Jump to content

Increasing Comfort With New People


Recommended Posts

We could use some advice from the trainers and experienced hound owners on this board. We have two lovely girls - Penny and Treasure. Penny is 7 and we've had her for three years. Treasure is 3 and we've had her since March, so this will be her first set of holidays in a home. Penny has always been very easy to take places, have guests around, and in general do anything with. Treasure is turning out to have a more difficult time with new people. We just spent Thanksgiving with my family, and that means lots of people and lots of dogs. Treasure started out fine, following Penny's lead greeting people. But she seemed to get more nervous or uncomfortable about other people she doesn't know well. The strange thing about it is that in this case, my family is very appropriate around dogs - no one is crowding her or approaching her in a way that I would understand might make her uncomfortable. Sometimes it might just be someone gets up from a chair and moves - she will start barking at them. Sometimes it's like she all of the sudden notices someone and starts barking. I try to call her away from whomever she is barking at, and when she gives me her attention she gets a treat. However, this approach is not working. She will come to me and get her treat (she is VERY food motivated) but will return to barking eventually. I have had the object of her barking feed her treats while she is quiet, but this also does not seem to increase her comfort with them. Yesterday we were in my mom's home; this behavior also occurs in our home. I have tried having house guests feed her her dinner, but again, this doesn't seem to have a lasting effect on her feelings about them. Scolding her also does not seem to work (and isn't my first choice anyway). I usually keep her sort of "attached" to me via a leash, so I can reel her in. She seems to be better when she is right with me or her dad. Sometimes the barking sounds more like "demand" barking - give me attention, or give me a bite of whatever you are eating - but sometimes it sounds more fearful.

 

The main person that she has had trouble with so far, which is totally baffling to me, is my sister, who is extremely gentle and softspoken, and is, in fact, a DOG TRAINER! Which is why I am so confused by Treasure's response to her - my sister never does anything that would be threatening to her. She works with shelter animals, especially pit bulls, using positive methods only. Treasure has left her scratching her head a bit about this. I had my sister join us on a walk once, and she walked Treasure and fed her treats and as long as we were walking Treasure was fine. But as soon as we got back to the house the barking resumed. She has only been around Treasure a handful of times but she doesn't seem to be getting any better around her.

 

I don't want this to get too long, but a few other details that might help - Treasure does not know any commands (we're working on down but it's slow going) but does have a very good recall and is very interested in food. I guess I would call her "food obsessed" rather than "food motivated." I have not used a clicker with her, because it's too much to juggle most of the time, but instead we use a "kissy" sound as the conditioned reinforcer. She knows that kissy sound = treat is coming. So much so that she will approach anyone who makes the sound for any reason, expecting a treat! We've got more family gatherings coming up this season, and I'd really like to make some headway with this issue. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Image removed, not within Signature Guidelines.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't have any advice about the barking, but I do understand your concerns for your hound's comfort around your friends and family during the holidays. My Luna doesn't bark at people, but she is not at all at ease around people she is not VERY familiar with. If I leave her eyesight for even a moment, panic will set in, and I will hear her mournful wails. Last summer was a huge test for us, because we attended a large family reunion at my grandparents' house. She was in unfamiliar territory surrounded by people who, although very respectful of her space, she didn't know and couldn't relax around.

 

What I always make sure to do, whether I am at my house, my parents' house, or any other place, is make sure that Luna has an area that she can kind of escape to for some down time. At my house, I leave my spare bedroom door open just wide enough to fit a greyhound, that way she can go chill out there for a while if she becomes overwhelmed. If there isn't a room she can go in, I will designate a quieter corner as her space, and put her pillow there. I always make sure to walk over to that space with her so she can settle down and not feel stressed that she has to go through a "crowded" area before we reach her corner.

 

Do you think that might work for your Treasure? Or does she prefer to be right in the middle of things even when she is uncomfortable?

