Sweet boerboel w/ a dog problem


New Member
Hi - I just came across this site and I have been trying to track down an answer to a situation I have and perhaps someone here can lend some insight.

I have a lovely 110lb female boerboel that is just about 2 years old. She's wonderful with my friends and family and my young 3 year old. She is patient with him, and is affectionate, but also stays out of his hair. I never encouraged her to really play alot with him because dogs and young kids can be a bad mix- kids get knocked down, trampled, nipped etc. I supervise her always, though she has always been utterly trustworthy. She's a snuggler and a big baby and in general, very good with nearly everything - no food or toy aggression etc. My wife and I did NILIF with her from the time we had her and she tows the line. My breeder had her temperament tested as a puppy (this was a big factor in which puppy I chose, since I had a small child) and was pretty average in her dominance scores. In other words, not too sharp, not too shy, just right in the middle where great dogs are supposed to be.

In fact she's very good in nearly every way except for the fact that she is a little under-socialized (I'm correcting that now) and also she will try to fight other dogs. BUT - its not a frothing, snarling ordeal. Its almost sneaky. Read below.

The first year I socialized her very well. Lots of sounds/people/places/dogs. I also put her through puppy kindergarten and used The Power of Positive Dog Training: Pat Miller to work on clicker training with her. She knows alot of commands and tricks as a result However, this last year I had to do an immense amount of travel and just fell down on the job, so shame on me. I've just switched jobs and will have the time I need to really work with her so I'm confident we can overcome this stuff, I'm just trying to figure out whether its a socialization/fear thing or something more.

So because I didn't do alot with her the past several months, she now she seems a bit fearful when I take her out - when approaching a blowing trash bag for example, there's some crouching, hackles, stop and go sort of approaching until she gets up to it to investigate. She's not aggressive at all with people but as a protective breed she's wary and alert but there is never growling etc. I don't let people approach her on the lead at this point because she seems out of balance and I don't want a tragedy or a situation to unfold that I have to correct for in her training.

The dog issue almost seems a combination of her natural dominant tendency and a lack of socialization/fearfulness. On three separate occasions she's had a bad scene with new dogs. The first time was at a vets office. Small dog seemed to want to meet her, I asked if she was friendly and owner said yes. I allowed her to approach (dog was on owner's lap) and the dog snapped at my dog. My dog of course starts barking and pulling towards her and I pull her away. I think this is the genesis of all of this unfortunately but I'm not sure. Was my dog giving off a bully vibe that I didn't see? She seemed eager to meet the dog, but not aggressive that I could see (just tail wagging and tugging to get closer. I would call it happy and eager)

Next time, I was on one of my socialization tours through PetSmart (1st year stuff) and she seemed to want to meet a large black newfoundland- tail wagging, showing interest, but not barking, but pulling a little on the lead. I asked if he was friendly (I have always asked this with every dog I've had) and the owners said yes, so I approached and allowed her to get closer. It went bad pretty quickly. as she got close to him she sort of froze and then all h*ll broke loose. Barking and snarling she seemed to want to have a go. I honestly couldn't tell if she just got scared or was being a bully. Either way it was a bad situation.

Last time was this last Thanksgiving - another family members dog was present and I didn't realize it. I asked if I could bring my dog over (everyone loves her) and they said sure. I guess they forgot about how she has acted in the past and my concerns because there was poor george, a little terrier mix. As she ran through the house meeting everyone, george trailed behind her. When I saw him I yelled for my sister in law to grab her leash (I just let go of it so she could meet everyone). And just about that time she turned to realize he was sniffing her rear and she nearly drug my sis-in-law across the floor barking and growling at poor george.

So this sounds pretty simple probably but here are some additional details:

She has had a buddy since she was a puppy - Pepper is her play pal and while she does some dominant posturing with Pepper (t'ing up with her muzzle over pepper's shoulder, legs stiff with a high head and tail), they never fight and if someone ever does 'get out of hand' or show non-play aggression its usually Pepper 'zapping' my dog for pestering her after she's laid down to rest. I have seen Pepper put my dog in her place numerous times by snapping and nipping her quickly with her teeth bared to make her stop bugging her. Usually when I see this I will have my dog come and lay near me and rest to give Pepper a break. To me as leader, I don't allow her to pester pepper as that's rude. Pepper is older and 'rolled' Sophie very early on and despite being 70 lbs lighter, seems to hold that sway over her still. My dog will often correct her rough play after one of these Zaps and will either lay down to be lower and they do 'face fighting' (gentle but ferocious looking mouth postering at each other while laying down) or simply give Pepper the space she needs to get her energy back to play some more. If anything my dog seems over-eager to play, Pepper tires and my dog's brain is going 'playplayplayplayplayplay'; never any aggression to Pepper.

