I need some advice about my dog.
April 11, 2014 5:59 PM   Subscribe

My family dog is 11 years old. He has always lived at my mom’s and visited mine very occasionally, but not for about 3 years. As him coming to me never worked out (he was always stressed, anxious, barking, wanting to go home) I gave up, and left him at his own home.

He is the same whenever he goes to anyone else’s home or anywhere. So I have gone from staying over at my mom’s 4 – 5 nights a week to now zero nights (Long story). I can’t spend any time at my mom’s place anymore. I could take him out for an hour’s walk maximum (he has bad arthritis), say, 3 times a week, but then that would be all the time I would get with him. I have tried again to bring him to my home but he is extremely anxious all of the time and stands barking at me to get up and take him home. When he barks, I get up and interact with him - toss his toy to him, or ball or wrestle, and he settles down with the toy is his mouth for a short time and then he starts again. I feel like I’m holding him prisoner here. He just wants to be at home. Is it selfish of me to keep him here because I want to see him? I’m looking for suggestions as to how I can make it work…
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sometimes people pick out dogs and sometimes dogs pick out people. My grandmother once acquired a little dog for herself at great expense and took excellent care of her. But when my aunt moved out of that house, the dog was despondent and depressed -- she wouldn't eat, she'd just whine and mope and lost all interest in everyone else. When my aunt was there she'd go nuts. Finally, the dog went to live with my aunt and happily lived out her days.

Your dog has picked your mom for his human, it sounds like. You're attached to the dog and I'm sure you're a great human, but emotional attachments work different in dogs than in humans. I think the kind thing to do is leave this dog where he's happy and let another dog pick you as his special human.
posted by mibo at 6:17 PM on April 11, 2014 [14 favorites]

Go spend time with him at your Mom's when you can. He's bonded to her and he's an old dog. Let him have his last years in the place that he feels is his home. Stressing him out isn't good for him or you. Try not to take it personally. He's being a dog and if it's possible, allowing him to live in the place where he's most comfortable is a generous thing to do.
posted by quince at 6:37 PM on April 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

Some dogs are great travelers and love to go places, and some get super nervous when they are away form their home and their people. Your dog sounds like he is happier at your mom's place. Honestly three hour-long walks with you per week sounds like a great way to bond with him.
posted by radioamy at 6:38 PM on April 11, 2014

dogs bind to a small number of people. it is folly to compete with your mom in the mind of a dog.
posted by bruce at 6:44 PM on April 11, 2014

Yeah, he's not your dog, he's your mom's dog.
posted by Justinian at 6:49 PM on April 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

How long have you kept him before giving in to the stressing out? If you've only given it a few days or even a couple of weeks it's not really a long enough time to get him to settle into a new place.

If you really want him to come and live with you you'll most probably need some anti anxiety meds from the vet, maybe try a calming pheromone collar or 2 and lots and lots of time & patience. I'd avoid responding when he barks for attention as that is only reinforcing that behaviour.

You could also work on slowly working him up to coming over with hour long visits with your mother that are slowly extended and have your mother leaving for longer and longer times. If he's given lots of treats and this is made a fun experience for him and worked into his regular routine he could be slowly weaned off your mother.

If you should or not, that is up to you. My opinion for what it's worth is if your mother likes having the dog, and the dog is happy he's 11 years old, let him stay. There are many dogs out there looking for good homes, and one of them would love the chance to bond with you and be delighted to make your house their home. Then you can take him to go play with the other dog when you go to visit him. Now if your mother is wanting to get rid of the dog or you think the dog is unhappy there then it is totally worth putting in the effort to get the dog resettled into your house.
posted by wwax at 7:37 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was also going to ask how long you have tried to keep him. Dogs often need between a few days and a couple of weeks to settle into a new routine, so I wouldn't read too much into the first day or two.

Another very important piece if this is that it sounds like he is potentially using attention-seeking behavior to get you to entertain him. You should NOT respond to his barking by immediately getting up and engaging him with a toy, because to him that looks like barking = lazy human entertains me. Instead, figure out what your routine with him will look like on your terms-- this should include a a couple of very comfortable resting places (like dog beds), plenty of play time, walks at regular intervals, regular meal times, and constant access to water. That way, when he is barking, you know his needs have all been met and you can refrain from reinforcing the barking behavior.

An anti-anxiety medication may help to ease the transition, but it's just as likely to make no difference at all. If after a couple of weeks of a solid routine he is still upset, it might be kinder to leave him with your parents.
posted by crunchysalty at 8:18 PM on April 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

Let him enjoy his doggy golden years where he feels comfortable. Sure, you could probably brainwash him into some semblance of contentedness with meds and pheromones, but you'd be trading his happiness for yours.

