Advice on talking to my family about our dog

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Advice on talking to my family about our dog

Post by CarolineLovesDogs » Mon Feb 02, 2015 5:48 pm

I know this is a rather different post than you usually see on this forum because it’s dealing with humans rather than the dogs. I’m asking for advice on talking to my family; that will make more sense in a moment. If you have any tips, thank you, but if not, I totally understand. I’m sorry this will be long- thank you for reading it!
I’m in high school and my family has had a dog for about 4 ½ years. She is now about 5 ½ (was 1 year old when we got her); we adopted her from a rescue where she had been given up by a breeder because she apparently didn’t produce the types of puppies he wanted. She was extremely fearful and shy and untrained. At the time, I was just going in to middle school so I didn’t think much about dog ownership and dog care, but I wanted a dog, and convinced my parents to get one. Now, I wish I hadn’t.
The dog is now, as I said, 5 ½ and is still as fearful and skittish as she was when we got her- if not more. She’s scared of (barks, cowers, sends off tons of calming signals) tons of noises- they don’t even have to be very loud or unusual and they’ll scare her. New sights as well (a new bird feeder, a box…. anything). New people and dogs, but the thing is, they don’t even have to be new. The ONLY person she is totally comfortable around is me- and I make sure to interact with her in nonthreatening ways, using calming signals of my own so I don’t, let’s say, walk head on towards her because even if it’s me, she’ll still give off lots of calming signals. She is also quite nonreactive with my mom and willingly interacts with her. My sister, brother, and father, though? Not so much. She rarely barks at my sister but clearly isn’t extremely comfortable or close with her. My brother, she barks at sometimes when he makes sudden moves, loud noises, or occasionally just when he walks in the room, and certainly when he comes in the door, but at other times, she is a bit more willing to interact with him. My father? She barks, growls, and just is clearly very scared of him. It only takes a little move on his part, or a small noise, and she will bark like crazy and growl and run towards him (but will run away a bit if he turns toward her). So the only person I would say she has a good bond with and is quite comfortable with is me, and then my mother (she doesn’t ever bark at her but does often show quite a few calming signals when my mom is interacting with her).
It is so sad that she is so scared of everything, and really everyone (except for me). I feel guilty we adopted her because I was really the one who, years ago, thought we should adopt a dog. Now I regret it, because if she had gone to some other family she may have had the chance to be given behavior modification and really become more comfortable with the world. Instead, she hasn’t gotten that relief. I only wish at the time I had known and not brought a dog into the family because our dog could have the potential of being somewhere where she was really understood, but instead got us.
Since getting her, I have dove into resources about dog behavior and training and familiarized myself with it. Body language, calming signals, desensitization, counter conditioning, BAT, clicker training, how they train working dogs through positive methods, history of dog training methods, the flawed pack theory myth… just everything I can learn. The problem is, in my family I’m the only one who understands dog behavior at all, and dog training. It’s so frustrating because I wish I could help the dog but I obviously can’t do it on my own. My mom always assumes the dog was abused, which may be true but I think it’s more along the lines of, she probably got no positive socialization. My mom also always attributes her barking at strangers as protecting us because she’s never had someone she loved before. She also for some reason thinks that when the dog barks (most notably at my father) she isn’t scared- I guess because he tail is sometimes wagging (though to me it’s clearly not a happy tail wag, but mom thinks any tail wag is a happy tail wag). Another example: in the winter sometimes the dog refuses to go outside to go potty (she just cowers down in front of the door). My mom picks her up, drags her outside, and forces her to stand out in the cold snow, where she usually does nothing but just lays down on her side and wants to go back in. She’s clearly intimidated- probably mostly by my mom’s behavior but I also think being outside (no matter what time of year) is a bit scary to her, but particularly in the winter. My mom will get mad at her and yell “BAD GIRL- GO POTTY OUTSIDE!!” and stare her down and other intimidating things. Just like when she barks at someone of something; mom will hold her mouth shut after yelling several times for her to shut up. The dog gets yelled at by everyone but me when she barks. Sometimes, my sister will pick her up or lean over her, which greatly intimidates her, so she shuts up. All of these things are so frustrating and sad to me. None of them is abusive in any severe way, but they all scare her and absolutely don’t understand her. While they have never heard the real truth- that she is very scared all the time and correcting her will on make it worse- they haven’t tried to figure out why she is acting this way either. They just come to their own flawed conclusions. Another example is my dad. As I said, the dog is very uncomfortable around and intimidated by my dad- and sometimes he makes loud noises and quick movements or bursts in through doors which is even more scary to her. The thing is, he totally does not make things easier on her. If she is barking at him, he will talk loudly at her and walk towards her, sometimes pushing her with his arm of foot (with a shoe on). He doesn’t want to hurt her, and who can blame him for being annoyed that she is barking so much at him, but this is just NOT the way to go. Not to mention, sometimes when she is sleeping or something my dad will go up to her- or corner her- and pick her up and kiss her face and hug her. This is unsurprisingly a very scary event for her and often when he is done kissing her and moving his head away, she will jump up towards his face, barking madly. She actually nipped him in the finger once- nothing serious and it’s a miracle nothing worse has happened, but it’s just depressing how much she has to put up with and I know it could only be a matter of time before she bites more severely. (She’s only a small dog, which I think is why he takes these liberties- not too much risk involved- but still, she could still injure someone. I want so bad to help her, so….
What I’m asking I guess is for advice on talking to my family about our dog and dogs in general. I am very familiar with WHY she is doing this and could definitely tell them about calming signals and things (as I said I’ve read up and studied this stuff a lot) but I’m just nervous because I’m not sure they’ll listen. My goal is to hopefully help them see that she is so scared, and needs help. I would love it if my parents would agree to work with a professional, positive, force free, knowledgeable trainer, but even if they don’t, I feel like I could help our dog a lot with counter conditioning and desensitization if they would just let me. I just need them to understand calming signals, body language, and how they shouldn’t intimidate her, and all that, and explain to them how we can help her. Can you give me any tips, or advice, on speaking with them? I would definitely want to talk to my mom separately (she runs the family, I would say, and I certainly wouldn’t want to call some big family meeting, as I’m not even sure it will go well talking to my mom), but I have no clue what to say, how to start, et cetera. I don’t want to be rude or say the wrong things, plus I’m a naturally shy, timid person myself and would just be dreading having a big talk with my mom about this, being as how I’m not sure if she’ll care or do anything about it. If you have any tips on how to voice the subject in a way that makes sense and brings her to action, please share- any ideas would be appreciated. Don’t get me wrong, my mom is a nice person, but she just doesn’t get what my dog is going through and neither does the rest of my family. It makes me sad that my dog might have to go through the rest of her life being scared and unconfident, while I stood by and could do nothing. In a few years, I’ll be 18 and legally allowed to move away, where I could hopefully take the dog and work with a trainer, but if I did that I’m not sure how much money I would have to care for her anyway; plus, moving to a new home before she has had a lot of help dealing with her fears would not doubt be a very stressful event for her (and me) anyway.
Let me repeat: I’m asking for advice on how to talk to Mom about our dog’s fear and how she is just so scared and lacking confidence, and how we could help her become confident so she no longer barked and growled- not to mention had accidents, walked nicely on a leash, et cetera- if she was just willing to learn and hopefully get professional help. How can I say it in a kind, understanding, yet clear manner that will hopefully spur her to action?
Thanks so much for reading all this! I really hope I’ll get some replies and advice but I understand if you can’t think of what I could try. I just want to help this dog. I’ve seen how wonderful she is- I’ve taught her some basic cues like sit stay and she learns incredibly quickly, and usually even responds even if she is scared. She has so much potential, and considering her great fear, it is just amazing how she hasn’t seriously bitten anyone. She deserves understanding and help, and I want so bad to help her get that.