Wow that's alot of info. Sorry its such a long read. My gut tells me this is something that can definitely be overcome, but I have no idea how to approach this - obviously I cant just keep going nose to nose with dogs and have her lunge at the last minute. I'm not really sure how to correct the issue. But I want to be able to have her either be able to greet dogs politely or at the very least show indifference to other dogs and simply sit by me while I chat. At this point, her acting eager to meet a dog just disarms people and I have to explain that despite how she looks, she's 'grumpy' and I warn people off.

Socializing her to the extent that I expose her to more stuff will build confidence, but some of these things happened even when I was focussed on doing this with her, so I'm not sure if that's the sole cause of this issue.

I welcome any feedback on this issue


Experienced Member
I have to say, reading through this, it strikes me as a combination of naturally weaker nerves and incomplete socialisation. However, it's another one of those behaviours which, without seeing first-hand, could be so easy to misread. With that in mind, please do investigate the option to backup anything that I write here with the opinion of a trained professional, who will be able to witness the behaviour first-hand.

For me, the weaker nerve shows itself when you mention such issues as a bag blowing in the wind. There are two ways a dog could look at that: it could see it as a potential toy, or something to chase, and get excited, or it could do as your dog (and my own confirmed weaker-nerve dog) does, and show degrees of fear towards it.

In my limited experience, it's the weaker nerve dogs that are often more problematic than the more forceful-personality dogs, when it comes to dog-dog aggression. I use the term aggression very loosely in this context.

The weaker nerved dog, despite it being naturally fearful of other dogs, is frequently the one which will initiate the 'attack'. Well, actually, it will make the noises, and even perform a posture or two, but the last thing that is on it's mind is attack. Hell, that's the last thing it wants, as it knows that invariably it would lose.

The weaker-nerved dog has learned that if it makes the right noises (though its bark is often a more higher-pitch than a truly aggressive dog) and makes itself look a little larger (raising the fur on its back) then most dogs will back away. Even if the other dog didn't want to back off, the other owner would usually pull it back via the leash anyway. Either way, your dog 'wins' and the prophecy fulfils itself, and that is the real problem. The dog repeats it because it works, and it preserves its life for another day.

This can often be confirmed by the fact that when the dog does get into a 'fight', despite all the noise and the snarling, there are very few, if any, injuries to the other dog, despite the fact that dogs can give really very nasty injuries in just a few seconds. It really is all show and noise.

What makes this so hard to deal with however is that there's no way that you can really engineer other dogs to be around in a controlled environment, so that you can get your dog desensitized to other dogs, bit by bit. And so it goes on, and on, and on, and the dog learns from each repeat that attack really is the best form of defence. I think that, for this reason, you really will need to seek out a professional, and hopefully one who specialises in this particular area. Our own training classes, for example, have special classes set aside for this very purpose, where dogs can get exposed to one another in a very controlled environment.

What can you do in the meantime? It's hard to say without seeing things first-hand, but there are a couple of things that I would try that can't do any harm.

1. Whenever your dog sees another dog, reward it. Make the reward extremely high-value. Something that it loves the most, and obviously, make sure you always have it on you when you think you might experience another dog. Whenever I am on a no-leash walk, and Ellie sees a dog (She doesn't have a dog problem, but I'm trying to keep her focused on me, and not other dogs) I throw her favourite ball. Now, whenever she sees another dog, she looks straight to me by instinct, expecting me to throw the ball, so that she can get her rush of excitement.

2. Turn around. If you're on a walk and your dog is about to meet head on with another dog, just turn around, cross the road, or do whatever is required to avoid the meet. What you want to do is reduce the number of opportunities that your dog has to practise being successful at the "best form of defence is attack" system.

3. Decide on what you actually want. I repeat this so many times, because, well, because I think its worth repeating. We can't expect the dog to know what we want if we are not 100% clear in our own minds of what we want. Do you want a dog that can and will stop and sniff at other dogs, or do you, like me, want a dog that will just walk past other dogs without a care in the world. Personally, I walk quite quickly and I don't even give my dog a chance to think about the other dog. We're out for each other, not to amuse every dog we meet along the way.

4. Train and play, train and play. When you train and play routinely, your dog learns to focus on you and not the other dogs. I have done no specific training with my dog to teach her to ignore other dogs. She does so because I have proved myself to be more fun than they are, through regular training and play sessions. I can't overstate the importance of this.

I don't genuinely believe that you will ever completely reverse this problem behaviour. However, I do believe that by building your dog's confidence through exposing it to as many new horizons as possible, and through obedience training, you will be able to manage the behaviour to a very good degree. The dog is still very young and pliable, and I see no reason for you not to succeed.

Hope that helps.


New Member
hi voodoods

Reading what you wrote, I personally think your dog is just undersocialized. it does seem she is a bit on the shy/timid/fearful side, but it doesn't to me sound extreme. Guarding breeds tend to be more wary of new things and novel stimuli because that's what makes them guards to begin with! And when combined with undersocialization, then the wariness and lack of experience can turn into hesitation at seemingly trivial things. e.g. the bag blowing in the wind.

