Australian Shepherd Question & Answer
My Aussie doesn't like strangers. She hasn't bitten anyone (yet) but she has growled at a few people. What should I do to stop this before it gets worse?
As with many behavior issues, the solution needed can depend on the cause of the problem. You would want to determine if the growling is due to aggression or fear. Is she protecting you or being territorial? Is she this way with both adults and children, and what about other dogs or animals?
Generally, good socialization early and often is the key to avoiding these types of problems later. Dogs learn socialization right away from their mothers and interactions with their litter mates. Removing a puppy too soon can result in socialization problems so it is recommended that they stay with the mother until 8 weeks old. A couple of weeks difference can be crucial in this development, so don't be tempted to try to get them earlier.
Of course, later you should do what you can to expose them to as many social interactions and environments as they can comfortably handle. They have to feel that you are there for them and that they are not overwhelmed with too many extreme or frightening situations. After all, you don't want them to associate other people and animals with fearful and stressful conditions.
You can even create controlled environments with the help of friends and family. Have them drop by for short but fairly frequent visits. If they have their own dog they can bring along that's good too, but keep it positive and calm. Your visitors can even have treats available to help leave a good impression.
Most dogs will come around with this controlled, positive, "immersion therapy." As with all training, frequency and consistency is the key.
Be sure to check your own attitude too. Your dog will become more nervous around strangers if you are putting out that "vibe." You don't want to be nervously watching your dog for signs of aggression while tightly gripping their collar or leash as it will become a self-fulfilling scenario.
If necessary, consult a professional. A dog trainer or behaviorist can, more than train your dog, they can teach you how to behave around your dog so they can be more comfortable and confident during interactions with strangers either in your home or out in public.
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