It is common to associate fear with the image of a dog hiding under a cabinet with his head bowed, tail clasped between its legs and visibly quivering. It is less common to pass by a lunging, snarling, barking dog and understand that can be a reaction based around fear too.
My Pomeranian came home to us extremely people-reactive. She was young, less than a year old, and all she had known was people treating her badly. In her experience people equalled abuse, and coupled with a lack of healthy socialisation, this resulted in her showing fear aggressive behaviours to everyone and anyone she saw (men, women, children, joggers, cyclists…). Her lunging, snarling, loud barking, growling and air snapping would not dissipate until the person was long gone and the physiological stress of that adrenaline rush would remain in her for a good while afterwards.
It was a very steep learning curve for me in how to manage the life of a dog whose automatic reaction was to bark, charge and snap at the first sight of a person. ‘Manage’ is the key word there; it was imperative to find her threshold and keep that in mind at all times. Her threshold determined where we would go, when, and for what purpose (training? or just quiet downtime?). Her threshold also determined who came into our house, when and how.
Using methods of counter-conditioning (changing the way she feels about people) AND operant-conditioning (changing the way she acts around people) intensively, I am happy to say that I now have a dog who is comfortably walking past people on the pavement, and sitting and waiting calmly as I interact with another person who she may or may not know. We still have some work to do together but it is so relieving to see her relax around people now, despite their unpredictability. The methods I applied aren’t complex but they can make the world of difference.
Having gone through it myself I recognise how hard it can be on the owner to work with a dog displaying such socially-judged behaviour. Professional guidance and support is, I believe, extremely necessary when dealing with something as intense and consuming as this.