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Canine Behavior/Concerned about change

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Question
I have a 3 year old black and tan coonhound who is an indoor dog. She is very spoiled and is a member of my family.  I have a concern about a recent change in behavior towards just one person.  I have been dating a guy for over a year now.  Gypsy used to love him hanging around and was very excited when he would come in the door.  My boyfriend and I have been having a little trouble over the last month or so.  Within the last few weeks she has changed toward him.  I am concerned that he is doing something to her but I am not sure.  Here is how she has changed: she doesn't want him anywhere near me, she whines and barks every time he comes into my bedroom where her bed is.  She has tried to bite him when he does things that he used to.  I don't mean just snapping at him, she actually growls and bares her teeth.  She wont let him put her outside anymore.  If I don't go put her out she wont go.  She lays and stares at him if he is on the bed and doesn't take her eyes off of him.  The other day she was playing with my nephew and barked. She immediately looked toward him and just laid her head down.  I have heard him joking about her being in trouble when I'm not home and then tells me he is joking.  I don't want to believe it but my dog is telling me different.  Trust me my dog means more to me then he does.  I just wanted someone that wasn't close to the situation to help.  I don't know whether its her picking up on tension or if her behavior is more a result of him being mean. He did grab my arm the other day and she went after him, he yelled at her and his tone was not normal.  I want to think its just her picking up on tension, I can't stand the fact that my thoughts are going to him hurting her.  Can you offer some ideas and suggestions? He is not allowed alone with her anymore.

Answer
Greetings, and thank you for contacting All Experts,
It's difficult to pinpoint an issue as such, life would be so much easier if only dogs could talk. Her behavior though speaks volumes that she's concerned about something. Behavior changes happen for a reason. We often think that a dog who acts fearful towards somebody has been physically hurt, but that's not always the case. The fact is, dogs who are sensitive can be frightened easily by things that may appear "minor" to us. In other words, the dog defines what is frightening and traumatic, not us. So for a sensitive dog, fear can be instilled by people who move fast, talk loud, run or even act nervously or frustrated. To better explain this, a dog may go play in the dog park for years and then one day out of the blue, one dog plays a little more rough and the dog decides to categorize the event as "frightening" and therefore decides to take future measures to protect itself from future negative encounters as such. To the owners nothing happened and they can't find an explanation to the behavior, but to the dog there was a trigger. I even know of some cases where dogs decided to label a boyfriend as a threat once they witnessed innocent intimate interactions. Passionate encounters may be perceived as if harm is being done to the owner. Some dogs dislike if a partner hugs or kisses their owner. Dogs do not understand hugs and kisses.

Now, you mention there has been trouble between you and your boyfriend and definitively that could be a trigger. Dogs are masters in picking the most subtle cues of tension.It sounds like she has labeled him as somebody to be wary about and now is protecting her turf and you from a perceived threat. Even just tension can cause negative associations. Now things further exacerbate if your boyfriend is mistreating her. This again doesn't have to be necessarily something physical, it could be that when she acts defensive towards him, he takes it as a challenge and scolds her or abruptly moves her way in a threatening manner to send her away. This further creates tension and convinces in your dog's mind that he indeed deserves to be labeled as a threat, thus creating a vicious cycle that only escalates things.

If you suspect mistreatment it's good you aren't allowing them together anymore. Please also consider that generally people who hurt animals are also capable of hurting people, and that arm he grabbed could be just a beginning. Not making a statement, but just warning about how things go sometimes. But this would be more the work of a psychologist understanding the human mind. These two mishaps though make me wonder...1) If he yelled at her and his tone was not normal in front of you, makes you wonder what happen when you aren't around. 2) If your dog looked at your boyfriend and laid her head down when she barked,such as "oops, shouldn't have barked!" it could be he punished her in the past for barking. Question is" What's your gut feeling?" If you have denied access to her alone, it sounds like you really suspect something is amiss. Truth is, only a hidden camera could tell the absolute truth.

If your boyfriend denies mistreating her, despite what your gut instinct tells you, then he should be interested in working on changing her behavior and gaining her trust again. That shows that he cares. If he cares less, I would take that as a bad sign..lack of interest in your dog and in your desire to regain the initial bond they had. If you want to have this guy stick around you will need a behavior change to remove the growing tension. This is best done with the aid of a dog behavior consultant.

My favorite methods for cases as these are desensitization and counterconditioning. You can read about desensitization here:
http://alexadry.hubpages.com/hub/Dog-Behavior-The-Process-of-Desensitization
and counterconditioning here:
http://alexadry.hubpages.com/hub/Dog-Behavior-The-Power-of-Counter-Conditioning
In order to apply these methods, you need to ensure you don't overwhelm your dog and send her over threshold. Here is a read on threshold levels:
http://alexadry.hubpages.com/hub/Dog-Behavior-Understanding-Threshold-Levels-in-

So start off by determining the triggers. It sounds like she doesn't like when he comes near you, when he moves towards the bedroom. In that case, under the guidance of a behavior consultant to ensure safety and correct implementation, I would have him move close to you at a distance and toss a treat. Then gradually move closer, with treats getting better in value and more in quantity the closer he gets to you.  Same with the bedroom, move closer and closer very gradually to the bedroom tossing treats. When he enters the room shower of treats, when he exits, no more treats. You want to change the emotions. But go too fast in the process and you get a setback, which is another reason I recommend a behavior consultant to help you out. Of course, it's your call if you want to invest time and money in getting her to trust him again. But be warned, all the hard work can be undone if he mistreats her even that one time. So this is something to be evaluate carefully. I hope this helps! Kind regards,
Adrienne

Disclaimer: this answer is not a substitute for professional hands on behavior advice. Behavior modification comes with risk, do not try things on your own. If your dog is acting aggressive please consult with a dog behavior professional (CAAB or board certified veterinary behaviorist). By reading this answer you accept this disclaimer.  

Canine Behavior

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Adrienne Janet Farricelli CPDT-KA

Expertise

I can answer questions pertaining dog psychology and general dog behavior. Why is my dog doing this? And what can I do about it? are common questions I am asked. I will not answer questions concerning health problems as this is out of my spectrum, but I can recommend a vet visit if there are chances behavioral problems may stem from a possible underlying medical problem.

Experience

I am a certified dog trainer (CPDT-KA) that has attended seminars on dog behavior. I am acquainted with behavior modification programs and have read several books from reputable authors such as Patricia McConnell, Turid Rugaas, Nicholas Dodman and Bruce Fogle to name a few. I have rehabilitated dogs affected by moderate to severe behavioral problems.

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Suite 101 Examiner.com Daily Puppy

Education/Credentials
Certified dog trainer (APICC, CPDT-KA)

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Over 800 fans on my blog offering tips for training dogs and treating behavioral problems

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