Skittishness/Stranger Danger On Leash vs. Off Leash
  • Hello, NKF! Ancho (Kai) is 5 months now, and we've been seeing an interesting pattern in his treatment of strangers over the last month or so that seems to be related to when he's on or off leash. When he was younger, he was much more likely to spot a random person that he didn't like (for whatever reason), and either try to pull away from the person or just stop dead in his tracks (even from 20 yards away). As he has matured, this has thankfully happened much less frequently.

    However, lately we've noticed a difference in his treatment of strangers when he is offleash vs. on leash. I know a lot of you have strong feelings about not letting Kai's off leash because of their prey drive, but he has always been really good about not running off and circling back to us since we got him at 8 weeks, so we figured that we would try to encourage and develop this so that we could trust him off leash in the future.

    During the last month especially, I have taken him out hiking on short trails around the Bay Area for ~2 hour walks and always off leash him (he loves it). The weird thing is, he is skittish of almost every person we encounter on the trail, whether they are bikers, runners, walkers, male or female and all ages. It also doesn't matter whether the person(s) approach from behind or in front (which I could see as being more confrontational...but still how is this different than a sidewalk which he's ok with?). He'll either freeze next to me and bark a few times, or if he's not right next to me then he will try to run around them/avoid them. This rarely happens when he's on leash and encounters strangers, or even at the park down the street where the regulars always off leash their dogs (or another park I sometimes take him to). He always comes back when this happens, but it is somewhat worrisome and also just odd.

    Does anyone know why he does this? It seems to only happen when we're on trails, whether they are in the woods or more open, like the local city park (paved and more open) trail by the river. He's ok with strangers otherwise. We think we have done a good job socializing him, as we've taken him to all the different types of places we could think of (stores, mall, outdoor shopping, parks, hikes, beach, snow, car, plane, loud places, sidewalks, cities, street crossing, etc) consistently since he was 8 weeks till now.
  • Interesting. I know a lot of dogs have issues when they are ON leash because they feel more "trapped" (you are largely removing their flight response, so they tend to resort to barking, growling, lunging, etc). However, I've never met a dog who has more issues with the leash OFF than on.

    Kai can be rather "sticky" dogs when it comes to their people. They are also rather insecure by nature when it comes to strangers. I wonder if he feels less secure when he's at a greater distance from you, so that's what's causing his issues.

    Another thought-- he might have met more friendly strangers in a training/socialization environment when he was on leash instead of off. Dogs don't generalize very well. If much of his socialization was done on leash, he might see it as sort of a security blanket. He knows all the people he's met while on leash are good people (they might even give him treats). Working as a trainer, I've met dogs who behave very differently when wearing different gear (harness vs collar for example) simply because they associate different things with the gear.

    Nonetheless, I'd try a long line and see if that helps. This will give him more freedom, but he's still on a leash. I'm curious to see if that would help.
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  • ImanIman
    Posts: 21
    I wonder a bit if he's going through a fear period? Koharu went through one where she didn't like approaching an intersection a certain way, and would try to fight it, which sounds like the freezing and barking. Ancho is about the right age for one, too.

    Koharu also is much more confident on leash than off, with respect to meeting new people. It's like she knows she can rely on her humans to protect her, whereas she seems more wary when off leash, although we haven't let her off leash to the same extent that you have since she definitely takes off at any sign of something interesting. So I wonder if Ancho is similar in that respect, where he has more confidence on leash?
  • Kai are not "insecure by nature" - some fearful or mishandled individual Kai have gotten a lot of press in the community, but like other dogs there are wary Kai and outgoing Kai. I do not think hitting the breed with a broad brush like that helps anyone.

    I DO think Iman's comment about the fear period is a wise insight. Reel him in and give him support for a few weeks. Walk him on leash and then release him for certain spots he likes along the way if he wants, then recall him and continue on leash together. He's very young, so hold his hand and build him up through the fear period. During this time you want to shield him from scary things because they can leave an indelible impression that is hard to undo later. Think of it not so much as a period of FEAR as a period of *expanded awareness leading to questions,* and a time of 'wet cement.' Once the Fear Period is over, he will be better able again (like when he was younger) to assess correctly and choose reasonable responses.

    A lot of training is establishment of habits- think of a picture of what you want him to do when he doesn't know what to do. (Like: look at you, or come to you, or hand targeting, for example) and at the first signs of approach of concern draw that behavior from him. On leash for now and then use the same cues off leash so you establish that the same protocol applies. You want your 'cement' to dry in the ways you want him to remember later.

    When you are supportive of dogs with questions, especially early on, their confidence deepens. Kai, and other similar breeds, ARE generally sensitive/astute and their bond with their person is the root of the emphasis with which they response to everything. In other words, they notice everything and what they do with that information depends on you and what you establish with them. (so be their Guide) This challenges owners to match their perceptiveness and engage it with them. An owner who ignores or just fails to notice, loses the opportunity to establish What We Do. It may be that the dog naturally decides a thing is no big deal and can coast by with an oblivious owner, but it may not - and during a fear period you want to be the guide so you ensure that you and your dog wear a groove of the desired response. Point is, don't get caught observing and wondering for too long and letting the dog decide. The cement is wet and he is questioning, be there for him :) Fear periods are temporary (though there's more than one) and paying great attention and being supportive during these opportunities for education help your dog blossom.
  • Thank you for all the responses!! They are all very helpful, and add some things I had not thought of.

