I don't want a tsundere dog
January 27, 2014 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Our new dog fears me and is generally seems to be fearful. He's already bitten the friend who would be watching him if we went on a trip! It would break my wife's heart to take him back but if his behaviors keep up I don't know if we'll have any choice. However I believe there are rarely bad dogs, just mostly bad owners. How can we make Fishstick part of the family?

Just over a week ago we picked up a 3 year old red-haired dachshund from the breeder where we had gotten a puppy before. She was done breeding him and he wasn't quite working out as a show dog (his butt was too big or something) and he was free to any home she had adopted out to before.

He seems very fearful in general - he runs away from me and my wife if we approach him but becomes docile as soon as you get your hands on him. I assume the latter behavior is training for being a show dog. He has taken to my wife and he will approach her on his terms, snuggle, kiss and generally be excited to see her.

But he seems to fear me. If he sees or hears me come through a door, come down the stairs or move around in general he begins barking at me. Even when we're sleeping he'll sometimes walk to my side of the bed begin growling a bit and if I make the slightest movement begin barking. Yet at the same time if I'm sitting on the couch or sleeping in bed he'll happily snuggle up next to me so I doubt its anything personal.

I've seen a question similar to this before but I'd like to add that he seems generally fearful and nervous. Part of this is obviously being in a new home, part of this probably just his dachshund nature. The rescues we've had in the past were all abandoned and latched on to us immediately so we haven't had to deal with anything like this before.

The bite came when some friends were over. The one that acts as our dog sitter was holding him and seemed to really like him until someone else began playing our out-of-tune electric organ and he freaked, biting her on the way down. Hopefully she understands because we need her not to hate him.

How can we get him to stop barking at me and to help get him used to his new home and our friends? Will it just be time or are there things we can do to make it better?

Notes: We have three other dogs. A year and a half old dachshund with no off switch (who Fishstick was meant to be a companion for), a nine year old Scottish terrier who prefers to hunt and never really learned how to dog and an ancient, arthritic dachshund who we have keep the other dogs from using as a cushion. He ignores the old dachshund, seems okay with the Scottie and we joke that he seems to think he's our youngest's dachshund's dog and not ours.

He hasn't been fixed yet but will be. We were told he was crate trained but he runs from his crate - we're working on reinforcing that and he's begun going in for my wife.

I've trying changing how I approach him, showing affection when he willingly comes close and giving him treats when he's not barking. (Unfortunately giving treats to only one dog in our household can be... challenging.) If it was just him not liking me that might be enough but I'm concerned this is linked to his general fearfulness.

I have a beard but am not tall (my wife is actually taller than me).
posted by charred husk to Pets & Animals (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've had a biting dog before and it was really nothing but heartache. I wish we had given her back immediately, honestly, as much as I grew to love her.

If you are serious about keeping the dog, it's going to be another full-time job to get over this hurdle. I'd seek professional help as soon as possible, because the longer the behavior goes on the more difficult it will be to root it out.

Worst case scenario here is that the dog bites a child, and though yes, it's a dachshund and not a Rottweiler, the worst dog bite I've ever had was from a dachshund.

I think you could do better since you are already juggling a three-dog household. I know your wife will be heartbroken, but how much more heartbroken would she be if you eventually had to put the dog down?
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:11 AM on January 27, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: a) Hire a trainer that believes in positive training (and not punitive or 'showing the dog who is master', etc.)

b) Work with that trainer many times.

c) Do the homework she prescribes.

d) Make sure all dogs get some alone time and lots of exercise.

e) Cuddle on couch!
posted by barnone at 8:11 AM on January 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

A week is not a long time in doggy terms. It also sounds like it might be a very high stimulus environment?

I'd try crating him while new people are over for a couple of weeks and give him time. I'd also get him fixed ASAP.

You don't mention what his environment was previously - was he in a kennel style environment? If so, he's enormously bewildered and has lost all his certainties. Get with the breeder and try to mimic his former routine as much as possible for a while as well.
posted by winna at 8:13 AM on January 27, 2014 [8 favorites]

First step is to set the dog up for success.

