Need help welcoming our dog back into our family
March 28, 2011 10:52 PM   Subscribe

I want to take in our dog which we left in another city 2 years ago. He was never properly house trained. I want to work things out with having a pet in the family and be ready before we welcome him back into our home.

5 years ago we got a french poodle mini as an unexpected gift. The kids fell in love with the puppy ( so did I ) and we took the dog in ( really couldn't give it back). He was an unplanned pet for sure.

We never properly trained him and we had to live him outside in the yard.

2 years ago we moved to another city and could not bring Coco with us and left him with relatives. Since then he has been living outside but with very little human interaction except at feeding time.
We recently moved again and can now bring him back with us. Which brings me to my concerns. I really want to make this work for the dog and for our family. I want a dog that lives inside, hangs around and fetches my slippers :)

When we first got him I was such a newbie with dogs that I messed up his training or just did dumb things like leave food and water available to him at all times. Or I would get really angry when he urinated inside.

I tried to train him before but my patience was not there. Eventually I read enough online to get him to sit, lie down, fetch and that was cool. But by then he was already scared of me, but at the same time really didn't obey anybody else.

We live in a townhouse setting and share a wall with another house. Small community and we don't have a yard only a very small patio. Coco would have to be inside or 'crated' in the garage area. We have 3 kids, 3,5,12.

I would like to address these concerns and maybe temper our expectations before we bring him back with us.

-Excessive Jumping: He is a smallish dog but likes to run and jump. He can easily push my 3 year old to the ground and will scare her.

-Barking: He likes to bark at passing cars and noises. How will I handle him when the garbage truck drives by early in the morning or any other strange outside noise? What if we have to leave him alone in the house?

-Going inside the house. I don't want dog pee/poop inside the house. Before he never got properly trained and we ended up moving him outside.

-He is not neutered - should he be fixed ?

-He is almost 6, can he still be trained ? He was never professionally trained , is it too late ?

-He has been isolated for the past 2 years, not getting enough interaction or socializing in any way. Will he be ok, will he be messed up ? He seems ok enough when we play with him.

-He once bit my now 6 year old when he approached the dog while he was feeding. The dog jumped up and bit him on the cheek. I now realize that we should leave the dog eat by himself or else it might be taken as an aggressive move to approach him. Other than that time he was never aggressive or tried to bite anyone. Will my kids be safe ?

This has been on my mind for some time. The kids want the dog back and I do too. What can I expect ?

Every time we go visit him I can hear him crying as soon as he hears us/ the car or the kids. He barks at other cars, but not ours. Help me bring Coco back and give him another chance at a normal dog life.
posted by neofite to Pets & Animals (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, that's a lot of questions. I'm answering out of order:

-Yes, he can still be trained, but it will take a little work on your part.
-Yes, you should get him fixed, lest he run off and produce several litters in one evening.
-Get thee to a behavioral trainer. This is going to be a process where you and he work it out, and you will find yourself getting trained as much as your dog.
-Get a crate (dogs won't pee or poop where they sleep), and no more buffets. If at all possible, your crate should be near where you hang out, as dogs see anything else as punishment. That may mean moving the crate around at times, but you want to give the right impression that this is a safe and nice place to hang out.
-Set times for him to eat and poop, and make sure you stick to that schedule. Dogs really dig routines, and will actually follow them if you enforce them.
-The resource guarding (eg biting when he is eating) will need to be addressed, but again, some structure will help break him out of that cycle. In the meantime, keep an eye on him, and don't let the kids try to pet him while he eats, or take things out of his mouth.

Foremost, just remember that he actually wants to do the right thing, but doesn't yet know what that thing is. If you demonstrate it to him in a way he can comprehend, he'll gladly comply.
posted by Gilbert at 11:27 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

this dog sounds like it has a lot of issues due to lack of socialization. please contact an animal behaviorist in your area for a consultation and meeting.

your situation does not sound ideal for any dog, perhaps a rescue organisation could work with you. they will often go to great lengths to rehab and adopt purebred dogs. i know you are feeling guilty and the kids say they want the dog, but this dog deserves someone who will not "live (sic) him in the yard" or in a relative's yard, no matter what.

he will need extensive training, medical care, and lots of patience. can you really give him that?
posted by virginia_clemm at 11:34 PM on March 28, 2011 [4 favorites]

Oh, man. This is very sad. To be honest, it would be better to turn your dog in to a no-kill rescue and give him the chance to be adopted by someone who has the time and inclination to train him and spend time with him, I think.

