Like the dog and the duck and the grain, except the duck is my kid
July 6, 2020 5:49 PM   Subscribe

We're bringing my mom back up to stay in NYC with us, since she's super high risk and it seems safer to have her up with us than alone there. Everyone is on board with this decision and happy about it (road trip worries notwithstanding). We drove down and are here helping her get her things in order to make the trip. But we don't know what to do about her dog.

The original plan was easy - we drive down, get her and the dog, drive back up, with all of us taking turns driving. Her dog (who she's only had for about 6 months, a little before my father died) is a tiny chihuahua mix rescue, maybe 5 years old, who is very sweet with her but also very possessive. For some reason, the dog has decided that she hates my husband and son. She snarls when they come into the room, and tonight she bit my son on the toe (unprovoked) while we were eating dinner. It was hard enough to draw blood, but only just (I'm not defending the dog, she definitely attacked him, but since it was on a little toe, a scratch would have done the same amount of damage).

Normally the next thing we would do is bring in a trainer and work with the dog before we head back up. She's a good dog, she just has this one (terrible) issue. But there's no way we're letting a stranger into the house right now. The dog also apparently hates being in a carrier, and there's no way we're driving for two days unless she's in one. There's no one here that my mom knows who would take the dog while she's away, and since we don't know how long my mom will stay with us, boarding the dog isn't an option. But I'm not confident a zoom trainer will work for aggression issues, and I'm afraid to do any sort of training with my son unless a trainer is in the room too (he's 11 and is now understandably freaked out by the dog). It doesn't help that my mom is expecting us to tell her what to do, and I don't have it in me to tell her she might want to rehome the dog if she isn't willing to do the work to train her.

We're here for at least another week, maybe a week and a half, before heading back north. We need some sort of solution.

I'm pretty confident I understand the problem, and what our non-COVID options would be. So I'm not looking for answers that involve putting my foot down and telling my mom _____. I'm posting this to learn what practical solutions we have to fix the problem and still follow the original plan of all of us getting to NYC, including the dog, with no one getting hurt. Thanks.
posted by my left sock to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Get the local vet to prescribe some sedatives so you can transport the dog safely in a carrier, and then start working with a trainer once you're home? The trainer can work with you outside (and in fact they often do).

I'm not sure how to manage the situation before go all leave, though: can you put up some gates to keep the dog reasonably confined so nobody else gets hurt?
posted by suelac at 5:53 PM on July 6, 2020 [10 favorites]

I wonder if you could get local vet to put the dog on some puppy Prozac, if you will.. this is a thing. And to do it asap?

I once lived with a very difficult possessive chihuahua. Probably more difficult and possessive than your mother's dog.. but.. long story short.. chihuahua's owner was not interested in/capable of much training for ..reasons. Chihuahua was aggressive/possessive enough that it could have been a liability, in the right (er..wrong..) circumstances. I've lived with (admittedly medium to large) dogs (of admittedly much more "chill" breeds than the average chihuahua) my whole life and have never been afraid of them, but ..this dog made me very anxious.

ANYWAY, point is, the meds helped and while I still wasn't a huge fan of say picking up the dog from a tall surface and bodily moving him places or getting him to do things, I was less anxious that I would get bit. Added bonus, *he* also seemed less anxious and to have better quality of life as a result (I really believe that sort of aggression/possessive-ness is a sign of an anxious/unhappy pet.)

Obviously your mileage will vary a thousand different ways and directions from my one lil bitty anecdotal experience with an entirely different rescue chihuahua, BUT I wonder if you could use the next week to get the dog on some meds and see what it's like medicated, and then, with that added information, make a decision?

This.. might get me into trouble with the small breed lovers of metafilter, but.. in my experience some small breeds are much more possessive by nature.. of course any dog can be trained and/or raised right and have a terrific personality, regardless of breed.. but my experience, in some small breeds these behaviors are more likely and if not nipped in the bud early ..well.. might really take a lot (and a lot of VERY consistent buy in from all in household) to re-train/undo at this age.
posted by elgee at 6:10 PM on July 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

Cover the carrier; darkness may help the dog sleep. Meds, definitely. The dog is experiencing a lot of chaos, and probably anxious, but that's a reason, not an excuse.

The dog is going to have to learn to accept a crate, because biting is not okay. put the dog in the crate, ignore crying, release after some period of time, practice this a lot. A radio or music player can help by masking new noises that cause stress, and help you ignore the crying/ whining barking. Small dogs are easier to exercise, and a tired dog is generally a lot better behaved, so don't skip any opportunity to walk the dog on the trip unless it's too sedated.