A small dog with fear issues in someones lap when guests are over who start playing an organ is not setting a dog up for success. It is a recklessly uncontrolled situation. Think off all the things that would make me describe it as such. Then get a good trainer...to train you and your family.
posted by Good Brain at 8:16 AM on January 27, 2014 [12 favorites]

but how much more heartbroken would she be if you eventually had to put the dog down?
This is a heartbreaking situation: I've faced it twice with rescued dogs, and each time relied on my (good) vet's advice that a biting dog needs to be put down. I still regret it, though even in hindsight I don't know how else I could deal have dealt with it (in addition to changing vets). In my state, if you give away a dog known to bite, you are still fully liable for any injuries it might cause in its new home (IF you can even find it a new home). I had asked initially for tranquillizers, but there is still too great a risk factor, aside from the expense. I also tried hiring the leading dog trainer here, who was no real help, just reinforced what I was already doing. I had sought advice from dog-people friends, who supported this, but some people at the dog park, who weren't in on the details, hated me for it, and I kind of can't blame them.
posted by mmiddle at 8:30 AM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding positive training and a lot of treats/patience. I'm amazed by what good training (for both the dog and the owner) can accomplish in terms of communicating.

Getting him fixed will likely help with aggression. I had an aggressive bunny (of all things) who openly resented a male partner, but he was just as sweet and docile as could be a few weeks after surprise surgery camp.
posted by mochapickle at 8:35 AM on January 27, 2014

Best answer: You should find a trainer who can work on you one on one. I got a recommendation from my local dog daycare/boarding place, but your vet can probably recommend someone as well.

Get that dog neutered, stat! That almost certainly has something to do with these behaviors, and it's the first thing any trainer is going to tell you to do.

I'm not going to weigh in on the biting situation because it's not clear from your description how it went down exactly. Did the dog mouth your friend's hand or nip, or was it an actual aggressive bite? It sounds like kind of a one-off situation exacerbated by overstimulation, maybe? I think you should talk to a professional before going immediately to "we probably need to put this dog down".

mmiddle is right that now that Fishstick has bitten someone, even if it was a one time freak accident kind of thing and no damage done, you will have a hard time rehoming him. You almost certainly cannot just give the Fishstick back, at this point.
posted by Sara C. at 8:48 AM on January 27, 2014

I came in to say 1 week is not long at all, it sounds like he's had some traumatic associations (maybe he hated the show dog environment, some dogs are mistreated by men specifically and grow to fear them). He could have doggie PTSD i.e. he's ok for a while until he gets triggered and then can't see sense.

Also dogs think in pictures, not in thoughts. So tall person or tall person with beard are not the same thing. Tall person with hat is also completely different. Maybe you can approach this like a scientist: what is the specific association that Fishstick has? Experiment until you see what sets him off into barking. Is it calm then sudden NOISE? is it lots of active energy in the house? is it when you seem to show up 'out of nowhere'?

Also copious amounts of good treats. Like steak tartare good. And sit beside him when he eats. Keep treats in your pocket so you smell like happiness.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:01 AM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

One of my dogs is an occasional biter. Although he's only 10lbs, it can HURT. We did a lot of training one-on-one with a trainer experienced in aggressive dogs. He's a resource guarder so any attempt at taking away a resource (bone, treat, spot on the couch, person, etc) he deems "his" will be met with aggression. What we learned in training is to not let it escalate to that point (he'll start with showing teeth, then a growl, then finally the bite). As others said above, you have to set him up for success. We spent a lot of time teaching him basic obedience (sit, stay, come, etc). If we want him off the couch, we can't just pick him up like we do our other dog, or he'll bite. But, if we say "OFF!" and point to the floor, he'll comply in a heartbeat without issue. If he starts getting into an aggression spiral, we just redirect by using a command. At first each of these commands were rewarded with treats (the more enticing the resource, the more amazing the reward was supposed to be). Now, he just complies without reward. Until he was better trained on walks, we walked him with a muzzle (yes, people looked at me sideways for walking a muzzled chihuahua, but he was unpredictable and I wasn't about to take the risk of something happening).

