Dear Dr. Fox • I saw your comments on the rescue husky barking at the grandpa. I have a similar issue with my 3-year-old white German shepherd, Missy, a female rescue we adopted three months ago. She was very nervous initially; it took four days before I could get near her. And then she became my ‘‘Velcro” dog. She is with me all the time. Initially, she was scared of everyone but has grown bolder. She barks when the doorbell rings, but when the visitor enters, she usually quiets down quickly as long as I am with her.
However, she seemed to take an instant dislike to my husband and adult son (who lives with us), and barks wildly at them all the time. When my husband settles in his recliner, she settles down near me, but if my hubby even raises his arm, she barks madly. As time goes on, she has grown bolder: Sometimes her hackles rise and she runs at my hubby as though she is going to bite him. Same with our son. They have both tried, and continue to try, to make friends with her, but unsuccessfully.
I’d welcome any ideas you have. I can only suspect her behavior is reflective of some occurrence(s) in her past. — K.H., St. Louis
Dear K.H. • Clearly your dog had a traumatic earlier life, and your detailed description of her gradual recovery will interest many readers.
Over time, she may well become desensitized to some aspects of the behavior of the males in your family that currently upset her. It is best that they ignore her reactions and not try to force her to change her behavior, or try to show affection toward her.
It may help if you all wear the same scent — a few dabs of essential oil of lavender being a good choice — and put a couple of drops on a bandanna around the dog’s neck in the morning and evening, as well. Have the two men in the house take turns putting the dog’s food out with you standing beside them. Ignore her when and if she barks at them — this is another conditioned reaction, which should abate with time if not reinforced by any reaction. Refrain from telling her to be quiet, and simply pretend not to hear her.
It may also help if you sit down with one of the men next to you on the sofa and have the dog sit or stand next to you as you brush her. Get her used to a regular grooming and additional stroking and massage, passing the brush to whomever is sitting next to you to continue.