LESSON (for everyone, not at all directed towards OP): Never, never, never, never give an animal as a gift to an unsuspecting family/person. Never. This is one of those film tropes that is just a terrible idea in real life.

The thing is, neofite, all of the problems can be addressed, and probably solved, but it doesn't happen effortlessly, it requires training, and even with professional help to attain that, it requires the family to be on board with backing up the training with consistent behavior. So that means some time and effort – and education (learning about dog behavior, training and care). It doesn't actually take a lot for what you get from the relationship if you are a dog lover and fully committed to the idea of that responsibility, but it takes the ongoing, active will and interest of at least one person and the cooperation of the others.

You didn't ask for the dog, but since you had the responsibility thrust on you, it would be good to do the right thing. Do you think you have the time and interest to learn about how dogs think, and why they respond as they do? Do you have the time and interest to learn training methods and train for a few minutes every day? To walk the dog (this will take training, too!)? It sounds like you really don't have this situation in your life.

You cannot have a dog that bites as a part of your family. It will take knowledgeable training to eliminate this behavior, and, frankly, you are starting out with zero skills or understanding, with a dog that is now troubled and needs experienced handling. The best, most responsible, most humane thing you could do is give the dog to a good rescue organization, because he has miserable existence right now. If you tell me where the dog is (either here, or by Metafilter Mail), I'd be happy to research and contact groups in that area.
posted by taz at 12:00 AM on March 29, 2011 [15 favorites]

I'm going to nth that surrendering the dog to a rehabilitation shelter is the best thing for him at this point.
posted by biochemist at 12:19 AM on March 29, 2011

I wrote the following in another thread about dog training a couple of years ago, writing about what it was like to train a dog that'd run its own life for a long while, how it is, um, interesting to get them to understand that they are not the Alpha and that you *are* the Alpha in the house.... As follows:

I had to commit huge amounts of time and energy, particularly since there was so much ground to backtrack -- you let a dog get used to running the show, it's not real interested in letting you run the show, and it will fight it in damn near any way it can, looking for even little victories so as to show you that you don't own it, it owns you, blah blah blah, etc and etc. I read -- a lot -- about training, we trained every day, we became partners, it took about a year of constant work to get to the point of her understanding that she was not the leader of the pack, and that I was the leader of the pack, and that if she wanted to fight that there were going to be consequences, and the more she fought the heavier the consequences became.

Long post -- Sum here: It's a huge job to train a dog. Period. If it's a dog that's not been trained, and has been allowed to be alpha, you've got to walk the dog backward, against its will, before the training can even really begin; this can take months, or more,maybe never.

I'm not saying not to have the dog re-enter your lives. But if you decide to do this -- with this dog or with any other dog -- to do it well you are looking at a commitment of lots of time and lots of effort. It is a worthwhile expenditure of energy but it absolutely is there, to be dealt with, every day, and every night, whether you want to or not; you've entered into a partnership with this animal.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:23 AM on March 29, 2011

I nth the suggestions above for a proper rescue organization. Just wanted to add two quick things.

- The garage is a bad place for a pet. By building code, garages are to be sealed from the rest of a dwelling to prevent accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Maybe you don't store a car in there, but this is worth noting to you, just in case. Furthermore, the potential the dog will perceive crating away from the rest of the family as punishment, mentioned above, is also worth noting.

- Think of your neighbors. And your children. Rehabilitating this dog sounds like a HUGE project. Even if the kids think they want this project, it sounds like rehabilitating this dog properly will take away time and effort you currently spend on your children. Your neighbors haven't signed on for this project at all. It is stressful to listen to an animal in continual distress. If the dog barks often, that'll be tough on everyone within earshot.
posted by jbenben at 12:30 AM on March 29, 2011

Seriously, adopt a new dog. An adult dog that is trained. You and your family will be much happier.

