What To Do When Your Dog Doesn’t Like A Family Member?

What To Do When Your Dog Doesn’t Like A Family Member?

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Sam Basso
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Email: Sam@SamTheDogTrainer.com

What do you do when your dog doesn’t like your son, daughter, mom, dad, grandfather, grandmother, uncle, aunt, cousin or friend? What are the causes and what should you do?

Sometimes the problem is a combination of the person and the dog: I had a student with a dog that didn’t like her adult son. This puppy started out as a shy puppy. Her son came to visit about once every 6 months. When the puppy was about 4 months old, he came in town for a first visit with the puppy. When he came in the door, he immediately headed straight for the dog, because he likes dogs. Unfortunately, he came on too strong and really scared the dog. Two years later, the dog was still afraid of him when he came to visit. The dog was good with everyone else, but not with him. Yes, we used the normal ways of getting a dog to accept a person, and even tried some extraordinary ways of getting the dog to accept a person, but the initial greeting was so traumatic, from the dog’s point of view, that there wasn’t great progress. I gave the son instructions on how to interact with this dog, how to read his behavior, and how to make things pleasant. This was embarrassing for the mom, and it made the son angry that the dog didn’t like him. So, after that, when he came over, he was even less friendly with the dog than he should have been, he had his own ideas on how to force the dog to like him, and he wasn’t consistent in terms of making the greetings less confrontational, and more pleasant. Because he lived in another state, he couldn’t visit more often, and his visits were always too short to make a difference. Every time he came to visit, the experience wasn’t a good one for the dog. Therefore, the dog’s fearful behaviors with the son became stuck in place. I trained this dog. This dog became friendly, outgoing and mannerly with everyone else, even strangers… just not with the son.

Sometimes the problem is the person: I have met numerous couples where the wife wanted nothing to do with the husband’s dog. So the dog started acting aggressively towards the wife, which made her like the dog even less. In most of these cases, there are things going on in the marriage that have nothing to do with the dog, but the dog has become a tug of war toy between them, something to argue about rather than focusing on the other more real problems going on. I also worked with a couple that was going through a divorce, and their child had started abusing the family dog. So, the dog had started growling at the child. I recommended family and individual counseling, because no amount of dog training can “fix” a dog from defending itself. If the people can change, then the dog can usually change… provided that the abuse hasn’t been going on too long or been too traumatic. Dogs don’t forget abusive trauma, and sometimes you can’t get the dog to accept that person again.

Sometimes it is the dog: I owned two Kates. The first Kate was a puppy I brought home from a breeder. Within a couple of days, the puppy had taken a dislike to my grandmother, growling and baring her teeth whenever my grandmother was in sight. So, I took her back to the breeder and got a replacement puppy. This second Kate was a terrific dog and was friendly with my grandmother. Any time you get a shy puppy, you have to realize that this dog might not like people, other animals, or both. If you are in this circumstance, go exchange the puppy for a different one. I had another dog, a protection dog, that was a “one man dog”, meaning it bonded to me but not to anyone else. That wasn’t normal for the breed, but that’s what happened with this dog. Bonding blocks aggression because you are all in the same “family”. So, at around 6 months this dog started confronting one of my extended family. He decided she didn’t belong in the home. By a year and a half old, he started becoming dangerous. Because he was a protection breed, and over 120 pounds, he was too powerful to allow this to go on. So, I gave him to a K9 police officer who lived alone. The officer knew what the dog was like, wanted a protection dog, and he was fine with the idea the dog was only going to bond to him. The best answer was to find this dog a different home. You can’t make a dog bond to someone. I know of another protection dog that would not bond to anyone in the family. By the time the dog was 6 months old, it started threatening the kids in the family, especially the owner’s pre-teen daughter. This was a dog bred to do police work. Without bonding to anyone in the family, once the dog became an adult, it had the potential to attack anyone in the home and kill them. So, the owner / breeder put the dog down. The dog’s behavior was abnormal for a dog, abnormal for the breed, and there was no way to train around the problem. I also know of many dogs that were isolated for too long in the back yard, so they became aggressive towards strangers. In one such situation, 2 big dogs bonded to the owners, but had no social contact with anyone else. These dogs were good with the people in the home, but there was no way for an extended family member to be safe in the home with these dogs being loose. I also worked with an abused pit bull. The dog was extremely dangerous. With a lot of work, the dog became manageable, but I warned the owner that the dog was never to be left unsupervised with a guest or visiting family member. The abuse had been too severe, and that kind of thing can’t be totally undone. I also knew of a little fluffy white dog that was allowed to become a biter. The owner didn’t practice good supervision, and endangered others, including her grandkids, when the dog was around. This dog needed to be kept away from kids.

So, what do you do if you have a situation like this? My rule is always: people safety first, animal safety second. You MUST ensure that the dog doesn’t hurt anyone. Especially children. You also need to warn anyone that the dog might bite to stay away. Next, you need to hire a professional behaviorist to work with. Some of the problem could be how the dog is being handled. Some of the problem could be the dog, and oftentimes those things can be fixed. But, without professional help, you are taking unnecessary risks, maybe even dangerous risks. Not all such situations can be fixed. Any trainer who tells you otherwise is primarily thinking about how to get the money in your wallet into their bank account, instead of being honest. You start with a proper evaluation. You then work with the people and the dog to change their interactions. And finally, an assessment is made afterwards as to what situations the dog can handle and which ones they can’t.

It is worth trying to change these situations instead of just getting rid of the dog, or euthanasia.

Go get a professional opinion.

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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.


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