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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi all - When Steele was a few months younger he started growling at people when we would be in the immediate vicinity of my house but once the person came up to him he was a bundle of joy with his tail wagging. I've been trying to work with him on this issue and it seems to only be getting worse. I had a trainer come in and evaluate the situation and give me a report on what I can do to hopefully stop this fear-aggression now. She suggested using either desensitization or counterconditioning. Here's a rundown of what the issues are:

Inside the house - if Steele hears a weird noise, people's voices from outside, etc. he immediately starts to growl, his hair stands up and he paces around the house. I've taught him that when he starts feeling like this he looks at me, comes to me and I talk in a happy, high pitched voice and give treats. This reaction also happens if he sees someone outside from inside the house.

Outside the house - When we step outside if there is someone that he can see he immediately starts to growl, maybe bark. Same thing as in the house. I have treats on me and I talk in a happy voice. Once we're away from the immediate border of my house he is completely fine.

Also want to mention that he has been socialized a TON and has been through 2 types of training classes. He's great with other dogs and people and has never once showed aggression. This is the only issue we have with him and it's getting to a point where it's happening mulitple times per day.

Should I continue with the counterconditioning? I was told it can take a long time to work, it's just so frustrating and I now hate taking him out for walks for fear our neighbors will start to really hate us. Any insight would be great, especially if you've dealt with this behavior before.

Also - is this somewhat normal in dobies? I'm a first-time owner.
 

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It seems to me you are rewarding him with the treats to keep acting this way. When my girl was about that age she did the same things outside. I would have her sit and calm down after awhile she realized there was no reason to bark at everything. When nothing was going on I worked on her sit and attention with treat rewards so her good behavior was rewarded.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
It seems to me you are rewarding him with the treats to keep acting this way. When my girl was about that age she did the same things outside. I would have her sit and calm down after awhile she realized there was no reason to bark at everything. When nothing was going on I worked on her sit and attention with treat rewards so her good behavior was rewarded.
I get what you're saying about rewarding him for acting out but I guess the way counterconditioning works is:

"Food helps to change the result of a manageable exposure to something scary from “I hate it when I see X because I get scared that something bad is about to happen” to “I love it when I see X because I get great food and nothing bad ever happens.”

This only works when the exposure is manageable. If the exposure is too much for your dog and your dog tips over from merely alerting to “I’m upset” you won’t change their opinion because the dog will still feel upset."

That is what the trainer told me about changing his response from a negative to a positive when he sees/hears something he doesn't know or like.
 

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Practice his focus and have his attention on you as you leave the house. It does take awhile. At the beginning, I would look outside first to see if anyone was in the immediate vicinity. My gal did that for a long time but doesn't anymore. As for the treats, don't treat to get him to stop barking but use the treats if you see something coming where he hasn't reacted yet...the timing is really important.

The most important thing is to NOT stop going for your walks in the neighborhood. Doesn't matter what they think. Steele will become familiar with the neighbors and things will get better.
 

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I've been trying to work with him on this issue and it seems to only be getting worse.

Inside the house - if Steele hears a weird noise, people's voices from outside, etc. he immediately starts to growl, his hair stands up and he paces around the house. I've taught him that when he starts feeling like this he looks at me, comes to me and I talk in a happy, high pitched voice and give treats.

Also - is this somewhat normal in dobies? I'm a first-time owner.
If you initiate a plan and the opposite result of what you'd intended occurs, it is likely that you have either selected the wrong plan or that you are implementing it poorly.

I totally agree that he's figured out how to turn on the happy treat machine.

Is what normal for Dobermans? Being smarter than people? Yes.

If he was my dog, I would go see immediately when he alerts, thank him for alerting and then tell him "Enough." If he didn't knock it off, I would step on his leash while I read a book for a while.
 

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your dogs brain is not mature enough to handle all the subtleties your sending his way. He is having a hard enough time trying to decide what he hears and sees is a threat or not. He is sensing your initial anxieties and his own and then you talk to him in a praising voice and treat him. whats a dog to think?

1. in the house tell him enough, and when that doesnt work tell him enough again and put him in a down until he relaxes and then praise and treat.

2. outside simply correct and redirect. meaning say no and start walking like there is nothing wrong, because there isnt.

YOU have to show him the correct way to handle the situation he is confused about.
 

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Maybe I'm a bit different...but I see dobes responding to outside noises (especially at night) with a low growl as a positive attribute of the breed....it's what they were bred for...to protect. That is a behaviour I would reward, and then shape that natural tendancy to develop an "off" switch. Once I've checked out the disturbance and given the "it's fine" announcement then the dog can relax. The really good dogs learn (or are naturally disposed) to discern between true threat and non threat. It's not a behaviour I've ever given treats for either...just attention and verbal reward or correction have been sufficient to shape the desired behaviour. ...but then I'm not trying to work against the trait of the breed either, rather I'm working with the drives...it's so much easier.
 

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I had a similar problem with a sensitive/fearful bitch. I conditioned her to be accepting of strangers close-up but at a distance of 20-50ft she would be reactive and fearful. In that situation, it doesn't help for me to reward her.

What I did was have people approach her from a distance and throw treats to her when they were as close as they could get to throw reasonably accurately but still be outside 20ft. The threat is outside. She will always alert to outside noises - no getting around that. But she doesn't need to be afraid of what is approaching especially since her close-up reaction is to be friendly. You just need to work on having the approaching people treat her as they approach, not just once they get there. That way she will keep her eyes on them but look expectantly for good things. You shouldn't rely on a fearful dog for protection - it isn't very successful. You can only deal with lowering her level of fear. If she ever reaches a normal plateau and grows up, then you could re-evaluate.
 

