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Hi Poodle friends- I rarely post as I can find most of my questions by doing lots of searches and reading old threads. I'm not having luck with my current issue. Sorry- this may end up a long post.

The problem: 24 month neutered (at 15 mo.) male, Spoo. Brought him home at 10 weeks from a great breeder who did lots of early socialization work. (Volhard score of 4 -I wanted lower drive as I have a shy cat). I did my best to continue- lots of reading, 2 puppy classes, obedience class, agility class, etc. He's been a great dog- happy, eager to please, friendly. While he has always tended toward apprehensive he always seemed unflappable until the last month or so. Suddenly we're experiencing what I can only describe as some fear aggression.

Background- Ziibi is crate trained and loves his crate. Husband and I both work full time and would trade off coming home at lunch to give him a potty break and short walk (luckily we live close enough to work to do this). In March, due to Covid, like many folks, we started working from home. Clearly, Ziibi has enjoyed this. We have an enclosed front porch and he has enjoyed spending time laying out on the porch where he has a good view of the driveway and street. He has gradually developed a habit of explosive barking at anyone approaching the house or walking on the sidewalk. While I know this is not out of the ordinary for dogs in general, in the past he would settle down quickly and was generally tail wagging excited for someone to come visit. Since Covid- we haven't had visitors in our house except our two young adult children. We have had people come stand outside or drop something off (both strangers and familiar people) and he has started rushing up and barking in an aggressive way. The first time this happened it was with someone he hadn't met (but known to us) who was also wearing a mask. It completely caught me off guard and shocked me. It took a bit before we could convince him this person was invited and friendly- but of course by that time the poor woman (who loves dogs) was apprehensive of him. The next time it was my sister dropping something off at the house- he knows her well and has been to her house and she to ours. She approached the house while he was on the porch and started barking. I went to the door and shushed him and opened the door for him to greet her the way I normally would. He ran out and barked at her and lightly nipped at her hand. We were both shocked and again it took a bit to convince him she was safe.

It has now continued with others- now that I'm on to him I'm working to correct the issue and clearly don't let him out the door without my permission and on leash and making him greet appropriately etc. Yesterday, the garbage man came while we were out doing our morning potty (on lead). He saw us and returned the can up to the house. Ziibi showed interest as soon as he got out of the truck and I made him sit. His tail was wagging away and when the man approached talking to him I let him (dog) approach. I told him we were working on meeting strangers. As he got close to the man he started to bark and did the same nipping as with my sister- I did a fast correction and pulled Ziibi back, made him sit. The man was incredibly patient- telling Ziibi in a soothing voice that next time he would bring treats. He waited Ziibi out and again I was able to convince Ziibi he was a friend and then he wanted to play with him.

I'm at a loss. I'm sad. I feel like a failure. My friendly happy boy is turning into something I don't understand. I've talked to the instructor at our local kennel club who knows him and she wants me to try to stage people to come to the house to work on this. But now I'm also seeing some of the behavior out on walks. I'm to the point where I don't trust him to meet people. I'm scared- which I'm sure he is noticing. And due to the pandemic, at least in our neighborhood, everyone is incredibly respectful and steers clear of passing too close on the sidewalk or we all just cross the street to avoid each other. Which is great for physical distancing, but only makes things worse for my dog.

I feel like this pandemic has messed up so many things. I'm concerned that maybe the lock down happening right at his 18 month mark may have been at his last fear stage and now we're past the point of no return?

Sorry if this is rambling. Anyone experience anything like this before? Suggestions? I'm trying to do some reading online and will continue to work. I just don't want to do the wrong thing and make things worse.

Thank you for any help you have!!

Jennifer
 

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We're absolutely experiencing some similar setbacks. So sending hugs of solidarity.

I'll give this some more thought, but my gut response is that he shouldn't be spending time on the porch right now. Or at least not so much time. It sounds like it gets him stuck in a watchful "guarding" state, and maybe the job feels a little too big for him. He may need to be reminded that you've got it under control by keeping yourself positioned between him and his view of the neighbourhood.
 

