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Lifestyle Pets Unleashed

Ask the pet expert: fearful dog

My daughter and son-in-law have two Austrailian shepherds — a 9-year-old male they've had since puppyhood and a 5-year-old female they recently rescued. They leave the dogs with us when they travel. The rescued female dog seems afraid of my husband. She growls and races from room to room hiding behind furniture. We think there may be something about him that reminds her of the person that abused her before she was put up for adoption. She is fine with my son-in-law. Both dogs have separation anxiety. It is impossible to leave them at a kennel because they become nervous and sick. What can we do to get the female dog to be more comfortable with my husband?

If your daughter and son-in-law have not already done so, I encourage them to seek professional help for both of these dogs. They could both benefit from some confidence-building.

Unless you know for sure that someone abused the female dog, it's best to assume she just wasn't properly socialized with people. It might help if you think of yourself as a coach helping her move forward rather than feeling sorry for what might have happened in the past.

That said, your family has a great opportunity to influence her behavior. I recommend seeking help from a professional trainer. In the meantime, take it slow and don't put her in a situation where she's forced to directly interact with people who make her uncomfortable. At the moment, she is giving appropriate warning signs — growling and running away — but if she feels the warning signs are ignored, she might see no other option than to bite.

For now, your husband should ignore her and almost play hard to get until you are able to consult with a professional. Here are a few general suggestions: Give her a chance to get used to the new environment (your home) and your husband's scent; if she's crated, you can put a piece of his worn clothing in the crate for her to sleep on. Set her up to watch the other dog interacting with your husband so she sees he is well-liked by her canine companion. Take walks together with your husband holding the leash of the male dog and you holding the fearful dog's leash. If she approaches him to sniff, it doesn't mean she wants to be friends yet, so he should not touch her. It just means she is getting curious and wants to get to know him. That is a very good sign.

This week's expert is Pauline Houliaras, certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant and president of B-More Dog. Submit your questions to

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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