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The man-fear issue your new yearling berner seems to have is not terribly unusual in this breed, unfortunately. While it's easy to jump to the conclusion that something drastic happened to the dog previously that caused her to be afraid of men, my experience with my own dogs and others' dogs is that this is not necessarily so. It seems to occur more often in females and, regardless of spay circumstance, often sets in at the onset of adolescence. Conjecture regarding this phenomenon (it's phenomenal to me at least) of (what appear to be) fear behaviors in unchallenged dogs in this breed, is beyond the scope of this e-mail. For the sake of brevity, understand that my suggestions are based on an assumption that there's no desensitization for a specific fear that can necessarily be addressed in dogs who seem to have "inherited" fears. This bit of insight is offered to help you understand that you may find the process of your Berner "coming around" to accept your husband very slow. But don't give up because I believe she can more than likely befriend him, if not men in general.

My suggestions would include that she become your husband's dog...in thought especially....but also in deed. If he feeds her, trains her and attends to her needs, she will eventually turn to him for direction. This is sometimes difficult in a working family's circumstance. In such cases, it would be my suggestion that the initial emphasis be on your husband feeding the dog and taking a period each day to work with her...likely a walk on leash. He should be the one training with food rewards if she is food motivated. Others should not dole out food rewards initially. In otherwords if he becomes the source of her pleasure, her fear of him is more likely to melt away.

Dogs like to "do stuff" to receive praise. I refer to dogs' desire for this as their Will to Serve. Some address this need or desire dogs have through formal obedience training. IMExperience dogs' having this desire is a very important concept to accept in moving forward in working with dogs who present challenges. I incorportate, and advocate my clients incorporate, building servitude into everyday life. When I say, "beep beep" to my dogs, they move of my path. We've done this exercise thousands of times in our days together. I rarely need to say it because they anticipate the need to move and just do it without being asked. Each time they move out of my way they are "serving me," and each opportunity they have to serve me builds their servitude and confidence in our relationship. By requiring this and many other similar "tasks" of them in our everyday life together, their servitude, confidence and trust in our relationship is built continuously. If we think of all the things our dogs do compulsively that might be infringing on our personal space, and require that they momentarily control their impulse, we are "thinking training opportunities" and "teaching self discipline skills, building servitude, and enhancing our relationship with them. "

My premise in working with fearful dogs and their owners is that fear and aggression are based on lack of confidence. Your husband's eventually teaching your Berner tricks will boost her servitude to him AND her self confidence. If he can rearrange his thoughts of her to eliminate focus on her undesired behaviors and to focus on what he WANTs her behavior to be....to conjure up images of this throughout his daily thoughts, IMExperience, this will help the dog immeasureably. Her desired behavior becomes part of his thought pattern....very important in this process.

In a nutshell:

Often the challenge for a wife is in training the husband to become the dog's #1 person. You have your work cut out for you. Good luck and thank you for sharing your home with this Berner.


For the 10 mo old boy who is fearful/shy and was barking at strangers in the pet store who approached, I would strongly discourage the owner from jerking the leash and scolding him.

Since you know he is already afraid, using aversive training methods on him like that it not a good idea.......it will only serve to make him MORE afraid. And potentially increase the likelihood of a fear bite down the road.

If this were one of my dogs, instead of forcing him to tolerate the feared objects (strangers) when they come near, I would instead redirect him to look at me and if possible to sit, then give him a treat for the attention and/or the sit. And I would ask the strangers not to stare at him nor reach out to him.

Since the dog is currently stressed/concerned/worried about those potentially "dangerous" strangers, I would like to use counter conditioning and systematic desensitization to help change his mind set.......remember Psych 101 back from college? Right now when he sees a stranger approach, he thinks "Oh noooo! They might hurt me! I better try to scare them away!" If the person he trusts for safety and protection then scolds him and pops him on a leash, that certainly will not make him any happier to see those scary strangers approach, right? What you would like him to feel/think instead when he sees strangers is "Oh goodie!!! I always get such tasty treats from my mom anytime strangers are near!"

Think of it like this: if you were afraid of flying and chewed your nails any time you were on a plane, and someone yelled at you and slapped your hands every time you chewed your nails, that would hardly do much to help you like to fly.

Use REALLY good treats to reward him, not boring old store bought treats (ex: use hot dog slices, string cheese, baked chicken, real liver, pepperoni pizza leftovers, etc.) Have a baggie full of them ready in your pocket any time you are likely to see strangers.

The worst thing you can do (besides punish him for his fearful response) would be to keep your fearful adolescent dog away from strangers, hidden in your house. He needs to get out and be socialized, or else the problem is likely to get worse and worse ........ until in a few years he does fear bite. This happens all the time, then we get the Berners in rescue, and they are sometimes beyond rehabilitation. Starting from the time he is a baby puppy thru adulthood, Berners need to have continual positive, gentle exposure to lots of strangers, novel sights and sounds, new places, etc. But in a very slow, gradual manner, so as not to overwhelm him and this further traumatize him.

** Figure out his threshold and dont push too hard too fast. For example: if you observe that he usually starts to act worried when he sees 2-3 people 10 feet away walking towards him and looking at him, then you would want to start off by just exposing him to say just 1-2 people, 30+ feet away, who are ignoring him. And giving him lots of tasty treats for sitting and looking at you in that situation.

~~ Things to watch out for, things that well meaning strangers will naturally tend to do that make fearful/shy dogs much WORSE:

people tend to want to look him in the eye, staring right at him, reaching out to him especially if reaching over to pet top of head which is the worst, bending over him (like another dog humping him) or forcing themselves on him.

~~ Things you need to very explicitly and carefully TELL the strangers they must do instead: Ignore him, do not look at him (except out of corner of your eye), let him sniff you without putting your hand towards him, let him approach on his own and get comfortable. If you do pet him, move slowly and without looking at him, and touch him only on the chest or sides, not on top the head/back.

Dont fall for the "oh but all dogs love me" line so many give.

Have you notified your breeder of his issues? Were his parents shy at all? How about his littermates these days? This type of temperament issue sadly is a very common problem in our breed, and results from a combination of genetic plus environmental factors.

I would like to invite you to join the Yahoo email list dedicated to this problem: BerneseShyAggressive -- you can write directly to the main moderator for an invitation to join, Helen Hollander: _HelenSue15@aol.com_ (mailto:HelenSue15@aol.com)

If you go back and read over the old posts in the archives, you can get some helpful suggestions and hear some success stories!


She is making small steps. Yesterday she stopped trying to hide whenever my hubby came around, and would just stand in one spot and watch him. She will allow him "one" touch to pet her , but after that, it is a game of limbo, as my husband calls it as Sophie slowly sinks to the ground if he keeps petting. She will take treats from his hand, although cautiously, at least she doesn't ignore that fact. oh, and if he opens the door to let her back in, she will now come in instead of running to the back of the house. lol She is taking tiny steps, and that is fine with us, We understand this. We used to rescue greyhounds, and also giant breeds, and came across quite a few with trust issues. But they weren't "sensitive" as Sophie seems to be. If you looked her in her eyes when she first came, she went to hide. If your voice is raised ( I have 4 kids, it can get loud in here) the poor girl would break out in the shakes ( she has gotten better over that, no more shakes). We have told the kids that we understand they cannot be silent or quiet 24 hours a day, but they need to tone it down for the dogs sake, and they are doing great in working with Sophie. Butch ( her buddy that came with her) also helps without knowing as he is the one always coming for attention, and he is showing Sophie he gets all that attention, and that nothing fearful or bad happens. But, good little baby steps at least we are getting those. I am happy with that!


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