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Re: Advice on talking to my family about our dog

Post by emmabeth » Mon Feb 02, 2015 6:23 pm

I will come and read and answer this properly tomorrow when I have slept - but i didnt want to read and run! Until I get back to you, bear in mind, even adult, qualified trainers, and I am one of these, sometimes have problems talking to family about dog related stuff.

In fact, both my sister and my Dad will TELL people I am not much short of a modern day miracle dog ORACLE, i know everything... and yet, two seconds later they can insist on some total idiocy and tell me i know nothing!

Families, you can't choose them, and its completely illegal to shoot them!
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Re: Advice on talking to my family about our dog

Post by Ari_RR » Mon Feb 02, 2015 8:18 pm

Yeah, it's not uncommon for 1 member of the family to be the "dog person".
My 2 cents - in your particular case, when talking to Mom and Dad, I wouldn't make this about the dog.
I would make this about you.
You need their help, you would like to achieve something with the dog and you need their support, this is important to you, you feel responsible and would like to fulfil the repsonsibilities, and would they please agree to help you doing it your way even if they don't necessarily agree with every aspect of your approach. I see no reason why they wouldn't support their high school kid who shows seriousness and determination.

I would perhaps ask one of the teachers to somehow stress the importance of allowing and ecouraging a high school person to set goals, and to help her achieve those goals her way. Sometimes parents listen to teachers...

Sister and brother - are they younger, older? Assuming they are about your age - they probably won't be interested very much in participating, and won't be easily persuaded by you asking to help, so somehow you'll need to make a deal with them to passively support you, by just not screwing things up.

