Dog Fear Aggression – My Dog fears men. Can we help her?

by Christy
(California)

I have a dog/puppy who is 14 months old. She is a Lab Terrier mix according to the shelter we adopted her from. Up until now she has always been an EXTREMELY submissive puppy (maybe even to the point of being overly submissive if that is possible), especially around men, such as my husband (she would often pee around him at any moment when she was younger). She has always been very gentle and sweet though, and great with small children, women and even our kitten. She actually seems to prefer the company of smaller dogs and such, though she is 70 lbs.

She was initially afraid of other big dogs due to being attacked by one at the shelter when she was a puppy before we adopted her, but once I introduced her to some nice ones she quickly warmed up and is often overly excited to meet any dog now (we are definitely working on that). I do not know anything else about her past other than she was taken out her her first adoptive home at about 10 weeks of age due to negligent conditions, and by 12 weeks when we got her, she had been through at least 4 different homes and shelters.

She is so friendly with everyone she meets, but I find that she is still very wary, of some strange men putting their hands over (even if they never touch her) her head without getting comfortable with them first (which is how most people approach a dog unfortunately). It has happened when the person has seemed hesitant or unsure, like it just made her more unsure, and it is only with men.

Unfortunately, over the last few weeks, her timidity has turned to growling at men if they approach us as we walk by them for our daily walks, or when a man came into our home and my husband was not home. I dealt with each encounter immediately. Also, last night, when I stopped to talk to a teenage boy, she actually growled and lunged at him when they brought their hand high over her head to pet her (they did act hesitant and unsure, bringing their hand up and down over her several times without actually ever touching her). It startled us both, and I immediately dealt with it by telling her no firmly and pulling her back from him. I then asked him if he would simply stand still and let her sniff him, so she could see that he was not someone that would harm her. That did help, but I am still concerned.

Is this change in behavior something that we can stop with immediate corrective training, or is this a sign of a long term problem that we are going to have with her? Am I going to need to muzzle her on walks now, or will this problem grow to include people she has previously been great with, like children? I realize now that I must be firm about telling anyone that wants to pet her that they must not bring their hand high over her head, but can she be trained not to fear such an action?
When she was younger she did have a brief period (it lasted a day or two at the most) where she was possessive over food, but we corrected that quickly with training and she no longer has those problems. Can we train her as effectively with this problem also?

I apologize that this is so long, but I would appreciate any insight you have to offer. I have been around many dogs in my life but none that have done something like what she did the other night. We do love her and want to keep her, but we must be sure that she is trustworthy with the various children and adults that we encounter. Can we help her?

Our Response

Hi and thanks for your question – it does not matter how long your question is as it keeps our site going and we are grateful for all of our readers input. You are actually doing so many things right – and you are seeing results after you have done them. Ask people not to approach and place their hand over your dog’s head. Let your dog sniff the person first – after your dog has had a good sniff and is well behaved and does not snap give her a treat. The aim of the game is socialization – the more you socialize your dog around men and other people the more used to it she will get and the less she will growl. I would also strongly advise that you take your dog to training classes. The reason I mention this is that classes are a fantastic way for your dog to be around lots of people (especially men). You want your dog to meet as many men as possible (she is displaying some fear aggression and the way to stop this is to put her in as many situations with men as possible as this will gradually reinforce that men are not to be scared of). Ask a male friend to ‘accidentally’ approach you and your dog on a walk – when he gets near ask him to lower his body and offer a treat – this will reinforce that when men approach it can be a positive experience. Reward positive behavior and ignore negative behavior.

You could also start with a man just being in the same room as your dog – when the male stranger ignores your dog – give your dog a treat. Do this several times – when your dog starts to look for the treat when the male is in the same room then you know your dog is becoming less scared. Now ask your friend to give your dog eye contact (reward when your dog is well behaved). Then get your male to approach – when she ignores him – give her a treat. Repeat this until he is closer and closer – do this with as many men as possible. The more your dog links a positive treat with men the more she will accept that men are nice and don’t need to be growled at.

Anyway hope this helps