Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ask The Trainier: What should I do? Problem dog

Question: I have a Maltese mix and have had him since he was a very small puppy, he has always been socialized with other animals (dogs, cats, even horses) and people but it never really "took". He is never outright aggressive but he growls whenever the cat or puppy come into his space and otherwise ignores them. He also is very irritable when I am not around and will poo on the carpet even though he is potty trained(he's almost 4 btw). Lately he has also come to be very jealous of my boyfriend, who tries very hard to interact with him and play with him, and just today snapped at him for no reason when my boyfriend was reaching down to pet him. Also, if I am gone and it is just my boyfriend here he will cower whenever he is spoken to and pee on the carpet when my boyfriend tries to let all the dogs outside then won't come back inside when he is asked. I am very worried about how he will take to our new baby that is on the way but have no idea what to do. I don't want to get rid of him because he is so attached to me I don't know how he would do in another household and I know he would get put to sleep at the pound, but I'm also afraid he will bite the baby. He hates little things like puppies and kittens and hates things even more if they take my attention away from him but if he bites the baby I will have no choice but to give him up. What do I do in this situation?

Answer: He sounds like a very frightened dog who has learned that being confrontational chases the scary things away. The biting, the growling, the hiding in corners, peeing and pooping on the floor and the jealousy are all signs of fear, anxiety, uncertainty and a lack of consistency. He can't predict what is going to happen in his world and so lashes out at everything.

Socialization is great in most cases, but if you have a dog that is frightened and try to "socialize" him, all you are really doing is adding to his fear. Growling at the cat or puppy is the Maltese telling them that they are invading what he considers his space, as is the growling at and nipping at your boyfriend.

You say he hates anything that takes your attention away from him. This tells me that he thinks he owns you. You are the only thing in his world that doesn't scare him and he isn't going to let anything change that.

Changing this Maltese will require a lot of desensitization (not socialization since he has no clue how to be sociable at this point), but he can be gently and with regard to his fear threshold, desensitized enough that he can then start being curious about things. At that point he can be taught how to be sociable and what doggie manners are.

You are going to have to let go of him to a large degree or he is never going to learn how to live in a human world. You are his crutch, so you'll need to back off. Your boyfriend will need to start being the center of his universe for awhile which means feeding him, even hand feeding if necessary, taking him for walks and doing gentle massage and TTouch with him when he's ready for it.

He needs to be crate trained so that he has a safe spot to relax in and not feel threatened. You don't have to close the door to the crate, but he needs a den that is all his. Somewhere he can retreat to when the world is just too much to handle.

He needs more exercise and mental stimulation to build his confidence. He needs to be gently taught that he can control things other then you. Play 101 things to do with a box and other confidence building games.

And most importantly, he needs some rules, boundaries and limitations in his world. He needs to be told what he can and can't do, where he can and can't go, how much barking he can do (3 barks is my limit), when and where he eats (no free feeding), his toys need to be rotated so that he understands that they don't actually belong to him. He needs consistent leadership and parenting.

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