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My roommates dog always naps under my bed when I'm home and my door is open.  He likes to sneak on top though he knows he's not supposed to.  He usually comes out when I ask and he know I'm leaving.  But last week he wouldn't come out and started growling at me.  I waved my slipper underneath to finally get him out and he kept trying to get back under.  When I picked him up he growled at me.  When I closed the door and put him down he followed me around, ears back, tail between his legs.  He usually sleeps all day in his Mom's room but I've noticed him hunkered in the corner by the TV lately with his ears back and he kind of shakes when he looks at me.  And today he was sitting on my chair and growled when I asked him to move.  I shared this info with her & she took him to get his glands expressed cuz he had acted like this in the past when that was a problem.  But he doesn't seem better.  She said he also had hid in her closet.  I've never spanked him, only firm commands, no yelling ever.  He does have anxiety but doesn't chew or potty in the house.  He's @ 8 years old.  He's always just slept all day.  In the last 5ish months a neighbor started coming by and walking him.  She left on a trip for 3 weeks.  Could this be why he's being different?  She's back now but will be leaving again.  It breaks my heart to see him like this because I know something is wrong.  Your thoughts, advice will be greatly appreciated.

Answer
Thank you for your question. Your description is clearly describing fear - ears back, tail tucked, hiding under beds and cowering in corners, distance-increasing signals (growling) when he's feeling cornered....

If this is a sudden onset behavior, then I encourage his person to take him to the vet. Checking the anal glands was a great start, given he has a history of needing them expressed. But any kind of pain or discomfort can bring on fear/defensive behaviors. This can include injuries such as sprains, arthritis pain, breaks, etc. or can be due to illnesses that are making him feel less than 100%.

You definitely don't want to scold a dog who is showing fear as that tone of voice (even if there's no physical contact or raised voice) will only serve to make his fear worse. Instead, I would encourage you to gently and sweetly invite him out. Perhaps with some favorite treats or a favorite toy. Often putting a few bits of a favorite food under the bed near him, then creating a trail that leads out from under the bed and out of the room so you can close the door is the best way to do get your needs met while helping him feel safe and secure. Just be sure that you're not blocking his path by staying right in front of him. Try to be off to the side or even set up the treats and then leave the space so he isn't feeling threatened that you'll grab him as soon as he's out. Also, put a few right near him, then a trail one-treat wide to the edge of the bed, then put 4 or 5 just outside the bed, then a few one-treat wide in a trail leading away from the bed, then at a distance that requires his whole body to be out from under the bed to reach, do another "jackpot" of several treats, then lead him closer to the door. Depending on how much distance he has to cover, you may need to do a 2 or 3 (or more) jackpots along the way to the door, and then a jackpot outside the bedroom door and another a few feet from the door (in the opposite direction from where you're standing. This will get him to move out of the space on his own and allow you to close your door without invading his space suddenly. Then, you can offer him a jackpot of treats to take from your hand if he's comfortable just to reassure him that you're safe and don't mean him any harm.

Keep in mind that these are small, bite-sized treats, so if you have large cookies or biscuits that are his favorite treat, break them into multiple treats. If you have smaller training treats, I'd still break those up as well. If you're using something like string cheese (a favorite among most dogs), then one stick of string cheese can be torn or cut up into plenty of treats to do this entire process. The key is to make sure that the dog doesn't feel threatened as his behavior (hiding in the first place and his body language of ears back and tail tucked and his distance increasing behavior of growling at you) tells us quite clearly that in that moment he is either actively feeling threatened or is concerned that he will be threatened, so our main goal is to reassure him that he's NOT being threatened.

Don't worry about "coddling" his fear. It's impossible to reinforce fear because for that moment that he's registering the presence of his favorite treat and enjoying eating it, he's not frightened. He's forgetting for a moment that he was scared. He may resume being scared once the food is gone, but the more opportunity we give him to forget for a moment that he's frightened, and the more opportunity we give him to feel happy (hey! food!!!) then we're actually changing his visceral reaction from this fear to one that is much more comfortable with the situation.

You can pair a gentle "come" command with this trail of treats so that we start teaching him that Come means good things. Say Come and then put some treats under the bed. After he eats those, say Come and then create the trail to the edge of the bed. Then say Come and create the trail to the door, etc.

Say the command before you put the food out so that the word reliably predicts a bounty of yummy.

Perhaps give him a safe place he can go into for comfort such as a crate with a comfy bed and something that smells like his person and maybe something that smells like you since he likes hiding under your bed. Take the door off the crate (get the hard plastic plane crate, not the wire crate) so that he doesn't have to fear getting trapped in there. And then when he's in there, don't force him out. Let him be. If you need to remove him from his crate, lure him as I've described for under your bed. Make it so he's coming out of his own accord. You can lure with anything he likes, the offer of a game of tug, or a walk on his leash, etc. Anything that excites him enough to come out of his crate will work.

But, I think it's important to get him checked at the vet, including blood work. At 8 years old, he's technically a senior and illness/injuries can occur quite quickly. It would rather suck if we treated this as just a behavior issue only to find out later there was something medically wrong that could have been treated, which would have resolved the behavioral issue.

Good luck. Please feel to follow up if I can be of further assistance.

Jody, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist
http://GoodDog-DogTraining.com

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, CPDT- KA, APDT

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IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 5 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at http://CashewsCorner.wordpress.com/ If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.

Experience

I have been professionally modifying behavior and training obedience for 7 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I have just changed the name of my business. It is no longer Good Dog! Dog Training. The new name is Nutz About Mutz!. If you see previous questions with the Good Dog! website information, that is my response.

Organizations
I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications
http://NutzAboutMutz.com ; http://CashewsCorner.wordpress.com ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

Education/Credentials
I have a graduate education in animal behavior and learning. (While I completed my coursework and did the requisite research, I did not defend a dissertation. I am qualified, but not certified and so technically not a doctor. This is commonly referred to as Ph.D.-ABD which means All But Dissertation.) My educational focus was with non-human primates, but my personal interest is with domestic dogs and their relationships with humans and other animals. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences.

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