Sometimes our dogs are perfect angels with us and total brats with other people. It’s one thing if your dog doesn’t respect strangers, but what do you do if your dog is disobedient and rude with your husband?
In today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant we’re tackling this topic, as posed below:
“My rescue dog doesn’t respect my husband at all. He has terrible manners and behavior, walks all over him, and is extremely rude in general. He deliberately ignores commands, enters his personal space too often and forcefully, begs for food, jumps, whines etc. He doesn’t act this way with me.”
I have good and bad news for you if you’re struggling with a similar problem: your dog probably isn’t actually being an alpha, status-seeking jerk. This probably has very little to do with respect. Yes, the dog is being rude and inconsistent, but it’s probably an environmental and training issue more than a personality defect.
When dealing with problem behaviors in our pets, it’s usually helpful to examine the simplest explanations first. Which is more likely: that something in the husband’s behavior is different from the wife’s, causing a difference in the dog’s behavior? Or that the dog is intentionally manipulating the situation and deliberately ignoring commands?
I haven’t seen video of this particular case or had the opportunity to work with them in-person, so I can only guess exactly what at’s play here. Here are my hypotheses:
- The husband is frustrated and/or overly forceful, causing the dog to react in an anxious way that appears pushy and disrespectful. Dogs that are confused by unclear commands (or worried by a frustrated owner) often jump up, can’t hear further commands, get mouthy, and otherwise look “rude.” If the husband tends to get frustrated, it’s possible his attempts at controlling the situation are backfiring.
- The wife is clear and consistent with her cues and the dog has a relationship of trust and understanding with her. The lack of this relationship and communication with the husband causes a feedback loop of frustrated and confused husbands and dogs.
- The husband has a history of inconsistent boundaries or fun roughhousing with the dog that causes the dog to try to “play” in a way that is perceived as rude and pushy.
In reality, I just don’t quite know yet.
Here’s what I’ll suggest you try if you’re in a similar position:
- Address the dog’s baseline needs. Dogs that are “acting up” or “acting out” are often struggling and don’t have their exercise, enrichment, nutrition, or communication needs being met properly. I suspect that this dog has some pent-up energy (both mental and physical) that is confounding the issue. Given that this issue is so different from one partner to the other, I also suspect that communication breakdowns are occurring. Check out the resources below to get started with baseline needs and improving communication:
- 13 Dog Training Games and Exercises to Make Dog Training Fun
- How to Deal with an Unruly German Shepherd Mix
- Are Dog Treats Bribery? Do Treats Make My Dog Beg or Only Listen When I’ve Got Food?
- How Do I Get My Dog to Listen at the Park?
- The “Can You Listen When…?” Game Teaches Your Dog to Ignore Distractions
- Implement SMARTx50. This is one of my favorite ways to repair a broken relationship between a dog and human. The human’s new job is to have easy access to treats (either in a treat pouch or in jars around the house) so that they can reward the dog whenever they catch the dog being good. This approach (detailed here) helps the dog learn to self-regulate and offer calm, quiet behaviors rather than being pushy and rude. It also quickly repairs the relationship as the human now has an easy tool to get what they want that isn’t yelling, jerking on a collar, or otherwise getting frustrated.
- Build relationship and consistency. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that the dog would benefit from some general bonding time with the husband in this household. As part of increasing exercise and enrichment, I’d suggest that the husband take over some walks, training games, and other structured activities. This will have the dual benefit of curbing the dog’s energy levels while also building their bond. A dog that is well-exercised and comfortable with their human is far less likely to be rude and pushy.
- Utilize negative punishment when needed. Negative punishment is the removal of a good thing in order to punish an unwanted behavior. In this case, I’d remove the human if possible when the dog is rude and pushy. For example: dog jumps up on husband, mouthing at his hands and tugging on his sweatshirt hood. The husband turns around, exits the room, and closes the door behind him. This gives a clear message that that behavior will not be tolerated and gives a functional punishment (the dog wanted interaction and entertainment, and it was removed).
- Utilize treat scatters and pattern games to teach the dog to control himself. When the husband returns, he should bring treats so he can scatter treats on the ground before the dog jumps. This way, the dog can calm down by finding treats on the ground and keeping his paws to himself. The treat scatter both produces the behavior we want and rewards it! Brilliant! We can also use pattern games such as the treat toss game and up-and-down games.
There are a lot of directions to go with this issue, and it’s difficult to answer without being there to watch the dog and humans interact. I hope this gets you off on the right paw to mending your relationship and reducing problem behaviors!