Laura, mom to Luna (Boc's Duchess) and Nova (Atascocita Venus).
Forever in my heart, Phantom (Tequila Nights) and Zippy (Iruska Monte).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Giselle

Throughout all your training, remember this: To change a problematic behavior, you need to change the underlying emotion first. So, if Treasure is fearful, it doesn't matter who or what is scaring her. It doesn't matter if it's the greatest trainer in the world or a loud, rambunctious child. If it's scaring her, then whatever/whoever it is doesn't matter. It's the fear emotion itself that we need to change.

 

Next, define clearly what behaviors you want Treasure to perform while guests are over. Because she does not yet know commands and because she does have special needs, your best option may be to babygate a small corner for her (or keep her in her crate) and have her lay down/relax/sleep.

Now, teach Treasure to "Go to Place/Bed". This is a decent video on how to shape this behavior: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQzXdAA3vk8

 

Once Treasure understands "Go to Place/Bed", have her practice staying on the bed for longer periods of time. Slowly transition from rewarding ever 3 seconds to rewarding every 5 seconds. Then, reward every 10, 15, 30 seconds. Then, reward every minute or 3 minutes, or, heck, reward at random intervals! (When done correctly, random rewards actually strengthen behaviors).

 

Now, increase the distractions after you ask Treasure to "Go to Place/Bed". Knock on the door. Run around. Jump around. Throw toys around.

 

And, finally, tell Treasure to "Go to Place/Bed", and have your guests come over. Tell them to periodically toss treats at her (don't feed by hand, if she's fearful). Every time they get up, reward her. Every time they make a loud noise, reward her. Every time they go to the bathroom, reward her. etc. etc. This way, Treasure has a clear idea of what she's supposed to do (lay quietly) and you change the underlying emotion from fear to that of relaxed focus.

 

Also, a note on clickers. A clicker is useful as a "bridge" to indicate to the dog that, "Yes! You did that EXACT behavior correctly. Now, here comes the treat". It is useful for shaping smaller behaviors into bigger, complex behaviors because it tells the dog that he is performing correctly at each successive step. For example, when you were a kid and learning an instrument for the first time, your instructor would say "Yes!" and "Good job!" each time you played a correct line. Then, after repetition and learning, you could eventually play a whole concerto! Thus, unless you're making a kissy sound every time the dog does a correct behavior and use it in this successive manner of chaining together/shaping complex behaviors, I would suggesting using a verbal "Yes!" or a clicker, instead. Kissy sounds are difficult to say consistently and rapidly for training :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would also suggest for you to teach her to "Go to Place/Bed". My other suggestion until you get that down would be, if you are home, have a crate handy so she can be put in the crate when things get to be too much for her. You could also use the pad/bed in the crate to be her special "bed" when you are not home. Showing her you are in control and she doesn't have to worry is what she needs to help relieve her fear and this will help. I don't know your situation, but holidays are stressful for us just imagine how stressful they are for the pups. Is it possible to leave her home or with a friend when you go where there will be lots of people? at least until she learns to be less fearful.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you for the suggestions. We will work on the "go to your bed" command. This will be a good thing for her to learn for many reasons, but will also be difficult for her because she is still at that stage where she follows me everywhere. Yesterday I did remove her from the room and showed her she had an escape route, but she would not voluntarily stay there without me. I eventually put her in a crate out of ear shot of the people and she was able to relax. She would not have chosen to go in on her own though - she is not a huge fan of the crate, though we have and do use one as needed. We will bring her crate with us when we travel for Christmas. I'm not willing to leave her at home - we're away for several days and it's one of the few "vacations" I get. Plus there's really no one "safe" to leave her with at this point.

 

I need to work on changing MY emotions about this whole thing, too - our previous dog was an abused rescue who was extremely fear aggressive, which meant few house guests and fewer trips. We worked with multiple trainers, and even used medication, but were never able to improve her behavior around strangers very much. So I don't have a lot of confidence in myself and my skills at training a dog. Of course, Treasure is a different dog and I need to remember that.

Image removed, not within Signature Guidelines.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Giselle

On the plus side, it's good that you recognize your role in shaping Treasure's training and that you are taking the early initiative :) A lot of people like to attribute the success or failure of a dog to its inherent "characteristics". But the reality is that we, as intelligent and creative human beings, play a huge role in shaping their successes (and not-quite-successes). And if we can get an early hold on the behavior problem, we can almost certainly change their outcome for the better.

