Looking for suggestions/training exercises on how to make him more comfortable in public settings & with strangers on the street

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AdoptedDobie's picture
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Joined: 2010-07-21

I've just adopted a 1 year old doberman (Cedar) from a foster program.   He has been bounced around from several homes in the last year for a variety of reasons.  At some point he was socialized to children, dogs, cats....  He is sweet natured, loves to play with other dogs, is respectful of our cat, and seems to be bonding with me well (I've had him for about 1 month).  He does well at the dog park with all kinds of dogs and is very comfortable around the people there when off leash (and of course they are all dog lovers so he can sniff them and feel comfy).  I've slowly been exposing him to new experiences walks in our neighborhood, I have him at the office a few days a week, we are now walking on busier streets and in places with more people.

My problem is he has the need to go and meet everyone before he seems to be comfortable with them.  If someone comes into the office that he hasn't met his body language changes to be more defensive or he barks or growls at them (which is scary for people.)  Once he meets them gives a little sniff, they give him a treat or a pet, and they get the Dobie approval, he is ok.  It is a similar situation while walking down the street.  If he can't go up and meet the person then he starts getting defensive, this morning he was pretty focused on a girl in the parking lot who he couldn't go over and check out.  I tried to break his fixation, but it's all new to him and he is new to me so that's difficult. 

I'm looking for suggestions/training exercises on how to make him more comfortable in public settings and walking by strangers on the street because not everyone is comfortable with an 80lods doberman walking up and sniffing them.  I also feel that I could use a little encouragement on trusting him in these interactions.  I find that when I know we are entering a situation that might be difficult (such as walking by a stranger or being in a public place)  I tense up and tend to hold the leash tighter so I have more control, I'm worried I'm giving him signals that trigger his barking/growling.

I appreciate your thoughts.

This is tough because you don't really know the background of the dog. One thing is for sure when you are tensing on the leash and pulling him in you are sending the wrong signals. Is there a place you can go to that you can just sit with him and people watch so to speak. I do this with my puppies, and I give lots of treats for doing nothing but sitting calmly and looking around. My 7 mo old had a terrible experience while a friend was watching him. She didn't handle the situation correctly and it has taken me quite sometime for me to get him over the fear of roller skates and skateboards. How I started what I call desensitizing him to it was we drove to a skate board park at a really busy time. We got out of the car and I literally sat with him and we watched for a good hour, giving him cookies, helping him to relax in the situation. Before the end of it we were able to walk right through the thick of things without any problems. This was not the end of it though. I had to do this many times. Most dogs will have more problems one on one with a object that is scary versus them in a large crowd with many of the same things. Knowing this we did the same exercise several times and then moved to the park across from my house. The park in front of my house is busy but not as busy as the skate board park and definitely less skateboards moving. So I did the same thing out in this park. We sat and watched them go by giving lots of treats and telling him what a good dog he was. You would want to make sure that you don't tell them what a good dog he is or coddle him if he is giving off any bad signals like growling. This would only reinforce the negative behavior. More later I'm running out of the house late for an appointment. Maybe someone else will chime in.

glengate's picture
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Joined: 2009-07-22

As the original poster said, not everyone is going to want to meet the dog nor should they be expected to.  He needs to be taught to ignore/leave it/never mind.  There are different ways one could go about it.  But first, yes, you are sending a bad signal down the leash by tightening up on it and causing him tension. 

I think that first, I would work on a watch me command.  You can do this easily at home with treats.  Hold the treat in front of your eyes and say "watch me".  As soon as he makes eye contact, he gets the treat.  Then work on extending the amount of time that he makes eye contact in order to get the treat.  Later, when you're in public, make sure you've got treats on hand and when these situations occur where he gets focused on someone he wants to check out, bring the attention back to yourself with the watch me command.  If he is growling or barking or fixated on whoever/whatever, you may need to give the leash a pop and tell him no, never mind, watch ME. 

Hopefully, you're working on other obedience commands with him like heel, sit, etc.  That's the other thing to do when his mind wanders and he gets fixated on something else.  Put him to work and briskly heel him out of the situation.  You can still use your watch me command then, too.  I find that one of the best things you can do is get the dog moving briskly and doing something.  When there's a problem, most stop or slow down which just gives the dog more time to get fixated.  Keep his mind on you and what you're doing.  He's attached to you (by the leash) so get him going and watching you. 

The attention that glengate speaks of is extremely important and her way of describing it is perfect. This would be the first thing to teach, it helps as you are out in public to do exactly what she said.

I don't know if you ever watch animal planet but they have one show called it's me or the dog's with animal trainer Victoria. I really like this show she has very similar training style as I do. On a show today they had a dog that was afraid of people and showed aggression not only to people but to other dogs. She had them start out getting the attention just like Glengate described ( I always assume people already know this so I didn't go into detail about it but LOVE how Glengate described it) As soon as the dog was comfortable with this exercise they went out on a trail. As a dog was approaching they had the dog sit and got her attention. Immediately as the dog glanced at the owner it was rewarded with a cookie, it was then allowed to look back in the direction of the other dog and again the owner asked for attention, followed by treating with a cookie. This would be a similar style you can use with your dog that is leery of people. When this particular dog growled or acted in a negative way they simply told the dog No (you can use a leash pop)and turned the other direction similar to how you would do when first leash training. When the dog was calm they continued along the same path following the person and being treated both verbally and physically with treats. The dog needs to be taught that it cant just run up to everyone and sniff to check them out. He needs to associate people with good things hence the cookie training for positive steps.

Freyja's Dad's picture
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Joined: 2009-09-03

Pet Profiles

When Freyja would show aggression toward someone I put her in the "down" position.  In my thought process the down position was a more submissive position and it was hard for her to be aggressive from this position.  She quit showing aggression toward people in public, but I don't know if this technique was the reason or if she just outgrew a phase.  My ego likes to think I did something right however .

i like rnd's and glengate's suggestions, they make a lot of sense.