Help me save my love life? (Scared dog edition)
September 12, 2019 7:19 PM   Subscribe

This is Jake. He's 8. I just adopted him and his brother Junebug, 9. They did not have a great history. Jake is absolutely terrified of men, but because he's a brave boy, he's fiercely determined to protect Junebug and myself from their evil ways. Help?

My gentleman friend who lives in a different city was visiting the other day. I had noticed that Jake did not react well to men (barking at them) but assumed with some time and coaxing this would improve. This is not the case! He was so scared of my friend that he literally lept on his lap and pooped on him. Which was not so romantic!

He alternates between hysterical barking, guarding me, and terrified trembling. He does not attempt to bite. I tried putting him in another room, but that only raised the barking level and hysteria to the point I anticipated a noise complaint.

I have used Dr. Google and saw lots of generic and not-very-helpful articles which boiled down to "this is hard to fix".

Has anyone dealt with something like this successfully? Please note, I do not crate and am not interested in discussing my views on crating.

I also want to reassure you that Doggo comes first. This is his forever home, and if I need to book a hotel I will. But you know, I'd rather not do that for all time...
posted by frumiousb to Pets & Animals (13 answers total)
Does he do any better around men away from home, at the park or whatever? If so, you could slowly build his tolerate that way.

It might also be worthwhile to talk to your vet about meds.
posted by metasarah at 7:41 PM on September 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yes, away from home he does not react. He just ignores them. Good thought!
posted by frumiousb at 7:43 PM on September 12, 2019

How to Care for a Formerly Abused Pet. Perhaps the men in question can approach things from this angle to make Doggo feel more comfortable with them?
posted by WCityMike at 7:44 PM on September 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

My dog was abused before I took him home and he was terrified of men too. It took a lot of time and repeated interactions with someone before he would warm up to them (although he did eventually! He even wags his tail at and runs up to some of my guy friends now). The long distance makes that hard as it won’t be consistent but time will definitely still help. And ABSOLUTELY get him used to you man not on his home turf. Unfortunately it may be some time of booking hotels, in the meantime let them socialize in low stakes areas (outside, not the home where he feels the need to protect you) and slowly slowly work your way up. He’ll get there!

As for your friend interacting with him, have him do that slowly and on jakes terms. Have him offer a hand casually, don’t make eye contact, no sudden movements, offer a treat (leave it on there ground and let the pup take it from there if he won’t take it from his hand). Basically have him low-key offer contact but not pressure the pup in any way.
posted by sillysally at 8:31 PM on September 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

This relaxation protocol made a HUGE difference with our rescue dog. We also paid for an individual consultation with a force-free trainer after having her for about a year and holy heck, I really really wish we had done it earlier.

We also worked on a greeting method. When guests come in, we have them sit with a handful of treats to drop on the ground and let our dog out from another room so the dog sees the guest sitting calmly and then gets SO MANY TREATS so they associate guests with good things.

None of this is quick fixes but it’s made a big big difference over time.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 8:51 PM on September 12, 2019 [10 favorites]

Another you can try is have your friend give Jake and Junebug a very special treat (that they don't usually get) whenever he comes over. Have him give one when he gets there and one each day that he stays there. If you can, hide the treat bag somewhere outside so they never see it unless your friend is there.
posted by soelo at 8:52 PM on September 12, 2019 [4 favorites]

Your friend should ignore the dog completely and not try to interact with him at all. Let Jake do ALL the approaching. We call this acclimation through benign ignoring.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:27 PM on September 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

What DarlingBri said. Have him sit on the floor if he can, turned away from the dog. Handful of treats, but just act like he's not even there and do whatever else until Jake's ready to approach. If he does, just drop a treat casually and carry on with the ignoring. If Jake's close, remember to keep hands below the level of his head.

Jake looks like an extremely brave sweet boy to me!
posted by praemunire at 12:36 AM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

It’s not clear how long you’ve had them but time will also help. My aunt and uncle adopted a stray that was very scared of a lot of things. For some unknown reason she was also very upset by my presence when I visited a few weeks after she was adopted. We think that I reminded her of somebody who hurt her. She was growling and generally really unhappy to have me around so I tried to give her space.

