In twenty years as a dog trainer, I have discovered, it is not always the dog that is the problem.
Recently, I had a dog training appointment that involved a pretty well-behaved female Rottweiler, Lucy*. The lady who owned this dog, Nancy*, started training Lucy as soon as she had rescued her. Nancy’s daughter, Tracey*, had a toddler and was pregnant with her second child and lived a few hours away.
I was called over because Tracey, who visited her mother Nancy one weekend a month, believed this dog had bit her on the leg when she had gone into the house unattended to get a glass of water. The issue was escalated when Tracey, started to insist that her mother get rid of her dog because she was afraid of the dog and didn’t want her toddler to also be bitten.
I am a dog trainer, not a family counselor, but sometimes, they overlap
Nancy had been crating Lucy as well as muzzling her when her daughter and granddaughter came to visit, but Tracey still didn’t feel comfortable and felt the dog was viscous. Nancy felt her family was being torn apart because she didn’t want to get rid of her dog, who was a companion, but also wanted to see her daughter and grandchild without them being in fear.
There are times when I bring an assistant with me, and this was one of those times. As a single dog trainer, I sometimes use a partner (canine or human) to help with specific lessons and to see how the dog reacts. This time I brought both a person and my Black Lab to determine if Lucy was nervous around strangers or if this was an individual situation concentrating on Tracey. The dog showed absolutely no anxiety with my partner, but when Tracey came out of the house, Tracey’s anxiety was apparent. She saw us with the calm dog and yet became angry, even tearing up and shouting and again insisting her mom get rid of Lucy, even going so far as to say she should euthanize the dog and that the mother chose the dog over her. It felt like a case of cynophobia, or possibly something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
I saw in that moment, another dynamic was at play in this situation. The dog was the catalyst between mother and daughter and their issues with each other.
In any case, we took Lucy inside to continue to work with her. The original upheaval had happened inside when Tracey claimed the dog had lunged, growled at and bitten her. Inside, when Tracey saw Lucy, who was sitting and restrained by a leash wrapped several times around my hand and wrist, she became very upset and anxious, almost going into a panic attack.
I asked Tracey to walk past the dog, who was completely under my control, and she refused. I requested it again but with my partner between her and the dog. Again, I was met with a brick wall. This was very disheartening.
We had a nice female Rottie who just wanted to be loved, being accused of such things as bites and even being threatened with being reported for a bite and then ultimately being put down simply because Tracey was terrified and unwilling to assist in training or even to see Lucy as “fixable”.
What was the real cause of the dog behavior problem?
Tracey was confident the dog had bitten her and was certain the dog would bite her child, yet I didn’t see any evidence of that, but knew for certain, Lucy was feeding on the sheer panic Tracey gave off. Her panic actually created a situation that put herself and her daughter at risk. Lucy was feeling her panic, and as a dog who can’t communicate with words, may have nipped at Tracey in order to protect Nancy. But, because of Tracey’s unwillingness to support Lucy’s training, we couldn’t move forward. The only acceptable solution to Tracey was to euthanize the dog.
The mother-daughter dynamic and the extremely high anxiety (energy) of Tracey had nothing to do with the dog and because of that, I couldn’t help them.
My job as a dog trainer is to help fix dog issues. I couldn’t help Nancy come to grips with her grown daughter’s extreme anxiety or Tracey’s untrue beliefs. It was indeed a shame Lucy was brought into the mix because it is ultimately she who will be blamed and suffer.
Family Dynamics and Dog Training
In some familial cases like this, the danger to the dog can become very real and instant if the dynamic would lead to physical abuse of each other. Certainly, dogs would become involved because they are used by one party to control the other party. Things can get out of hand when that happens and not only can people be physically hurt, but so can the family pets. If that ever happens to you, please call the police and get yourself and the dog or other animal out of the house for your own protection.
My suggestion to you if you are facing the same situation is to do the same thing I suggested to the Nancy:
- Get a crate and put your dog in the crate in another room until the visit is over.
- If it is an overnight visit, perhaps find a willing friend or family member who would take the dog in until the visit is over.
In this case, I offered to take Lucy to stay with me on occasion so Nancy and Tracey and her grandchild(ren) could have a nice visit. But do not, for any reason, cater to anyone who insists you put your dog down so they can visit. Not only is that unreasonable, it’s unnecessary.
UPDATE: Nancy gave up her pet to another home to satisfy Tracey. This ultimately was in the best interest of the dog.
If you are experiencing family troubles due to poor dog behavior, I can help. Contact me using the appointment link, or connect with me on Facebook.