This dog needs significant professional help. And 2 years is a long time for a dog - you are likely a complete stranger to him now.
posted by gnutron at 2:45 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Training dogs is hard work.

Getting a moderately trained dog to quit resource guarding is not a fast process (I mean, not an overnight process).

You've got a resource guarding, un-leashed, presumably un-bathed, free feeding, un-housebroken, barking dog.

That's at least 6 things that need fixing in you and the dog, at least 36 fixes. Because, yes, your 3 year old needs to be 'above' the dog, and will need to learn consistent behavior around him - up to and beyond how to touch him, when he can have treats, etc. (oh god, treats. You have three kids. They each want to give him 'just one more' twice a day. Poorly trained kids will earn you a fat unhealthy dog. Train the kids too!)

Anybody who suggests this will be only a little bit of work is either outdoors all day digging ditches or always starts with very mild mannered dogs.

I tell you all of this for two reasons. Partly to discourage you, but also to fortify you in the event that you take the dog back. If you expect only small challenges, the big ones are a bigger shock.
posted by bilabial at 4:07 AM on March 29, 2011

The best time to socialize dogs is when they're puppies. It sounds like this dog has basically been left outside with minimal human contact. And at one point in time it was afraid of you.

I think you will need long days and nights with an animal behaviorist to make this a happy, healthy pet relationship. There will be much cost and effort. Particularly as this dog has bitten one of your children, it will be important to train him properly.

I don't know you, but to be honest, from reading your account of this dog's history, it doesn't sound like you will put in the effort or time that socializing this dog will take. And during that time, this dog will be a danger to your children. I would look into local breed rescue organizations, who will put in the effort to care for this dog.

I would also think carefully about ever bringing another dog into your house. I'm sorry, I know that sounds harsh, and I know it wasn't your choice to get the dog, but from what I could tell you've left this dog outside with little/no training or human contact for seven years. That's not a good recipe for an indoor dog the interacts with kids.
posted by lillygog at 4:55 AM on March 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

To me, it doesn't seem fair to your kids to bring this dog into your house right now. He would be a "project" for a not-insignificant amount of time, where everyone in the house, toddler included, would have to be careful about how they act around him. One extra treat at the wrong time or pet while he's eating could set back weeks of training, or worse, really get someone hurt.

At the same time, though, he'd be an energetic ball of cute fluff that ANYONE would want to cuddle and spoil constantly. It's barely fair to ask adults to restrain themselves, and you're talking about getting a 3-year-old to do so? Tough sell.

Take the kids to the local shelter every so often for a few months to play with the dogs, then adopt a different dog that's been socialized to be around a family.
posted by supercres at 5:38 AM on March 29, 2011

In all honesty, unless you're paying the dog's bills, including food, it is not your dog anymore. It belongs to the relative who has been caring for it for the past two years. You probably only have as much say as the current owner of the dog allows you to have. If the current owner is willing to let you have the dog back after two years, then you should seriously consider placing the dog with a rescue group.

I'm sorry, but I don't think you're prepared to help this dog become a member of your household. You didn't give up on the dog two years ago when you moved. You gave up on the dog when you made him live outside and gave up on training him before you moved.
posted by onhazier at 6:08 AM on March 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

You have a six year old, poorly socialized, intact, non-housebroken dog. That dog requires advanced dog ownership skills, and you do not have them. The correct thing to do with an unwanted dog is to find a rescue who will take him, not leave him alone in a back yard for several years. But that ship has sailed, so it is now your responsibility to improve that dog's quality of life, and you do that by finding a rescue (probably a breed rescue in this case) who will be willing to rehab this dog into a house pet.

In your current living situation, with your lack of dog handling experience and small children, I do not recommend that you get another dog at this point.
posted by crankylex at 6:11 AM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think with time and love and patience and willingness to work with a trainer, you can do right by Coco and raise a happy dog in your household. From the above, it sounds like you have acknowledged mistakes before and are willing to learn from the past and make a fresh start. With so many animals in shelters and rescues, your keeping Coco allows another animal a chance at a home.

