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Canine Behavior/Update on Honey


Cane Corso
Cane Corso  
Cane Corso
Cane Corso  
QUESTION: Hi, Thanks for your time, and consideration.  I just purchased a 14 week old Cane Corso, after losing my English Mastiff to old age. When we arrived to get her she was being carried by a little girl.  When I first took the puppy home she appeared nervous which I could certainly understand with a new environment, and the fact that the ride was about an hour or so long to our home, and it was in the evening about 7pm when we got her home. We transported her using a SKY Kennel.  So I didn't think much of her nervousness until the next day when I went to put a collar on her and a leash. she immediately ran to hide and when I approached her she was shaking and trying to make herself as little as possible. I squatted down by her petted her and put the collar on and snapped on the leash but I could tell that this was not going to work, as she wanted nothing to do with a leash. So I went to pick her up to take her outside so she could relieve herself. I have 80 acres here and I have a round corral that I took her to let her down and she so quickly (tip toed) across to the other side of the corral and just sat there looking very timid. I approached her and again I could tell she was afraid. I let her be, and I had some work to do in the corral, so I just let her do her thing, which she did, and after she did she immediately when to the furthest spot she could away from me in the corral. Again I approached her squatted down as she sat shaking and just petted the top of head, and again I picked her up, (which in itself seems to terrify her)and brought her back up to the house. I have had her now for four days, and each time I have been carrying her down to the corral. Yesterday I took the leash down with me and tried again to no avail, then when my husband came he walked behind as I led her, she would start to walk and then stop and sit against the rail of the corral looking worried at both me and my husband. To me it seems like someone had tried to get her to walk on a leash by pulling her and or kicking her in the butt, which is just my observation and it totally infuriates me! She does certainly seem to be improving little by little and I don't
want to do something wrong at this point, and I can't carry her all the time, she is going to be huge and she is such a sweetheart. No other dogs, no kids, just me my husband and a real mellow cat. Thank you so much in advance. I did read the article Canine Behavioral Fear Developing and I certainly use the advice given!

ANSWER: This is the AKC breed standard for your breed regarding temperament:  Even Tempered, Reserved, Calm, Quiet, Stable, Trainable.

Your puppy has come from a terrible breeder and terrible environment.  Fourteen weeks is not the best age at which to acquire a puppy; it's most likely she was the last of her litter, kept confined, never socialized, never been on collar and/or leash.  Even at 14 weeks, this puppy is far too large to be "carried by a little girl" so we can assume she has been dropped, at least once.  I assume this puppy did not come with a five generation pedigree....I'd be shocked if she had.  You know nothing about her breeding without that pedigree.  It could have been a line breeding (this is when a terrible breeder either accidentally, or on purpose, allows dam to breed with male offspring or dog to breed with female offspring).  Her behavior does not a lifetime problem make as you describe it, but it certainly MIGHT if you don't start doing the right things, right now.

Put a harness on this puppy; remove it at night or when you are not at home.  She should be close to totally house trained by now (but if the breeder didn't bother, or the breeding environment was filthy, she would not be).  When you put the harness on her, sit first by her, sing her a little song; carry tiny bits of string cheese; show her the harness, let her sniff it, as she does offer a handful of treat; slip it over her, as you do so do not say anything, no praising, no eye contact, and do NOT stand over her or lean over her.  Once it is on, remain with her until she is visibly relaxed, then attach the leash to the harness.  Stay seated on the floor with her.  Wait until she independently moves (she may remain frozen for some time).  Sing a little song while waiting; pretend to eat some of the string cheese yourself.  Give her time to get over the conditioned fear response she has to being led or restrained by leash.  Once she relaxes (this might take some time each time you put the harness on and each time you attach the leash, but that time period should shorten rather quickly), offer HER what you are "eating".  Then stand.  Make the leash a very long training leash.  Stand and walk away from her with your back to her.  Wait for her to make a move forward.  Again, "eat" some of her treats, sing a little song and be very patient.  She will eventually (because your back is turned to her) come closer to you.  For any movement toward you, toss a treat right at her: touch it to your nose first, then toss.  She may ignore it; this will change.  By touching the treat to your nose, you will be slowly conditioning her to WATCH YOU knowing a high value food reward will be given to her when she figures out what you want her to do (move forward toward you, ultimately move forward with you).  Your nose touching will become a signal:  WATCH ME as you begin to train her to follow cues (commands) using ONLY positive reinforcement training.  This will come in quite handy in the next year.

