Unsocialised GSD with Strangers

Posted by kathy-barrett
May 10, 2013
I have had Barney, an 18 month old GSD, since he was 9 months old. He had spent the previous 5 months in solitary confinement in a concrete yard with small kennel and no view, and never allowed contact with people or other stimuli. His behaviour was spiralling out of control and his owners realised they needed to rehome him for his own sake.

When he was bought as an 8 week old pup, he was the centre of attention for the lady of the house as her husband worked away from home most of the time. She started obedience training with him and spent all her time with him. Then her husband was diagnosed with a serious illness and returned home. Suddenly the pup was no longer centre of the universe, but a bit of a nuisance who had to be kept away from the sick man.

The man had to go into hospital for a month and his wife accompanied him, so Barney was farmed out to a relative who had no interest or knowledge in dogs. We know that he was not well looked after. He was pressure hosed when he became muddy. I think he was beaten for messing indoors and for pinching shoes etc, because he still cowers now if anyone enters a room he is alone in, or if anyone comes upon him with a toy in his mouth.

Once he knows a person and trusts them, he is the most loving, affectionate dog ever. His obedience is second to none. He ignores other dogs, horses, cows etc when out for a walk. He is always "connected" with me and responds brilliantly.

However, he behaves very badly around strangers. He jumps around them barking, trying to bark in their face if he can reach. His tail wags, his hackles do not rise and he tries to rub against them like a cat. He obviously wants desperately to be loved. I do not think he would bite but I cannot take the risk, so it is very difficult to socialise him. He is a huge boy and very intimidating when he is barking around.

If someone comes to stay, he will settle with them after a couple of days. He starts by being OK when they are sitting down but leaping around when they try to move or get up. Eventually he will accept them moving but it takes a lot of hard work.

What I need to know is what message he is trying to convey by his behaviour, so that I can respond to him accordingly.

I'd be grateful for any advice

Many thanks
Posted by Preethi KOP
May 13, 2013
Hello Kathy,

Thank you for your very detailed message about your dog. I am glad you realize the importance of a good history when trying to work out behavioural issues. Also, congratulations on your new pet. He is lucky to have found a good home after all he has been through.

I understand your concerns and I wish there was an easy solution to this, but it will take some time and patience. Barney's behaviour probably stems from the fact that he was not socialized as a puppy. The added ill-treatment just worsened his situation. He probably never had the chance to learn good dog manners as he never interacted with other dogs.

The fact that Barney is connected with you is a real blessing. I feel that with time, he will learn to trust you more. It would be great if you could socialize him with other dogs and slowly work on his response to strangers. His behaviour around them seems to be from sheer nervousness . You could try using a muzzle to decrease his level of intimidation and attempt introducing him to a friend- ideally an adult who is an avid animal lover. This first introduction is best in a neutral territory (a park, for example); preferably after he has had some exercise so he is not too excitable. Ask him to ‘sit and stay’ and then confidently step forward to greet your friend. If he misbehaves, give him the command ‘NO’ very firmly. He will be watching you for cues on how to react to the situation so always be assertive and relaxed in your actions. Over the first few attempts there is no need for your friend to interact with Barney (no eye contact or words); just the lack of a response to his/her mere presence around you can be considered as a successful session. It may take a few such meetings before Barney doesn’t react toward the new individual but with persistence and patience you should reach your goal. Safety always comes first! Please take no risks.

I wish you the best

Kind regards,