I adopted a 12-13 year old Maltese a year and a half ago. She's adorable and has a funny little personality. But she was also a constant barker, she suffered from anxiety, and she was inconsistent in her housebreaking. Time and consistency and good food and commitment to her training helped. Understanding food motivation really helped in training her. She's a just a great, (relatively) calm, happy, nonbarky little dog now. In fact, I think in a way she trained me to be more patient.

You ask a lot of questions, and my best advice is to work with your vet, ask for recommendations for trainers, and give it time. Dogs are awesome.
posted by mochapickle at 7:39 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, take a long look at your expectations. I'd imagined that she would be this little dog who could play with other dogs and chase tennis balls, but that's not really her nature. Your dog might not fetch those slippers like you want him to, and that might be an adjustment for you. You might have to get your own slippers. :)
posted by mochapickle at 8:26 AM on March 29, 2011

I'm finding this difficult to answer, so I'll give you a numbered list. I do want to say, however, that your living situation is far from ideal for a dog, although it is doable and if you do take this dog back in, realize that you are now on the hook to walk him multiple times a day, every day, for the next seven to ten years. Also, you said in your question dumb things like leave food and water available to him at all times and I want to make sure that you know that water should always be available to dogs at all times. That is not dumb; it's downright cruel to not have a full, clean water bowl always available or certainly available all day. As far as food, well, I've always free fed with multiple dogs and never had an issue but I'm aware that most people don't do it.

1. This may not work out. If it doesn't, have a clear alternative that is NOT sticking him in somebody's backyard for the rest of his life. Ashley801 is right; there very well may be nobody to adopt him, but on the other hand small dogs are much more likely to adopted than big ones, so there's that. Anything, though, is better than him being stuck outside.

2. Take him to the vet. Outside dogs are usually riddled with worms; among other things he'll need a heartworm test right away. Has he ever had any of his shots? If not, he'll need them. Yes, you should get him fixed. It is probably too late to stop him from marking stuff and other related behaviors - you do realize that 6 is a middle aged dog, right? - but it cannot hurt. Expect this vet visit and neutering to cost between $200 and $300, possibly more.

3. Housetraining is very difficult with older dogs and very difficult with small dogs. A small older dog who has never been housetrained? Well. It's possible but it is going to be a LOT of work.

4. On the other hand, if you successfully trained him before to sit, lie down and fetch than he is pretty bright and he has an idea of what training is all about. That will help and jumping up is, I find, one of the easiest behaviors to address. Your whole family will have to be on the same page, though - if the kids think it's hilarious when he jumps up and keep rewarding him for it, he will never stop.

5. Barking is a very difficult behavior to address. Dogs think it's their job to bark when people or, gods forbid, other dogs go by their territory and it's hard to convince them that it isn't.

6. Get a crate (dogs won't pee or poop where they sleep), Not all dogs are crate trainable and don't depend on the second part of that either. I had a shih tzu who routinely completely covered his crate and himself with feces and urine; I eventually gave up. If you do go the crate route, expect it to take some time and DO NOT lock the dog in there until he is totally comfortable with it, which can take weeks if not months. And no, you can't stick him in the garage. Dogs need to feel that they're part of the pack and that means the crate should ideally be in your room or one of the kids' rooms.

7. The resource guarding behavior - the food aggressiveness - is really serious and the first thing you should worry about. He can be trained out of it with kindness and consistent work but it's again, going to take a long time and in the meantime, yes, he is dangerous.

8. Professional help in the form of a behavioral dog trainer, which you need, is not cheap.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:50 AM on March 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Please do not adopt a new dog. If your family really wants a pet, and taking on the responsibility of rehabilitating and training Coco is something you cannot do, then consider something that requires less love, attention, and training (a cat maybe).
posted by whalebreath at 10:59 AM on March 29, 2011

I wrote you an earlier answer which I don't think was that good, this is my second try.

I think it is awesome that you want to fix the mistakes of the past and give this dog a second chance. Despite what some people are saying upthread, shelters and animal rescues are full. Given your dog's age, issues, and the number of other homeless animals, I think it's likely that your dog would be put down immediately at a shelter, or remain at a rescue for the rest of his life, never being adopted. I think you are definitely his best hope for a great life by far.