I agree with justinian; this isn't your dog.
posted by kythuen at 8:39 PM on April 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

Kythuen's comment made me think I should add, that meds and the collar wouldn't be needed for more than a month or 2 at the outside. Basically you need to get the dog past the settling in stage and used to the new routine, dogs are moved from homes and people they love for lots of reasons, it's doable and they settle into their new homes for the most part just fine with a bit time.
posted by wwax at 9:45 PM on April 11, 2014

My dog gets all weird if we stay at another place. The last time we went camping, the cabin was warm, he had his own special blanket, and I had him lay right next to me on his own mat. He spent the evening whining and, after we went to bed, the entire night trying to lay down on my head. Some dogs refuse to be happy someplace other than home. Don't take offense and just roll with it.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:37 PM on April 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mod note: From the OP:
Thank you for all your comments and suggestions. I would just like to say that in 11 years I have never spent more than 3 nights away from him. He looks to me for a lot of his care i.e. giving him his meds (my mother, who is 76, tends to always forget), washing and grooming, playing, feeding him etc.. I cannot stop worrying that he is not being looked after properly but I do agree that it is best for him to stay in his own home.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:27 AM on April 12, 2014

It's a bit of a different matter if you're worried about his quality of care, rather than just wanting to spend time with him. What's the reason for not being able to stay at your mom's any more- is it surmountable? How does your mom feel about him- would she mind if you took over his care completely? If he came to live with you forever he would probably eventually settle in fine.

If it's a matter of his maintenance, walking with him probably won't achieve what you want (especially with his arthritis). Could you pop in briefly every morning to feed and medicate him?

As for tips to help him settle- do you bring his things with him, like his bed/crate, food and everything? Is there a routine at yours? Is there anything else there he could be anxious about other than being away from home? Perhaps you could adjust your environment to make it less stressful for him.

It's hard to advise what to do when we don't know the situation between you and your mom.
posted by mymbleth at 1:16 AM on April 12, 2014

Nthing those who ask how much time you have given him to settle in? I'd think he needs at least a couple of weeks. Our pup is always very stressed out when he has to move between places, no matter how much he loves us.
I've discovered our dog relaxes when he sees me relax. So if he is acting stressed, I lie down on the couch and do nothing for a while. He will come over and paw at me and sometimes bark. If he barks, I say no! If he paws, I take his paw and hold it. Mostly, he will then gradually calm down too and finally lie on the floor next to me. After a while, he'll go to his own bed, and I can start doing stuff again.
posted by mumimor at 1:49 AM on April 12, 2014

Is it selfish of me to keep him here because I want to see him?

Yup. Look, I know it's hard. When I was a kid my cat - the one that I found living in the woods, the one that I convinced my parents to let us keep, the one that I loved more than anyone else did - "chose" my mom the same way this dog has chosen your mom. It's a bummer but in my experience it's almost impossible to change who your pet is most bonded with.

I’m looking for suggestions as to how I can make it work…

Honestly, in my opinion the only way to make it work is to spend more time at your mom's - is that a possibility? I'd even go so far as to say that if you're concerned about his care you have a moral imperative to check up on him by spending time at your mom's.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:07 AM on April 12, 2014

How much exercise does he need? Is he well taken care of at your mom's house? These are important factors and you haven't told us the answer.

And as others have said, it also matters how much time you have tried this. If it has been a couple months, it might not change. If it has been a couple days or maybe even weeks, it is too early to say.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:13 AM on April 12, 2014

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks again for the responses. I have tried having him stay here for a maximum of 48 hours. He has all his physical needs catered for here. As far as exercise is concerned, he generally just needs two 45 minute walks per day, plus some playtime in the garden, when he is at home, but here, he is stressed and needs to get out more. He can’t walk for that long and for that far, so sometimes I end up riding round with him in the car which seems to appease him. I don’t want to deprive him of the attention he gets from my mother and other family members who visit. The situation cannot be resolved at the moment – it involves my sister who has moved back home with a 6 month old baby. She doesn't want either myself or the dog there. He does have a barking problem and separation/general anxiety issues. He isn't as well cared for when I am not there in terms of grooming - my mother admits that she cannot do it. He is walked sufficiently but does not get any playtime interaction.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:47 AM on April 12, 2014

