Don't Stare at Me!

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!


Barked: Tue Nov 13, '12 7:33am PST 
Rigby's picked up a new "quirk" recently.

When we are at the off-leash park, if someone walks toward her, stops and stares at her, she barks at them.

If she is leashed, this doesn't happen.
If the person keeps walking, this doesn't happen.
If the person stops, but doesn't look at her, this doesn't happen.

It seems to happen only when the person is standing still and looking at her - usually combined with encouraging talking ("Hi puppy, come here" etc.)

Typically, if I can catch this before it happens I can call her off. But today, she combined the barking with some sort of lunging behaviour at a woman's feet. No nipping or contact. But quick movements and defensive barking. This concerns me.
Luckily the woman said she was fine and understood as her dog was from a shelter as well and had his own set of quirks.

I think this started with a woman a few weeks ago claiming to be a "trainer" who intimidated Rig with her eye contact intentionally. Under the claim that Rigby is clearly a "dominant" dog and needed to be put in her place.
(Although she pees submissively under many circumstances shrug)

I didn't hang around this woman too long. After I saw what she was doing I left.
But I'm wondering if this could have triggered the behaviour?

I'm wondering if anyone has any suggestions to stop this? As I mentioned it only happens when people stop, stare and talk combined. None of the 3 separately trigger this.
I know I could speak with the people before it happens, but I am not the greatest with words and don't want to come off as rude in any way.

Let's play tug!!
Barked: Tue Nov 13, '12 11:36am PST 
I can't tell you for sure how it started, but that sounds like a good theory. I, for one, believe dogs can experience multiple emotions (or at least very rapidly changing ones) just like people. I've seen Smokey bark defensively at someone, get out of the car and immediately be their best friend, and I've seen him start off with inviting body language, and then start growling and lunging at another dog a couple seconds later because the leash keeps him greeting them. So it might be a combination of her natural friendliness and the fear she developed with this weird trainer. If it's a new behavior, you might be able to stamp it out pretty quickly just using treats. The second she notices someone staring at her, run away while happily calling her to chase you, and give her a bunch of treats. The ultimate goal would be to have her seek you out when something happens that she doesn't like.

I dig in mud- puddles!
Barked: Tue Nov 13, '12 10:14pm PST 
My girl is afraid of people and is very easily unnerved and provoked into barking (and sometimes lunging) when she is directly stared at. A hard stare from a stranger combined with nonsensical puppy talk is almost a guarantee for an outburst.

In your case, I'd be tempted to try setting up a few BAT scenarios to help teach her that she doesn't need to bark and lunge to make the scary thing go away.

I'm curious as to what others have to say, as Rexy has a tough time disengaging from strangers...she is intensely interested in them, but wants no attention from them and gets easily overwhelmed and teaching her that *she* can leave the situation (rather then barking), is very much a work in progress.


Farlekiin the- Dragonborn
Barked: Tue Nov 13, '12 10:28pm PST 
Farley is pretty complacent with strangers, and tends to ignore them. However, he will get suspicious of any "off" behavior with a stranger around us, and staring is something he views as suspicious with strangers. He's barked at people that stared at him before as well, but not at a dog park, usually just on walks or on his territory (home and car).

Herders tend to be pretty aloof with strangers compared to some other breeds, and I wouldn't be surprised if Rigby is interpreting the stopping + eye contact together as something suspicious or maybe even a potential threat, or she could just be unsure.

Personally, I don't ever try to "meet" other people's dogs unless the dog comes to me for pets or attention. I certainly wouldn't be walking up to a strange dog, staring at it. I guess some people like to do that laugh out loud

The Tinydog
Barked: Wed Nov 14, '12 8:12am PST 
Mega does this too, though due to her size it's less intimidating to other people. I basically just manage her behaviour so that she never has to go head to head with a stranger. If someone looks interested in meeting her I just call her away for some tasty treats. The parks I go to are relatively large and I'm always walking while there so it reduces the opportunities people have to interact with my dogs. Just walking away without acknowledging the stranger isn't particularly polite, but I'm not at a dog park to chat so I have little problem simply strolling on.

Sometimes I'll toss out a positive interrupter (normally Mega's name spoken sharply) but it's more for my sake than the dog's - it has little to no beneficial effect on future behaviour. You could do the classical conditioning thing, and while I'm sure you'd see good results, I would opt to focus more on management. Rigby needs to get out of the habit of barking, and should be able to expect that strangers aren't going to approach her if she doesn't wish it.

Barked: Thu Nov 15, '12 7:17am PST 
Come to think of it, even I see stopping and staring as suspicious behaviour really.
If Rigby was bigger I could maybe understand the stopping out of some sort of fear of moving forward shrug But she's less than 18 inches tall and barely 30lbs. She's not exactly what I would call intimidating in stature laugh out loud

The park that we get these encounters is large as well. More of a "hiking" park than a typical dog park. I tend to keep up a quick pace, but 4 legs are faster then 2 lol, so Rig gets ahead of me quite often. Both her and Cobain ignore most passerby's, it's just those that stop and stare at Rig.

I don't tend to interact much with the other people aside from a passing "Good Morning" or the like. I personally don't care if I'm known as the anti-social person at the park, like you, I'm there to exercise my dogs lol.

It was a good walk today, pretty uneventful in this aspect. Lots of people stopped and chatting, some people staring at Rig but none of them doing the 2 combined so she was good.

I could definitely be more proactive about managing the situations myself. I just feel like sort of a jerk calling my dog away from someone who is calling her at a public place. But then again, I'd rather be that jerk than the one with the badly behaved lunging dog.

Thanks everyone for the advice. I'm going to do my best to keep an eye on her in these situations and call her back more often.