I sympathize with you that this was a responsibility that was thrust upon you by surprise, and you didn't know how to train the dog. I definitely didn't know jack about training dogs when I got my very beloved dog, and made all kinds of mistakes with him too, and pretty much just caved and let him do whatever he wanted. I was just lucky to have had living situations that could accommodate him, and then I was also lucky that he mellowed out in his later years, which not all dogs do.

The good part is that there is help out there!!! Yes, the best thing would be to work with a trainer. Not everyone can afford that. If you can, great, if not: contact your local SPCA or humane society, or even your local PetSmart! Very very often, they offer free or low cost classes, or can refer you to someone who does. You can also post up a flier at the local pet shop seeking someone to help you train your dog for a lower rater than someone who does it as their full-time living. You can DEFINITELY get help without breaking your wallet.

Even if you just end up training the dog yourself with a few books from the library (and you can ask a librarian to help you with that), I think every last one of the issues you mentioned can be resolved with time and patience! I've lived with a dog who bites. You have to keep your kids out of situations where they might get bitten, but I don't think it's an insurmountable problem at all.

I think not all of the responses in this thread have been very helpful for you; don't be discouraged by that. We are here because we care about animals A LOT. So, it is hard for us to hear about a situation where a dog has been suffering in a bad situation, due to the actions of humans. It makes us a little blunt sometimes.

The biggest concerns I have personally are you getting angry with the dog, considering withholding water from him, and crating him in the garage. Please don't get angry with your dog and make him fear you, that makes him suffer and it's going to make his behavior issues worse. Also, dogs should have their water available at all times. Finally, I think (personally) it's really bad to keep a dog crated up all day, plus they are pack animals designed to be with their pack. When they are isolated and alone all the time, they develop psychological problems.

If you want to search for more help, you should check out this thread which has a list of really good online resources to try.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:29 PM on March 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

If possible, I'd get the dog to a no-kill adoption facility, with a very thorough description of what his life has been like thus far, so it can be adopted by someone who has the time, experience and patience to work through all of these issues, along with appropriate vet visits and deworming (the older the dog gets, the more likely they're not going to want to try deworming for heartworms at all, because the process can kill older dogs).

If you have to take him back because no no-kill facility will take him, the answers to your questions are basically: take the poor guy to the vet, find a good behaviorist that you commit to working with for awhile, commit to changing your behavior, leave his water out, and do not crate him in the garage. Don't use the crate, even in the house, as a way to "get rid" of him when you get tired of him again. Because, odds are, with that kind of life, yes, he will be messed up. Check your HOA's rules about barking dogs, because cessation of barking is hard for the best, sanest of dogs.
posted by wending my way at 1:34 PM on March 29, 2011

FWIW, a great number of "no-kill" shelters drive the dog over to the kill shelter to be put down there if the dog is deemed unadoptable.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:38 PM on March 29, 2011

I think Ashley801 has a great second answer, with maybe some insight into why you're getting so much pushback here. There are absolutely low-cost options for dog training and finding a good trainer/behaviorist, but it will take a lot of time. There's no way around the time investment. Dogs are a huge time investment in the best of cases.

It's good that you want to do right by this dog, but it will take a lot of time and effort. Bringing this dog into a townhouse, where he doesn't have outside access and will require multiple daily walks, will take even more time and effort. I'm sorry to keep harping on it, but in my opinion it's the most important factor: how much you can bring to the table? Can you and all three kids give the dog the training, consistency, patience, and attention it needs? I don't know you personally, and can't answer that question.
posted by lillygog at 8:38 PM on March 29, 2011

This may be a great idea: The San Diego Humane Society offers private behavior consultations for $150. I think they would be able to tell better than we can the viability of home training this dog, and offer ideas for alternatives if it is just not safe for a family with children. I think that's a reasonable price to pay to get an expert opinion and evaluation.
"Meet with a trainer one-on-one and evaluate your dog's training needs and challenges. Appointment includes evaluation, follow-up appointment(s), hand-outs, and other written material. Ideal for shy, fearful or possibly aggressive dogs, dog and child issues and separation anxiety. Fee for one-hour and 30 minute sessions are $150 at SDHS and $175 in your home."
I saw from your earlier question that you're in San Diego, neofite!
posted by taz at 2:20 AM on March 30, 2011

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