DO NOT attempt to "teach" her anything right now except:  it is safe for her to follow you on leash; you are a calm, consistent part of her new Human experience.

DO not turn this puppy out off that training leash; this is not a horse.  (A horse that does not want to be "caught" is put into a round paddock where there are no corners: I suggest you Google "join up" and learn about this, it will help you even with a dog).  Go out with her no matter how long it takes her to finally follow you; the time length will soon shorten as she gets her bearings, learns that harness/lead are not harmful but rewarding, and that you are a strong care taker.  When you describe what happened when your husband walked behind you, I am encouraged.  When she STOPS, you go to the end of the long leash and turn your back; start singing your little song and wait.  Whatever happened to her at the "breeder's" will begin to extinguish as she learns she is safe.  NEVER attempt to console her by petting her when she is fearful; you are rewarding the fear or even perhaps making it worse if she suffered any abuse.  Many dogs appear to have been abused when they really have not, they simply have never been exposed to (habituated to) "normal" life as a dog among Humans.  Picking her up is quite dominant and, to a puppy that has been dropped (my best guess, as I said earlier), it is also intimidating.

I would like you to see the following:

Study this so you can read her body language: this is how dogs communicate.  You can offer her calming signals:  yawn (really big yawn): this communicates stress reduction and benign intention; lick your lips: this communicates stress reduction; never approach her in a straight line, curve your approach, walk slowly, yawn, no direct eye contact, lick your lips, give her all the signals of benign intention.  When you get to her, squat down, do not stand over her; do not touch her or offer treats or even speak until her body language demonstrates she is not fearful, then have a little quiet "party" with a few treats but no physical interaction.  We don't know if she has been roughly handled; being "petted" is something dogs learn to accept; being hugged also.  Go slowly.

See also:

With your husband and a third party present, conduct a temperament test.  The third party should have nothing to do with the puppy at all, just observe (even from a distance).  You'll have a better idea of what she's all about, fundamentally, after the test.  

See also:

This is Dr. Ian Dunbar's online course: Sirius Puppy Training.  FOLLOW ONLY THE VIDEOS HE MADE, ignore the others.  You can purchase the entire series on DVD from DogWise or Amazon.  Dr. Dunbar's site is:

There, you will find articles on every sort of problem behavior as well as articles on how to develop "attention" (get your dog to always look to you for "what do I do next") and how to find a proper puppy kindergarten class.  Your puppy desperately needs socialization; unfortunately, 14 weeks is about the time the opportunity to socialize begins to shut down and she's far from ready to go into a class right now BUT.....this could very quickly change.  Here is his suggestion regarding what to look for in such a class:

We have to assume this puppy did not come from a really professional breeder (or the little girl scenario would not have occurred).  If you DO by some chance have a five generation pedigree, look very closely at it; if the breeder gave you one of THOSE, the breeder also withheld AKC papers until she receives a certificate of spay.  I doubt that happened, either.

The good news is: she's with you.  The bad news is: you cannot, under any circumstances, return her: she will be doomed.  The best news is:  with care, consistent and fair leadership, the beginning of very heavy socialization to other people, places, etc. (done soon but not too soon and done daily) and a good puppy kindergarten (ask for trainer's credentials, observe the class, if you don't like what you see, don't attend), NO dog parks (out of the question here) and proper, daily (in short intervals) training, this fearful puppy might very well become the best dog you ever had.

If what I suggested fails to work (I'd be surprised, actually), you will need to find a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB)  NOT a dog trainer:

The Veterinary teaching college in your geographical area should also have names of CAABs.  This, however, is the court of last resort.  It's been only four days; God knows how poorly this puppy has been living (in what conditions).  Give it two weeks of effort and study and then use FOLLOWUP FEATURE to report back.  That feature can be found at the bottom of my answer so you should keep the original email in order to follow the link back to my answer, scroll down and choose Ask Followup Question.

