Q: My rescued Chihuahua growls constantly at my boyfriend, even snapping at times. My boyfriend does give him treats, or tries to, but the dog is scared. My dog seems to respond this way to all males. My guess is that Stella was once abused by a man. How can I get her to stop? —N.S., somewhere out there in Cyberspace
A: While it’s possible your poor pup was abused by a guy, that is actually unlikely. More possible, is that your dog may be generally fearful, and also wasn’t properly socialized to men at a young age. Making matters worse, small dogs are more often intimidated by the mere size and gruff voices of men.
If you are afraid of dragons, and then one comes to live with you, the experience may be terrifying and only intensifies fear. Your boyfriend is the dragon here. However, if the dragon gives you $100 every time he walked by, eventually you may grow to really like the dude.
I suggest every time your boy sees Stella, he drops tidbit of cheese, hot dog, low fat/low salt lunch meat, or a manufactured treat like VitaBone Trainers (which are easily broken into small pieces) and softly says something like, “Here you are go, Stella.”
Overtime, Stella will re-associate the sight, smell, and sound of your boyfriend.
The decision to approach should be Stella’s. Trust can’t be forced. That is why, at first, I am not suggesting your boyfriend give these treats directly to your dog. When Stella is ready (that could take anywhere from a few days to a few months), she will indeed approach. I can assure you that when this happens, your boyfriend will feel great. Earning trust is good feeling, on both ends.
It’s really important with a dog so small that the pieces of cheese, hot dog, lunch meat, or treats are tiny, or you’ll be writing me in two months about dealing with an overweight dog.
Once trust begins to build, your boyfriend should try petting Stella. Only do this when Stella approaches, and she is most likely to approach if your boyfriend is at her level, watching TV on the floor, for example. If your boyfriend is doing something else, like watching TV, Stella is more likely to approach than if he calls her. And, if he walks up to her, she might be intimidated. Also, play helps to build relationships with dogs, so when she’s ready, he can play, but never physically, only with a little toy, like a squeaky toy.
As for creating trust with other men: Employ the same idea once trust has been built with your boyfriend. If every time a man sees Stella she gets a special treat, she’ll eventually understand that men are treat dispensers. However, people should never force themselves on her, which could make Stella feel threatened.
Sometimes, advice is easily dispensed but challenging to carry out. Never be afraid to ask for hands-on help from a certified dog behavior consultant.