Being Emotionally And Physically Distant From The Family Dog

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Sam Basso
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Is someone you live with emotionally and physically distant from the family dog? What are the problems with being aloof to a dog in your home?

You will have more behavioral problems from a dog if it lives with people who, intentionally or unintentionally, emotionally and physically distance themselves from the family dog. Dogs are social creatures, needing a healthy social relationship with everyone in the home, in order to remain well adjusted. Callous treatment causes behavioral problems.

Someone is physically and emotionally distancing themselves from the dog if they are indifferent; disinterested; unsympathetic; standoffish; distainful; haughty; show contempt; are not friendly and warm; uncommunicative such as having restrained expressions of affection or disapproval or ability to give fair directions and commands; or are antisocial with the dog. Aloof interactions with a family dog send all the wrong messages.

First off, good social interactions are necessary to prevent aggression. Rude behavior provokes aggression in people. You know how it feels when someone gives you the silent treatment, or scorns you for being you, or sets you up for failure by not communicating with you. Why does it make us angry when people aren’t social with us? Because it repudiates the bond that is supposed to be there. It puts the receiver on the defensive, whether to stay and fight, or to leave and go be with people who treat you better. Dogs and humans have very similar species preserving behavioral patterns that prevent conflict. If you mistreat a person, they get angry or they want to get away from you. The same can happen with a dog. Aloof behavior sends all the wrong messages to the dog. It puts tension in the relationship with the dog and others in the home, and signals potential conflict. I’ve seen a number of cases where the family dog started growling defensively towards an aloof family member. The one that stands out most in my memory was a young couple. Before they got married, he had raised his female German Shepherd Dog. The wife wanted nothing to do with the dog. So, after they moved in together, the dog became wary and jealous of her. This woman wouldn’t budge regarding how she treated the dog and was very defensive with her justifications. It was a no win situation for the dog. The husband was not man enough to tell his wife to grow up and be an adult about things. He put up with it, and so the blame and focus was on the dog’s behavior instead of what was going wrong in their marriage. I’ve seen this same scenario many times. I’ve also seen it in reverse, however in those situations, men become physically abusive to the dog. And I’ve seen it with kids, usually teenagers, and usually involving a self absorbed, petulant teenage girl. Living in denial isn’t a good strategy for dealing with this kind of situation.

Second, any time an animal is kept in captivity, as in a human home, such confinement can cause behavioral disturbances if their social and physical appetites aren’t regularly and properly activated and discharged. Dogs can’t get their social and physical needs met like wolves. They are totally dependent upon the home environment we provide to them. Those behavioral disturbances are what keeps a dog behaviorist, like myself, in business. I’m hired to deal with separation anxiety, aggression, phobias, digging, chewing, and such like. When a dog doesn’t get proper social interaction from the people in the home, then that can result in a dog not being able to cope in a healthy manner. That’s why you can’t fix a lot of behavioral problems by sending a dog away to a board and train, “boot camp”, style of training program. Most times these problems have to do with how the people are relating to, and managing, the dog. Once the dog comes home, if the home environment hasn’t changed, then the behavior will start up again.

I can’t always convince all the people in a home to change how they are going to relate to the family dog. I’m great with dogs. But, people can choose to change, not change, or even make things more miserable than they already are. Obviously, if the dog isn’t trained and is no fun to live with, then get the dog trained. There is no excuse for being a negligent dog owner, any more than there is for mistreating a dog. All these things should, ideally, be settled long before the family gets a dog. Once the dog is in the home, then people need to be grown up enough about things to make sure the dog is welcome. And if the dog isn’t going to have a healthy relationship with everyone in the home, then sometimes the best thing is to find the dog a loving home somewhere else.

I encourage professional counseling for families that aren’t getting along. If the issue is the dog, then get that sorted out. Something is seriously wrong, and it needs to be addressed. The problem isn’t really about the dog. Someone, or everyone, isn’t practicing The Golden Rule.

Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.