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Canine Behavior/Dog is shy around people, esp. guys


First, I want to thank you for taking the time to answer my question. I have asked several dog trainers that I know, and done much research online about my dog being shy around people. I do not know what, if anything, I am doing wrong, or why he does it. He is a 1 year old neutered Shepherd/Pit mix male named Bennet. I also have a 4 year old spayed Shepherd/Hound mix (best guess from the humane society) female named Darcy that I adopted 4 months before I adopted Bennet (she comes into this issue a bit later). I adopted him from the local humane society when he was 3 months old. We went to positive reinforcement training, for two 6 week long courses. He did great in the courses and I worked with him steadily at home as well. The first course was shortly after I got him, and the second when he was about 7 months old (due to budget constraints on my part). In both of the classes, we were with one other dog and their human family. In both of the classes, there were adult guys that Bennet did not want anything to do with. He liked the other dogs, the women, and the children, but he would usually back away from the adult guys. He was never aggressive, but he would back away and sometimes bark. He would then just avoid/ignore the guys for the rest of the class.
The trainer suggested I do slow, reinforcement training with Bennet to get him to overcome his shyness. He is very rarely shy with other girls, but he never could bring himself to go near guys. (I should point out I am a single woman who lives with just the two dogs.) I continued training with Bennet, and he is now to the point that he listens very well to me with whatever commands (ie. Sit, wait, shake, etc) I give. He will follow me when off the leash, and when he wanders too far I can snap my fingers and he will come back. He is not aggressive, and plays very well with Darcy, with the usual dog to dog play and romping. Both of them have lots of energy and a fenced in backyard to run around in, and they play outside and inside and wear each other out. Both do well on walks, or when we go to the local dog park. I have not had any issues at the dog park with Bennet being off lead, as he normally just romps around and plays with Darcy and other dogs. However, no matter how much training/encouragement/working with I have done with him, he is still shy around guys.
A few examples: I have several guy friends who I work with and see on a regular basis. Bennet has met them often, but whenever I take Bennet around them, he mostly hides behind/around me. He will let them touch him if I am next to them, but then he will walk around to the other side of me. When I take him to the petstore, the same thing happens with strangers. He will look at them and then hide behind me.
I take him to get his nails trimmed and he does very well with it, as long as the person trimming his nails is a woman. The one time when a guy was on staff (which he was very friendly and let Bennet decide on whether to go by him) Bennet did not want to go by him at first. He barked at the guy for a few moments, then the guy sat down at the floor, and Bennet then went by his leg and let the guy pet him once, then backed off and would not go by him again.
There is one partial exception to this issue and this is where Darcy comes in. When I take Darcy and Bennet somewhere together (either around my guy friends or the petstore or dog park) Bennet will go by guys if Darcy is with him. She loves people, being around them or letting them pet her is no issue. Bennet will run past Darcy and whatever guy is petting her and let the guy touch/pet him, then he will run off barking. He repeats this behavior, almost as if he is trying to play.
So I am at a loss somewhat of what to do at this point. Bennet is a very obedient and gentle dog, he likes children (male or female), and gets lots of exercise, play, and a good diet. But for whatever reason, he is shy and somewhat afraid of guys. Any suggestions/advice would be helpful and greatly appreciated!
Ps. A few extra facts that might be of use about Bennet:
-The humane society said he and his litter were found abandoned out by a reservoir.
-He was neutered a few days before I got him.
-He and Darcy are very close, to the point that if one goes for a car ride (their favorite thing) without the other, the one who is left gets upset and start barking.
-He liked my dad, when my dad came to visit my house. He even sat on the couch with my dad and tried to lick his face/lay in his lap (he does think he is a lap dog, even though he is over 70 lbs now).
-I have included a picture of Bennet.
If there is anything else you might need to know, please ask! Thank you again!

The ability for dogs to scent (smell) is at least (a conservative estimate) 200 times greater than ours.  Now: scent plays a role in Human romance (pheromones) and it is a very important role; it also plays a role in a neonate Human identifying his/her biological mother (tests have been done).  I conclude: the dog is more likely to be able to identify familial (scent related) ties.  This might be one reason why Bennet (a perfectly beautiful and delightful dog) readily accepted your Dad.  The other reason: you readily accept your Dad.  Your body language puts Bennet perfectly at ease.  Your Dad's body language around you is a very clear signal to Bennet (remember, dogs use body language to establish many things in their culture) that Dad is protective and cares about you.  This is another plus.  The other men?  They provoke a strong conditioned fight/flight/freeze response in Bennet for a VERY GOOD REASON we will never know.  Those other men might also provoke some anxiety in you, some vague mistrust, some approach/avoidance, but also YOUR present conditioned response to the fact that Bennet fears "strange men".

This is not a win win situation, and it is also not something you can easily repair.  

If you really want to rehabilitate this fear, or at LEAST reduce it over the next year, you will need the eyes on of a very experienced person:  a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (NOT a dog trainer).  Lots of trainers call themselves "behaviorists" and none of them have a clue.  You need the real thing.  This professional will observe (after evaluating Bennet initially and doing a long interview with you that includes his veterinary history) the dog, with you, without you; with Darcy, without Darcy (and the mix of the three of you).  If the Behaviorist is male, so much the better actually but....I think that's "jumping the gun" at this point.  So I consider a female professional a better choice at this point.

Let me tell you this: I had a client whose Akita bitch had acquired a strong fear response to a female dressed in a white coat because, at ten weeks of age, the veterinarian he took her to see (a female dressed in a white coat) FEARED this puppy, backed away from her when the puppy growled, and made the instant determination that the puppy be destroyed.  My client, his dog and I, totally rehabilitated this in a three hour session, in public, at Lens Crafters where there were many women in white coats who came out for a cigarette.  It can be done, but I can't see anything from here.

Bennet's fear is allayed by Darcy's extreme emotional stability; this is GOOD and it is an indication that, yes, with work and professional help, you will be able to counter-condition Bennet (using Darcy) and "fix" your body language, remedy your anxiety, change the situation so that Bennet is no longer on edge and can learn to at least tolerate the presence of men.  Will Bennet ever be able to trust a man?  I believe so, but never all men.

Find a CAAB from one of the following sites or by calling the veterinary university in your geographical area:

Meanwhile: let Darcy continue to show Bennet "the way".  If Bennet shies away from a man, IGNORE IT.  Praise Darcy (in Bennet's site) for being "friendly" (so long as the man is worthy of this, your judgment).  If I were to be in charge of this issue, I would teach you how to use a clicker, how to read Bennet's body language instantly and immediately click/treat (reward) body language of acceptance while ignoring body language of avoidance/fear.

This won't be cheap.  Don't force Bennet to accept the attentions of any man, for any reason.  This is YOUR DOG.  If you are of a mindset and wish to find a male partner, that man must spend lots of time around Bennet (and you will need to use followup feature for tips).  Bennet has no aggression issues, let's not give him a reason to develop any.  This is YOUR DOG and a person interacts with your dog on YOUR TERMS.

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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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