Rescue Dog & My Mom
December 29, 2020 11:30 AM   Subscribe

How do we get my rescue dog used to my mom?

My husband and I rescued Ziggy in February 2020. He is a Shih Tzu/Border Collie/Aussie Shepherd mix estimated to be 3-5 years old. (Photo in my profile.) He is very sweet with my husband & me and learns quickly. He has separation anxiety and is very possessive of both of us but especially me. He had heart worms so we had to limit his activity level for his prep and treatment and he has not been in any training because of that and COVID.

My mom is 84 and lives separately from us. She is not a pet lover but has tolerated our previous dogs. We did not bring my mom around Ziggy from the beginning because of his heart worms and the need to keep him calm. We would like to plan a trip with all of us soon so we need to get them acclimated.

When we visit my mom with him or she visits our house, Ziggy growls & snaps and gets in between me and my mom. If we are all still, he is fine but when my mom moves around the growling and snapping start up. We keep him on a leash around her due to this behavior. Because of COVID, we have really not had anyone else in our home except for deliveries and repair people so it's tough to get him used to people visiting.

I have had multiple dogs but this is the first one who does not mix well with other people so I am not sure how to proceed. Thanks in advance for suggestions.
posted by narancia to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As soon as your mom comes to the door, give her a bunch of treats and have her periodically toss them to the dog. Every time she comes by, dog gets treats. (Do this with anyone who comes over until your dog is delighted to see new people because new people = snacks.)

We've managed to train our semiferal cat to come out and mooch for treats from strangers; for a bright dog, this shouldn't take too long.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:36 AM on December 29, 2020 [4 favorites]

Is she ignoring Ziggy (who is extremely cute, by the way)? It will be important for her to ignore him and look away while tossing the treats, and to let him approach at his own pace.
posted by knotty knots at 12:16 PM on December 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, treats are the answer. This is probably fear aggression or "reactivity" if you want a searchable word for training videos. Here's my response to a similar question about what a trainer showed me how to do for my extremely reactive rescue dog.

Bring Ziggy into a room where your mom is already seated, preferably not in a place that Ziggy thinks of as "hers." Mom should have a ton of high value treats that are easy to toss - beef jerky or hot dogs cut into small pieces works well for my dog. Bring Ziggy in on a short leash so that she can never get more than 2 feet away from you, and never anywhere close to mom. Both mom and you should pay absolutely no attention to Ziggy when she's acting badly - try to have a conversation in normal voices if possible. Do not look at Ziggy. Mom should toss treats to Ziggy every few minutes (even if Ziggy is still growling or barking), still making no eye contact and not reacting to anything Ziggy does. Eventually Ziggy will tire herself out, or start to anticipate treats, then mom can start looking at Ziggy when tossing the treat and saying in her squeakiest voice, "yes!" then looking away. If Ziggy sits or lays down, she gets a "yes!" and a treat from mom. You basically want to show her that mom is a source of treats and praise, but only when Ziggy is being calm. Then, while your mom is still seated, you stand up and lead Ziggy out of the room. End of session.

If Ziggy seems good with seated mom, do the same thing but mom is standing. Then the same thing while mom is walking around on her side of the room. Hopefully the dog will stop seeing mom as something to be scared of, and more of a dispenser of treats. Having absolutely no eye contact is important, since dogs view eye contact as a threat. Petting is also completely off limits until the dog is completely relaxed around mom. No sudden movements, either. Each session should be half an hour to an hour, max. Dog brains get tired after an hour or so of training, so don't try too much too soon or Ziggy will get overloaded.

If your dog has any Aussie in her, she will absolutely go crazy for clicker training. Doing any training at all will teach her to listen to you and your signals, so she will feel comfortable when you're comfortable. You can then replace the verbal "yes!" with a click and it will help reinforce the wanted behavior.
posted by little king trashmouth at 12:53 PM on December 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

I had a friend with an Aussie who was very protective - not just reactive but doing its duty to guard its family from outsiders. So I think you need to train not just for Mom being an OK person but that you interacting with Mom is good and she does not need to get between you. In other words, you need to train for interactions where you are closer to Mom than the dog and don't let the dog get between you (or growl or snap, of course).

By the way since good trainer train the human, not the dog, you can do dog training over the zoom if you need the coaching.
posted by metahawk at 1:25 PM on December 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Here are some options on how to teach a sheep dog not to herd animals (or humans)
posted by metahawk at 1:28 PM on December 29, 2020

Best answer: A thing to watch for: dogs read mood. If your mom is coming in with her guard up, or if your relationship is such that one or both of you are anxious or angry, it's going to make it worse.

Having a dog on a leash when they're anxious will escalate most dogs' anxiety as well. It dramatically changes the power dynamic and an insecure dog will react poorly in many cases.

I agree that having your mom sit before the dog enters the room until he leaves, mostly ignore, and dispense treats is the Phase I process. If the emotional thing is also an issue, you might make a point to sit and watch something really funny and/or calm/heartwarming on TV - like kittens playing, or Bake-Off or Nailed It! or The Repair Shop or a nice travel show - just to help with the mood. Btw, you want tiny treats or he'll get full/uninterested - Milk Bones Minis, small chips of jerky, little slices of pupperoni, Trader Joe's little training treats.

When you remove the dog from these treat-training sessions, if it's at all possible to pleasantly lure him away with a toy or treat instead of going through any kind of anxious removal, do that. You want his recollection of the experience to be entirely positive.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:31 PM on December 29, 2020

Oh, also, has Ziggy finished his treatment for heartworms? Scoping out quality doggie daycare is an excellent way for dogs that need socialization to get it - it introduces them to new dogs AND new people. And this is without the need for the dog to be in your presence, so there’s no protectiveness element there. Dogs learn very quickly from each other, so if your dog is placed into an environment where other dogs are enjoying the company of people, he might learn “oh wow, people are not to be feared; they’re facilitating us being dogs!” A lot of folks have very good socialization outcomes with daycare. A good daycare will let you tour facilities, have a period where your dog interacts with humans and other dogs while you’re still on the premises, and will have cams where you can observe them play.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 1:43 PM on December 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

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