Helping an Anxious Puppy Stop Barking at Strangers Who Move

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 30, 2020

Luna GSD Puppy scaled - Helping an Anxious Puppy Stop Barking at Strangers Who Move

For this Omaha puppy training session we worked with Luna, a 7 month-old German Shepherd who is anxious and has barked and nipped at people she doesn’t know.

Luna had a rough start to life, being born into a puppy mill, but she sure hit the jackpot with her guardians. When Luna first started showing signs of anxiety and reactivity, the family sprung into action; booking a in home puppy training session with our instructor / dog trainer Kayla. At her session, Kayla suggested the family arrnage for Anna, another one of our trainers, to walk and socialize the dog at public locaitons to help her build confidence through positive experiences.

While Kayla and Anna made progress with Luna, the puppy was still reactive at seemingly random times so they arranged to have me come to evaluate this anxious pup and see if I could come up with some additional solutions.¬†Sadly there are many people wouldn’t invest the extra time and effort into a puppy who had nipped a few people. Fortunately for Luna, her guardians are dedicated to her development and well being.

Some of Luna’s fear and insecurity undoubtedly come from a stressfull puppyhood. If a mother is stressed when she is pregnant, she can change the DNA of the pups, resulting in an anxious litter. Once puppy mill pups are born, they get little to no human contact that they so desperately need at early critical developmental periods.

In the Other End of the Leash, World Reknown Dog Behaviorist Patricia McConnell notes that “Extensive research on dog behavior found that puppies who were isolated from human contact between 5 – 12 weeks were never able to react normally to people later in life.”

As someone who has rescued dogs from puppy mills, its clear most puppy mill dogs lack this fundamental interaction; a loving touch. Most puppy mills are so large there isnt enough time for the “breeders” to touch all the pups they are creating.

The photo below is of the rabbit hutches that were converted into dog cages at a puppy mill I rescued dogs from in 2017 (This is not a photo of Luna’s puppy mill). They were too small for larger pups to sit up in so some had pushed holes in the fencing on top. The bottom of these cages are screens as well so they dont have to be cleaned when the puppy goes potty. This is one of the main reason so many puppy mill dogs have difficulty potty training, they are practiced at sitting in thier own waste.

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Since Luna is loving and affectionate with some people, she clearly had some positive human contact during the critical period, but the stress associated with her puppy mill background had done a number on her. This is why dog behavior experts like me spend so much time educating people on how they should never buy a dog from a pet store or that comes from a puppy mill as that purchase supports more puppies born that way.

Luna’s guardians didnt know that when they went looking for a dog, a very common and unfortunate sitation. They and I wished they knew this before, but what came before is prologue for them. But it isnt for you. If you are considering getting a puppy or dog, this post I wrote on what to do, and not do, can be invaluable.

After sitting down with the guardians to discuss a number of puppy behavior tips to help with her anxiety, I learned that some of Luna’s reactions occurred when people moved unexpectantly. I decided to show her guardians an easy way to stop a fearful puppy from barking and lunging at people. You can watch me as our newest team meber Laura and I show them how to use counterconditioning to stop a dog from barking when people move.

The best thing about this secret to stopping a puppy from lunging at new people who move is how easy it is. You dont have to be a professional German Shepherd Dog trainer to do it. The key is to create situations where you control all the outside elements (the person, location, dog’s exercise, time of day, etc) and go at the pup’s pace.

In order for counterconditioning to work, the puppy cant feel threatened or scared. So if it moves away, growls, barks or lunges, its a sign you moved too far too fast. But if you go at the dog or puppy’s pace, counterconditioning is a fantastic way to help a fearful or anxious puppy get over a fear of something.

To help Luna’s guardians remember all the puppy behavior tips we shared in this in home Omaha puppy training session, we recorded a roadmap to success video you can watch below.

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This post was written by: David Codr