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Snappy with strangers

Discussion in 'Dog Training and Behaviour' started by victoria1, Oct 6, 2013.

  1. victoria1

    victoria1 PetForums Newbie

    Oct 5, 2013
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    We have an 19 week old golden retriever, that we've had since 8 weeks.
    The whole time we've had him that we've been taking him out in public (after vaccinations) he is a bit snappy with strangers.
    With me and my husband and my parents who he sees quite a bit he is fine. But with people he doesn't know, if they go to pat him on his head he goes to snap at them. If people put their hand in front of him to sniff first, he'll sniff and usually lick them and then he's mostly fine with them patting him. He's also worse and kinda freaks a bit if it is a group of people all going in at him, and in that case I walk him away if I can.

    We asked our trainer about him and she said that we need to educate people about our dog, that he would prefer to sniff people first/doesn't like to be patted on his head. But this is sometimes hard if people go straight in and pat him, so many people want to pat him because he is cute. (I grew up with boxers and most people steered clear of them)

    But before we asked our trainer a retired vet told us we should 'work on it' and that it was something to worry about.

    I'd prefer if he didn't snap at everyone, but can understand he probably doesn't want to be patted by every passer by. He seems to like children even less than adults. Last thing I want is for him to nip someone, but often its hard/I feel rude to kinda say 'can you leave my dog alone please'.

    There are also people that go in and sort of wind him up to play bite, putting their hands in/around his mouth, which I'm sure may encourage him or make him worse, and again I feel awkward telling those people to stop it when they are people I know, like people we are used to seeing in our local pub who aren't really friends but not complete strangers.

    Is this normal? Is it something he'd grow out of? Is it something we can correct? Or do we need to be careful and not allow people to pat him if we know he isn't keen?
  2. gorgeous

    gorgeous PetForums VIP

    Jan 14, 2009
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    Hello there and welcome to the pf.

    I too have a golden retriever and have had her since a pup and is now 5. She absolutely loves people....of all ages and descriptions. If anything we had to teach her to sit when meeting people or she would be far too bouncy.

    Your pups behaviour is quite different to what we experienced. Have you spoken to the pups breeder and did you meet pups mum and dad? What wae their temperant like.

    Has the vet checked pup for illnesses or injuries?

    Some more knowledgable peeps should be along soon to offer advise.
  3. smokeybear

    smokeybear PetForums VIP

    Oct 19, 2011
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    You are not only your dog's owner but his advocate.

    There is no need to feel awkward about protecting your dog.

    Would you feel awkward if adults behaved inappropriately with your child?

    Your dog is looking to YOU to protect him from such behaviour, show him that you deserve that trust, or reap the consequences.

    Dogs do NOT like being patted, particularly on the head.
  4. Sarah1983

    Sarah1983 PetForums VIP

    Nov 2, 2011
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    I agree with your trainer, you need to stop people from doing this if he's uncomfortable with it. Most humans do seem to go straight in over the dogs head and it's threatening and scary and rude.

    Try thinking of it this way, what's more awkward, telling someone they can't stroke your dog a certain way or to let him sniff them first or having someone bitten by him?
  5. Owned By A Yellow Lab

    Owned By A Yellow Lab PetForums VIP

    May 16, 2012
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    You have every right - and in fact a duty - to STOP people stressing your dog out.

    No way should anyone ever be putting their fingers in or around your dog's mouth. Why on earth would anyone do that :confused: Why would you let them do that?

    I fear that if you don't step in and protect your dog from these morons, then one day your dog may well feel the need to protect itself and will nip or worse, bite - and you then risk losing your dog.

    You have a young, nervous dog. Get him one of those bright vests that say 'I NEED SPACE' or 'DO NOT TOUCH ME'.

    If you do not speak up for your dog, then who will?
  6. Sled dog hotel

    Sled dog hotel PetForums VIP

    Aug 11, 2010
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    It sounds like if anything he is probably defensive snapping, it a dogs not sure of something or someone, and if especially stuck where he is on lead, and faced with a situation he isn't sure about, then they will often growl or air snap in a bid to get themselves some space and the thing they are not sure about to back off. As you also say that if the person does an entirely different approach, gives him more time and space and allows him to sniff and investigate them first instead of immediately diving in and initiating contact before he feels at ease and has decided for himself it is OK he doesn't do it and when readily accepts further contact. A group or several people all at once would be even harder for him to cope with. The problem is that if he does snap and people do back off, then the more he practices the behaviour and it works, the more he will do it when faced with something that he is unsure of. Behaviour that works gets repeated.