Just my 2 cents... Good luck !
Last edited by Ari_RR on Tue Feb 03, 2015 6:18 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Advice on talking to my family about our dog

Post by delladooo » Tue Feb 03, 2015 4:44 am

I can't help much with your parents (my mum fully realises that I've done a lot of reading but still says "this clearly isn't working" quite often).

With the siblings issue, as Ari's dad said that will likely be your biggest hurdle. If they're not interested in the dog or don't see the dog as "their problem", possibly they "didn't even want a dog to begin with" they will be resistant to, or possibly just forget, to have a certain reaction in a certain situation. They'll need reminding and possibly even a short explanation.

I currently have a similar situation with my brother and it's never going to be perfect but you have to try and get them to stick with it. They'll see a slight improvement go "hey it worked" and stopped so overnight you're back to square one and you don't know why because it was going so well only for them to tell you days later. You'll get them started again, they won't stop but the reaction will get worse and it gets frustrating and you get told it's clearly not working so come up with something else.

Hopefully, with Ari's dad's idea of making it about you, your parents will help with getting your siblings on board (or at least following the basic principle). Good luck and let us know how you get on :)

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Re: Advice on talking to my family about our dog

Post by katej215 » Tue Feb 03, 2015 5:45 am

Hi CarolineLovesDogs,
When I read your post my first thought was, what a wonderful advocate for dogs you are going to be in this world! :D Your challenge is a tough ask, given family is key here, possibly the toughest! ... but try and approach this from a place of learning in your heart, and remember often the hardest challenges are the ones we learn the most from.. :(

I think Ari is totally spot on....make this about your family helping you achieve something...I think if dog training is something you are thinking about as a future career, then you have a really good angle to approach from..Could you relate this to a school project insome way..perhaps you could look for a positive trainer to mentor you through this .. and of course this person would be the professional to plant the seeds in your families mind around the idea your dog is fearful and ways to improve this. It sounds like you have a great deal of knowledge already, so the trainer would not need to hold your hand too much on this, really their role would be supporting change in your family as a whole and endorsing you as the person in the family who has doggie knowledge....

Also remember small changes are everything here, be patient, your family will not change their behaviour completely overnight! Best of luck with this. Let us know how you're getting on.... :D

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Re: Advice on talking to my family about our dog

Post by Sanna » Tue Feb 03, 2015 6:37 am

I agree with Ari's dad. If you find it difficult to start 'the talk' with your mum, how about getting her to read your post, or putting all your thoughts in writing for her to read first? That way you can make sure everything you wanted to say is covered, it might be easier for her to take everything in and chances are she'll be quite impressed with your work and knowledge ;) you could even ask her to have a little think on what she's read before talking it over?

Maybe you can get your family onboard initially by 'selling' it as a project or experiment- would they agree, for you, to do everything re your dog as instructed for perhaps 1 month? That could be a starting point and would hopefully show them some changes in her behaviour that may spur them on to want to stick with it long term?


Re: Advice on talking to my family about our dog

Post by CarolineLovesDogs » Thu Feb 05, 2015 3:16 pm

Thank you so much for your replies, everyone. I haven't talked to them yet- I am still coming up with my game plan! You're replies have given me some good ideas, so thank you!

Right now I'm also brainstorming everything we will be able to do to help our dog. As I said, she is afraid of a lot of things- it's more of a global fear than just fear of one or two things. I'm wondering if a tool that might help would be the Thundershirt? What do you guys think? I wonder if it would be beneficial because she is so frequently scared throughout the day, or is it something where if we had it on her all day (as she is frequently getting scared at anything- noise, person, sight, et cetera) it would kind of "lose effect"? I'm willing to try it but I like to use my money wisely as I don't have much (lol) and I don't want to ask my parents for the money, so I want to make an informed decision. Thanks for sharing thoughts!

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Re: Advice on talking to my family about our dog

Post by mansbestfriend » Thu Feb 05, 2015 8:57 pm

Hi. I'd say the thunder shirt would be a good ADDED EXTRA (like a halti is a tool for a couple hours a day while walking, in addition to the training for walking nicely), but more important to have all family on the same positive page behaviour-wise.

Having said that, you can try a basic body wrap temporarily once or twice a day. Google something like " dog body wrap ". Theory being that if the dog is comfortable with it, he/she gets new/interesting/calming touch sensations coming from many places at once, but don't use it if it causes more stress rather than less.
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Re: Advice on talking to my family about our dog

Post by Nettle » Fri Feb 06, 2015 5:27 am

Also worth researching Bach Flower Remedies. I found Rock Rose (for terror) very helpful for my noise-phobic dog, and I know people who use it on their show dogs. Look at all the Remedies and figure out what would suit yours best.
A dog is never bad or naughty - it is simply being a dog


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