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you fear...steele protects...sound right.
+1 - that was my first though / however, owner is not managing...the dobes "god given talents".

************************

lyndsaykay
Re. Quote - She suggested using either desensitization or counter-conditioning.
Just sounds like "marketing hype" if a trained professional...hasn't figured out the clear & easy solution.
- without a lot of "big words"...lol
Re. Quote - Should I continue with the counter-conditioning? I was told it can take a long time to work.
I think their can be a relatively quick fix here..."long time to work"...I see $$$$$$$
------------------------------------
Treats are not working...kind of like parent paying, $100's/month for their high school kid to have the latest iPod or Blackberry & they are to lazy to get a part time job...and pay their own way, for the fringes in life.

This problem can be solved & without treat bribery:
- no treats, during bad actions
- you have to take the leadership role
- say Enough, like you mean it
- fingers/muzzle shaped poke, in side of neck / for redirection of brain
- than an immediate sit/stay, if needed
(the Cesar Millan style of training - sounds right, to me here)
- and timing, procedure and consistency is key

You have to assert your role more - so the dog will start to look up to you, for directional clues.
- your not getting "any respect or results" / handing out good treats, for the behavior change...your addressing
But, some of how your dobe acts, is totally natural...don't weaken the dogs protection drive or lessen its problem solving smarts.
- just need an on/off switch...from your own presence & strength.
 

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I'd suggest picking up a copy of the book "Control Unleashed" by Leslie McDevitt and giving it a good read through. Those techniques are very, very effective for anxious behavior.
 

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From the information that's been given us though...I'm not convinced this is a fear response...it sounds more like classic conditioning. This pup is right at the age when natural defense drive can kick in and when he first tested it out...he got rewarded. ...and rewarded even more when he continues it (reinforcement). *especially because it's only happening in the vicinity of the house (that he's defending)

...or maybe I'm reading it wrong?
 

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From the information that's been given us though...I'm not convinced this is a fear response...it sounds more like classic conditioning. This pup is right at the age when natural defense drive can kick in and when he first tested it out...he got rewarded. ...and rewarded even more when he continues it (reinforcement). *especially because it's only happening in the vicinity of the house (that he's defending)

...or maybe I'm reading it wrong?
Exactly agree ^^^
I don't see a "fearful" puppy either.
In most respects...some/most of its behavior...is what I would hope to get, from my purchase.
- just maybe needs tweaked a little & controlled or managed by owner better
 

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I would continue with the trainer's advice. If it isn't working, I would ask the trainer then about desensitizing or using something like CU or BAT (Control Unleashed or Behavior Adjustment Training). I'm not a fan of forcing dogs to 'shut up'/quit growling, etc. I am a fan of dealing with the underlying behavior and treating the problem from the underlying issue. The "sound" isn't the issue. The REASON he is growling is the issue (to me anyway).

By desensitizing, the dog is learning to relax and focus on the owner in the presence of the stimulus and that the stimulus equals "good things." The power of desensitizing is teaching the dog the scary object is not bad vs teaching the dog SHUT UP if you see the scary object.
 

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I'd suggest picking up a copy of the book "Control Unleashed" by Leslie McDevitt and giving it a good read through. Those techniques are very, very effective for anxious behavior.
Here are a few web sites, for viewing - that MeadowCat & Adara posts, brought light to:
(I googled them, so I could also check them out / not that I had a problem, never to old for more education)
CU
Leslie McDevitt: Control Unleashed®
BAT
http://functionalrewards.com/BAT-basics.pdf
YouTube - BAT - Behavior Adjustment Training for dog aggression
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwf53xwyndw
 

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Sounds to me like you are rewarding as shown also because it is esclating, I know what the idea is but I think your pup is getting the incorrect cues, wrong message. I suggest you use a word then treat. The word could be "quiet" or "enough". Dobermans are guardians, it is our job to teach them how to control it. The doberman is a naturally suspcious breed, it is okay to growl from a distance, in my opinion. I use "quiet" in my home to tell Eli and the other little enforcer, that I got the warning and now I'll take over, they are to be quiet. Works better with Eli than my little girl. I would continue to walk him, continue to train him let him learn that he has nothing to fear by your behavior. At 6 months they can be very suspicious, work through it. I also believe that some behavior just needs to be stopped and I don't care why the dog is doing it. I don't know that yours is one of of those I would try the word/treat/look at me stuff with your pup but say the pup is going after someone or children, then I would correct, hard and immediately. I have raised several GSD's and aussies plus other mixed breeds over the years and have always used a combination of technques depending on the situation. ALL my GSD's went through a slight fear period around 6 months. I remember Maggie inparticular (GSD) barked and growled at shadows in the evening for a while...geesh! LOL. You never know what may lie in a shadow nor if those people a few yards away are decent. Gotta be careful. Just saying.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Thanks everyone for the great feedback. There's a lot of really good information here and I agree I may have not been as assertive as I should; was trying to be the "happy, chearful" mom to get him to think it was all okay (per the trainer). I'm definitely going to be digesting all this information and working on what I think is the best method. We have someone in the area that has a training class on Control Unleashed and will also pick up the book. THANKS!
 

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I would suggest contacting the Control Unleashed trainer to set up an evaluation for your dog. That one-on-one session is great for getting an idea of where you're at right now. I love Control Unleashed and it's done wonders for my dog. Shanoa was very, very people reactive (scared of everyone) and she is now a registered Delta therapy dog.
 
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