How JustAnswer Works:
  • Ask an Expert
    Experts are full of valuable knowledge and are ready to help with any question. Credentials confirmed by a Fortune 500 verification firm.
  • Get a Professional Answer
    Via email, text message, or notification as you wait on our site. Ask follow up questions if you need to.
  • 100% Satisfaction Guarantee
    Rate the answer you receive.
Ask Jane Lefler Your Own Question
Jane Lefler
Jane Lefler, Animal Behaviorist
Category: Dog Training
Satisfied Customers: 20173
Experience:  Dog breeder/Trainer and Behaviorist 18+ years
Type Your Dog Training Question Here...
Jane Lefler is online now

I took on a 2 year old cocker spaniel in November 2013. She

This answer was rated:

I took on a 2 year old cocker spaniel in November 2013. She is a partly trained gun dog. Whilst she is comfortable around women, although not outwardly confident when they approach her, she is very wary of men. Her tail goes down and she backs away. Recently after a long walk she surprised me by barking at a man (minding his own business) walking in the opposite direction. What can I do to build up her confidence and trust?
Hi JaCustomer,
My name is Jane. I have been working professionally with animals especially dogs in both health and behavioral issues for over 18 years. I have over 14,000 satisfied customers. It will be my pleasure to work with you today.
In order to supply you with the best information, I do need to ask for some additional information. Once I receive your answer, it will likely take me about 30-45 minutes to type up your response. I hope you can be patient.
Is she spayed?
What obedience training has she had?
Have you tried to reassure her when she barks at people by petting her, holding her, etc?
Have you distracted her with treats?
Are you a little anxious when she is on the leash if a man approaches knowing how she sometimes reacts to them?
Does she eventually approach males in the house if they ignore her initially?
Does she just avoid them in the house or bark at them or growl?
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Hi Jane,

  • She hasn't been spayed but had puppies before I got her.Am planning to have her spayed

  • Very obedient off lead. Sits, stays, recall to whistle

  • As I wasn't expecting barking when out walking didn't react quick enough but yes, I stroke and talk to her

  • I use treats to reward but guess I need to use them to distract her when out.

  • I think I am becoming anxious because I'm not sure how she is going to react to strangers

  • Yes she will approach males in the house eventually but it takes some time. However just when I think she is relaxing, she will bark unexpectedly even if they have been in the house several hours.



She sounds like she might end up being a lovely companion. She just needs some more socialization around males. Dogs are aggressive for several reasons including fear, dominance and to protect their human if they think they are the boss. If her tail is tucked, then it is likely to be fear based aggression and barking is usually a sign of aggression. Now she might feel that she has to protect you as well as being scared of the men, but it is likely related to her training as a gun dog. She may associate men with adverse training methods or even loud gun noises.
The quickest way to help her with this is to socialize her around a bunch of people in a controlled atmosphere where people are not going to be focused on her. The best place for this is in a group obedience training class. I know she is obedient already, but this serves to have her around a bunch of strangers where everyone is focused on their own dog. It will let her see that men are not even necessarily paying her any attention at all. It will also teach her to listen to you despite a lot of distractions and have her see you as the ultimate boss. The boss is the one that protects the pack so that will remove one possible cause from the equation.
Taking her to stores that allow dogs can also help the situation but you need to ensure that no man approaches her by telling them she is in training and isn't to be petted. She will see this as you protecting her and keeping them away and possibly stop assuming that role herself and calm down. Now the next thing is going to seem a little strange. Make sure you have a long leash with a loop at one end. Use the end loop to slip over her tail, holding the leach in the middle but still maintaining control of your girl. Use the looped portion to hold up the tail in a normal position horizontal with the body (not down or up). This is a relaxed but confident position and can help change a dog's mood just by controlling that tail set.
You want to have her sit when people come in the house and have her on a lead. If she reacts by barking and lunging, give her a reprimand of a short tug to get her attention and a firm low toned (growl like) NO so she realizes that you find it unacceptable. After a few correction in a row she should stop the behavior. Then you can reward her with a tasty treat of a vienna sausage slice or liver sliver. If she remains seated and doesn't bark, give her calm praise and a treat. You can also slip the leash under your foot to help prevent her getting up from the sit position. Keep her in the position until your guests are seated then give her a release command of some sort. I use go which my dogs know means you can resume normal activities.

If she approaches the males without barking, let the guest toss her a small treat so she starts associating male guests with treats instead of someone that needs to be feared.

You can not reassure her or tempt her with treats. If you have treats, she knows it. She needs to learn that when she behaves appropriately, she is rewarded but inappropriate behavior gets her the short tug and firm reprimand (NO). This isn't a quick fix but it does work but you need to be consistent in your interaction with her.
Give these suggestions a try and let me know how things are going in a little while. I hope this information is helpful to you and you are satisfied with my response. If you would like any additional information or have more questions please don’t hesitate to press the reply to expert or continue conversation button so I can address any issues you still have .
Jane Lefler and other Dog Training Specialists are ready to help you