Once in NYC, the dog stays in Mom's room or in a crate. Baby gates work very well to allow air and visiting but keep the dog separated.
posted by theora55 at 7:06 PM on July 6, 2020

For the trip, couldn't you just keep the dog on a leash while in the car? She could sit on your mom's lap or lie on the floor by her feet. You could make sure neither of the people the dog hates were sitting next to your mom and the leash would ensure that the dog couldn't get to where they were sitting. You could also see if the dog will tolerate wearing a muzzle.

Once you're back in NYC, I wonder if you could find someone who boards or fosters dogs as well as trains them who you could pay to keep the dog for a while, get a handle on her aggression issue, and then advise you on whether and how you can get the dog to a point where she's safe around your son.
posted by Redstart at 7:07 PM on July 6, 2020

It is entirely possible the dog will calm down once he realizes that he is not being left behind or once he is in a new place that he doesn't view as his own territory to defend from the intruders. Dogs often fear upheaval and change, and this might not be as terrible as it seems like it's going to be once the dog realizes that all manner of evil things have not come to pass.

Of course, that also might not be true, and unfortunately it's not that easy to tell what might happen without actually moving the dog first. You could, perhaps, do a mini-test by booking a hotel room or AirBnB for one of the nights while you are still there and all decamping there for the night to see how the dog acts outside its own space but still with you and your mom.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:31 PM on July 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

The dog also apparently hates being in a carrier,

Probably shouldn’t have bitten someone then.

But yeah, drugs and carrier. It’s only a few days.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:01 PM on July 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Try seeing how the dog reacts to a muzzle? Since you have a week to get the dog used to it, it may be more comfortable with that than a carrier.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 9:03 PM on July 6, 2020

They make dog sedatives for just this reason. Get some, it will be worth it. Make sure you tell the vet you need a strong enough dose for the dog to be very, very relaxed if not actually asleep.
posted by ananci at 10:34 PM on July 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Meds for the drive, but also after you get home. At home, dog should stay in mom’s room unless kiddo is ensconced in their own room. My (chiweenie pit mix)dog and my mom’s (Lhasa mix)dog hate each other and that’s basically how we deal with it. We also made an airlock of 2 dog gates between my bedroom door and the living room; highly recommend the 2 gate method although placement obviously will vary depending on where kiddo/husband and mom/dog are relative to common areas. Good luck! It is totally doable, even if not ideal.
posted by assenav at 10:56 PM on July 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Fully concur with others regarding meds and crate training.

Maybe try a different kind of carrier? If you have a hard sided plastic one, try a soft sided one (Sherpa Pet is the gold standard) or a wire crate.

I know you said you weren't comfortable working on the aggression without a trainer, but here's what we did (under trainer supervision) with our reactive dog:

Put the dog in a full body harness on a leash, start far enough away from the target (a cat or another dog in our case, your son/husband in your case) that the dog doesn't react. Slowly move towards the target while the dog is calm, with lots of praise and treats. Once the dog starts reacting, back away a few steps until the dog calms down again. Reward the calm behavior you like, ignore/redirect the aggressive behavior you don't. Because the dog is on a leash, as long as your son is out of range of the leash, there's no danger to him (assuming the harness fits well and the dog can't wriggle out. If the dog will accept a muzzle, that's an added safety measure. If you go that route, get a basket muzzle so the dog can breathe, not one of those fabric sleeves. You could even have your son tossing the treats, so the dog starts to associate him with good things.

Most vet behaviorists teleconsulted even pre-covid, so you might try finding one for an initial consult, and you could continue to work with them when you get back to NYC. Note that these are veterinary professionals, not "just" trainers. (Trainers are great! We've worked with a bunch! But the behaviorists have veterinary degrees and can both prescribe meds and offer management/training options. )
posted by natabat at 7:19 AM on July 7, 2020

A friend just bought an Adaptil Collar for her anxiety-ridden large dog and he slept through a major thunderstorm yesterday for the first time in his life. I believe they also make diffusers. Would be an expensive experiment before you hit the road next week.
posted by raisingsand at 8:26 AM on July 7, 2020

our dog is a chi-mix and he's like.. pretty bad sometimes! (very sweet also, i love him.) They're nervous little dudes, and reactionary!