If you happen to be in the NYC area, this is the trainer I used. Highly recommend.

Nthing getting him fixed (for this and a myriad of other reasons), and also making sure he has plenty of exercise, including mental exercise with Kongs and other similar toys.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:15 AM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The bite was sheet panic - we shouldn't have exposed him to everyone so soon I regret doing so. Still, that he bit when he panicked is worrisome.

I forgot to mention that he also startles if you touch him from behind without him being able to see you coming. My wife says she did that once and he looked like me might have been about to bite at her then, too.

We live in Toledo, Ohio in a residential neighborhood not too far from downtown. So while it isn't exactly a bustling metropolis there is more going on than in the country house we got him from.

My understanding is that he was in a kennel-like environment before with a very set schedule. We guess that his reluctance to go in his crate but is fine once he's there has to do with him not wanting to give up his newly found freedom. Keeping the same schedule as the breeder is difficult since we work during the day (sort of - the snowpocalypse is keeping my teacher wife home quite a bit. We think this may also be why he bonded with her more.)

He doesn't show any other signs of aggression (just fear) otherwise he'd be out the door - our youngest dog is a hemophiliac and if we thought there was any danger of him being bitten Fishstick would be gone in a heartbeat.
posted by charred husk at 9:22 AM on January 27, 2014

Response by poster: So, yeah, he startles easily and that seems to be the main trigger for his barking. For the most part.
posted by charred husk at 9:24 AM on January 27, 2014

Definitely nthing getting a trainer, and the fact that one week is not a long time at all. He may just need more time to adjust.

If he's more fearful of you than of your wife, you should be the one to feed him and give treats, at least as often as possible. This will help him learn to trust you.

Whenever you have people over, they should give him (or all the dogs) at least one treat. This will set him up to learn that new people are treat dispensers, not something to be feared.
posted by trivia genius at 9:28 AM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Was he with the breeder for his whole life? I ask only because he sounds a lot like my miniature dachshund (obligatory picture), who was abused before we got him. We had the fear barking and the the occasional nipping/biting, plus submissive urination. It took about six months to get from multiple instances of stress urination a day to, say, no more than two or three a week, and probably another year to get it past that. The barking, etc, followed a similar pattern.

Dachshunds seem to be little balls of energy and nerves under the best of circumstances. New home and an entirely new schedule are definitely not the best of circumstances. I'd give it at least a few weeks--weeks in which you dispense treats frequently (for things like 'being near scary human on sofa' and 'not startling when approached from behind', say) and go out of your way to keep the environment calm and quiet. And, yeah, get him fixed asap.

If this seemed like an aggression thing instead of a fear thing, I'd have a very different answer, but biting when panicked doesn't strike me as all that worrying, under the circumstances. It seems unreasonable to expect a dog to respond calmly to new, stressful situations, especially when the humans (I point here at the organ player, not you) around the dog aren't being respectful of the fact that it is, in fact, a new and stressful situation.
posted by MeghanC at 9:42 AM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd be tempted to give him another week, especially in such a high stimulus household. If he spent a great deal of time in a crate at the breeders, no wonder he's a basket case being around such (doggy entertaining) chaos. Maybe when things get really rowdy, give him a chance to retreat or put him into his crate, but leave the crate in the middle of things so he can get used to the noise, yet feel protected. Try really hard not to startle him from behind--speak to him even when you're ten foot away. One thing that might help him relax with you is to sit on the floor and let him come to you for lots of treats and petting. Then move to the couch, ditto. Then have him be on the couch and you stand to treat and pet him. Move slowly and ln a non-threat manner, and speak to him constantly.

Unfortunately giving treats to only one dog... I would spend time treating him along with the other dogs, also. After all, he is just one of the gang. Also, try ignoring him when he barks. You may be reinforcing his barking with any type of attention. Ignoring bad behavior and reinforcing the good seems to work well with many fearful animals.

