First Time Living With Dogs ..and It's Driving Me Nuts!!

I am an animal lover and have had pets (mainly cats) all of my life, but moving in with my boyfriend 8 months ago meant living with his dog too.. I thought this would be a new fun thing as I have never owned a dog, but I hate to admit that I am just finding it irritating now!

The dog listens to my boyfriend (most of the time) but rarely listens to me, and I am very assertive with him but having to tell him commands 5 or 6 times before he actually does it is becoming more irritating. I used to think that any animal can be trained with patience, assertiveness and positive reinforcement, but I am losing my patience with this dog.

The dog seems to have a mixture of small habits which irritate me, and I can't seem to get over them.. being obsessed with food and wanting human food (I have never given him any scraps but he still continuously begs for them), barging his way through doors, wiping his snotty nose on the back of my legs, eating any food that he can get his face near then drooling all over the floor (including the cats food which has now been moved to a raised surface he can't reach), random barking during the night, loud snoring, rubbing his snot along the edge of the sofa, and now he's started ripping presents out from under the Christmas tree and tearing half the paper off (apparently he's never done this before).

The dog is unpredictably aggressive at times too. In the last 6 months the dog has snapped at my boyfriend twice and me once, for no reason that I can fathom! He has been punished each time, but I don't trust that this won't happen again and I am not happy about living with a dog that I don't trust.

Does anyone have advice on what I can do to try and make the living experience more pleasurable? - I don't want to dislike my boyfriend's dog, but I can't get over how much he irritates me.

SunshineFreckles SunshineFreckles
1 Response Dec 16, 2012

If the dog is obsessed with food as you say, he should be easy to train. If you find the treats you're using aren't working, you need to up the ante. Whatever he likes best, that's what you use for the next few weeks, even if that something is human food (unless it's poisonous).

My dog isn't food obsessed so he's harder to focus, but he will pay attention for peanut butter. He gets his own jar and I keep a little spoon in it. Whenever he does what I like, he gets a little lick (not a whole spoonful.) I got the idea from my previous trainer who used a meat paste made for toy kongs in training class. It comes in a giant tube like what you use to make frosting.

If training isn't working out, it might be because you're doing it wrong. It's a skill like anything else, and timing and pacing are key. You have to know what to reward and when, and do it quickly. Studies show that if you don't reinforce a dog within milliseconds of the action that you want, the reward won't make an impact. That's why I recommend clicker training because clicking is the fastest way to reward a behavior. There's a lot of different ideas about dog training floating around but very few are science based. I think going any other route is asking for trouble.

There are many good clicker training books out there, but like I said, it's a skill. I'm familiar with the theory but I find myself making mistakes all the time in practice, so I need to go to a class. There are also tons of free videos about clicker training on YouTube. I really like kikopup and Tab482.

One thing about the aggression, many people misinterpret a dog's body signals. Wagging tails don't always equal happiness, for instance, sometimes they equal stress. This is how a lot of people get bitten. Blinking a lot, yawning, and licking of lips are some common signs of stress. Even excitement, e.g., you've just come home from work or you've just taken your dog to the dog park, can cause stress. These signals the dog makes are called calming signals. To other dogs they're a sign that says "hey you're overwhelming me right now, can you take it down a notch?" and other polite dogs will usually abide by avoiding eye contact and backing off. Problem is when people see these signals and don't back off. The dog becomes overstimulated and when he can't get away, he tries to ward you off with aggressive displays.

Punishing the dog for biting is usually a bad thing. The dog is already red-lining emotionally, and more stress will reinforce his negative feelings. Besides making a threatened dog feel worse, you may also be training the dog not to show warning signs before a bite. So instead of growling to get your attention, he may go straight for teeth. This is creates a more dangerous situation than before because now his behavior is unpredictable.

What should be done instead is to find what triggers the dog's aggression. Pay attention to what happened leading up to the incident. Once you identify what stresses the dog, you can work on desensitizing the animal to it. For example, if the dog displays stress whenever you touch his paws, feed him treats while doing it. You can't reinforce negative feelings with positive rewards. For instance, I can't teach you to be more fearful of burglars by giving you a steak every time you hear a bump in the night. Instead, I can make the association that bumps in the night = steak. You might learn to love noises at night, so long as you really enjoyed steak. Here, the dog is irrationally afraid of having his feet touched. You make the association that feet touched = food, which in dogs, is usually congruent with happiness.

There is a lot to know about dog behavior. A good free resource to read some articles is Sophia Yin's blog. Google her and search her blog for "dog bites" and you should get a lot of results to help you.