When I came back a few months later the dog welcomed me like a long lost friend. Our best guess is that she had had a chance to settle down and had started to feel very safe in her new home by then. My aunt and uncle also have a lot of friends and acquaintances and assorted family popping in and out of the house all the time. So she may have also learned that nobody who was welcomed by them had ever hurt her or them.

She still gets quite excited when strangers turn up but calms down immediately if my aunt and uncle welcome somebody. And if she recognises somebody as family she goes from barking to delighted kangaroo jumps (she really does) and requests to be petted. She’s also learned to play and is generally completely unrecognisable.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:22 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sorry to thread sit, we were planning on doing the ignoring thing, but Jake didn't ignore him. He freaked out, rushing at him and growling and jumping on him and growling and shaking.

I think I'll need to try this in a neutral place...
posted by frumiousb at 1:39 AM on September 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

If I recall from your post history, you have had Jake and Junebug for about a month. That's not very long in rescue dog time! Everything everyone has said is true, this is hard to fix, and it will certainly be better for them to meet off Jake's home turf.

But also, it takes rescue dogs up to a year to settle into a new home, and it really helps for them to have a very consistent routine. My rescue chihuahua mix gets unsettled whenever we go on a trip and is reactive for a few days before he settles back down, and it took him over a year from when we got him to really "bloom" and relax. His behavior changes over time were so obvious that even non-dog-people friends commented on it. So please don't panic and assume this will never, ever get better. There's a lot of hope that it will, even if it's never perfect, once Jake has had some time and space to decompress.
posted by branca at 7:19 AM on September 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

My fear-aggressive rescue dog absolutely hates everybody that isn't me or my husband. We hired a trainer that came highly recommended as someone who can handle reactive dogs. To gain my dog's trust she:
1. Had us come in to her office with the dog on a short leash, so the dog couldn't get more than 1-2 feet away from us. She asked us to pay no attention to anything the dog was doing during this session.
2. She was already seated in a chair with a few slices of really greasy pizza. (Cue the barking and aggression) We took our seats on the opposite side of the room, far enough away that the dog couldn't get anywhere close to her.
3. She completely ignored the dog, and talked to us exclusively while slowly eating the pizza. She didn't even make eye contact with the dog.
4. After about 10 minutes of nonstop barking and lunging, the trainer started throwing small pieces of cheese from the pizza at the dog, maybe 1 small piece every 2 minutes or so. The dog ate the cheese and continued barking and lunging. Again, no attention was paid to the dog by either of us.
5. Eventually, maybe 30 minutes after this started, the dog started to get tired and would take a few seconds between barks. Every single time there was a pause in the barking, our trainer would throw a small piece of cheese at her, again without making eye contact and not looking at the dog. The random pieces of cheese stopped, and the dog only got cheese when the barking paused.
6. After a half hour of this the dog quieted down for longer periods of time, and the trainer started to pay attention to the dog. Every time the dog looked at her without barking, she would get cheese. Every time the dog sat down she get cheese and a high-pitched verbal "yes!". The trainer started squeaking toys and throwing them where the dog could get them when the barking died down. She never left the chair so as not to appear threatening.

This went on for about 3 sessions, and the amount of time spent barking and lunging quickly went from an hour and a half in the first session to maybe a minute in the 3rd session. My dog very quickly realized that the trainer was going to share food and give fun toys. After about 5-6 sessions, the dog and the trainer were best friends.

We have used this with some success with other people in our home, but there aren't too many people that are willing to be barked and lunged at by a snarling 55 pound dog on a regular basis. Hopefully your friend is willing to make a go at it. Consistency and appearing non-threatening is key. Also, they shouldn't touch the dog like AT ALL until you're sure they're ready - pets and cuddles can seem really threatening to a dog.
posted by little king trashmouth at 8:42 AM on September 13, 2019 [6 favorites]

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