Me and my wife adopted a 4 years old dog. The dog was raised with little to none socialization with humans and dogs. He is a mix between German Shepherd and Labrador and has not been neutered. The former owner didn't exercised him much, basically he was raised to be a guard dog.

He brought the dog to our backyard and then, though the dog was not very kind with us, he showed no signs of excessive aggression. However, since the owner left he barks aggressively to us every time he sees us.

My question is, what is the best way to tame this dog? I also saw he howling. He shows a very fearful behavior. When he barks, I stand still so that he knows this is our place, while avoiding direct eye to eye contact. Then he goes to the corner of the yard and hides.

Obs: We're on the fourth day since he came.


7 Answers 7


This sounds like a very tricky and potentially dangerous situation. A poorly socialised dog that has been used to being a guard dog and living outside is exactly the kind of dog who is most likely to bite. In my experience volunteering for a dog rescue, dogs from this kind of environment are most likely to cause problems for adopters, including biting. :-( H

Although it is true that neutered dogs tend to be less aggressive in general, in a dog that is poorly socialised with no experience of being a pet, who is showing some fearful behaviour, approaching him to apply a thundershirt or medication could be dangerous. Neutering is also thought to be a risk factor for making fearful/aggressive behaviour worse.

I would definitely not risk trying to take this dog out to a class, or trying to get a lead on him yet. If you feel you want professional help, hire a qualified behaviourist who has experience, for example rehabilitating guard dogs or working with rescue dogs that have been street dogs, who can give you one-to-one advice.

I can only suggest taking things very slowly, and feeding the dog very small regular meals. Don't make the dog come too close to you to get food, or he may come closer than he is comfortable with and then react in panic. Instead, leave the food and retreat, so that the dog can see you, but doesn't feel challenged.

Does he have a 'safe space' in the yard - a kennel or doghouse where he can feel safe? If not, and if you can provide one, that may help. He is feeling very insecure at the moment, and having a space that is just for him should help him feel safer. Don't approach him when he's in his safe space until you know each other much better and he seems much more relaxed.

Don't stare at him or make a loud noise, just be there, and provide food. Over time, this will develop positive associations around your presence.

There's a useful page here about working with fear aggressive dogs. http://fearfuldogs.com/key-concepts-of-working-with-fearful-dogs/

You might also find this book interesting : CHARLIE, THE DOG WHO CAME IN FROM THE WILD by Lisa Tenzin-Dolma. It's about an ex-feral dog, but Charlie did have some behaviour traits which sound comparable, and I know Lisa managed them successfully.

It sounds like this is a pretty difficult situation. Good luck. Please be careful.


This probably is not the most humane answer, however neutering him may solve the issue. The dog may have excess testosterone causing him to be aggressive. If the behavior is due to fear, you can purchase a thunder shirt for around $50 and this usually calms dogs down as it makes them more secure. The only issue is that you would have to get the thunder shirt on the dog. My last solution is to get calming tablets from PetSmart. After moving I had to do this to calm my dogs down. They are not harmful and are full of natural ingredients to help the dog calm down. You also need to have the dog associate you with good things. Every time you go to him and he stops barking, give him a treat. Hope these solutions help.


After exactly 1 week, I'm happy to say we finally solved the problem.

We started by positively reinforcing the calm behavior but stood still every time he barked at me. After some days he changed from aggressive to ultra-scared and hiding. He made himself a corner of the yard as his safe place and I started doing an exercise of throwing him treats everytime he looked at me and everytime he had the guts of leaving his place. Until a day he basically started laying on the ground like asking for treats but when I threw him treats, he didn't wanted these anymore. Then I shown him the leash and he basically begged for it. So I put the leash on him and he walked for 2 hours. After that, he's a totally new dog.

So that's basically what I recommend for someone who is having the same problem:

  1. Learn to differentiate fear aggression from dominance aggression Dominance Agression Fear Agression

  2. Dominance aggression is dealed by claiming the territory and being alpha (search the web about it). But never face the dog in the eye.

  3. Fear aggression is dealed by getting out of the situation slowly (never face the dog in the eye, stay sideways, and move out from the dog). Try to not trigger this state. Instead, throw him treats from distance and let him get it. In fact, sometimes just throw a treat and go away. That may make him curious. Associate your voice, your eye, your face, with the treat. And respect his fear.

  4. Be patient. It may take some days. Celebrate little victories. It's a step-by-step process. Everyday you'll see he has improved a little.

  • I'm really pleased to hear you are doing so well, but please be careful. It 's common for this sort of behaviour to recur : be cautious and go on reinforcing the behaviour that you want, and I would be particularly careful around children. The stuff about 'being the alpha' is outdated, just so you know. Here's an article about why this is a myth : whole-dog-journal.com/issues/14_12/features/… there are lots of others. Try 'Alpha dog myth' as a search. Sounds like you are doing great, HUGE congratulations on your success so far and on not giving up!
    – Victoria
    Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 16:21
  • Hi Victoria. Thanks for the link and for the info. I've been hearing critics to the alpha-stuff lately. The link was a very good read. Being very honest with you, I think the dominance thing has its moments and its hard to understand (many mistake aggressiv with assertive). Positive reinforcement is great and should be the default. However, it can also be done wrongly when you reward bad emotional states. Like, a dog being aggressive to other dog, you call his name and give him a treat for example. Personally I like both.
    – pedrozath
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 19:39
  • There's no perfect way. It's more a matter of learning from all views and seeing what works best with your dog, because as the article says, "dog personalities lie on a continuum". That's my opinion. Thanks for sharing!
    – pedrozath
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 19:39

One thing that might work is to place a crate outside with him, with the door open. If he enters the crate, go over repeating calming words and close the crate door. Next, you'll have to get a secure collar or harness and a leash on him, the end of which you'll keep hanging outside of the crate. To get the collar or harness on the dog, if he's too scared to be touched, go somewhere very distracting, with lots of dog smells and noises like a pet store's dog washing station, and have other people around you. Maybe have a female sooth the dog and help if he responds well to it.

Once you have the dog on a secure leash, then take him for some walks, placing him in a crate in between each walk. If he doesn't want to go in the crate at this point, throw in a couple tasty treats ahead of him. When he's in the crate, never give attention to his whining, barking, etc, unless you've waited too long since his last bathroom break and you're convinced he's telling you he's gotta go.

For the long term, you should look into crate-training the dog, but make sure that it's very activity-oriented, such that the crate becomes a "homebase" out of which he does lots of scheduled activities like walking, running, swimming, playing, cuddling, etc.

One great resource is Leerburg.com, specifically the free articles on dog training.


I would recommend a dog training class. Not only will they teach the dog to behave, they will teach the human(s) how to be more alpha so the dog wants to behave. A friend if mine, who favors herding dogs, found a class absolutely essential when one of her dogs showed signs of wanting to be the alpha in the pack.


my friends dog was like that I I helped her and told her to aprotch it with a soft calm voice and let it get used to you


I had a ranch in the Rocky Mountains and kept three of my own labs. They were secure. Stray, scared and sick dogs somehow found us. They wouldn't come near the humans. So, I put them in a large dog pen and simply sat alone reading a book about 15 feet from them. Even the most frightened, sick or aggressive dogs are very curious. After days of allowing the dogs to investigate me, we began to develop a trusting relationship and worked from there. My philosophy is that you "can't make the river flow". The less active approach, for me, was the most successful. It sounds as if you are making great headway!

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