Puppy Jekyll and Hyde
March 22, 2012 1:56 PM   Subscribe

Our dog is decidedly more manic when left alone with me. Is it normal for dogs to behave very differently with two different caregivers? How can I make things better for her where I'm concerned?

My partner and I take turns to feed and walk our one-year-old pup in the morning and the evening, and when we swap notes, it's almost as if we're dealing with two different dogs. When I let her out of her crate first thing in the morning, she bounds out and makes a beeline for her toys in the living room. When my partner lets her out in the morning, she crawls straight into his lap, curls up into a ball, and snuggles with him until he gets up to take her out. I get the lap treatment while my partner gets ignored in the evening, however, whether or not I take her out for her final potty break before we all go to bed. The Jekyll and Hyde thing also happens on her walks. When I walk her, she pulls on her leash a lot and is constantly eating crap off the ground--grass, twigs, pebbles, snails (ew!) etc., but she does not exhibit this behaviour when she's walked by my partner. When we walk her together on weekends, I find her much improved while he thinks she's misbehaving more than usual.

I'm home alone with her during the day while my partner is at work. While she is mostly calm and dozy, there will be a time during the afternoon after her walk where she gets very playful; she'll tear her blanket off the sofa, chew her dog bed, and gnaw at the hems of my jeans. I try to refocus her attention by giving her a toy or antler which she easily accepts, but if I leave after a few minutes, she goes back to what she was doing before. Of course, when I went home to visit my family in Asia for two weeks and my partner was home alone with her all day during the weekends, none of that happened. Nor is this a common occurrence on the weekends when we're both home.

The puppy is young and full of energy, but I'm guessing that she is responding to the differences in our body language. While we've tried to be consistent with the pup based on the NILIF principle and positive reinforcement, my partner's definitely the stricter, calmer, less anxious pet owner of the two of us. He's comfortable taking the puppy out to the the apartment complex's animal relief area without a leash while I've never once gotten up the nerve for that. In fact, my partner claims that unleashed, the dog has behaved beautifully with passers-by, cyclists, other dogs, and squirrels while she's definitely bolted at them while leashed to ME.

She's hardly a little terror, but I think there's definitely more attention-seeking behaviour when we're alone together. For instance, when I breakfast or lunch at home during the week, she jumps up and paws at me quite insistently, but I do not pick her up or give her anything from my plate, so she gives up very quickly. Any ideas or suggestions as to how I can correct my body language/whatever I'm doing so the puppy doesn't freak out when I'm in charge?
posted by peripathetic to Pets & Animals (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
my partner's definitely the stricter, calmer, less anxious pet owner of the two of us.
I'm the stricter, calmer, less anxious pet owner in my house. My partner's dog, which he had for 5 years before he moved in with me, is exactly like him. Lots of nervous energy, pacing, hyper-alert for sounds inside and outside the house that indicate danger/food/activity, etc. Drives me nuts. She's like that with him because he likes her energy and the attention she gives him, so he's "trained" her to be like that, simply by not training her.

In a short time I have trained her to not bark when I arrive home, to sit and wait for me to fill her bowl instead of jumping around in circles and barking, to hang around in the unfenced front yard with me while I pick weeds instead of taking off after everything that moves, etc. If she gets over-excited all I have to do is lock eyes with her and she sits down.

The reason she behaves so differently with the two of us is not because I am an awesome trainer but because she is a super, super-smart dog. A lot of dogs would be confused by the mixed messages. She's a mix with some "working-dog" genes and so she really wants to be useful, she's very keyed into schedules, and she needs playtime every day.

there will be a time during the afternoon after her walk where she gets very playful; she'll tear her blanket off the sofa, chew her dog bed, and gnaw at the hems of my jeans. I try to refocus her attention by giving her a toy or antler which she easily accepts, but if I leave after a few minutes, she goes back to what she was doing before.

Your dog would probably benefit from a half-hour of hardcore playtime with you when she gets antsy in the afternoon. Or, if you're working then, then work some serious playtime into her day when it fits your schedule. Frisbee, fetch, "sock" (an old holey sock tied in a knot that you use for tug of war), racing around the yard, etc. The kind of thing that wears her out, so that when you go on your walks she's not full of excess energy.
posted by headnsouth at 2:06 PM on March 22, 2012

Have you taught your dog the "settle" command? It's extremely useful.

