Last weekend my parents were in town, and they calmly handled our fear-aggressive dog, Cooper, as usual: Ignore him, don't make any sudden movements, and in a few minutes he'll get used to you being around and won't bark and growl.
We've had Cooper about six years now. We adopted him when he was about three months old from a local shelter. He's intelligent and perfect with my husband and me. He can sit, turn circles, shake, speak, go backwards, roll over, stand on his tippytoes, and more with a verbal or hand signal. He never chews anything he's not supposed to, never eats anything he's not supposed to, never does his "business" anywhere he's not supposed to. But he is terrible around other people. (He's actually pretty good around other dogs.) After this current episode and everyone was calm and almost happy, my Mom said, "What did somebody do to him for him to be so afraid like that?"
Having Veterinary Medicine's August cover article on behavior myths fresh in mind, I knew that previous abuse was not likely the cause of his problems. One of the myths covered in the article was the leap that people make when they adopt a fearful dog. They think it must have been abused before. And it's true that it's easier to say this because then you don't have to accept as much responsibility. But I don't think Cooper was abused--at least physically. He is suffering from a complete lack of socialization when he was younger. My vague recollection of what we were told when we adopted him was that he had been kept pretty isolated when he was a pup. So now any new thing is terrifying. And repeated exposure to that terrifying thing is still terrifying.
We worked with a behaviorist in Kansas City and will try to do so here in Texas as well. We need to work to habituate him to these things, but it's not easy and it's so easy to be lazy. We've recently adopted another dog, Oliver, that is already six months old, but he appears to be well-socialized. He's not fearful, and he is sweet with strangers. My parents loved him! But we're still taking him to an obdience class just to reinforce his socialization and let him be around other pups.
I wish I could go back in time and really expose Cooper more to different situations when we first got him. I didn't know the importance of socialization at the time. Maybe if we had tried harder at that point we could have lessened some of his problems. But we are dealing with it a day at a time. And he is a good dog. Now, I wonder what behavior problems Oliver is going to develop...
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