Therefore in light of that, guarding breeds in general need TONS more volume and variety of socialization than non-guarding breeds. i.e. more time and effort needs to be spent socializing them than other dogs. They need to be systematically taught what is a "normal" environment and all the different permutations of a "normal" environment. Other dogs don't even notice or care when something in the environment changes, but guarding breeds do and their bred-in instinct is to assume it is a threat unless their experience tells them otherwise, so that's why life experience is more important for these breeds. E.g. my german shepherd needed to be shown through repetitive exposure that people appearing in the park are not a big deall! Even when he got used to seeing people in one park, when we were in another park that is usually empty and one day a person appeared in the distance, he went into full alert/suspicious mode so again he had to learn that it's normal for people to appear in this other park too, not just the first one! But by now after having been to countless parks countless times each, he's pretty much generalized what the context of a normal public park is.

For her wariness/shyness about new things in general I would just gradually expose her to different environments and situations but watching her carefully for any signs of hesitation. You don't want to force the dog to go near something as that would just increase her apprehension, just go at her pace and bring her as close as she is willing to go on her own, and make it a really happy experience by giving lots of good treats and then leaving the situation while still on a good note so her last memory of that situation is a positive one.

And then repeat, and repeat, and repeat a million more times. Just having one or two good experiences with a certain new situation doesn't necessarily mean the dog is now "cured" of her fear of that thing. It has to be done often and always at a level that is nothing but relaxed and positive for the dog.

I'm glad you mentioned you are doing NILIF and the Pat Miller book. Here's two other books that I found really useful and are along the same lines (same concepts and philosophies, not a total change from what you're doing):

1. Cautious Canine by Patricia McConnell
2. Scaredy Dog! By Ali Brown

For her reaction to other dogs: I think it would best if you can contact a trainer. This way you can work with other dogs but in a controlled and supervised environment. Your dog doesn't so far sound like an aggressive dog, she sounds to me like she's happy and eager to meet other dogs initially. But once she is nose to nose with them she gets unsure and that's when she becomes unpredictable. Since she is so HUGE she can accidentally injure another dog unintentionally so a controlled socialization environment is more important for her. "Controlled" meaning, the other dogs are carefully selected for their temperament and you know that they are well socialized themselves so they won't snap at her like the small dog at the vet did (as this can easily freak out a dog that's inexperienced to begin with and doesn't help any!) or give off signals that can over-arouse her. And also in a class environment you will know that the other dogs are under control of the trainer.

Another reason to go to a trainer is so they can assess if your dog's barking/lunging/growling is dangerous or if it's just play or inexperienced but ultimately harmless posturing because the latter can sound and look very similar to the real thing. If it's only inexperience, then sometimes just allowing them to do it and get "told off" by older more confident dogs is enough to teach them proper dog communication skills (but has to be done in a supervised setting with suitable teacher-dogs and not with an unknown dog and owner on the street!)

Another possibility is to go to a dog park, but do NOT go inside, instead stay OUTSIDE and on leash so your boerboel can meet and sniff other dogs through the fence, assuming the dog park has a chain link fence which many do. For some undersocialized dogs this is a great way to get more experience and confidence in meeting other dogs but without the risk of something physical happening. Unlike backyards, a dog park is neutral territory. If you do try this you might want to go when there aren't a lot of people and dogs there (don't go on a weekend when the weather is nice!) because a crowded dog park can be too overwhelming for her at this stage and make it worse.

You could also try exercising your dog right before a socialization session. After burning off some energy she will be calmer and happier and this will help lower her arousal levels for the socialization sessions. (I personally have found it makes a big difference).

I think you are right that you need to socialize her to other dogs more frequently if you want her to interact with them peacefully, but it has to be done in a gradual and controlled manner. I'm not a trainer but I'm guessing that this may take quite a bit of time and effort and logistical planning but it would be well worth it....thus I really think you would benefit from enlisting the help of an experienced trainer to set reasonable intermediate goals and come up with a plan for getting there.


New Member
Thanks for the replies - Sounds pretty much like I thought - its entirely too early to say she has weak nerve until I work on the socialization part; one masks the other IMHO.

The grumpiness definitely isn't play - she is pretty quiet when she and Pepper go at it - even when Pepper is raising a ruckus she does some barking if Pepper decides she's done and my dog still wants to play. She just needs to unlearn the fact that meeting a strange dog= lets rumble. I just need some controlled positive experiences.

I am enrolling her in a class run by a pair of guys: the current and previous superintendent of dog trainers for the Maryland State Police. I've talked to both of them and they see all kinds of dogs and I think they can help me alot.

Thanks for the input!