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Canine Behavior/Puppy afraid of husband and strangers


I just got a 4 month old Shetland Sheepdog from a breeder a few days ago. The breeder said he was shy but warms up quickly, so we brought him home. The puppy is fine with me. He licks me, follows me around, and lays with me. However, he doesn't like my husband, who hasn't done anything to him to make him afraid. On the couch he can pet him. But on the floor, he runs away and watches his every move very closely. Also, when I bring him out to potty he keeps his tail tucked and generally seems afraid. If a stranger walks by him, he freaks out and tries to escape the leash ( he is not lead trained). I want to be able to keep this puppy, but if he can't get along with my husband, it is a big problem and I want to be able to bring him to the park and what-not.

This dog is the product of  bad breeding by a very, very bad breeder.  Why do I say this?  Because fear (shyness) is inherited and is not a strong fault in the Sheltie, so the breeder is not paying attention to her breeding stock for type and function, therefor she's doing this for some sort of personal gain.  Puppies need heavy socialization and four months is about the time the window of opportunity for socializing begins to slam shut.  This puppy has not been leash trained (pathetic, breeder has no business turning out puppies) and most likely has never SEEN men (not socialized to them, not habituated to them) or has been exposed to abuse by a man in the breeder's household.  This sounds like a "kennel dog", that's a puppy that didn't sell when it "should have" and has been basically housed in a kennel or simply ignored except for the basics.

You've only had him a few days.  So far, there is no indication of aggression but the puppy has  strong fight/flight (in this case, flight) response to your husband (because the puppy is not habituated to men).  The puppy is watching your husband carefully to "make sense" of him.  Tell your husband NOT to pet this puppy freely; in other words, when the puppy is next to him, he should NOT touch the puppy but totally ignore him.  "Petting" is a fairly dominant thing; the puppy is now "trapped" in a space he can't get out of without a. aggression, b. leave taking, c. freezing in place, which appears to be what he's doing.  If your husband ignores the puppy, never raises his voice to the puppy, never makes direct eye contact with the puppy, BUT IS THE SOURCE OF THE THREE MEALS A DAY THE PUPPY SHOULD BE RECEIVING (he should put the bowl down and LEAVE THE ROOM, you pick up the bowl when the puppy is finished or within a reasonable time.  At first, the puppy might not eat.  It will NOT starve itself.)  This is called counter conditioning: the husband is making a great display of high status in the social hierarchy (by ignoring the puppy and not offering "free" attention) and will become the source of life itself (food).  This should, over the course of the next month or six weeks, change the puppy's behavior toward your husband.

This is not a puppy that will most likely be a "park" dog (although he probably is better with other dogs than with people) unless you do a great deal of WORK with him, right now.

The option to return him is not available.  You are his salvation.  He will go back to kennel life, will age out, and might be dumped (or worse).  

I suggest you find a certified applied animal behaviorist (CAAB) who can, in just a few sessions, set you and your puppy on a course of positive reinforcement training, counter conditioning, and rehabilitative socializing.  You very well may find yourself with the best adult dog you've ever owned, the Sheltie is an exceptionally wonderful companion.

Find a CAAB from one of the following sites (NOT a dog trainer and whatever you do, YOU MUST NEVER USE PUNISHMENT or any coercion on this dog):

Meanwhile, check out Dr. Ian Dunbar's website with tons of free advice, videos, etc. on just about any aspect of dog psychology:

Especially study his Sirius Puppy Training free online course:

The puppy is terrified.  He's in a "strange" environment with a "strange" entity (adult human male).  His tail is down outside because he's stressed.  Have a very low key "party" when you take him out (so long as he is NOT visibly freaked out).  Find a CAAB.  Save a dog.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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