Canine Behavior/Why is my pug afraid of me?
Hello and thank you for your help!
I appreciate it greatly. :)
My pug, Prissy, is a little over 3 years old. I LOVE HER SO MUCH and would do pretty much anything for her. She has saved my life in a sense because I have a debilitating illness that has caused me grief, sadness beyond belief and frustration. I value my pug more than most people because she's so beautiful and loving. She helps me to forget my problems and the things that plague me.
Here's the dilemma. She has pigmentary keratitis and has to have neopolydex and tacrolimus administered once a day into her eyes. I'm the one who has been putting the drops in her eyes for about 2 years now.
She hates the drops because let's face it, who likes to get stuff in their eyes?! I always reward her with her very favorite treats, sing her happy birthday which gets her all excited, and just reward her with love and affection every single time I do the drops.
Whenever I walk into a room and she's relaxed or sleepy, she sees me and immediately jumps up, her tail goes down and she seems like she's on alert. She seems afraid of me and I suspect it's because I'm the one who does all the "bad" things to her like cleaning out her wrinkles, baths, drops, other medicines...and some of those things have to be done every day! She doesn't exhibit hyper vigilant behavior with anyone else but me so I concluded that it's because I'm the one doing all this stuff to her. I'm so confused because I shower her with love and affection. She seems distant and fearful of me. She doesn't even give me little licks on the cheek anymore. She licks my husband and my mom and dad...pretty much everyone! Lol.
I don't think I'm overthinking this. I know she feels uneasy about my presence.
I asked other family members to help out in the maintenance like the eye drops, but it always falls back into my hands, and frankly I don't know if I trust them all the time to do things properly. I don't want to have to depend on other people to take care of my baby. My husband doesn't want that responsibility so it always ends up being my responsibility.
I'm her "mama" and I take care of her but it seems like she prefers others.
PLEASE HELP. WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE HER LESS AFRAID OF ME?
Thank you thank you thank you for reading this.
Thank you for your question. I think you've hit the nail square on the head. Prissy has come to associate you with daily activities that she really dreads and so now she's not sure she can ever trust you.
It's great that you've been trying to associate these necessary evils with her favorite treats and happy things. The potential problem is in the order of presentation. If you get the food out before you you put the drops in her eyes, then her very favorite treat becomes a reliable predictor that something awful is going to happen - this makes her more tense, earlier in the process and can even "poison" her against that favorite treat - meaning she'll refuse to eat it. So we need to get things prepped and easily accessible, but still well out of sight so that you can present the scary thing FIRST and follow it with the awesome treat. This way, the scary things becomes a reliable predictor that something wonderful is going to happen.
Think of it this way: If every time you sat in the dentist's chair, they handed you an ice cream cone and then turned on the dreaded drill, you'd likely find that the icecream cone became less and less appealing. And, worse, when you saw an ice cream cone outside of the dentist's office, you'd still get a little squeamish as you hear the sound of the drill in your head. On the flip side, if every time you heard the dentist's drill, it was immediately followed by a $100 bill, you'd soon find yourself hoping for the sound of the drill because it means money (or ice cream if you prefer...). The same is true for our dogs. So if we show Prissy the tasty treat (or worse - give it to her) and then grab the eye dropper, then she's going to learn that this treat means eye dropper. On the other hand, if we show her the eye dropper and THEN sudden a bite of her favorite treat appears, then she'll soon be hoping to see the eye dropper because it means YUM!!! is on the way.
To help her feel better about each of these things, we go through a process called Counter Conditioning. This is the process of presenting her with the scary/unpleasant thing and then immediately following it with a very pleasant thing. This paired association helps her feel much better about the scary thing. That order of presentation is crucial - THE SCARY THING MUST COME BEFORE THE PLEASANT THING
in order for this to work.
I would encourage you to enlist your family to help you in counter conditioning Prissy so that she's more comfortable with the process as a whole. You'd still be the one actually doing the stuff - nail clipping, wiping skin folds, eye drops, but it can help to have a partner assist you, either holding Prissy or the one to provide the food while you're doing the not-so-fun stuff.
Dr. Sophia Yin, a world renowned veterinary behaviorist and author, has some useful little videos to demo how to do the counter conditioning. If, after watching them, you don't feel comfortable beginning the process on your own, then you should seek out the assistance of a professional trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods (no aversives) and who is familiar with counter conditioning and systematic desensitization. In the video of nail clipping, you'll see that they spent literally about 5 or 10 minutes to get the dog to sit comfortably through the nail trim. It may not be so fast for Prissy as she's had lots of practice at disliking it and lots of experiences to escalate her stress about it. Or you may see that in a single session you can calm her enough to do the job calmly. That's great! But you should go through the whole process for at least 3 or 4 separate sessions of calm/relaxed Prissy before you start to wean down so that the treat/love/affection happens less frequently or just at the end.
Note: she's using a distraction method during this video so the dog's not even aware of the scary thing - distract with a steady treat presentation just prior to touching feet, and the touching stops just before the treats go away. Treats that work well for this are things like string cheese that you can hold and allow the dog to just nibble at, without getting the whole thing at once.
The second video is counter conditioning a dog who growls/barks and bites when someone blows in his face. In this video, you see that she does the scary thing first - blowing in his face - and then promptly follows it with the food reward (scary thing reliably predicts a good thing). This video is more in line with my initial description of the process for counter conditioning, and depending on what you're doing, you may need to do one or the other. For example, for the eye drops, I'd start with showing the bottle while it's sitting on the table or floor, then treat. Build up - let her sniff the bottle, even smear some cream cheese or peanut butter on the bottle for her to lick off. Then hold the bottle in your hand, give a treat and put the bottle down. Then hold the bottle near her face, treat, put the bottle down. Hold the bottle angled as it needs to be for administering, treat, put the bottle down. Hold the bottle in the right angle near her eye (don't drip any), treat and put her down.... until you get the drop in her eye. Once you do one eye, give her 10 minutes or so to recover, then repeat the whole process again for the other eye (unless she was TOTALLY FINE with the first eye, then go ahead and do that eye immediately). You (or another family member) should be holding her in the position she'll need to be in for the drops for this entire process. And you may need to break it down even more and start with handling with her (have her in your lap as you would for the process, holding her head back, holding her eye open) before you ever bring the bottle into view - like in the first video, just handling first, before the equipment comes into the picture.
You can take these two processes and use them for each of the activities that you have to do with Prissy that she doesn't like. Don't try to do them all in one sitting. Give her an hour or more between each of these unpleasant things so she has time to relax and contemplate how great that experience just was. Before you know it, you'll be doing these things with very little issue from Prissy.
Good luck! Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.
Los Angeles Behaviorist