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Canine Behavior/Great Dane puppy fear aggression


Hello I have a 18 week old male harlequin Dane puppy. He is very sweet and loves his family. We take him many places with us work, friends homes, families homes, pet stores and vets for weighing. When he is out and entering a new place he is timid but allows people to pet him. When he is at our home or at work he does NOT. He backs away and barks. Even though I warn people they try to touch him and he growls and has even snapped at someone. This behavior is not acceptable in my home and is progressively getting worse to the point where he is now barking at our family when they come in the house.  I do have a 4 year old fawn Dane who is very vocal at home he runs away and barks like a beast as he runs and hides ( he was scared as puppy and it has stuck with him) so I wonder if he may be following this? I would really like to fix the fear aggression in the pup but not sure what I should do. I am assuming some sort of training however I am not sure where to start.

Thank you for your question. Yes, it's imperative that you begin a positive reinforcement training regimen with this puppy now so that you can prevent an escalation of the behavior. You can do the same training with your older dog as well, to help him feel more secure with interaction and contact.

Your puppy is accepting the physical interaction in public, most likely, because he's less secure there. When dogs go to new places, they tend to be more careful, a little more withdrawn, less likely to really speak their mind. So I would not mistake his tolerance for contact in public as him being happy to interact. You can tell if he's enjoying the interaction because his whole body will be soft and wiggly, he'll make direct eye contact, most likely with somewhat squinty eyes. He'll move closer to the person who is touching him and fully engage in that interaction.

If he's standing still, his body is tense/rigid, he is averting his gaze (won't look at the person who is touching him), if he's turning away/moving away - then he is only tolerating this encounter and is not enjoying it.

We should never force our dogs to engage in physical contact against their will (unless there's an emergency) as it will only make him like it less and less.

At home, your pup feels a bit more secure and so he's willing to tell you that he's not comfortable. He is creating distance by backing up and barking at the person - which is a clear distance-increasing signal, telling the other individual to give him more space. He could not be any clearer that he's not comfortable with the proximity AND that he DOES NOT want to fight. That's a good thing.

We can help him feel better about interactions through a process of Counter Conditioning and Desensitization. Desensitization is the process of increasing his tolerance for the proximity of humans (in public and in his home). Counter conditioning is the process of actually changing his emotional response from the current fear to one of happy anticipation.

I encourage you to do some reading, and if you can afford it, you should enlist the assistance of a professional who utilizes positive reinforcement behavior modification training, who has an understanding of desensitization and counter conditioning. You may ask your vet (or other local vets) for referrals to veterinary behaviorists in your area (these individuals not only have a veterinary degree, but also a specialty in behavior. They are the psychiatrists of the animal world). A Vet behaviorist can help you rule out any physical ailment/injury, genetic issue or other disease that may be exaggerating the behavior. They will also design a behavior modification protocol and work with you on the implementation of it.

If there are no vet behaviorists in your area, then you may wish to look for a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorst (CAAB/ACAAB), or a Certified Dog Behaivor Consultant (CDBC), or another professional trainer who is known for their positive reinforcement approach to behavior modification.

Books that may prove useful to you include:

Behavior Adjustment Training: BAT for Fear, Frustration and Aggression , by Grisha Stewart. She utilizes a process of keeping the dog BELOW THRESHOLD (the moment of panic), and teaching him A) good things happen in that situation, and B) he has alternative choices for a behavior response - e.g. he can escape (move away), rather than bark at the person.

Click to Calm - Healing the Aggressive Dog , by Emma Parsons uses a clicker to help the dog learn an alternative behavior choice.

We want to make sure that we're helping the dog learn to not just tolerate, but hopefully actually LIKE the interactions, so we also must do some classical conditioning (pairing touch with awesome bits of food such as cheese, steak, chicken breast, or any other dog-safe food that your dog goes nuts for). Making that paired association - touch reliably predicts manna from heaven - will go a long way toward helping him feel better about that interaction. This must be done correctly, or we end up "poisoning" the food rather than making the touch a thing to be desired. To do this correctly, the touch must always come first - a moment before the food, and the touch must stop at the same time the food goes away. If the food comes at the same time as the unpleasant thing (touch), or the food comes before the touch - even by a fraction of a second, then the fear/displeasure of the touch will outweigh the food, no matter how good it is. But, if the touch always comes just a moment before the food is presented, then the touch comes to reliably predict the food, which is good.

Example: if every time you go to the dentist, the next stop is an ice cream parlor (don't tell the dentist!), then you will come to enjoy the dentist because you know that getting your teeth cleaned always ends with a sundae. On the other hand, if every time you sat in the dentist's chair, you were handed a sundae and then the dentist started drilling into your teeth, you would soon come to hate the sight of the ice cream because it would always mean drills and noise and pain... So, we must always keep that order of presentation correct if we want it to work.

Another couple books that may prove helpful include Patricia McConnell's Cautious Canine - How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears

And I always recommend Turid Rugaas' On Talking Terms with Dogs - Calming Signals If we can read the very subtle cues our dogs give when they're uncertain, nervous, anxious or uncomfortable, we can adjust the interaction long before the dog ever feels the need to bark or growl because we will have seen and responded to a host of cues the dogs gives that lead up to the more obvious distance-increasing signals.

There's a companion DVD to this book which has footage of dogs giving most of the signals she mentions in the book, and how other dogs respond to them. It also demonstrates how we can do some of those signals in the presence of our dogs and help them feel safer/more secure.

I hope this proves helpful to you. Please feel free to follow up if I can be of further service.

Jody, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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