My GSD lunges at visitors

Posted by Liz-amp-Koa
Nov 8, 2008
Hello All,

I have a two year old GSD who lunges at visitors when they come and go.

The facts are these:

History: Koa was at a puppy mill until he was 7 1/2 months old, then saved by Save A Dog, and we adopted him at 8 months old. Needless to say he had some issues.

Progress: Considering he could not go up stairs when we adopted him, he has done great. Completed basic obedience 1 & 2, agility, and we are starting a rally class this week.

Diagnosis: I took him to my vet, who is a behavior specialist. She came to the conclusion that Koa is showing signs of fear aggression. She suggested that I use a Gentle Leader and follow the "Protocol of Deference" plan. She had an assistance come to practice with me, but I think the assistant kind of went by her own plan. We started outside our house, with her and a neighbor tossing cheese at him when ever he was relaxed. This went on for one month of Sundays. My husband felt it was not doing any good. I really didn't see any change either. So, now I have started having nieghbors come over once a day for about five minutes. The first time he lunged once, the second night twice. My husband came to the conclusion that he has getting mad the cheese was not being thrown fast enough.

I have read up on the Protocol of Deference and I, kind of, understand the concept, but I don't understand how it corrects the dog when he is reactive.

When people come in he lunges at them and when they go to leave, he does the same thing. I keep him on his Gentle Leader and am going to start having people ignore him.

My husband wants me to go to the prong collar, but I don't want to do that unless I have no other option. From all that I have read, that can make a dog with fear aggression worse.

None of my friend will come to visit, and there is just no warning or any way to know what sets him off.

I am at the end of my rope.

I feel like my vet gave the info, but is too busy to walk me through it step by step.

Looking forward to any help you can give me.

Liz & Koa
Posted by KOPsRobyn
Dec 21, 2009
Hi Liz

Well done for all the hard work you have put into Koa so far. You will have to continue to persevere though as fear aggression is quite a difficult thing to overcome. It is definitely a good idea to have your neighbours coming around as often as possible, as this will acclimatize them to him and make him realize that they are not to be feared after all.

If he continues to lunge at them, it would be a good idea for them to ignore him initially. Wait until he has calmed down and then ask them to give him the ‘sit-stay’ command. When he obeys, have them give him a treat and praise him generously. If they are alright with it, make Koa take the treats from their hands as this leaves no source of confusion as to where the treats originated from. By doing this, he will come to see them in a more positive light and associate them with treats.

A prong collar should definitely not be considered in cases of fear aggression, as this is a severe and often considered brutal form of training that will cause him to become more afraid, as each time he is faced with his fear and reacts badly, the prong collar with inflict pain on him, which he will then associate with what he is scared of. This will lead to a viscous spiral which will end up damaging your relationship with him too.

A very important thing to remember when dealing with dogs that have fear aggression is that you must never reward them when they are showing this behaviour. By patting them or telling them that ‘it’s alright’ you are reinforcing their fear. Therefore each time Koa shows this behaviour you must ignore him completely, not even making eye contact. He will eventually come to realize that you are not afraid of the neighbours and so he shouldn’t be either.

It is also important that you have your status as alpha dog firmly established as he will feel safer and more secure knowing he is not in charge, and that you are there to protect him should fearful circumstances arise.

I hope this helps and all the best with your training!
Posted by crazycrayonmom
Dec 21, 2009
Can you get some volunteers from your dog classes to come to your house and help? In my experience people who are comfortable with dogs won't mind helping you out. If I lived near you I would! Good luck!