Nthing strongly to get him fixed, if you haven't already. That will initially set him back, but the eventual benefits will be immense. If after a little more time he hasn't shown signs of settling in, you really need to see a good trainer. He probably has little in the way of social behavior anyway, so a trainer for basic commands--sit, down, stay, heel, go lay down, etc.--is what he desperately needs anyway. He may do well with learning his commands and tricks. One of my fearful pups seemed to gain a great deal of self-confidence knowing he was a smart, good doggie.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:54 AM on January 27, 2014

Have you taken him to the vet for a complete work-up yet? The fact that your dog startles might be a sign that his hearing is not so good, which could be a cause of his fearfulness/nervousness.
posted by juniperesque at 10:57 AM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One week is not a lot of time for a dog to settle in, really it is nothing. It really does sound like it's bite was fear related so you really need to give your dog some more time to settle in and get some confidence. It will easily take a month or 3 for your dog to even start to feel settled and used to it's new routines.

If the dog is not neutered this can help a lot to make a dog feel more calm and settled.

There are also pheromone collars which can help, we used them on a dog with separation anxiety with good effect, from what I've read they don't help every dog but they aren't expensive and would be worth a try.

If you want to make friends with the dog there are some things you can do. Grabbing the dog and forcing it to be friendly with you is not going to help. You need to sit on the ground, make yourself as small as possible, do not make eye contact with the dog if the dog sits quietly with you in the same room as you, toss it a treat. If the dog moves closer, casually toss it another treat, do not reach for the dog, do not look at the dog do not loom over the dog. Talk to the dog softly in a gently higher pitched voice, as it approaches closer, throw it another treat.

Yawning, laying down and licking of lips and looking away are all appeasement gestures done by one dog to another to say hey I am no threat do those things. Every night do this for 15 mins or half an hour or so, when the dog finally gets close enough hold out your hand in a fist and let the dog sniff your hand. Again do not force it to be patted if it doesn't want to let the dog set the speed for approaching you and slowly work up to patting the dog, usually behind the ears or neck is a good spot, but don't try and pat the dog from above as that can be scary for all dogs, especially ones that may have been grabbed roughly and picked up because they are small.

Once the dog is settled in I would really really really recommend going to a trainer. We have a dog that has a history of fear biting and the best thing we ever did for him was take him to agility and obedience classes, not for the skills he learnt there but for the confidence they gave him. He went from fear biting to being a huge love bug of every stranger he meets when out and about (though he still has some issues with strangers in the house that we are working on).

Oh and to get him to make friends with the person you want to dog sit him, have them do the same sitting on the floor, not making eye contact and treating thing.
posted by wwax at 11:02 AM on January 27, 2014

Does the kennel smell like him, or smell like your wife? I would put a beloved toy, a pillow or blanket he likes to lie on, or maybe your wife's dirty pillowcase or yesterday's shirt in there to signal that this is his new "place". He might be reluctant to go into the new kennel because he's not sure that it's his kennel.

Also feed him in there, and treat him early and often anytime he's in the kennel for any reason.
posted by Sara C. at 11:33 AM on January 27, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice so far! As a reward, here's an obligatory pic I just got as my wife spends a snow day with the pups. The one in the foreground is the youngest. Fishstick is the one looking suspicious behind him.
posted by charred husk at 11:46 AM on January 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

(I'm not a vet, just a vet student.) I recommend bringing Fishstick in to see your vet* so you can a) rule out any medical cause for his behavior and b) schedule his castration surgery. Be sure to tell them about his behavior--they may have some good suggestions for a trainer, etc.

Honestly though, it sounds like he's adjusting to his new environment and the new dogs and people which is lives with. This adjustment period can last a long time--I don't think my 5 year old rescue really started to get along with all members of the family until he'd been with us for over 6 months. Prior to that we had similar issues with him being very attached to me, but stand-offish and at times aggressive to another family member.

