Sunday, October 4, 2009

Fearful submissive dog becomes Territorial

I mentioned in previous posts that Darlin’ had been growling and barking at my family when they entered our home or a room where she and I are. Usually she reacts this way in the kitchen, out in the yard, or sometimes in my office. She is still fearful of my family, but has never shown signs of aggressive behavior.

She has been living upstairs with my family for five months so I had hoped she would be comfortable with everyone by now. Her barking started once she was comfortable walking through the house. Before that she spent so much time in hiding under my desk or in the corner of my bedroom, either in her bed or behind her bed against the wall. No one ever knew she was around.

Her body language has shown me she is becoming territorial. One paw up as though she is stalking her prey. Sometimes running to the corner of the room to get a better look at the one who walked in or who is approaching. Then she’ll run back to my side and bark her head off. Even my husband recognized that she seemed to be protecting me when he walked in the house after work.

Other times she’s caught by surprise while eating dinner with the rest of the dogs and she’ll stop eating and bark. If I don’t stay with her in the kitchen she will not eat. If she gets nervous and stops eating I tell her to eat and she will continue, but the one that caused her to feel threatened has to leave for her to eat. Gee, I just realized I’m standing guard for her!

If we are out back in the yard and anyone walks out on the deck or to the yard she runs to the middle of the yard and barks at them. I tried correcting her with words, “hush, that’s enough, knock it off.” About the only thing that stopped her barking was poking her and giving her the sit command. She would sit, but she was grumbling too. She has hound in her mix so her barks are hollow and loud. I realize I am repeating myself from pervious posts, but this is where we are now.

Some days when my son walks in from school I can’t even hear him say hello. He’s 16 and hasn’t had a lot of patience. Not only do I have to rehabilitate a dog, but I also have to educate my family on canine body language and make sure they don’t make matters worse by their approach or reaction to the situation.

I finally got to the point that I didn’t know what to do about her barking. I have a submissive gentle dog that never made a sound now turning territorial. Before this change in behavior I heard her bark one time, the night I approached the trap with her in it. Even then she only barked once and it stopped.

I wrote canine behaviorists for suggestions. She has recommended I teach her the “Go to” command. I am to designate an area and teach Darlin’ to go by tossing food. Well, this girl isn’t motivated by food, but she does love her chicken and cheese. Since I have four other dogs and considering the layout of our house, this method does pose some problems.

Her second recommendation was to put a short leash on her and as soon as Darlin’ barks to remove her to another room, closing the door behind her and leaving her on time out for 30 seconds. This way she will associate the bark with having to be separated from me. The behaviorist did recognize by my description that Darlin’ is protecting her most valuable resource – me! Also, Darlin’ does not behave this way when left alone with my family. It’s only happening when I’m at home!

I have removed her from the kitchen, but all I have to say is, “Go”. I point my finger and walk to my room and she goes without any problems. Of course she would, she wants to be with me at all times. I shut the door, go back to whatever I’m doing, and allow her a few minutes alone. When I go back for her she’s standing at the door. She does not like to be alone when I’m home. I think this may work for us, but I’ll have to be consistent. I have not been consistent this past week.

She follows me downstairs to the den, lies under the kitchen table at dinner, usually under my chair, and is doing well around my family. The only time this happens is when we are in the kitchen or out in the yard alone. Last night we were outside going potty when my husband walked out and she started barking her head off. I have neighbors that I don’t want upset by my dogs barking so I ask him to go inside. Darlin’ probably thinks she’s done a good job of warding off the enemy!

I think this is our only real issue right now. I do wish I could leave the kitchen when she’s eating, but when she loses her fear of my family this may also correct itself.

She does go downstairs to the yard without me first thing in the morning! That’s one less trip I have to make downstairs. I sit or stand on the deck and watch her in the yard, but at least I can stay upstairs. Other times during the day she won’t go, she’ll stand at the back door waiting for me. This dog has a ten gallon bladder, she can wait 12 hours easily.

We went for our first walk yesterday since the first time I took her out in July when she slipped her collar. I bought her and harness and she’s gained so much weight and filled out I could barely get it on her. I had a harness on her and a leash on her collar which I wrapped around my wrist. It wasn’t the easiest thing to manage having two leashes on a dog. The first walk in July was good, she was nervous, but walked well beside me.

Yesterday she was back and forth, in front of me, beside me, just all over the place and we only walked a few blocks down the street and never turned a corner. As soon as we got next to my neighbors property she froze. When I tried to encourage her to walk she bucked like she did the day she slipped her collar only this time it didn’t work! There is something about that lot that makes her want to bolt to the woods. She may smell water in the creek just beyond their yard, I don’t know. My husband came up behind her thinking she might move forward because he’s not her favorite person, but instead she submitted and rolled over on her back to give him her tummy.

