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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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!
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.
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Karen Windle, copy editor
We’re Bruce and Ernie (left). We love sneaking raw bacon off the kitchen counter, lounging around the house naked, er, without our collars and making friends with deer. (The deer *love* to play tag, but for some reason we’re always “it.”)
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At left is Clyde. He’s a dog. He’s 2 ½. He’s deaf. At right is Pieces. He’s a cat. He’s 13. He can hear. They would like very much for you to pick them!
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If you're an avid reader of the World-Herald, maybe you've heard of Cooper. Features reporter Chris Peters has written about raising Cooper. Here he is on the custom pallet bed his mom built for him.
Chris Peters, features reporter
At left is Daisy. Her best friend is a reindeer, who comes to visit a few weeks each year. She complains a lot to the non-magical beings she lives with, for obvious reasons. At right is Diaz. He's a handsome boy who doesn't care about that. He loves walks and belly rubs, all people, most dogs, one cat, and zero racoons and opossums.
Rich Mills, copy editor
At the Ducey Farm in Dundee, we have the blackshirt gals who guard the back yard (Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt), and the chickens who help me garden (Brooklyn and Penny). They produce eggs and inspire pillows for the cutest and most fashionable dogs in the world (Phoebe, Gigi and cousin Tyson), who love to bark at the feral cats (Bunny and Butterscotch) who live outside and have matching tails!
Marjie Ducey, reporter
Gator likes eating snackies, expertly posing for pictures, getting floof everywhere and borking (not barking) at neighbor dogs.
Cory Gilinsky, features (and Sarah Jarecki, civilian)
Gracie the border collie and Beau the red heeler like long walks and frequent car rides, especially to drive-thrus that give treats.
Deb Shanahan, metro desk editor, and Kent Sievers, photographer
Isabel doesn’t enjoy her humans (especially the little ones) a lot, but sometimes likes a good chin scratch. Mostly she enjoys being left alone to sit on top of the piano and watch the birds outside.
Kevin Coffey, music critic
Izzy is 6 months old. She likes to chase her tail (and often catches it), climb up couches (and people), and bother Zake. Zake is 15 years old and unsure of Izzy. After all, Izzy has the high ground.
Zach Tegler, copy desk
Jameson may be named after whiskey, but this five-year-old gal is all sweetness. At first skittish after being rescued from a farm in Oklahoma, now her favorite hobby is stealing hearts — and covers.
Laurel Foster, online
We say Juni found us after my wife was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. This little Havaton brings our family joy, love and snuggles every day.
Jeff Robb, news reporter/data geek
Laika is, hands down, the happiest dog at the dog park. She is named after the heroic Russian cosmonaut dog, one of the first animals in space. Ciara loves to pray. When she joins our family in prayer, she sounds like Scooby Doo. She is fiercely loyal and protective.
Susan Szalewski, copy editor and news reporter
Lolo was adopted seven years ago in Louisiana. She's a mutt, and we think she's part nutria, otherwise known as a swamp rat.
Hunter Paniagua, digital sports coordinator
Minerva is a very hard worker. Two-year-old "Minnie" likes to spend her time cleaning, inspecting boxes and bird watching. (And looking adorable.)
Brandon Olson, digital content hub editor
Molly, a rat-terrier Chihuahua from NHS, loved everyone she met. She was an excellent high jumper and cuddler and gave us joy for 17 years. She died in April.
Betsie Freeman, features reporter
Nellie is a 10-year-old tabby cat who is more like 5 years old at heart. She enjoys sleeping in fresh, warm laundry, eating, chasing lasers and listening to stories with best friend, 4-year-old Sam.
Ashlee Coffey, Momaha.com editor
This is Oliver. He has three legs and a bullet permanently lodged in him. (We didn't put it there). He pretends like he's surly and tough but deep down he's very snuggly.
Roseann Moring, political reporter
Loves tuna, SBH and
A fireside nap
Sarah Baker Hansen, features, and Matthew Hansen, columnist
I'm Sasha. I was a stray in Oklahoma (where my ear was somehow torn) before a shelter rescued me & treated my heartworm. I just tested negative for heartworm, yay! I really like to play dead & get belly rubs!
Alia Conley, news reporter
Slugger, owned by the original Pet Parade Petitor in Chief and saved by Big Red Rescue in Omaha, chases his tail faster to his right than to his left. He ate a hole in the blinds to watch his owner come and go.
Steven Elonich, online editor
Toby is a 4-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback mix with a big personality. Given the protective tendencies of his breed, he’s very serious about watching over his property — and his owners. Until he isn’t.
Dave Elsesser, features editor, and RyAnne Elsesser
Toothpick loves biting bare legs, gazing longingly at birds outside and dipping his paw into bags of Spicy Nacho Doritos so he can lick off the Doritos dust (which his owners know is gross and bad but are powerless to stop).
Erin Duffy, news reporter
Boston Terriers, Willow, 8, and Dexter, 6, have a closet full of costumes, sweaters, scarves and even some pajamas. They only sit this nicely for photos because there are LOTS of treats involved – but really – they are crazy little puppies!
Tammy Yttri, copy desk chief
Nine years ago, we found Zed roaming the earth (it was a ruff life). He’s a good boy. He likes his toy lobster, pepperonis (which we call pupperonis) and keeping up with his fans at Zedwin.org.
Graham Archer, digital editor
Hi, my name is Zeus, I an eight-year-old American Eskimo looking to get back in the game. They say I am fixed, but I think my only problem is you aren’t in my life. I love long walks and treats. I want someone to chase squirrels with. Won’t you paw right?
Chris Machian, photographer