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QUESTION: We adopted a three-year-old chi pin (estimated age) from the SPCA, who we named Charlie. I am retired and my husband works. Charlie lived in a home with two women and 30 dogs. The SPCA rescued all the dogs. He shook all the way home and still shakes when other people come in the house. I held him in the car coming home. He is still scared of everyone after three months with us.
He sees my granddaughters most school days and accepts them pretty well, but he freaks out when a group of people comes in the house. He barks and growls at my husband every time my husband looks at him. My husband has tried feeding him and giving treats. Charlie will stay on one end of the couch if I sit next to my husband. He sits next to me if my husband is on the other end of the couch. Charlie follows me everywhere.
He is very smart and wasn’t house trained, but caught on pretty fast. He still will go in the house when I don’t know he needs to go out, but holds it well so this doesn’t happen often. What can we do to make him accept my husband? How long should it take?
ANSWER FROM: Lynn Brezina, CPDT-KA of FetchFind
Dear Suzie: I am sorry you are facing these challenges with Charlie.
First, I want to give you a brief explanation of how puppy/dog brains develop, which I hope helps you understand what you are up against.
Because dog lives are short, their physical and social development is crammed into a very brief window of time. Brain cells are developing like mad until a puppy is about 16-weeks of age, when about 80% of his brain is developed. Therefore, much like human babies, early learning is permanent and has the biggest impact on future behavior. Most of the growth energy goes to brain development during this time period.
Then, at around 16-weeks of age growth energy goes to the teeth. Generally, puppies begin to lose their baby teeth, and, typically, all adult teeth are in by six months of age.
Dog Rescued From Hoarding Situation Scared Of My Husband
At six months of age, the growth energy goes to a big growth spurt, (for a little dog like Charlie this would be his final growth spurt), hormone surges and brain chemistry changes, as the final development of the brain occurs and the dog becomes socially mature.
There is one additional complication to a dog’s social development, which is a hazard avoidance mechanism that activates at around eight weeks of at age. Therefore, the best time to expose puppies to new people, environments, sounds, smells and other animals is within the very brief window of three to eight weeks of age. After that, anyone or anything new is likely to frighten him.
The bad news is Charlie spent the first three years of his life with many, many dogs and two women. His previous environment did not prepare him for a life with a normal, active family. All those different people, places and things he was not exposed to at a young age are likely to frighten him. His behavior is telling you he is frightened and is warning people to stay away.
The good news is dogs are amazingly adaptable creatures. If you are patient, and don’t force him into situations, he can improve. It is unlikely he will be cured, but he can get better.
I recommend you teach him to go to his own place on the floor instead of up on the sofa. This will help Charlie develop some independence from you and help him feel safe. You should ignore Charlie’s attempts to initiate social engagements with you. It is not good for Charlie to become too attached to you. Have Charlie wear a leash in the house. This will help you manage his behaviors while you are training him.
I also recommend that your husband take on some low risk (as perceived by Charlie) care tasks, such as feeding Charlie and walking him. Work at Charlie’s pace. If he is afraid outside, keep his walks short.
Your husband and all visitors to your house should avoid direct eye contact with Charlie, as Charlie can read eye contact as a threat. People should not force themselves on Charlie or pay a lot of attention to him.
When you have numerous people in your house secure Charlie in a safe, quiet room. If he is crate trained you can put his crate in a quiet room and crate him.
I would encourage you to find a veterinary behaviorist or an applied animal behaviorist in your area by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You need the help of someone knowledgeable in canine behavior and who employs positive reinforcement methods.