I'm going to nth the advice to find a dog trainer who can work with you, your wife and your dogsitter and train the three of you on different techniques you can use to redirect Fishstick when he shows signs of aggressive (growling at you, for example), reward good behavior (daschund's doing tricks = the funniest) and help you and he bond more.

Take the necessary precautions to ensure that Fishstick does not bite again. By this I mean that you need to be responsible for not putting him in a situation where he will bite. Instruct guests to ignore him. Avoid picking him up, especially from behind. You take over feeding duties so that Fishstick begins to associate you with good things. Don't approach him to pet him--allow him to come to you. Look for signs that he is either at ease (relaxed, non-stiff body language) or uneasy (nervous yawn, half-moon eyes, licking lips, avoidance behavior, growling).

*Please please please give the vet tech or veterinarian warning that Fishstick has biten in the past (even if it wasn't his fault). This gives us a chance to come into the exam room in a less threatening way, bring the high value treats, and generally give him the VIP treatment so that everyone involved feels as safe and comfortable as possible.
posted by gumtree at 1:40 PM on January 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

Just a thought, are you sure the dog is not deaf or hearing-impaired? The touch from behind reaction seems almost like he didn't hear you approach.
posted by tommasz at 1:47 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a special needs dog. We worked with a wonderful trainer who came to our house weekly for 8 months for a very reasonable fee. The behavioral changes were astounding. If you are comfortable telling me what area you live in, I can tell you if she is local.

I also use an animal communicator in England. She and I communicate via e-mail. It has helped me understand what my (3) pets are feeling and what their needs are, which has resulted in significant behavioral changes (on my part and theirs). If you would like her name and the link to her website, please let me know.


posted by htm at 2:31 PM on January 27, 2014

You've already gotten great advice above, but I'd just like to nth that a week isn't that much time, though I'm sure it feels like forever. Believe me, I know and sympathize. If your dachshund is anything like ours, there's still hope. Our miniature dachshund mix feared my husband when we first adopted him at age 4. He barked at husband's every move and nipped him (in a panic, like yours) once while I was away. This happened in the first week we had him (dog of course), and the situation was so stressful that I was afraid we'd have to rehome him if his behavior didn't improve. Anyway, long story short, something seemed to click inside his little furry brain after a few weeks and he suddenly stopped hating husband. It's been 6 years since then and dog hasn't bitten husband since that one time. Dog hearts husband now, they are are BFF. So please, give Fishstick (love his name! Handsome dog!) a few more weeks and see how he settles in.
posted by misozaki at 5:30 PM on January 27, 2014

One more thing, sorry. I wanted to add that although our dog learned to love my husband pretty quickly, he never grew out of being afraid of other people (and other dogs in our case). So I have to be careful on our daily walks and he never gets to go off-leash in dog parks, which is a bummer but I've learned to accept that that's the way he is. Your friend might have to work with you on gaining Fishstick's trust. Good luck!
posted by misozaki at 5:43 PM on January 27, 2014

Hi Charred Husk,

I have owned Dachshunds for years. They are extremely loving, they clearly own US, and they are, as a rule, high maintenance. My husband affectionately calls them "lawn sausages". When we take our dogs on walks and they stop at a particular patch of grass, he calls that their "P-Mail Address". As a matter of fact, we have a very authentic looking fire hydrant on our back patio with a sign on it that says P-Mail. We all know what that's used for!

If you have more questions that you haven't received an answer to yet, you may want to contact this organization. They have helped us a lot over the years.

Here is the link to the website of our animal communicator who I referred to in an earlier post. I wish you the best of luck.


posted by htm at 6:34 AM on January 29, 2014

Response by poster: A little over a month in and things haven't changed too much. He's been fixed for about two weeks now. I've been trying to get in touch with a local trainer that was recommended to me. I've been using advice from this thread and elsewhere on the internet on how to work with him myself.

I won't go into it much more than that. Fishstick just seems to be the leading edge of some deeper, serious unhappiness in my life at the moment. I hope it will turn out okay.

Thanks for all the advice.
posted by charred husk at 1:18 PM on February 26, 2014

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