Help with my Puppy Please...

So, I’m the proud owner of an 11 month old labrador pup. This dog leads an idyllic life.

I got her at 10 weeks and have given her the best of care. I live near a small lake and walk her daily around it…she goes to dog-daycare Mon-Thursday during the day while I’m at work. We go to the dog park every other weekend. I’ve gone through great pains to make sure she was well socialized. I will point out that she is not currently spayed. Please lets not turn this into a “spay your animal” argument. I’m pretty certain that I will spay her very soon, but since she’s got such beautiful confirmation and color I like to think she’d have wonderful pups and I don’t want to close that door quite yet.

Yes, my dog is spoiled, but she’s my kid.

Here’s my problem…she is not friendly to strangers, especially men. Sometimes she’s just shy and hides behind me, but sometimes it’s a full-on growl complete with back hair mohawk. I took her to my parents for Thanksgiving and she growled at my mom after being around her for two straight days. She used to be the friendliest dog ever…when we’d walk by people at the lake, she’d stop and sit when she saw anyone who looked remotely friendly so she could get petted. This weirdness started about 3 months ago.

Now, I know what you’re thinking…you’re thinking someone has abused this animal. It’s just not possible. She LOVES dog daycare…goes apeshit when I take her there. I know ALL the folks who work there and they are wonderful. My dog loves them all. Other than my SO, these are the only people who come around my dog unsupervised. And as for my SO, my dog loves him MORE than me. She is not hand shy…other than being bopped on the nose for gnawing, she’s never been hit by anyone.

I’ve been through a dog obedience class which helped with commands, but did not help with her shyness/growliness. She’s WONDERFUL with me, but I really want a friendly dog. Part of the reason I got a lab was they tend to adjust easier to new people (good for bringing kids into the house). Is this just a stage? Is it a hormone thing–although she hasn’t been through heat yet?

Health-wise she’s a-OK…just been to the vet.


Check out the Denver Dumb Friends League page on dog aggression. One thing you may want to note is that intact dogs are more aggressive than sterilized dogs. Especially if she’s singling out men but hasn’t had negative experiences with men, that might be the problem.

The page has plenty of good suggestions, and in fact, The Denver Dumb Friends League has a whole bunch of great web pages devoted to animal care and solving pet problems.


Got our lab at the pound as a 4 month old pup. I am pretty sure that she was either abused or scared by a male at some point in her youth because, while she is an extremely friendly dog, she will at times treat new male visitors with a good bit of nervousness and agitation.

To get her past this, I do 3 things.

  1. I have the guy kneel down to her level and extend a hand. No rapid movements, just acting nice.
  2. I give the person a treat or a toy of hers as an offering to then give to her.
  3. I pick her up (which is a blast to do with a 55 pound energetic dog) and carry her over to the guy. Gives her some forced contact and sniffing and she usually calms down after that.

If she still acts a little freaked after that, I tend to chalk it up to her getting bad vibes from a questionable person.

Everything I need to know about the character of a person, I can divine from my dog’s reaction to that person.

Daniel great site, but I think my pup is pretty atypical in that she is not aggessive towards me at all, when she does get growly, that’s all she gets…if advanced upon she runs…if they trap her and touch her anyway, she puts up with it, but runs away at the first opportunity, but then almost plays a weird “chase” game where she wags her tail and seems to want to be chased, but not touched. Isn’t the “intact” argument more for males than females? Also she has never been in heat yet and this started 3 months ago.

I don’t play games like this with her–I have no idea where she gets it. Further, she is rarely growly…just more standoffish (it’s the growly that freaks me out so I emphasized it more). It’s never a food/toy guarding issue as strangers can touch those and she could care less.

Also, [b} Mully ** yours are good suggestions and I’ve tried them all, but it only makes her tolerate them touching her…I wish she could be happy and loving like other labs…
As for her judgment of character…her growling at my mom confirms that she has none…mom is small, sweet and was armed with Beef Wellington as a treat.

Thanks for the help so far…any other suggestions or has a weird dog like this?

Were you able to meet the parents of your pup? What were their personalities like? I’m just wondering if the parents might have been aggressive towards strangers.

Since this is a new behavior that she didn’t exhibit when she was younger, it could definitely be doggy adolescence hitting hard. You might want to get a copy of Surviving Your Dog’s Adolescence: A Positive Training Program.

To me this sounds like fear aggression. A dog does not have to be abused to have it. It can be genetic, or a dog can take what is a completely innocent human behavior and misinterpret it as being threatening. Having a qualified behaviorist evaluate your dog could be the most valuable thing you can do, since they can give you an individualized approach to take to work on this problem. You don’t say where you live, but I know an excellent behaviorist near Harrisburg, PA if you live in that area. Also you can look up a list of trainers in your area at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers site:

I have a dog who went through a period of weirdness where he was afraid of certain men that came in to our house - not all men, just certain ones. And only in our house, so we know that no one did anything bad to him. He’d bark these short, gruff little barks and try to run and nip the person on the butt when they walked away. We have no idea what started it, but with some help from the person we adopted him from, he eventually got over it.

My aunt had a dog that barked and growled at men, but she was raised in a women-only home from puppyhood and had very little exposure to males. She would love any woman that came up to her, stranger or not. She was fixed though so I guess she just didn’t trust them for some reason.

Dog trainer here:

Sounds like your typical “Fear Biter”. If you are willing to work at it, it can be helped.

Arm yourself with treats, teach your dog the “Go to”, or “touch” command. Get a handful of friends (male) to help you out.

First, teach her the “touch” command. I use a mousepad and a bit of food, until I can send the dog out to “touch” anything on command. Once you have that, then add in the “friend” element. Start with females, since she likes females. Give that person a treat, walk up to her with the dog at a heel. Sit/stay the dog. Tell the dog to go touch the person’s hand. Nose touches hand, treat gets released, call dog back… “good dog”!

Repeat until the dog has the notion of touching a person’s hand on command. Then start doing it with male friends. Eventually, make it a game. Ask people you meet to give her a treat (if they’re not afraid of dogs) - tell them you’re teaching her not to be as shy anymore.

Get people to pet her FROM THE SIDE, NEVER THE FRONT. Don’t make them offer her their hand, then pet her head. When I teach “Dog Safety” to children, that’s the first thing I say. Ask the owner, stand NEXT TO THE DOG, and pet it from the SIDE. It will be less likely to take the petting as a sign of dominance.

You can always email me for ideas… :slight_smile: Hope this helps.

Elly & the Hounds