like her to know that when I'm fine, she should also be fine.

So you just used to take your dog away calmly without saying anything to him? Or did you say "no" calmly yet sternly and then took him away to proceed your sequence of commands?

Thanks a lot!
[notify]
Chandler

Code name:- Farmcollie
 
 
Barked: Wed Jan 2, '13 7:23pm PST 
I often did use an interruption/correction word, provided I did not think it would amp Chandler up more. Whether you do will have to depend on the temperament of your dog, and her reactions. Chan's reaction to "ah-ah" is along the lines of "What? Wait? I'm supposed to stop and listen to you?" which somewhat breaks his focus on the perceived threat.

To use a more recent example Chan recently had a minor barking fit at an overly helpful Petco employee on Black Friday. (This is actually unusual, I'll be getting Chan checked for lyme next week.) The employee was male, hovering around, and wearing reindeer antlers...which can add up to suspicious to a protective breed. I immediately told him to sit, lie down, etc to refocus him on me. He still wasn't quite happy so we retreated to other parts of the store where I made sure he was calm and introduced him to other employees wearing antlers with no problems. I then looped back to the problem employee and asked him to simply stand in one of the aisles and ignore us as I walked Chan back and forth in front of him. I didn't correct or overly praise Chan for anything at this point; I simply wanted him to be able to pass through the same aisle. When Chan was calm enough with that (two or three passes), I stopped in the aisle and had a conversation with the employee while asking Chan to do various tricks and giving him cookies for doing so. Eventually I added "Hey, check out this employee standing here" to the things I was asking him. We progressed to the employee giving Chan a treat, before I called it a day and left.

I think it is best to address these issues ASAP if possible rather than letting them slide. The salient points are that I redirected bad behavior, removed Chandler until he was calm, made one of the possible triggers less scary, returned to the situation in a much better state of mind, gave Chandler a job to focus on rather than being freaked out, and made it clear that I considered the employee to be harmless by having an amiable conversation with him.
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Member Since
07/21/2012
 
 
Barked: Mon Jan 7, '13 5:39am PST 
Wonderful!

That definitely seems like the right way to go to me. Thanks for your help
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