I've seen adult dogs in this condition: adult dogs with no socialization who were frozen in fear, come around.  Remember the AKC description of temperament for your breed and think of the adult dog you want and work toward that.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: This is not a question, but rather a follow up on my pup "Honey". She has made great progress and she now walks great with me. We are still working on the initial part of , Honey, come, once she gets up she sits and watches me as I yawn show her the treat, bring it to my nose back and say come Honey, sing honey honey. She yawns, licks her lips, starts to move, hesitates. I think I understand what may have happened to her, from looking at the picture she has a rope which she was tied to and the people probably left her there for the day, so she might feel that is what I will do, just my thought. But she is a puppy and acts it outside as we run, up sand piles , trails she loves it, once inside she gets nervous looks to me I have been ignoring her and continue my day, she lays on her bed on the floor, as I type this she is snoring. I want to take her back out with me, I want her to get over the fear, and I believe she will. Thanks again for your advice

ANSWER: I am ENORMOUSLY encouraged by what you wrote!!!  You have wonderful intuition about this puppy!  And yes, leash restraint (as you report the rope incident) is fearful to her but you can, you will, overcome this.  I'm so proud that you now recognize HER calming signals to YOU and can offer your own to HER, this is true communication!  One thing: do not tell her to "come" when you are attempting to counter condition her fear response to restraint!  You have now lost your recall.  In a couple of weeks, let's work on recall using a new word; keep this email and use Followup again; if you are unable (for some reason), simply copy/paste the entirety of this post into a new question and name it:  Honey followup.

Meanwhile:  when she starts to move toward you, and then hesitates, sit on the floor, make yourself small, wait for her to reach you and then "jackpot" reward with a bunch of tiny bits of string cheese.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Well this note has been delayed , for a while now due to Honey's, and I imagine, myself as well,  up and down progress. Just when I think we're progressing nicely, she reverts back to being fearful and      skittish.

She will turn and run from me, for absolutely no seen or heard reason.  I have found Honey not to be enticed by treats of any sort. String cheese, sometimes.  We have purchased her bones from the grocery store meat counter, and although she enjoys them immensely, she will not come to me for one. I have been using the french word "pr^et" for come, she responds to it, but will hesitate each time.  When it is time to go outside , I will tell her "it's time to go outside" she will sit up , I will have had the harness and lead in my hand approach her and she will be so timid, but yet very cooperative, and such a sweetheart. I say "pret" she will walk right along with me, get to the door she waits, I go out she follows behind me , I shut the door we proceed, all goes well, she walks a long the side of me until I release more lead at which time she will prance ahead , all good. I have found she is a puppy that loves climbing vertical, and that is her preference for the perfect spot to relieve herself, it's rather comical. Note:  21 weeks old and 42 lbs 18.75 inches

We will continue walking, running, stopping at the 20' or more pile of sand, where I'll sit and let her have her fun, as she digs, and digs and runs from one side of the pile to the other, then calming to sit tall on top of the pile.We play ball in the round pen, she enjoys it. At that time she seems to loose her fear.

When it's time to go back to the house, I again say “pret” and this is where things can go good, or bad.  I like to say that it is improving, but as I said in the beginning, she can revert right back. So “pret”, she responds, walks along the side of me , or she will start to walk and just stop and not want to move, I repeat the command with a slight nudge and she may or may not respond, if she doesn't,  I will stand with her until she is ready, and as I type this, I know that I should not be leaving that decision to her, but at the same time I do not want to go beyond a slight nudge.