It took a couple of minutes to get her to move forward, then she ran up the steps and sort of cowered in the corner by the door. When I opened the door she ran through and wanted desperately to get to my office. I quickly removed the leashes and harness and she ran under my desk. She was hot, nervous, and drooling as well – mostly nervous. I realize two walks in three months isn’t going to do much to get her comfortable walking on a leash in the neighborhood, but I have had some fear issues myself after almost losing her in July. Now that the weather is cooling off we will try a few times a week.

Regarding her weight: One day shortly after bringing her home she ran from me and hid behind the hot tub. There is a small gap between the hot tub and the house. It took a few minutes to get her close enough to me where I could pull her out. She was still very fearful at the time. Two weeks ago we were outside when my daughter and her boyfriend walked out back. Darlin’ got scared and ran to hide behind the hot tub. The only part of her that fit into the small space was her head! Her shoulders are so broad now she doesn’t fit so we heard a loud thumb when she crashed into the hot tub!

My friend stopped by unexpectedly over the weekend. Friends and family live miles away so the only guest we ever have is my daughter’s boyfriend. Darlin’ has adapted to him as well as she has my own family. Darlin’ barked at my friend when she saw him, but she quieted down right away and ran to my bedroom. While we sat at the kitchen table I noticed she had been running back and forth to the kitchen doorway checking us out there on the table.

Toby, our rough coat Jack Russell, is Darlin’s favorite playmate. She doesn’t seem to know how to initiate play with the others, but she wants to. She’ll sometimes run past them in the yard and whimper. She’s done that for a few months. The dogs just look at her confused when she whimpers. There have been two or three occasions when she got excited and ran circles around the yard. I get pretty excited myself when I see her so happy. Bonnie, our smooth coat Jack Russell, caught on and chased Darlin’, but it didn’t last long. Bonnie likes to be the one leading in a chase. Darlin’ treats Toby like her puppy. She will play wrestle with him, but it always ends in a thorough cleaning. She’ll lick him in every crack and crevice. I have never seen anything like it between two dogs this age. Darlin’ had puppies in her life; perhaps because of Toby’s small size she thinks he’s her puppy. I know it’s social bonding, I just don’t know why she chooses to clean Toby. When I pick him up she will stand on her hind legs and sniff him while he’s in my arms. She gets excited like I have her baby. One day he jumped in my lap while I was at my desk. Darlin’ actually stood and put her front paws on my legs, sniffed Toby, and when I leaned over she licked my face! What a wonderful surprise it was to get a kiss from her!

A few weeks ago when I posted an update I went to to make sure I had the link for Brandon the dog correct. I noticed they had a link for lost pets there. Being a curious type I scanned the lost dogs in our area. There was a dog listed from one and a half years ago with no real description. Since I’ve known Darlin’ a year I decided to send an email and ask if they found the dog. They had not. The lady provided me with the description of her dog and it sounded like my Darlin’. The owner of the lost dog lives in our county, but at least 30 miles away. Dogs show up in the strangest places so the distance didn’t concern me.

I sent her a picture and she wrote back stating that she wasn’t sure if Darlin’ was her dog, and that she needed to look at her dogs pictures to be sure. Not sure?! My heart stopped! She asked if I was keeping Darlin’ and in my reply I told her our story and confirmed that I was going to keep her. She sent me another email, but I was inundated with work at the time so I didn’t have a chance to reply. She did state in her last email that even if Darlin’ was her dog that she wasn’t suggesting I give her back.

I have always wondered about Darlin’s past, how she ended up a stray, and how long she was on her own. It’s probably better for me that I don’t know. And I realized after I wrote the owner of the lost dog that I don’t want to know because I would never want give Darlin’ up. I spoke with my family after the lady said Darlin’ looked like her dog and we agreed that the only way we would let her go was if they confirmed it was her by providing pictures. Darlin’ would have to show us that she was excited to see them and that she loved them. If someone had one of my dogs I would want my dog back no matter how much time had passed. Darlin’ is not her dog, Darlin’ had puppies, her dog had not.

Darlin’s history began the day I saw her running around that grocery store parking lot just over a year ago. She was mine long before then, it was just a matter of time before I found her.


  1. Believe it or not, she still is fearful and submissive but she is just expressing it in a new way. Her self confidence is really low. Poor sweetheart, no matter how old she was when she came to you, she was still a baby in her head.

  2. We were just over checking out your bog and lovin it! Yes, she is still fearful and thankfully she's always been submissive. If anyone were to approach her while she's territorial she will cower or scoot in next to me. When my husband gets too close she will lay down. The vet said she is about 3 yrs, since she is spayed someone had her at some point. She was neglected and not socialized to people or dogs, but one of these days she'll see that there is nothing to fear here, ever. Seven months is a drop in the bucket compared to some fearful dogs I've seen or read about. I count my blessings.

  3. do you worry that the barking will progress to biting?

    riley is quite similar to darlin in many ways, and i wonder if some of her behaviors are typical of coonhounds (which riley is, partly).

    he is from the pound; he was about four or five months old when we got him. he'd been with a family that had rejected him. the reasons listed on her papers were "aggressive children, jealous older dog." which sounds sad.