Then I'd say you need to give him much more time. As said above, our dog needs several days, once it was more than a week, to get back to normal after we've been away, or to adjust to our apartment after just a few days in the country.
With the barking when he is restless, I have discovered he barks less if he is only allowed in the room I'm in. So when he is relaxed, he has the run of the house (and garden if it is summer), but when he is restless, I close the doors to the kitchen or study or wherever I am, so he has to stay with me. If it is very bad, I use the car as a sort of crate (we don't crate otherwise), but obviously only when the temperature is safe for that, and neither too hot nor too cold. And never for more than an hour. But he loves his car.
posted by mumimor at 8:15 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure what your relationship is with your mom other than you don't want to stay at her place but what about her coming to your place for a few days with the dog? If you want to move the dog to your place permanently, this might help him learn that this is his place, too. Ask your mom to leave some things that smell like her - a pillow, blanket, tshirt, etc. And does he have a crate or blanket or bed of his own? Did you bring all of his stuff when he visited you? (Good for your for trying to figure out what's best for your pup, btw.)
posted by Beti at 8:23 AM on April 12, 2014

My dog hates change. She was upset for at least a week (restless, anxious, pacing back and forth, leaving then returning then leaving then returning &tc.) after I moved the furniture around in the bedroom. She dislikes it when we take down curtains to wash, move any large item into or out of the house, vary our schedules, walk on the right side of the street instead of the left, you name it. And she's a rescue, so I guess you can imagine how she was when she first arrived – quelle misère!

But she always adjusts and goes back to being perfectly happy and content, so I'd agree that you should try giving it more time! It seems that you are the significant care-giver, and there's also some friction about having him in your mother's house, so unless your mom objects, it seems to make sense for all involved that the little guy comes to stay with you. I bet he'll be adjusted within a month.
posted by taz at 11:30 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

When your dog is away from your mom's home, does he seem more worried about your mom not being there or the location being different? When he gets back to your mom's home, does he run to her or does he run to see the house and his bed/area?

If dog is primarily attached to your mom, I would not move him.

If dog is primarily attached to the house, I would move him, but it will take weeks/a month/maybe more of being permanently at your house for this to sink in, especially since you've been accidentally reinforcing that it is not home in the past. You need to move him just like if you made a long distance move or something, all of his stuff gets moved and set up in the new Home, and the old Home is not available to him, at all, period. The transition is going to be a bit rough but once he works through it he will be fine--lots of people move with dogs and survive the experience.
posted by anaelith at 5:49 AM on April 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

You haven't given it enough time. Two days is nothing. Two weeks might not be enough time to tell (although it might), but 48 hours certainly isn't. You need to keep the dog there nonstop for at the very least a week or two to see if it will work.

however, if the dog is in good health but isn't being groomed enough (bathed? brushed? haircut?), that's not the kind of circumstance that particularly cries out for removal, in my opinion. Not that taking the dog is wrong necessarily, but it's also not a moral imperative.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:58 AM on April 13, 2014

Followup from the OP:
Thanks for helping me work through this problem. Its difficult to suss out which is true – is he more attached to his home or my mother? If my mom takes him to another home, he is always anxious to get back to his own home. If she brings him here, he is always anxious to leave with her. If all three of us go on a walk, he is absolutely in his element. If I take him on my own, he is not as happy, and needs more coaxing to walk. On a walk, if my mother went back to the car to get something, he is frantic and will not walk any further and wants to hurry back to her. She has to be in his sight all of the time. Whereas if I walked with them and then went off in a different direction, my mother can get him to continue the walk or go back home. When I bring him home, he runs to the garden and checks everything out and has a bark, letting everyone know he is back. Then he will go inside and is happy if she is there or not.

He is a 45kg golden retriever with a very loud, resonant bark. I live in a much smaller house, adjoined to another house each side, in a very built-up area. The walls are paper thin. My elderly next door neighbour has commented that the barking disturbs him, even though I put a stop to it straight away, and the dog has only visited a maximum of 20 days in 8 years. My garden is much smaller - 6m x 6m. He is used to a much larger house and garden, surrounded by fields that he has access to.

Ideally, I would like him to spend some time at my home and some of the time at hers. Would that ever work out or would he have to cut ties completely with his current home?

Thank you again.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:28 AM on April 13, 2014

If it's an issue of care, then, I'd say things are different. Maybe try a week. If he settles down after that length of time, maybe keep him permanently. Also, try to exude the feeling that things are cool and him being there is normal. Don't hover, act casual. My dog totally picks up on my anxiety and becomes anxious, too.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:53 AM on April 13, 2014

« Older Illness in the US, but magically, no healthcare!   |   Please help me identify, and then license, this... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.