Q: A year ago, we adopted a mini dachshund, Chris, that is now 4 years old. Our 19-year-old daughter was away at college at the time. She came home to visit the following weekend and then returned to college. Two weeks later, she came home for winter break and stayed a month.
Chris was very shy and timid with my husband, younger daughter and me initially but has adjusted well. The problem is that he has still not accepted our oldest daughter as part of the family. He barks and runs away from her every time he sees her. He is not aggressive, just acts afraid. How do we get Chris to “like” our daughter?
— K.H., Uniontown
A: Learning how to think like a dog, seeing things from a dog’s perspective, is a challenge.
Here we have a dog that is great with the family members who are around the majority of the time, but barks and is fearful of the daughter who is away at college, whenever she comes home. Since your oldest daughter was not present when you got Chris, in his mind only the three of you are his family members. The daughter who is not around is a stranger to him and we must handle it as such.
Dogs live in the moment, thus in his mind, she is not a member of the family. I am sure it took Chris some period of time to get comfortable with the family that is present day in and day out, and that is what we need to work toward with the daughter when she is home. Reconditioning the behavior is very doable, but with her extended periods of absence, will take some work.
When she is home, have her basically ignore him to begin with. The more she tries to approach him, the worse his behavior will be. We need to change his way of thinking.
Have something special for him to eat that she will begin to toss in his general direction. And I mean something really special, something he gets from no one else. Chicken breast. Roast beef. And she will be the only one to give it to him.
She will begin by tossing it toward him and moving away. At this stage she should try not to make eye contact. If he is barking, do not worry about it right now. We want him to begin to associate this with the “stranger,” that when she is around, he gets this very special treat. And he only gets it from her! Maybe she isn’t so bad after all!
As Chris becomes comfortable with her doing that, then without looking at him, she can bend down and toss it in his direction. Once he’s comfortable with that, she can put out her hand and wait for him to take it. Then begin to look at him and see if he will take it. It is called counter-conditioning.
It may take a while because of her long periods of absence. Again, from the dog’s perspective she is a stranger that comes into his home with the people he has grown comfortable with. The more she tries to force herself on him, the longer it will take.
Another thing that you can do while she is gone is to choose a piece of her clothing, preferably something she wears without any perfume, close to her body like a T-shirt she sleeps in. Drape it over his crate or near the area where he sleeps. He will begin to “get to know her” through her scent. If he sleeps in a crate, eventually I would have something of hers as his blanket in the crate. This can help quicken the process.
I would also do the same for any guest that comes into the house. Do not ever allow them to force themselves on the dog. He has to feel comfortable. The more people you can have do this food-tossing to him, the more comfortable he will become with strangers.
With a fearful dog, please do not rush it or correct the dog. Either of these things can be counterproductive. Give it time, and Chris will view your other daughter as a member of the family, too.
— Susan Jenkins, owner of Papp’s Dog Services and a member of the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors and the International Association of Canine Professionals
Please send questions about your pet to Kathy Antoniotti at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your full name and address and a daytime phone number where you can be reached. Questions will be forwarded to an expert best suited to address your pet issue. Phoned-in messages will not be taken.