Why is my dog afraid of me, and how do I fix it?
June 13, 2020 7:48 PM   Subscribe

Recently I asked a question about working with my daughter to be more chill around the dog, a 2 year old Boston Terrier. Now I have a new weird dog problem, and it seems to be....me?

Previously, our bedtime routine was that I'd let the dog out, and then he'd happily run upstairs with me, where I'd pick him up and put him in bed with me to sleep. One night after I set him down on the bed he randomly turned and ran like heck downstairs and hid in his crate. I coaxed him out and brought him back up, where he did the same thing. I finally got him to sleep that night in his upstairs crate (also in my bedroom). This has continued with variations on a theme: sometimes he hides in the downstairs crate after going potty and won't come out. Sometimes he stays in the crate after dinner and won't come out all night. Sometimes I carry him up to bed and he'll sleep in the upstairs crate, but will want to come into bed with me in the middle of the night. I have tried leaving him be, or having my dad bring him up later in the night along with the other two dogs in the house , or carrying him up but immediately putting him in the upstairs crate. Nothing seems to make a huge difference in his comfort level. He shakes like a leaf once we hit the stairs no matter what.

He has been varying during the day from normal to standoffish, but is kind of standoffish more often than he is happy to see me. We've noticed he comes upstairs less than normal. He is eating and drinking normally and is otherwise fine with everyone in the house. Nobody can think of anything out of the ordinary that may have scared him, with one exception. My mom had been using a very large very loud fan in her room, and he's definitely scared of that...but he's not scared of her as a result and it seems like a stretch to think that's related to whatever's going on with me. It's been about 2 weeks and frankly I'm really sad. How can I work on this with him?
Treats? CBD products? Diffusers? Something else?

He is scheduled for a vet check on the 22nd, should I try to get him in sooner?
posted by cheese to Pets & Animals (10 answers total)
I have one cat that's afraid of ceiling fans and acts just like that... since you know that standing fans are a problem, you'd probably already have thought of that if you have a ceiling fan, but just in case...
posted by slenderloris at 8:02 PM on June 13

It may be something simple like has maybe hurt himself on the stairs. One of my two got terrified of the stairs and would consequently get scared of me if I brought him up the stairs. Best guess was he was running too fast and went ass over teakettle down the stairs (since he'd raced up and down them before). Can you use treats on the stairs to see if that might be the issue?
posted by frumiousb at 9:22 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]

It sounds like he's afraid of the bedroom/bedtime/upstairs rather than you personally? If so it could easily be caused by a single small event that you weren't around to see. My dog scared the crap out of herself on the basement stairs one day by knocking down an empty plastic bottle that fell down the stairs after her. She was fine with the stairs before but instantly became terrified, and now months later she still won't set foot on those stairs even for treats. If I hadn't been around to see the traumatic event I would have been totally baffled at the sudden change. Some dogs are....sensitive.

Definitely ask the vet about it when you're in, but I'm thinking either something in the environment is currently scaring him (any new items or changes in the room at all?) or there was a scary event there. I would guess the best way to help is using treats to shift his emotional reaction (counter conditioning methods), along with lowering overall anxiety (eg reducing the wild interactions with your daughter should help) and making sure he's getting enough exercise and mental stimulation. But it may not be a quick fix since he seems very scared.
posted by randomnity at 9:54 PM on June 13 [6 favorites]

This sounds heartbreaking to deal with in the moment, I'm sorry. I read your previous question and this sounds like he's ill, or scared of something in your room, or of the upstairs, not your kiddo or you. I would try to push back on that impulse to assume there's something you or the kid are doing that's upset him and internalizing this, that sounds extremely emotionally painful and also not like a realistic assessment of the situation. Being standoffish during the day, and not wanting to leave his crate also sounds like he could be in pain-- I would push that vet check sooner if you can.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:55 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]

Is it much warmer upstairs? Maybe he's trying to stay cool.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:04 PM on June 13

You might juuust want to check with your family members to see if something unusual (= scary to a dog, but overall innocuous) happened in your room, on the stairs, or anywhere upstairs. Or at all. It almost sounds like he's developed a phobia.
posted by amtho at 2:19 AM on June 14