 

You need not fear your dog's fear! And, believe me, I understand what that anxiety feels like. Remember, my Dobermutt, Ivy, is severely dog aggressive and has thousands of dollars in vet bills and doggy victims in her past. But if you approach the training step-by-step, keep them short and fun, and remember to change the emotional core of their behavior, Treasure will almost certainly improve.

 

Begin teaching her "Place/Bed" first. Next, increase the time intervals. Then, increase the distractions. If you start small, you'll find that Treasure wants to play the game. You'll find that she wants to stay on that bed, even if it's away from you! You'll find that she will increase her confidence and decrease her anxiety. It's a win-win for everyone!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sunshine has gotten a bazillion times better through the years but she's still nervous around any strangers. Strangers are anyone she has not lived with and a few select other Greyhound friend parents.

 

Even if we are at someone else's house I make sure she has a safe place to go. Usually a dog bed tucked into a corner. If she's really scared I park myself in front of the corner and physically block anyone from getting to her. Makes her feel safe to know that mommy is on guard.

 

Keep up the positive treats stuff, maybe make it sporadic so she walks by a stranger and oh look they tossed a treat! Since it seems like she had issues sporadically with people. Yes she is scared. Have lots of patience and understanding. She hasn't been gone for that long, maybe she thinks someone else is going to try and take her home? You never know what's in their little brains.

------

 

Jessica

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thought I'd update this thread as we work on the "go to your bed" training, in the off chance it's helpful to anyone else. We started working on the method shown in the video link Giselle posted. Treasure caught on to putting all four feet on the bed quickly. The next step shown in the video is to reward when the dog offers to sit and then lay down on the bed. Since neither of these things are behaviors Treasure offers, I started luring her into a down and rewarding that, hoping that eventually she will offer to lay down. She is 100% on being lured into a down with just me touching my hand to the floor with a treat in it, so we've started adding the verbal command but she hasn't yet responded without the lure. (I started with luring her under my legs whilst sitting on a stool, then under one leg while down on one knee, etc). Does this seem like a reasonable way to go? Otherwise I think we'll be at this a long time, waiting for her to offer something other than standing there looking expectantly!

Image removed, not within Signature Guidelines.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Just wanted to add that my first grey, Henry, was extremely fearful of strangers when he first came to us, especially children. His behaviors were more overtly fearful than Treasure's (tail-tucked pacing, panting, staring), but the same underlying emotion was fear. To get him more comfortable, we would have friends come over and practice hand-targeting (really basic, when she touches her nose to your hand, the hand opens up and you give her a treat). We also did the "go to your bed" training with high value treats and bones when we wanted him to leave us alone, like when we were eating dinner. We also told our guests not to give Henry any attention unless he came to them. After time, he learned that guests weren't a threat, and he calmed down a lot. He still doesn't really enjoy having guests over, but it's a vast improvement.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm going to keep bumping this thread with update, in the hopes others will help troubleshoot!

 

We've been working on "go to your bed" everyday, and Treasure has started to voluntarily lay down! Usually it's after she's been lured once, but occasionally it's on the first repetition. We still have to walk over to the bed - I'm not sure how to get her to go away from me to the bed.

 

Last night we had the opportunity to practice with a guest - not the time line I would have chosen, but it is what it is. A friend of Pennysdad came to pick him up, so was in our home for less than ten minutes. Treasure has met him on many occasions and has had a successful play date with his dog at our home. She barked at him when he arrived, and I immediately went to the bed exercise. She did follow me and lay on her bed, but when I ran out of treats (TWICE! :headwall ) she ran in to the other room and started barking at him again. I know folks have emphasized her having a "safe place" to retreat from guests, and this is what is frustrating to me - she's not retreating from them! She's approaching them to bark at them! Each time I grabbed more treats and put her back on her bed. Once or twice she tried barking while lying on the bed, so I told her shush and treated when she did. While she minded pretty well, and got lots of treats and praise, I'm actually disappointed that her behavior was actually WORSE than it has been with this particular person in the past. Suggestions? Encouragement?

