Canine Behavior/5 month old Siberian Husky male puppy
We have a new puppy we have had him since dec 2014 and is adapting well to our home and the other 2 dogs, my question is he is scared of my husband Nikko will not let him pet him but will come by him when he has food (what dog wouldnt) he puffs at him and then barks WHY he has never hurt him, help please its driving us nuts
Thank you for your question. Do you know what Nikko's experience was before you got him? Did you get him from a breeder? On the street? From a shelter? Do you know if he was exposed to adult men when he was between the ages of 3-16 weeks? Were they good, happy, joyful experiences or intimidating, unpredictable or scary?
It may be that Nikko has a general fear of men either due to not-so-great early encounters or due to total lack of encounters when he was going through that first socialization period where he learns that the world is safe - or rather, where he learns what is safe and what is not as well as what is normal and expected and what is rare, strange, abnormal or unexpected.
If he had quality exposure to adult men during those early weeks, then it may be that your husband is (or has) inadvertently undermined his trust and so Nikko is worried about him.
Has Nikko always behaved this way with your husband - even from day one? Or did they get on well for a while and then Nikko began acting worried or defensive toward your husband?
Does you husband have a particularly deep or gravelly voice? Is he a loud talker or prone to raising his voice? Although he's never directly hurt Nikko, has he gotten angry (either at Nikko or just in the same room as Nikko, even if the anger was directed elsewhere) and yelled or slammed his hand on a table or thrown something or anything else that could be perceived as aggressive from Nikko's perspective?
I don't know that your husband has done any of these things. I'm just trying to get a more complete picture so I can try to tease out what might be worrying Nikko.
No matter what has happened in the past, here is where I would start:
Your husband should spend time laying on the floor (TV time or while reading a book). If laying is uncomfortable, he can sit, but he should be on the floor. Start on the opposite side of the room and just let Nikko decide how close he wants to get.
If Nikko comes over, do not reach out to try to pet him. Let Nikko come over and sniff or hang out near your husband while your husband simply ignores Nikko altogether. He should only engage Nikko if Nikko directly engages him: comes up and makes physical contact with your husband. If that happens, then your husband should pet the part of Nikko that Nikko has presented. In other words - if Nikko presents his shoulder, that is what your husband should pet. If he presents his rear end, then scratch his rump (this is one of the greatest gifts for most dogs). If he sits with right in front of your Husband with his back to him, your husband should stroke his back. If he is standing or sitting directly facing your husband (and his body is relaxed - soft and wiggly), then your husband should scratch his chest.
He should AVOID patting the had or reaching over his head to get to his back. For now, he should avoid wrapping his arms around the dog to hug or any other behavior that might make Nikko feel trapped or restrained.
Whenever we deal with fearful dogs, the best course of action is TIME & SPACE. Give the dog the time and the space to decide how comfortable they are and when they're ready to come closer.
One game your husband can play that involves food is this: Sit on one side of the room and toss the food either all the way to Nikko or actually PAST Nikko. Just a kibble or two at a time and add in a few extra special goodies like some cheese or real meat. By throwing the food all the way to Nikko or actually past him, we prevent the process of LURING Nikko closer for the promise of food.
As you pointed out - he'll approach your husband when he has food, but that clearly doesn't mean he's comfortable about the proximity. So by throwing it further away (beyond Nikko), we actually reduce the social pressure by creating even MORE distance. Then it's up to Nikko if he wants to get closer to your husband. He may not. He may go to where the food is (further away) and then stay there. Or... he may get that food and then turn and come a few steps toward your husband.
He should take his time with tihs game. Toss a kibble or two, let Nikko get it. Wait 30-60 seconds, then toss another kibble.... The tosses should always be aimed to land either at Nikko's feet or so that Nikko is moving further away from your husband to get them. This way, the physical distance is always up to Nikko. As Nikko gets comfortable and realizes that your husband isn't forcing himself into Nikko's space you'll probably find that Nikko will come closer and closer. He may even come right up to him early on because he already has a history of taking food from your husband. That's fine. He can hand-feed Nikko a couple kibbles and then toss a couple kibbles across the room so Nikko can move away, think about the interaction and decide if he wants to be close again.
