Dog suddenly vocal, but only with her sitter. Why?
December 8, 2016 3:31 PM   Subscribe

I have an ideal support system for my rescue dog in the form of a wonder dog-sitter. She walks Huggy every weekday at lunch and when I am away, boards her. They are clearly fond of each other. Last weekend I was away, and the sitter let me know Huggy was starting to act out and be much more vocal with people and other dogs. Not aggressive, just reactive. That change has continued into their daily walks. The dog never acts that way with me.

Here are some examples from her sitter:

Huggy sees another dog who she would like to play with, and she lunges and barks. Not at all aggressive, but because of her size, she apparently scares the dog owners.

Huggy suddenly barks at a woman on the opposite side of the street during a walk.

When my dog sitter's partner tries to leave after petting her, Huggy starts barking demandingly to get her to stay and keep playing/petting.

When she's tired of playing with my dog sitter's dog, she barks at the other dog.


With me, Huggy seems exactly as before. The only change I have noticed is that she has a little more energy than usual, so I have started jogging with her in the morning instead of walking. She doesn't bark at or lunge at dogs we meet. The only time I've heard her bark at a person has been people with brooms (she has a history of abuse before I got her.) She never barks at home. To be honest, for a few months after I got her I wasn't sure she could bark, she was so quiet.

She's not perfectly behaved. I've been training her, but she's very stubborn. Still, no major problems. She's usually walked 120 minutes per day, 100 at an absolute minimum.

She does have arthritis problems, and with her increased exercise and weight loss I recently took her off the pain meds-- this is the only change I can think of in her circumstance. But she isn't acting as though she is in pain. No stiffness getting up or problems lifting her legs when she walks. She's six years old.

What could cause this? And how can I help? It's not a problem yet, but it's definitely strange. She's staying with her sitter at Christmas and I think we're both really hoping it doesn't escalate. Like I said, with me she's just fine and I don't know how to train away a behaviour I never see. She doesn't really show signs of separation anxiety from me, although she's always happy to see me when I get back.

I'm having a vet do a health check tomorrow to see if something physical could be causing the difference.

Any ideas?
posted by frumiousb to Pets & Animals (7 answers total)
So with the sitter, she has behavioral problems, with you, she doesn't. So it is an issue with the way the sitter is handling Huggy. You need to observe how the sitter/walker is handling her and figure out problem and how to correct it. Ideally, you would get a good dog trainer to observe you both with Huggy to diagnose what is going on.
posted by nanook at 3:53 PM on December 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

How long have you had her? And how long has her sitter been watching her, and how often are you away? If you have only had her a few months, then it's possible that Huggy feels settled in with her sitter and she's becoming more vocal/comfortable/impulsive with her. This sort of thing is not uncommon with rescue dogs - once they feel comfortable, they start to slide a bit.

Either way, the answer is more training, if there's nothing medical. Leave it, go to your bed, stay, refocus - a good trainer should be able to help you with these. Even if you don't see these behaviors, it's good for Huggy to get rock solid on them with both of you.
posted by umwhat at 4:35 PM on December 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've had her 9 months and her sitter has been her walker ever since I got her. I'm away irregularly-- so for months at a time not at all, but I have a lot of work travel in November, for instance. We've had a number of training sessions and she's good with her commands and she and I work with them regularly, but I have no idea if her sitter uses them. Sounds like maybe I need to call her trainer again, then?
posted by frumiousb at 4:42 PM on December 8, 2016

I have a German Shepherd that used to behave very different with me versus my husband. My husband had a much easier time getting him to listen and follow commands. I always had smaller dogs growing up and cats. It took me a while to realize that it is easier for my dog to understand me when I am stern and loud. I always felt like I was being mean. I had to practice projecting my voice and being a little more forceful physically. This has worked wonders and I still give a lot of praise and love when he is behaving in the manner I want but this was all a learning experience for me.
posted by heatherly at 5:41 AM on December 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh Huggy! I think about Huggy fairly often since you adopted her, and I've been wondering hows she's doing. I don't have much insight in to this question, but I mostly wanted to say Hi and to thank you for updating us on Huggy's life and adventures.
My best guess on this behavior is that Huggy has become comfortable acting out a bit with the sitter. She knows you are Mom so she obeys you, but she also knows the sitter is "not Mom," so she pushes things a little. The sitter should be firm. I recommend the siter take her to an obediance class if this is possible. Since Huggy spends time regularly with her siter she needs to know that the sitter is just as much a pack leader as you are. Also if the sitter is allowing behaviors like letting Huggy up onto furniture, or allowing Huggy to enter or exit a door before siter enters or exits, that should stop. Siter should make Huggy sit before sitter gives Huggy any food etc. etc.

PS Whatever happened to the laying down and refusing to walk thing? Did that get worked out?
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:04 PM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

It did! Well, by and large. Huggy remains and will remain an extremely stubborn dog and communicates where she wants to go pretty clearly, but she no longer sits and will not move. She's much healthier, and can walk up to an hour and a half at a go, and I've even (slowly) started jogging with her. She plays with her toys openly these days (endlessly) and sleeps on the bed all night. She's doing pretty well, I think.

I've offered to pay for a trainer to work with dog-sitter and Huggy together, and she's thinking about it.

Thanks for all your advice and support too in all these questions. I've relied heavily on MF for my dog learning curve these last nine months.
posted by frumiousb at 11:42 PM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

You have given Huggy a wonderful, healthy life. I think about you guys and it makes me smile.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:14 PM on December 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

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