I wouldn't be surprised if it's the fan, especially if that noise is newish (warmer temps brought out the fan?) and if your dog is otherwise affected by loud, sharp, or unexpected noises. My dog was, and we had some noise-related issues. One was that sometimes when we went for a walk, I would take my bagged garbage to throw into the bin that was along the way. Eventually I noticed that she was terrified of the bin, and I thought it was because it was a big, dark, hulking thing along our way, but eventually I realized that for her it was the spot where this loud, terrible noise would sometimes unexpectedly happen. (Sometimes I didn't have garbage to throw in; sometimes the bin was fullish, and the bag made a soft landing, but sometimes the bin was empty, and BOOM! SCARY!

I got her over it by never again tossing my garbage bag into the empty bin (I lowered it carefully), and giving her treats whenever we passed the bin. I had to coax her at first to get past it, but eventually it was a non-issue.

I would try a) getting rid of the fan noise (close door, or buy quieter fan?), b) slowly getting him happy with the stairs again by giving him treats there, playing with a favored toy there, etc., and, I think, don't ever pick him up to go upstairs if he's feeling anxious about it. The problem there is that the one problem can multiply, because in addition to the scary thing that happens or happened on the stairs (fan noise, if that's what the problem is), now there's also loss of control: he doesn't get to make a choice about what he will do; he's being carried against his will into the very spot that his instincts are saying might be dangerous (if my long-distance magical dogmind reading is correct :P) and this could just amplify and reinforce the anxiety, making it even more difficult to deal with.

Make sure he has a comfy place downstairs to sleep (sounds like he does) and let him decide if he will come upstairs with you. Invite him to come, and offer a treat, but let him decide if he doesn't want to. Once he's had enough positive exposure to the stairs without the scary noise / thing, he will probably choose to come up with you, or on his own.

Also, if it's a noise problem, be on the lookout for other startles / scary noises that can be minimized or eliminated, and if you ever need to correct him, be sure not to use a loud scary voice. (I would make a sort of "enh" vocalization to mean "no, don't do that," for example.)
posted by taz at 4:02 AM on June 14 [3 favorites]

My dog is very phobic around beeping/smoke detector type sounds. I discovered the squeaks that my sneakers make on the floor can completely freak her out. Is your dog sound sensitive? We have a friend who has a dog who is really sensitive to the wind, not storm level wind, just regular wind. If I hadn't been told she had that issue I would never have figured out that's what was bothering her. My old dog would wake me up staring at me if one of the windows wasn't secured and was tapping with the breeze.
posted by InkaLomax at 4:30 AM on June 14

I have three small dogs now, and none of them like to be picked up and carried. Does your dog enjoy it, or is he experiencing that as another source of anxiety when you carry him upstairs to bed?

When we first adopted our first small dog, he wanted to sleep in bed next to me every night. I'd say, "bed time!" and he'd hurry right into the bedroom with me. Then one night, he didn't. He stayed on the couch and stared at me like he's never seen me before. So I left him on the couch - I mean, I miss him at night, but I like to give my dogs some autonomy. When he has one of these moods, he does usually show up in bed a few hours later. Now, one of our other dogs does the same. Sometimes she just stays in the living room after bed time until she feels like joining us.

If your dog can get up to the second floor, and maybe you buy some of those stairs so he can get into bed with you by himself, and you try to turn off the anxiety about where he s, and let him choose where to sleep, maybe you'll reduce some of the stress around the situation for both of you.

The other thing to try is to use extremely high value treats (or a toy he loves) and very gentle, slow conditioning to make the stairs fun again. Not at bedtime though! Just randomly during the day. eStand near the bottom of the stairs and call him, and treat him for approaching you. Repeat, adding nearness to the stairs, and then climbing a stair, and then climbing two stairs until you can get him feeling comfortable with the stairs.
posted by See you tomorrow, saguaro at 3:08 PM on June 14

One of my pups did something very, very similar last week. She sleeps in the bed with me every night, and then just suddenly started bounding downstairs. Once I got the window a/c installed, she returned to her normal habits. Turns out she was just more sensitive to how hot the upstairs in this new house is than I was.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 10:32 AM on June 15

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