The One Person Dog -- Tips To Help Your Dog "Spread The Love"
It's not unusual for a dog to get more attached to one family member than another. While adult dogs rescued from difficult situations may be the most likely to overbond to one individual in a new home, this can also happen with dogs brought into the home as puppies, particularly if one family member assumes most or all of the puppy raising duties. Then there are the breeds traditionally thought of as "one man dogs" - German Shepherds and Akitas come immediately to mind. Most instances of "person-preference" are mild, and more a source of funny anecdotes than any real inconvenience to the family or harm to the dog. However, when a dog bonds very strongly to one member of the family, to the complete exclusion of the others, it can create difficultly both for the dog and people involved. Truly one person dogs are only happy when they are around their person. They may mope, hide away, refuse to play or even eat when "their" person is away from home. They may become stressed or uncooperative if they need to be handled or transported. They may refuse to mind, or refuse to be consoled, when their person isn't there. The situation can become particularly troublesome if the "out of favor" family member begins feeling snubbed and rejected by the dog. And honestly, it's hard to blame them!
Fortunately, dogs are nothing if not adaptable. Whether you have a puppy or adult dog, born in the home, purchased as a pup, or brought into the family at an older age, there are some simple things you can do to help your dog "spread the love". The following suggestions can be used preventatively with dogs with no attachment issues, as well as remedially with dogs that have already decided that mom is as sweet as a liver treat, while dad is as dry as an old biscuit (or vice versa!). If you simply want to avoid your dog developing a strong preference for one family member over another, just pick and choose what you like from among the suggestions. If your dog has already bonded noticeably with one person, you will do no harm by having the "less favored" person(s) introduce one item at a time. Start with ones that feel most do-able, over time adding in more as the dog's balance of affection becomes more reasonably distributed.
- Split the chores. While having the "person of less interest" feed the dog is generally the first recommended change to make, other ways to make yourself more relevant to the dog are taking her outside for bathroom breaks, brushing her, walking her, and being the primary source of play.
- Make a list of your dog's favorite things and activities, and associate yourself with the things she likes best. Does she love chin scritches? Learn how to be the very best chin scritcher! Is she crazy for her Kong? From now on, the Kong lives in your pocket. Etc!
- Train the dog. Frankly, all household members old enough to do so should practice training the dog, but the person of less of interest to the dog will elevate themselves in the dog's eyes by taking over the main training duties. Needless to say, this training should be gentle, reward-based, and enjoyable for all involved!
- Get involved in something new and different. A terrific way to forge a bond with a dog is to take on some challenge together. Teach the dog a series of new tricks that you can show off to friends and family. Take a fun agility class. Practice for and earn a Canine Good Citizen certificate. Teach your dog to track you through the woods. Pick something you think you'll enjoy, and just do it!
Good luck and have fun with this. Until next week, Happy Training!
Julie Cantrell BSc, CPDT-KA, CDBC
Canine Behavior Services