Our dog did a lot of the nosy/begging/attention-seeking behavior. The hooting we ignored and he eventually quit. We also established a routine that during mealtime, the dog was on his bed, in the same room as where we eat but a good distance away. This nipped the begging behavior in the bud.

Have you done any formal obedience courses? Obedience is great for getting everyone on the same page.

Also, a vote for increasing the exercise. A tired dog is a good dog, regardless of which of you happens to be around.
posted by ambrosia at 2:53 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Common? It's textbook. You would be stunned by how often people bring an "out of control" dog to training and a mere helper can take the leash and, shazam, the dog magically changes. Also typical for someone to come to class with a problem dog that, it turns out, their 12-year old son can handle just fine and has taught tricks to.

A training class or club would be great for you.

You and the pup need to build your confidence in each other.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:33 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Common? It's textbook.

Indeed. To a dog, hierarchy is everything.

The puppy is young and full of energy, but I'm guessing that she is responding to the differences in our body language.

You are guessing correctly. Moreover, it is also the routine at work, which operates within a different context than you might think. For example, you say the dog starts acting up, and you redirect it, and then after a few minutes it's acting up again (likely getting another input from you at that point).

Where you see individual disconnected moments, the dog is seeing an entire connected routine that's being reinforced at each step. "If I do this, then this will happen, and when that happens, I do this and happy happy joy joy look the human is paying attention me woof woof woof..."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:56 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

As everyone else has said this is completely normal. Dog training classes of some sort might be good for both you and the dog as it will give you confidence in giving commands and get the dog used to listening to you. I'd start with basic obedience classes and then when you are feeling a bit more confident in getting the dog to listen and in how to train a dog maybe do some agility classes.

Just remember dogs don't mind limits, they just like to know what they are and that they are consistent. Also remember that attention is what a dog craves even if it's being told off, for things like pulling the blanket off the bed say or chewing it's bed ignore the behaviour if you can. When the dog is being good and quiet then is the time to notice it and give it a few minutes attention, if the dog is making you stop what you are doing to redirect the dog and pay it some attention it's gotten what it wants most, your attention.

It might take a little while to show her that it doesn't work, but right now she has you trained. I pull the blanket off the sofa I get time with my person, yeah they yell at me a bit but then they get the antler for me to play with and hang out with me a bit this is great.

Also your dog is so cute, I doubt I could refuse her anything and would get no work done at all with her around.
posted by wwax at 5:37 PM on March 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Holy crap I want to spoil your dog with every present imaginable.

A vet once told me that dogs are adaptable creatures that pick up on the behavior they think will align them to their Alpha dog. In your case, Moxie might feel that your partner requires her to mirror how calm and controlled he is, whereas with you she believes high energy is best. My dog certainly had different personalities around the people in my family. With me he acted like a puppy; with my dad it was all business because Dad was super Alpha. YMMV. :)

(I really cannot believe how cute your dog is. Holy moly.)
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 5:56 PM on March 22, 2012

I wonder if your partner usually walks a lot faster than you. Walking fast = good, wearing-out exercise and no time for goofing off. Walking slower = still lots of energy, time to goof off. Weekends you probably split the difference and end up with a dog who's somewhere in between.

You could take up jogging, or you could play fetch or something where you stand still and your dog moves a lot.
posted by anaelith at 3:04 AM on March 23, 2012

I find that pets can be like children when it comes to the expression of varying behaviors depending on the "parent" they are with. My husband and I have had both a female and a male Rottweiler, and both dogs were much more "on guard" and protective when alone with me, regardless of my projection of confidence. They just knew that they were on duty until my husband got home, and then they both relaxed a bit more, but were always the family guardians at heart. On the other hand, when either of them were feeling ill or hurt in some way, they'd seek out my attention and comfort.

Our new rescue dog also has her own independent behaviors, and for that matter, our cat interacts with each of us differently. Although we try to be mutually consistent, like children, each animal is unique and that's one of the things that makes them such a joy!
posted by blista at 8:00 AM on March 23, 2012

I have the same experience as blista. My husband and I have 2 pugs, and if I'm home alone with them they are much more on guard, and I'm even the "top dog" in our home. If we're both home, they could sleep through anything. He says they don't do this when he is home alone with them (which doesn't happen much).
posted by disaster77 at 10:27 AM on March 23, 2012

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