    @LexterGrace - I have been thinking about getting a long line for training, since when we're outside I'm lucky to get him to do 2 sets of commands, and not "well" (sigh).

    @Iman - interesting! We had that thought, but figured we couldn't flatter ourselves by thinking he felt "safer" on leash with us...hahah. But, maybe it is true. I also considered that he could be going through a fear period, which is especially true because sometimes he has no problems with strangers off leash at all, and in the same exact places (like yesterday...)!

    It's definitely a challenge going through this puppy phase, since some of his behavior is a day by day kinda thing. For example...he wailed in his crate from November through early January, and then all of a sudden one day decided he was cool with it!

    @WrylyBrindle - I like the "establish What We Do" advice. I usually try to grab him once I hear someone approaching or notice that he heard someone, and crouch by the side of the path with him until they pass. I will make sure to be consistent about how I handle the situation from now on.

    Also, good to know that there can be outgoing Kai, because I was under the impression that as a breed, they are generally more wary. Aside from this topic, I think he is fairly non-reactive. He doesn't mind any type of loud/stimulating/crowded environment or even loud noises, and he's even cool with the vacuum cleaners now (but he LOVES dogs). Hopefully he will grow through this!

    ----

    Also, sorry for the unrelated topic, but he's now 5 months and a week and weighs 28.5lbs. I know Kai's grow at different rates...but anyone have a guess at how much he will weigh as an adult?? His parents are Garou and Nori. Thanks!!!
  • ImanIman
    Posts: 21
    Hahaha I mean, obviously I'm just making assumptions but seeing as she likes to stick close to us when off leash at the dog park, and wants to engage with ALL THE DOGS while on leash, it definitely seems like she feels safer with us. She's grown out of that a bit too - now she's a teenager who doesn't need her parents! LOL

    I definitely feel you on all the puppy challenges though! But as long as there's consistency, I think it'll turn out okay. (Or at least that's what I tell myself to make me feel better haha)

    Anyway Koharu is a different breed but at around 5 months, she was about 25 lbs and now is probably close to 40 lbs at a year old, if that helps at all. :P
  • zandramezandrame
    Posts: 516
    I would also recommend a long line for him. Especially if his obedience is iffy and you are working through what may be a fear period. Safety first!

    My Kai Mayaa (who you met) is on the outgoing side of the spectrum. She's more likely to knock someone over with kisses when meeting them, and drag them back down when they try to get away. But even then, I'm not offended by the comment that Kai are "insecure by nature." It may just be a matter of phrasing, but it's true they have a strong flight instinct. Mayaa has her certain triggers and when she's spooked, she wants to GO NOW (e.g. illegal neighborhood fireworks during a walk). Relevant thread about flight response.

    You've gotten some good advice, you need to be his Rock and establish how you want him to respond to the world. To add on, we've found food useful to help us establish with Mayaa "this is good, no need to worry." For example, a dog barking across the street, a child running and screaming, a car backfire, a fire truck siren, etc., we use an engage/disengage (look at the scary, get a reward, move on). It was also helpful with her to find a "reset" behavior to get her focus back when she's distracted - we ask for a nose touch or a paw (she likes to smack things), and can judge her comfort level with engagement. If she can't focus on the task, or ears back and tail down, she's over threshold and we shouldn't keep her in that situation.

    I usually try to grab him once I hear someone approaching or notice that he heard someone, and crouch by the side of the path with him until they pass.
    You may have left some stuff out, but to me this could be interpreted by a puppy as "When we see people while I'm off leash, I get grabbed, the fun stops. I don't like that." That could explain some apprehension. Instead, if you feed him something high value, or bring out a prized toy during these events, you can associate with him that people == fun times.

    I can't speak for Ancho's parents, but Mayaa was also 28 lbs at 5 months. She was 37 lbs by 8 months, and has stayed around there. She will easily gain weight, so we have to keep an eye on her.
  • @zandrame - good point! I did leave out that about 50% of the time he is already next to me so I just "grab" his collar to make sure he doesn't get run over by a runner/biker. He also doesn't fight me even when I go to where he is. He's actually ok with being held in most situations, unless we just got to the park and he sees dogs...lol. But, he usually never moves anyway. Also, his recall is pretty good-I would say he comes immediately about 80% of the time.

    I like the "reset" behavior idea as well as having high value treats. I'm usually so concerned with getting next to him that I don't even think about treats at that moment.I haven't yet encountered anything that has made him want to bolt, more just freeze...but I'm sure there will be something. Will work on it!!

    And thanks all for the weight input! That might mean he's a slow grower for a boy :( but we will just wait and see :)
  • zandramezandrame
    Posts: 516
    I think Ancho is on track for an average male Kai. :)

    Check out this thread -
    http://www.nihonken.org/forum/index.php?p=/discussion/8332/kai-ken-growth-rate/p1
  • @zandrame - Ok, average is fine!! And thanks for the thread-somehow I can never pull up the right thread even though I definitely searched "lbs" "weigh" etc...sigh

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