Don't pick up the dog or have anyone else pick him up when your son is in the room, because there's kind of a limit to the damage a little dog can do on the ground, but you don't want him at face-level with anyone if he's being aggressive. I think the dog most likely WILL get used to your husband and son after a few days and stop snarling at them and biting them and such. Maybe everyone should wear jeans and shoes in the house for a bit? Since he's a rescue there's a good chance he received some kind of bad behaviour from men/boys and that's why he's not reacting well to your husband and son - he doesn't know them. Watch some youtube videos together to see how to approach mistrustful dogs (though you don't really need to approach him, it's just good to know), and that way your son will have some coping mechanisms for his fear, too, being afraid of the dog is going to exacerbate the problem - our dog is very weird with people who are afraid of him, and much more normal with people who mostly ignore him.

on the advice of our trainer, we use an expandable baby gate liberally in our house to separate the dog from people/situations while he can still see them okay. It helps a lot to let him get used to people's presence and smell before he is allowed to get near them. Or, without a baby gate, sometimes he's in a harness, tied to something by his leash in an area that has good visibility. It's not a punishment, it's just a restraint to allow greetings and busy "door things" and other high-action situations to happen away from him so he doesn't get overwhelmed. If your mom's dog usually lives alone with just your mom there's probably a LOT more action in her house right now than he's used to, and might just be freaking out. We put out dog behind the baby gate every time he starts to get wired up currently, because his anxiety seems worse since we've been home for self isolation. He calms down a lot faster when he can't try to be "in charge" of whatever interaction is bugging him.

We've had some success with dropping the dog off with off-site trainers and having them work with him for a weekend or so, once you're back home. (we do try to train him but we never manage to make much progress by ourselves.)

Our dog also doesn't really like being in the carrier, but that's life, baby! Sedatives would be good if you can for sure since it's such an extended time. Also if there's room for the carrier to be next to your mom on the seat or something, that will usually help with how annoying a dog who doesn't like being crated can be. If he's okay with you, maybe you can take him for a few runs, one long one right before you leave? Our dog is MUCH nicer when he's been exercised well.

I hope ANY of this helps - good luck! having a bad dog is hard sometimes, but is usually comes from the dog loving TOO much, and try to remember he's just protecting your mom. <3
posted by euphoria066 at 10:11 AM on July 7, 2020

Given your dedication to the plan that everyone including the dog is coming to New York to live with you, I think your best options are (1) Dope the shit out of the dog for the trip, in a carrier. (2) Dog cannot come out of the carrier on the road trip expect on potty breaks, and your mom needs to be the one to take him out. No "but he's lonely and wants to be on my lap" stuff. (3) While living with you, a muzzle. They're not inhumane. That dog bit your kid and is untrained.
posted by juniperesque at 10:39 AM on July 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

Just to make sure you have plenty of options to consider, here's one that hasn't been mentioned - you could rent a second car for the trip. You and your mom (or just your mom) could be in one car with the dog, who wouldn't need to be crated, drugged, muzzled or leashed, and your husband and son could be in the other one. It might sound crazy, but if you're thinking about going with the drug-and-crate suggestion, consider the cost of a vet visit and a drug prescription for the dog (and maybe a carrier if your mom doesn't already have one.) It might not cost that much more just to rent a car.

A second car would give you room for more stuff, too. I imagine it might be tough to fit everything your mom needs in a car with four people and a dog. One downside, of course, aside from the expense, is that everyone would have to do more driving, since only one person at a time could rest.

This plan also rests on the assumption that the dog will be reasonably calm and quiet in the car as long as she's not confined to a crate or in close proximity to people who make her anxious. If she's not used to car trips, she might freak out anyway. Do you know how she is in the car? If that's not something she has much experience with, you might want to try a test drive of an hour or so.
posted by Redstart at 11:39 AM on July 7, 2020

Yes, covered carrier and Benadryl (the cheapest safe way to calm a dog down!) We've had several vets recommend Benadryl for dogs that need to chillax over the years. Just look around online for the proper dosage...for our 15 lb guy, it's a half a Benadryl.

You could also try Benadryl/sedative and sequestering the dog in the back when husband and son are in the front (if he can ride in the front?), and the dog in the front when husband and son are in the back.

Good thing it's a tiny dog!
posted by nosila at 2:08 PM on July 7, 2020

Thanks everyone - best answers all around!

We are safely back in the city and the trip went well. Dog went on some version of puppy prozac about two days after this thread and the change was almost instantaneous. She'll still snarl and show teeth if you get too close when she doesn't expect it (always when she's curled up on my mom's lap, so it can be instantly addressed), but she doesn't lunge and is almost cuddly with everyone now. Amazing!

She also got a sedative for the trip and slept in the carrier for most of the ride. So that's all good too.

The last wild card is when my dog comes back into the picture - because we're on mandatory quarantine, we can't get her back for another couple of weeks, and I worry that my mom's dog will have been here long enough that both dogs will think it's their territory... but I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it...

Thank you all again.
posted by my left sock at 7:41 AM on July 22, 2020

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