Dog on the Couch

2017-05-11 06:02

Hi Susan, can you give me some advice about my German short-haired Pointer, Gusto. He has always been an easy and pleasant dog around people but he is showing aggressive behaviour to a new tenant of mine. How can I get Gusto to get on with my tenant? Thanks.


Unfortunately, it would be impossible to answer this question without more background information about Gusto, together with other considerations such as the need to observe interaction and body language between dog and tenant.

Dogs have individual personalities, as well as likes and dislikes, just as we do. In some cases, often due to reasons we cannot fully fathom, we might never learn to like someone.

If this is the case between Gusto and your tenant, and if the tenant is doing nothing to provoke this dislike, there is a good chance that Gusto can be taught at least to tolerate him or her.

A dog’s world is influenced mainly by smell. A bad experience in the past that has come to be associated with a smell (such as the smell of a particular animal, or of perfume or after-shave) can make the dog react adversely to certain places or people when this past experience is rekindled and mentally transferred to the new person or place. With patience and force-free training, it is usually possible to desensitise a dog to someone or something that is disturbing them.

For various reasons this cannot always be successful, such as when a powerful, overriding gut instinct of the dog, rightly or wrongly, may be sensing some ominous trait in a person (of course the same could apply between two dogs.)

In some cases, after full consideration of all factors, it might be advisable not to try to force the issue.

Dogs have an uncanny ability to read intent. It is part of their survival repertoire. Their ability to tune into facial expressions and fine motor-movements of the body, among other signs that often go unnoticed by less astute observers, enables them to detect someone who harbours dislike or deceit. Many dog owners will be able to testify to this.

It is also possible that certain memories might be triggered by specific types of people, sometimes linked to certain events or associations that result in distrust by the dog. A problem might be simply that the dog has never seen someone wearing a hat or carrying a ladder.

For example, if a man who worked with cement and wore gum boots was cruel to a dog, the result in the dog’s mind could be an aversion to anyone smelling of cement and wearing gumboots, or even just to the smell of cement or the sight of gum boots. Once such a trigger is identified, an informed method of rehabilitation can be worked on.

Before the problem leads to an accident it would be best to consult an accredited behaviourist.

Susan Henderson© 082 386 5805.

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