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Shiloh is a six-month-old terrier mix female from the rescue shelter that we brought home. She is terrific and has taken well to our household including our five-year-old terrier mix male. My concern is that no matter when my husband enters a room, my dog barks at him like she has never seen him before. The barking is continuous. He plays with her, even hand-feeds her at times, pets her, and does all he can to help her bond with him. She seems to be “easy” around females and shies away from most males.
Shiloh seems afraid. Often the scariest situation for dogs is the appearance or approach of a person with whom they are not yet comfortable. Many fearful dogs react more to men than to women — especially men who are tall, have deep voices, broad shoulders, a strong jaw, or facial hair.
To help Shiloh exhibit better behavior when your husband enters the room, it is essential to change the way she feels in that situation. Focus on changing her emotions so the behavior will stop rather than trying to stop the barking directly.
Help Your Dog Overcome a Fear of Men
There are two ways your husband can help Shiloh overcome her fear so that she does not bark at him in this context. One technique is to present himself in the least threatening way possible. When he enters a room, he should turn slightly to the side, lean ever so slightly away from the dog, and squat.
The second technique is to teach Shiloh to associate the appearance of your husband with feeling good. The basic idea is to consistently pair up what Shiloh loves best with your husband entering the room. For most dogs, this means steak, chicken, or freeze-dried liver (no dry biscuits!), but some dogs adore balls or squeaky toys. Instead of her thinking, “Yikes! He’s here and he’s so imposing!” we want her to think, “Here he is again! Where are those super treats (or toys)? I’m so happy he’s here with that magical stuff!”
To make the combination of these two techniques most effective, every time your husband enters the room, he should do so calmly, position himself in the non-imposing stance, and immediately (within a second) throw the treats or toys to her. Ideally, he will toss them to her before she reacts, but he should toss them anyway, even if she’s already starting barking. It’s better to toss them as opposed to handing them directly to her. That way, he does not have to approach her, which could set her off. Her special favorite item should be reserved for this situation only to make the pairing with your husband as tight as possible in her mind.
If you follow these steps, Shiloh should adjust to your husband — and any other new men in her life — in no time.
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Karen B. London, PhD, CAAB, CPDT-KA
Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.