Image removed, not within Signature Guidelines.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"On your bed" only really works if she's also good with the "stay" or "wait" command... and it doesn't sound like it's helping much with the barking.

 

I would maybe try a different route with the training because it is sort of odd that she is seeking your guests out to bark at them. That leads me to think it's more territorial than fear-based. Leash Treasure before your guest walks in the door. Make sure your guests are as non-confrontational as possible (not facing the dog straight on, not making eye contact, not posturing or reaching for the dog, moving slowly). Just have them act uninterested in Treasure and what she's doing. You interact with your guest first- face them and talk to them, touch them or shake hands, then bring your hand back to dog. Reward her for calm responses. Try that for several minutes and if she's doing okay with it, you can ask your guest to give her treats. Don't force the interaction if she is very distressed or you feel like she may snap/bite. Also, try to be cognizant of your own emotions and body language. Nervous people make dogs feel nervous too. Hope this helps!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Honestly I don't know how to interpret her behavior. At times the barking definitely changes to more "demand barking," and I can clearly hear the difference. Most of the time it sounds like "alarm barking" - like she does when the door bell rings. I am worried that instead of learning "paying attention to mom = treats" she is learning "barking, then paying attention to mom = treats."

 

I've arranged for a trainer friend to come give us some tips this weekend. I feel pressure because Pennysdad's parents will be visiting from out of state next week. They have been here twice before (shortly after Treasure came home) and there were no incidents of barking then. We have had other folks over to our house without any barking incidents. Oddly enough it seems the people that I am most comfortable with myself (my sister, a good friend) bring out the most barking from her. You'd think if I was doing something to feed her behavior it would be the other way around.

Image removed, not within Signature Guidelines.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Giselle

I'm going to keep bumping this thread with update, in the hopes others will help troubleshoot!

 

We've been working on "go to your bed" everyday, and Treasure has started to voluntarily lay down! Usually it's after she's been lured once, but occasionally it's on the first repetition. We still have to walk over to the bed - I'm not sure how to get her to go away from me to the bed.

 

Last night we had the opportunity to practice with a guest - not the time line I would have chosen, but it is what it is. A friend of Pennysdad came to pick him up, so was in our home for less than ten minutes. Treasure has met him on many occasions and has had a successful play date with his dog at our home. She barked at him when he arrived, and I immediately went to the bed exercise. She did follow me and lay on her bed, but when I ran out of treats (TWICE! :headwall ) she ran in to the other room and started barking at him again. I know folks have emphasized her having a "safe place" to retreat from guests, and this is what is frustrating to me - she's not retreating from them! She's approaching them to bark at them! Each time I grabbed more treats and put her back on her bed. Once or twice she tried barking while lying on the bed, so I told her shush and treated when she did. While she minded pretty well, and got lots of treats and praise, I'm actually disappointed that her behavior was actually WORSE than it has been with this particular person in the past. Suggestions? Encouragement?

This is normal! Please don't worry about small upticks and dips in behavior! Fluctuations are normal. Heck, if creatures were so stable, we'd never learn, never adjust to our environment, never evolve!

 

I highly encourage you to keep up with the "Go To Bed" training. Please keep in mind that dogs cannot understand us the way we wish them to. They don't have highly sophisticated theories of mind (as far as we can tell), so they can't understand that us reaching out to the stranger is a signal that the stranger is friendly. They can't understand that us speaking nicely to the stranger is a signal to be calm. They can't understand these subtleties of human behavior.

 

What I suspect is going on is that Treasure has practiced being fearful of strangers many times in the past. Whenever a behavior is practiced, it inevitably becomes stronger. So, because she has been scared in the past and because the emotional core is still in the process of changing, you may experience some escalation in fear behaviors. Different animals exhibit fear differently. Some fearful dogs may shy away, whereas others will approach and produce threatening behaviors. Think of it as individual variations of the "fight or flight" response. Some animals flee. Others fight. I've got a "fighter", and most dogs that I work with are "fighter". To be honest, I think I'm a "fighter" myself ;) It's normal!

