Canine Behavior/A new behavior..
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.
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.
Los Angeles Behaviorist