When Nikko is consistently choosing to be right up in your husband's space, he can begin a Counter Conditioning exercise for touch.
1. Make gentle contact with the body part nearest your husband (usually chest, shoulder or side of neck)
2. Immediately present super tasty food. (I often use something like String Cheese that I can hold onto a chunk of it and let the dog nibble for several seconds before I give the bite over)
3. As Nikko swallows the food, contact stops.
4. Pause for 15-60 seconds and then repeat.
We are trying to make an association for Nikko that contact by your husband reliably predicts something good - in this case yummy food. We are also making the connection that the super yummy food is only available to him when contact is happening.... We call this Open Bar/Closed Bar. Physical contact by your husband opens the bar to the greatest food treat on earth. When contact stops, so does the food....
What defines "greatest food on earth" is entirely up to Nikko. But whatever his favorite thing is - cheese, chicken, hot dog, french fries, whatever - he ONLY gets is when your husband is touching him and AT NO OTHER TIMES. PERIOD. NOT BY ANYONE ELSE.
As Nikko gets more practice and more comfortable, your husband should be able to make contact for longer periods before he offers a bite of food. At first seconds, then a minute and with patience and practice you should find that Nikko will relax more and more and food won't even necessarily be needed at all anymore.
I encourage your husband to follow the 5-second rule regarding contact. This is where every 4 or 5 seconds, he stops touching Nikko to let Nikko decide if he wants more contact or is ready for a break. This is important because many dogs who are uncomfortable will continue to stand/sit/lay there and tolerate it even though they'd really prefer to walk away. But they feel trapped by the contact and so they don't move. By disengaging every few seconds, we give Nikko the opportunity to say, "thanks, I'll see you later." or "Don't stop, I'm enjoying this."
Of course, if Nikko is actively rubbing against your husband, pressing into him, rolling around and acting soft, wiggly and playful during the contact then you can extend it beyond 5 seconds because Nikko is being very obvious in his enjoyment of the interaction.
There are a couple of books I strongly encourage you to read as they may help you both read Nikko's body language better and they'll walk through in more detail some counter conditioning exercises as I've described above and others that your husband can try.
On Talking Terms with Dogs - Calming Singals
by Turid Rugaas. This book walks through a host of very subtle body language cues that dogs offer. When we learn to recognize the more subtle ones, we can intervene and adjust our interaction or the environment before the dog feels compelled to get defensive.
This has a companion DVD if you're a visual learner. I found it really helpful to watch after reading the book because that way I had definitions/descriptions in my head already and then could see them being done by actual dogs in context and see how other dogs responded. I could also see how dogs responded when humans did some of those same behaviors in the presence of the dogs.
Calming Signals - What Your Dog Tells You
Also, Patricia McConnell's The Cautious Canine: How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears
Now, this book uses a single example (I think it's a dog afraid of the hose). But the concept and process is the same no matter what the dog is fearful of. So you might find information in this brief book helpful in creating exercises that your husband can do with Nikko to help build that relationship.
OTHER THINGS TO TRY:
Having your husband be responsible for all feeding - and at least one meal a day being hand fed as described above.
Having your husband take him for walks as this is a great bonding exercise (no leash corrections. If you need help teaching Nikko how to walk nicely on leash, enlist the aid of a professional force free trainer so that the walks can be enjoyable for both Nikko and your husband).
If Nikko likes to play Tug or Fetch, make sure those games happen 99% of the time with your husband for the next few months.
Your husband should NOT play Chase with Nikko - no matter who is doing the chasing. This can increase the stress if Nikko is not comfortable. We want to stick to bonding games and activities for now and really build that trust account.
If there's anything you'd like to add regarding your husband's demeanor, interactions, if he's particularly tall or has a particularly deep voice, etc. Even if he's a different ethnicity from the rest of the house or the people who raised him before he came to you. All of these things can make a teenage dog wary of a particular person, even if that person hasn't done anything specific to warrant such concern.
I hope some of this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.
Los Angeles Behavior Specialist