 

Continue with the Go to Bed training, but only play for as long as you can control the situation. If you run out of treats, immediately say, "Okay!" and lead her to a bedroom where you can keep her away from the ruckus. Or you can crate her in a quiet room, too. The idea is: Every interaction with strangers should be controlled and relaxed. If you run out of treats or if she cannot focus, then confine her to an area far away from the ruckus and work on Go to Bed at a different time. You may also consider tethering her to something by her bed - but only if you're sure she won't hurt herself or cause frustration. You may also place an ex-pen around the bed. In the meantime, your next task is to increase the length of time that Treasure stays on her bed. Instead of treating every 30 seconds, try standing up and walking around before treating. Slowly increase these pauses from 30 seconds --> 1 minute --> 3 minutes --> 5 minutes --> etc. Then, vary it up and make it a fun game. Sometimes, ask for 30 seconds. Other days, ask for 30 minutes. You were making such great progress! I was so thrilled to watch your updates! Keep it up :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

They don't have highly sophisticated theories of mind (as far as we can tell), so they can't understand that us reaching out to the stranger is a signal that the stranger is friendly. They can't understand that us speaking nicely to the stranger is a signal to be calm. They can't understand these subtleties of human behavior.

 

Ehhh... I've taken close to a dozen obedience classes between my two dogs with various trainers. We have ALWAYS practiced interactions with other people by shaking hands with them and talking or "pretending" to talk to them. But I do agree with everything else Giselle said. I also think it's a good idea to have the trainer come out and make a recommendation because as much as we'd all like to give advice, it's hard to pinpoint the barking (i.e. fear, excitement, territorial) without actually seeing it. Can't wait to see her progress!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you for the encouragement, guys. I actually spent much of yesterday in tears over the situation and realized I needed another pair of eyes because I'm no longer a good judge of what I'm seeing. Pennysdad thought the practice with the friend was a success, while I thought it was a failure.

 

I do think that Treasure is not understanding what we want from her - last night, I was home alone and we were working on go to your bed. (We're up to about 10 seconds between treats lol no where near 30 seconds or a minute!) Anyway, she was doing quite well, lying down 80% of the time without a lure, trying to catch on to the idea of going away from me to her bed, etc. We worked for about ten minutes and then I released her by saying "all done" and walking into the other room. She flew into the other room and started barking! At nothing! It really seemed like she thought that was the next step in the program. I ended up choosing to ignore her and go about my business and she settled down. It made me laugh a little in truth, which was good.

 

Today she is in her crate with a stuffed Kong while I'm working - I think re-instituting the crate will be helpful and yes, now that you say that Giselle I should have just removed her to the crate when I ran out of treats.

 

Thank you for the continued encouragement and I will keep updating!

Image removed, not within Signature Guidelines.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Guest Giselle

You're being constructively critical of yourself, honest, and hard-working. Treasure is lucky to have you :) Keep up the good work!

 

In my opinion, in serious cases like aggression, it's more useful to use proven, scientifically driven methods (learning theory - especially positive reinforcement and negative punishment) rather than emotional speculation, like assuming our dogs understand highly sophisticated theories of mind. I have spent thousands of hours in various dog classes - formal obedience, competitive agility, aggression-specific, etc. - and I've spent them with various forms of trainers. And the best ones, the ones who get the quicket and longest lasting results, are those who use learning theory to definitively teach their animals what works (a.k.a. earns a reward) and what doesn't work (a.k.a. doesn't earn a reward). These are the trainers who can shift from training dogs to cats to chickens to horses. It's because they have a fundamental understanding that animals need to be explicitly rewarded to show them the behavior is right. Likewise, animals will stop behaviors that don't work or don't get rewarded. So, it means that if you only let Treasure play Go To Bed or put her away in a quiet room whenever people are over, she'll never practice being fearful and the aggression will be extinguished. It's a very simple idea, but, as you already know, it's definitely not easy! :) But it is simple, and it is certainly achievable. Keep training and have fun!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...