So then when we do proceed to the house, all goes well, she waits for me to enter the house she follows behind me at which time I turn to close the door and she quickly turns around and sits and I can see the fear in her, but as with putting the harness on she is cooperative and a sweetheart to remove the harness, each time we go through this process, I tell her she is a good girl, with a hug, the minute the harness is removed she is looking for an escape route, the open door of the bathroom that goes through to the hall, or around the pool table through to the kitchen.  If I say Honey, and gesture for her, she will not come to me, instead she will timidly do circles around the house peeking around each corner. I will sit on the floor and call her, she will come over where she can just see me, I will call her name again, show her some string cheese, bring it to my nose, show it to her, yarn, tell her hugs and kisses, and then, she will ever so slowly and cautiously approach and take the cheese, but then quickly backup and again start peeking around the corners.

About two nights ago after our walk, that did very well, I removed the harness, and she was very playful, she would stoop down on her front paws and back up and do a circle and I heard her let out a little bark, it surprised us both! She would do this all in front of me, within, I'd say ten inches, but then she started to run around me, still being puppy , with her little choppers going. I'd say "no bite". She'd back up, go through the little routine again, with her little choppers going, although at first it appears cute, and it feels like "wow", she is just being a puppy, maybe she's come out of it, this is not good, again with the fear this puppy has I am at a lose in a sense as to discipline.

Last Wednesday  she  managed to get away from me.  I had her tied right near me as I did a chore, a step ladder had feel on it's side , she panicked, I didn't have her tied well, and she started to run, I called her she didn't respond, and I spent the next six hours in the hills looking for her. We are surrounded on three sides by the San Bernardino National Forest. I figured she would get hung up in the brush, I needed to run back to the house to get water and binoculars, I was frantic; I couldn't loose my puppy, not after all of the work we have done! I was exhausted, it was not a good day! When I was all about to give up, as it was getting dark I spotted her about ten feet from me. I was so so happy, and I think she was too! At this point we were both at about 2800' in elevation, and once I got hold of her leash and hugged her we, proceeded down the hill. My husband, who had started out looking for us, saw us both, and was waiting at the bottom of the hill. Honey was following me until I was about six feet in front of her due to coming down a steep incline that she didn't want to come down, I had to climb back up, get her, sit her on my lap, and slid down the hill with her about six feet, crazy!

So that is where we are at! I love her immensely, I just wish she could know that! Both my husband and myself say, it will be so nice when she just comes up to us! I have not done any other training with her  just due to her fear. I could really use some expert advice, or even an opinion. Thanks again so much for your time and efforts, it is very much appreciated!


I would like to hear your opinion on the electronic collars, if you would not mind.

NEVER use a successful recall word when a dog even hesitates for the first time.  Change your recall word: use German (the word I use, Presto, is too close to the word you are using).  Re-train her recall beginning INDOORS; stand in front of her, use the word, back up a foot, if she comes forward, repeat the word and pop a high value treat into her mouth (and I mean high value: Ball Park frank, baked liver, steak).  When a dog refuses to "bait" (accept food) that dog is fearful.  NEVER reward fear.  Instead, turn your head away and wait; she will do one of two things: get up and leave (and I doubt she will do that at this point) or hesitantly come to you.  DO NOT reward obvious fear; speak in low voice repeating the new recall word and offer the very high value food reward (that is used ONLY for recall).  DO NOT expect her to respond to this outdoors for at least 30 to 40 indoor trials (successful 100% of the time).  Then, use it sparingly when you are in control (she is at the end of lead) and when you can see her attention is on you.  Never set a dog up for failure.  What happened when Honey got "lost" has set her back.  At this point, you need an in person Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.  Your dog has acquired fear issues and possibly inherited fear issues.

Dr. Ian Dunbar is in Berkeley, CA.  He has trained dozens and dozens of behaviorists and is a world famous veterinary behaviorist.  I can't SEE anything from here.  The behavior of your young dog can turn into a serious fear problem if not managed correctly.  You are trying very, very hard and doing quite well but there's something else going on and I don't know what it is from this distance.

Contact his office; ask for referral to a CAAB or a student of his that has "graduated" and is experienced with fear related problems and, especially, breeds like Honey's.

Be absolutely CERTAIN this organization is closely aligned with Dr. Ian Dunbar.  You can't afford not to do this, for the sake of yourselves and your dog's future life.


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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

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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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