Dog for 10/9/19

Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at dogbehaviorquestions@gmail.com.

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Dog Gone Problems,

My boyfriend and I just adopted a dog about a month ago. I knew adopting a dog would come with issues, but we feel we were slightly misled by the rescue we got her from. This is the worst-case-scenario dog we could have gotten.

I love her, and she is super sweet and smart. However, she won't warm up to my boyfriend and I am gone for work too much for her not to be adjusting well. She barks nonstop at my boyfriend when he walks in the door. Once she settles down, she still does not want to be near him. When she is, she growls or is uncomfortable. She also will not go outside with him when I am gone. Finally, she is overwhelmed with joy once I arrive home — whether I was gone for work for two days or was just out for a quick run out for the day.

We had a session with a trainer and I just wanted to get a second opinion on what he is doing in reference to the main issues. 

He is implementing basic things like teaching the dog to touch your hand with a treat inside, luring, maintaining eye contact, etc. He also suggested the "Canine Good Citizen" program, which we aren't 100% sure about. I'm wondering if these things are going to actually help her warm up to my boyfriend, considering these seem very basic.

I have no idea what to do. The trainer does seem knowledgeable, but my dog knows how to do these things like sit or hold eye contact. However, she only does it with me. Is there anything you would be able to suggest? Should we continue private lessons with the trainer or do CGC program? Thanks so much for any help or opinions!

Chelsea

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Hi Chelsea,

First off, thank you for rescuing. Dogs end up in rescues for all kinds of reasons and can become amazing companions. Try to not blame the rescue for this; sometimes they don’t see all issues when they have the dog in foster care. For example, this dog may have been abused by a male or grew up exclusively around women. If the rescue had her in a female-only home, they wouldn’t have seen any issues.

Regardless, moving forward is the best way to proceed. It sounds like the person you hired has some good ideas. It's important, however, that your boyfriend is doing these exercises, too. It may help to have you practice the technique or exercise first and then have your boyfriend take over once the dog is “warmed up.”

I can offer a few additional suggestions, but I want to make sure of one thing first. When a dog is reactive — i.e. lunging, barking, whining — he or she is essentially hysterical. In the dog world, we call this “above threshold.” Once a dog is in this state, he or she is not going to learn anything. So it's important that anything your boyfriend does with the dog needs to be when she is non-reactive — otherwise known as “sub-threshold."

One general tip is to have your boyfriend focus on doing things with the dog that she enjoys and involves movement. Many people try to pet a dog into liking them, but that often backfires with a reactive dog. Additionally, anything your dog is doing when you pet her or give her attention is what you are rewarding. So be sure you are not petting her when she is reacting. Instead, increase her distance to whatever is causing her to react. If you want to console her, you can lay a hand on her. Touch is associated with affection. Just don’t move your hand when it's resting on the dog.

Here are a few more tips you can try.

  • Have your boyfriend bag up portions of her food. When doing this, he should rub the kibble through his hands. This will add some of his scent to the food, which is known as a primary reinforcer — i.e. something the dog likes. This way, each time she eats, she gets a small positive association with the boyfriend.
  • Go for walks together. At first, you hold the leash the whole time. Make sure the dog is calm and walking next to you and not in front. The distractions on the walk can help her not focus exclusively on your boyfriend. After a few days of this, try passing the leash to him to hold for half of the walk. Eventually, he should take the leash for more and more of the walk and, ultimately, go for walks without you.
  • Teach her to catch. This will allow her to play a game with your boyfriend at a distance. Then he can feed her by tossing bits of kibble. If that doesn’t work, he can give her high-value treats like chicken liver. Playing catch this way daily is another great way to build up positive associations.
  • Use a clicker to reward your dog for looking at your boyfriend when he is far enough away for her to not react. I go over this technique in this free positive dog training video.

The Canine Good Citizen program teaches some basic, mid-level commands and demonstrates good behavior from the dog in various situations. This would be a good goal to work towards.

Finally, please try to not take it personally when your dog reacts. If you keep working at a patient pace, you should be able to get past her fear of your boyfriend and learn that he is someone she can trust who loves her.

Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.

David

Submit your pet questions to David Codr by emailing a photo of your dog and question to dogbehaviorquestions@gmail.com. Visit doggoneproblems.com for more from David.

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