Inconsistent reaction

Hunter is now ten months old and definitely showing signs of being a teenager however it’s his reaction to people that’s confusing me and worrying me a bit if I’m honest after my experience with Scott and Scout. Hunter has always been a bit wary of SOME people reaching out to stroke him and would shy away eventually going to them when he was ready. He’s still like that but it’s so inconsistent I’m not sure what to do if anything. For example today he barked at a relative he’s met a few times when she tried to stroke him ( she did smell stongly of perfume), shied away from another person he’s met before and allowed to stroke him but then also gone straight to say hello to a complete stranger !!! I know tomorrow or certainly next time we see these people his reaction could easily be the opposite it seems to depend on what mood he’s in. I’m just wondering if anyone has had a similar experience and how best to handle it.
 

HAH

Moderator
Location
Devon, UK
Hunter is now ten months old and definitely showing signs of being a teenager however it’s his reaction to people that’s confusing me and worrying me a bit if I’m honest after my experience with Scott and Scout. Hunter has always been a bit wary of SOME people reaching out to stroke him and would shy away eventually going to them when he was ready. He’s still like that but it’s so inconsistent I’m not sure what to do if anything. For example today he barked at a relative he’s met a few times when she tried to stroke him ( she did smell stongly of perfume), shied away from another person he’s met before and allowed to stroke him but then also gone straight to say hello to a complete stranger !!! I know tomorrow or certainly next time we see these people his reaction could easily be the opposite it seems to depend on what mood he’s in. I’m just wondering if anyone has had a similar experience and how best to handle it.
Firstly, I think this is very normal behaviour. Adolescents are a lot more sensitive to outside influences, and this is very much our experience with Stilton who's now 11 months old. He goes through waves of confidence and wariness, for example he doesn't like the sound of motorbikes - particularly ones with under-powered engines and those with baffles removed (understandably!). We've noticed that one week he will show a very strong aversion to a bike going past (crouched low, tail and ears tucked, clearly scared) and the next week he's far more able to notice but not worry about it, working through the noise and able to continue concentrating on a game. A lot of the more fearful behaviour came through when he had his ear infection, and it's improved hugely since that has cleared up so it's always worth checking health issues that might be contributing.

I imagine if you observe very closely, there will be consistency to his reactions but it's tough whre there are so many variables - light, sound, smell (good spot with the perfume), noise, height, speed of approach, eye contact, interest being shown to him etc.. I think the most important thing is to give them space to process and not rush them, as this is a really important part of adolescence - learning to self regulate, and work out all the million things going on, is really tough for them. I used to worry that Stilton would fixate on things he found concerning or was unsure of, so would interrupt with a kissy noise after a few seconds and try to move him on. However after a bit of reading up and watching some videos of trainers I rate, I now give him all the time he needs (where possible) to process, and it's made a huge difference in reducing tension and building his confidence.

I'd suggest really advocating for Hunter in not letting people approach him, and instead waiting to see if he wants to explore them. More often than not that might be a sniff of a trouser leg (people will often still hold out a hand, but we all know that a dog can smell them a mile away so that's completely unecessary!), and then disengagement which is perfectly healthy and reasonable behaviour. I'd then be rewarding Hunter, and the person (e.g. 'thanks for being so understanding, it really helps!') because that might help you and others in the long term :)

If useful, I'd get him a vest or lead slip saying 'do not pet me' to help you with giving him space. It can be an uncomfortable thing keeping people at arms length, especially when people often feel entitled to pet our dogs - but I think this would help Hunter a lot.
 
@HAH thank you very much for the advice I really appreciate it and it’s good to know you’ve been through something similar with Stilton. I guess because Scott and Scout were so reactive I was worried Hunter might be going the same way although Scott and Scout were reactive at a much younger age. If he does shy away from people touching him, like you suggested, I do tell them to ignore him and he will make friends with them given a bit of time. Some people listen some don’t. I’ve also noticed, a bit like Stilton, Hunter has got more sensitive to noise recently especially car doors shutting in the back yard. I think your right allowing Hunter time to process what’s going on will be very helpful.
 
Great advice from @HAH 🤩


I now give him all the time he needs (where possible) to process, and it's made a huge difference in reducing tension and building his confidence.
I did this with Axel and now Hugo. If it means I stand for awhile and let him cowardly creep up to a weird statue, road sign, tree stump etc, while he slowly checks it out with lots of sniffling then that’s ok, it’s so worth it to watch him work it out on his own, realizing it’s nothing scary and rewarding the new found confidence afterwards with lots of praise. I love watching him walk off extra tall and brave with extra pep in his step, as if to say ‘wow mom, I showed that sign!’ 😍
 
@Jennifer , I think it's understandable that you feel anxious about this given Scott and Scouts reactivity. But I also think why should Hunter have to be approached by people if he's not happy about it?
It doesn't seem fair to me that people can go up to and touch a dog that doesn't have a say. Is it possible to ask these people to wait and let Hunter interact on his own terms?
Recently someone said to me that Cassie was nervous of him- well, no pal, it's just she is more interested in checking out this grass verge than talking to you , right now.
 

Candy

Biscuit Tin Guardian
Exactly the same with GGJ, who is the sweetest natured and friendliest dog you could wish to meet.....provided it's on her own terms. Most people she likes to have time to get to know. Some people she is deeply distrustful of ( not many) some people she LovesLovesLoves Immediately! Unfortunately not everyone takes kindly to being told 'It would really be best if you just let her come to you in her own time'. She is wisely distinctly unimpressed by them, as am I.
 
@Kelsey , @Selina27, @Candy thank you I feel a lot happier that it’s not the start of a slippery slope having read your experiences and suggestions. In fact it reminded me Murphy my first lab went through a phase of reacting to certain people particularly men and he loved everybody and everything. I completely agree about how annoying it is when people just assume they can come over and stroke your dog and the dog should like it. I used to walk Scott and Scout with my friend and her two Rotties. As you can probably imagine people would give the Rotties a wide berth but make a bee line for Scott and Scout. They soon got a shock when my dogs erupted as they stepped over the five foot threshold. The Rottweillers on the other hand would’ve loved to be made a fuss of.
 

Beanwood

Administrator
If he does shy away from people touching him, like you suggested, I do tell them to ignore him and he will make friends with them given a bit of time. Some people listen some don’t. I’ve also noticed, a bit like Stilton, Hunter has got more sensitive to noise recently especially car doors shutting in the back yard. I think your right allowing Hunter time to process what’s going on will be very helpful.
Super advice from @HAH. The only thing I would add is ensure that no-one gets into Hunters space - even if he appears comfortable. There is such a fine line between a dog tolerating strangers and reacting. If he is tolerating, then it is possible there is some conflict developing, especially if people - even if they are familiar, approach with treats. This is also important when considering the relationship we have with our dog in terms of growing a young dogs confidence and trust in us. Adolescence is a tricky time to navigate and I am right with you with Woody right now who is just over a year old.:tail:
 
@Beanwood your right it is a tricky time. So if he’s unsure would you move him away a bit and give him more space rather than encourage him to make friends ? As I’m writing that I’m thinking yes that’s probably the right thing to do while he’s going through this particular development phase. If he then decides he wants to go to the person though do I let him ? With Murphy I wasn’t aware of the pitfalls of getting it wrong as I am now and I was lucky he just got through it. With Scott and Scout it was obvious they didn’t want to go near. Thankfully so far we‘re still ok with other dogs. Ones we’ve met and he knows he wants to go to, I think it’s actually the owners he wants to go to, and dogs we don’t know he sits by me and waits for them to walk passed. Oh it’s a minefield :facepalm:
 
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