Sally and John obtained their Doberman pup, Jessie, from a breeder at the age of six months. The dog was the smallest of the litter and had previously been purchased by another couple who decided to bring her back to the breeder. Sally and John had owned another Doberman previously, but their first dog had run out into traffic and been killed at the age of five months. The couple wanted this new pet to be a good guard dog of course, but they also wanted her to be affectionate and playful.
Over the next few months, they successfully housetrained Jessie by crating her. Actually, the dog was crated every time the couple left the house. They taught her obedience commands on a sporadic basis. She was very good with “sit” and “stay,”not so good with “come” and “heel.” They often had visitors who Jessie seemed to like with the exception of one person, John’s accountant, who arrived to do the books once a month. On each subsequent visit, the puppy became more aggressive with this woman, until finally the accountant could not set foot on the premises because of the dog’s hostile reaction to her. The dog didn’t react this way to any other visitors.
1. Was the accountant ever alone with the dog? Could she have done something that mad the dog dislike her?
2. Is she fearful of Dobermans in general and showing it so clearly that the dog can sense it? What kind of body language is she using around this dog?
3. How do the owners react to the visitor? Are they nervous and tense about money, so that the presence of this particular person adds to an already stressful environment? Pets will pick up on these emotions.
4. Is there anything in the dog’s background that would set her against this one person? Did the former owner (the woman who eventually gave her back to the breeder) or the breeder look like the accountant or perhaps even wear the same perfume? Were there any other similarities?
5. Does the accountant use any machinery that might frighten the dog? A noisy adding machine? A beeper to summon her to the office.
6. If all of the above reasons have been explored, we may have to dig deeper, since there is always a cause for behavior. Although the possibility may seem farfetched, maybe something is going on that one spouse doesn’t know about, such as an affair between the husband and the accountant. The dog may be jealous and protective of her mistress if she knows something the woman doesn’t.
Jessie is clearly an undersocialized dog. The fact that she is always crated whenever the owners leave the house indicates that she’s not trusted, and this attitude carries over to her behavior with other people.
The accountant is not a family friend – she only comes to conduct business. Therefore the couple’s attitude toward her is undoubtedly cooler, and they don’t waste time on chitchat or sitting down for coffee with her, as they would with a friend. It certainly would be helpful for the family to spend some time with the accountant while Jessie is present and act friendly toward her. If they treat her like a pal, the dog might eventually do the same.
It may also be a good idea for the accountant to meet the dog on neutral territory. The couple has encouraged Jessie to protect the house; therefore, it may be more difficult for her to react well on her own territory to an acquaintance who performs only a business function. The couple could bring a favorite ball or toy for this meeting in a local park or schoolyard and have the accountant and dog play together.
If the problem is the accountant’s equipment, the cure might be to accustom the dog to the sound of the machinery. Sally and John could make a tape recording of these sounds, which they could play to Jessie, gradually increasing the volume every few days, or they could use the equipment themselves in front of her.
This behavior problem has to be stopped before it goes any further. In a case such as this, where a dog is developing aggressive tendencies, the symptoms are likely to magnify over time. First, she’s aggressive toward certain people in the house; next, she might snap at anyone who comes near the cat. It’s very important that Jessie be socialized now, with the couple and with anyone who comes in with them. The crate in which she has been confined should be removed (preferably when she is out of the room), and from then on, Jessie should be included in all of the family activities.
Finally, if all else fails, and if the accountant herself has difficulty acting at ease around the dog, the solution may be to keep her off the premises and let her work with the couple in her own office. To avoid allowing the situation to repeat itself, with every other newcomer in the household, Sally and John should make it a point to include Jessie and make her understand that the visitor is completely welcome.