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Jennifer,

First, you're not a failure. You simply have a dog who is trying to protect. Since you dont want guardian behavior you need to learn to communicate. For instance when someone is approaching you say "it's okay, I see em" (doesn't matter if its Male or female). This tells the dog, I acknowledge that I, the handler, see the person & thus far I say they're ok. From that point I'll be interrupting the dog anytime he goes to focus on the visitor. You can do that a number of ways but he needs to focus on you. Then you use a command for friend, either use that word or another. I use a certain greeting & my dogs know this is a welcome. Now you can do the treat thing or you can allow your guest to give a treat but you do this only when the dog shows no aggression & accepts the friend command.

You likely trigger the dog because your worried what he might do. When you get this fixed... then you start working with him on walks. Salt the mine by planting some willing helpers along your route. This builds your confidence & his. Then you build on it.



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I would not leave him unsupervised on the porch for the time being since he is being allowed to rehearse and reinforce neurological paths for undesirable behaviors. Take him to the porch and work on counter conditioning this behavior such that you are focusing his attention on you and rewarding him for attending to you in a calm way with people approaching but not coming closer than will set off his reaction. After some time of good behavior take him in the house and put him in his crate or on his bed while you deal with the outside person if they really are coming to your house. The club trainer was correct in suggesting this can be a set up situation. Over time the people should be able to come closer and closer without him reacting. Eventually you will be able to greet up close and have the other person give him treats. I don't think you have failed but you made an easy mistake allowing him that level of autonomy without noticing until the problem was obvious (since you were working while it was happening).

Be aware that counter conditioning can take a long time. I trained a nice BC/lab mix who was under socialized with other animals before being rehomed from a local town shelter by the family who adopted her. She was crazy on a leash and we spent about 6 months getting her to not go over threshold on seeing Lily two houses away on the same side of the street. It involved three people, the husband of the couple that hired me, his father and me. His dad took Lily who sends great calming signals, a signal system given by me for him to approach and stop and the husband holding her on the leash. Our starting point was opposite sides of the street and over five houses away.
 
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Discussion Starter #5
Thank you so much for the recommendations and encouragement. I had already decided at the suggestion of my trainer to take away the porch time. I will work with some set ups for him this week. Both my sister and sister-in-law need to drop something off this week and I've asked them if we can coordinate the timing and work on doggie behavior. Also will work on a cue while walking. I should note that I've only had problems while walking recently when people have stopped and asked to meet him- we will lay off of allowing that until I feel more confident.

Thanks again for the help- it is nice to have this group as a resource!
 

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I wish I could remember where I read it. Maybe here? It said dogs can need up to 72 hours to cool off after an adrenaline-pumping reactive episode.

Something to keep in mind as you navigate some of these recommendations, just in case you inadvertently push him past his threshold and then feel like it's all falling apart. It's not. :) Just give him some time to regroup.

Good luck! I hope you'll keep us posted.
 

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Just a little addition to what Peggy said, you will often have a darkness before the dawn moment where your dog may go far worse before this all makes a change for th he good. It's not ALWAYS dramatic but just be prepared& dont get discouraged. Dawn always comes if you keep at it

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Agree with PTP too.

As for is it too late? Certainly not. We have a 5 year old dog who at age 1 cowered and hid if anyone approached who gets braver and more social every year - we have started having to leash her, she runs to strangers in public! Fixing it wont be instantaneous, but with plenty of time and patience, it can happen.

If things dont go well with your sister (and i hope they do!) dont lose hope!

When i was dealing with sepration anxiety with Annie (different behaviour, also fear based) probably the most useful advice i read was to let Annie get a week without stress, and then begin working at desensitizing her, arranging my life at great difficulty to make that happen. I had tried without that stress free week, but not had any success. At the end of the week, she was out of the habit of worrying, her cortidol levels were down, and she had the brains to think more clearly. Our progress was way faster ; she was no longer desperately watching for the trigger signs of me going. Would you be able to do that with him? No porch time, no visitors, no strangers approaching, or other triggers for a week? Let you and him calm a bit. Not always necessary, but perhaps something that might help.

I bought a book (BAT by Grisha Stewart) that you might find interesting. I bought it when i was trying to work on Annies squirrel obsession. It wasnt very helpful for me (how do i keep Annie from seeing all squirrels except safe squirrels at prescribed distances?) but i dont really regret owning it, its full of creative, low stess ways to deal with reactivity. I love how she uses the reward of moving away as a reinforcement, and sets dogs up for success.

Best of luck to you.
 
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