    The trainer is correct and so is the vet. As his owner it is up to you to at first ensure that he isn't put in a position where he feels unsure to the point he has to defensively snap to get the time and space he needs to weigh up the situation.
    The vet is correct too, the problem does need working on, by ensuring he has that time and space to feel comfortable and then when he does, and if he wants to initiate contact, if and when he feels ready and relaxed enough then that contact is a positive experience.
    There is nothing rude about protecting your dog and ensuring he isn't set up to fail or be allowed to get into a situation where he can practice or feel he needs to exhibit the behaviour. He is already telling you that if he isn't over awed intitally and given space and approached in the right way, once happy and more secure he doesn't mind being stroked. Kids are often worse then adults quite often, as they have even less in the way of impulse control, they get exciteable, are usually more animated, speak in high pitched voices and tend to dive in even quicker still not allowing the dog time and space, and a lot of kids have even less idea how to approach and have contact with dogs then adults sometimes do.

    A lot of people often more so males, and especially with larger breeds seem to tend to want to rough house, encourage play biting and rough up the dog. Again that's not a good idea especially with a dog that needs the time and space to feel secure and decide for himself when he feels secure enough to have contact.

    Is it normal, its not unusual put it that way, some dogs may be outgoing and bomb proof and instantly seek out and want attention, where others need the time and space to feel relaxed and secure before they are petted or want contact. Is it something he will grow out of? Quite Probably not if it carries on and he feels the need to continue the behaviour and practice it more, however, given the time and right opportunities and encouragement to build in confidence and be allowed to have positive experiences with people especially as he is a young pup at the moment then he quite probably will with help and training.
    Do you need to be careful and not allow people to pat him if he isn't keen? Most certainly so he isn't put in a position he feels anxious and unsure and feels the need to snap in defence. Instead ask people to initially ignore him totally, give him the time and space to decide if and when he wants to become curious about them and wants contact. When he shows curiosity praise him to re-enforce it and give him a treat, and then if and when his ready and approaches them, then ask them to speak to him calmly first if he is still curious wait and see if he wants a stroke from them, if he initiates and wants the contact then let him sniff them if he wants, and then see if he wants more contact and then they can gently and calmly stroke him. Don't push him into situations though he doesn't feel able to handle at the moment.
    #6 Sled dog hotel, Oct 6, 2013
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2013
  7. Owned By A Yellow Lab

    Owned By A Yellow Lab PetForums VIP

    May 16, 2012
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    Just to add, a lot of folk seem to think that Labs and Goldens, in particular, are bombproof around people and that they can touch them however they like without the dogs responding.

    It's nonsense, of course.
  8. Hopeattheendofthetunnel

    Hopeattheendofthetunnel PetForums VIP

    Jun 26, 2013
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    Victoria1, when you say he "snaps"....is this an aggressive/defensive "get off me and leave me alone" snap? Or could it simply be exploratory mouthyness - as most pups explore and greet the world with their teeth? Some pups jaws automatically open the moment they see a hand coming towards their head/eyes. Nothing remotely nasty about it, some pups are simply more mouthy than others.

    If it is the former....an aggressive snap....it sure as heck would worry me, too. A not even 5 month old, temperamentally sound Goldie - in fact, ANY puppy of ANY breed with a good character - shouldn't try to keep the world at bay via his teeth. If it does, it warrants investigation and SPEEDY intervention.

    True, people shouldn't automatically assume that any pup enjoys their unsolicited attention. But puppies - most of all cuddly looking puppies like a Golden Retriever- WILL attract such attention. Pups are people magnets. And , IMO, there are certain things a dog really should be able to tolerate good naturedly. Being stroked falls amongst them. Ideally, a pup will revel and enjoy this attention, but even if it doesn't - it either has to learn to benignly tolerate it....or wear a muzzle when out. It isn't reasonable to assume that all kids or adults will politely ask before stroking the puppy ( whether they ought to is neither here nor there, kids and all people do foolish, inappropriate things).

    Possibility 2 is that your pup's temperament is absolutely fine...but he hasn't mastered control of his mouthiness as yet. This can be VERY successfully rectified via training...and time. Meaning LOTS of praise and rewards for gentle, aka non-teeth interaction, and a verbal correction and anti-mouthiness training when he gets it wrong. What is his body language when he "snaps"? Is his tail swishing and does he try to get TO the people? Or is he stiff/timid and tries to back away from them?

    If he was mine, I would DEFINITELY try to discern what exactly I am dealing with here and address the issue ASAP.
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