Zena is my rescue Staffie cross that I've had for a little over two years now, and while her behavior was very bad when I first got her, and she's improved a great deal in the time I've had her, the past few months I have noticed things going backwards.
In most cases, she is a very friendly and happy dog. Even though she is much more friendly and seems to show a lot more self confidence when meeting new people now, there is still that bit of fear in me that if someone moves too quickly with her, she will react in a negative way. She was very skittish when I first got her, and any quick movement towards her, or anyone putting her face close to her face would result in her snapping at the air.
I realize that this is a defense tactic that is associated with fear aggression, and taking her to obedience classes for about six months when I was still living in Toronto seemed to really help reduce that anxious behavior for a while. But I find myself still warning people not to go too quickly with her, and my heart jumps up into my throat whenever people don't listen, or forget. She has snapped at, at least two people in the past, who have crossed her boundaries. Thankfully at those times she was wearing a muzzle, but that kind of behavior is still very unacceptable, and I don't know what to do to stop it.
I can't reprimand her, or correct her. I can, physically, tell her a harsh "No!" or give her a sharp tug on her slip collar to remind her who is in charge. But I can't do these things without her reacting as if I'm going to kill her, and I'm the most horrible person in the world! I was taught to do a balance of correction and praise, and I correct when she does something wrong, but I praise her to high heaven when she does something right as well!
I get a lot of avoidance behavior from her, and especially lately she has taken a great liking to Tim, because he doesn't correct her. He is now the Good Guy, and I am the Bad Guy, and the only reason I tell him not to physically correct her is because I don't want to risk her ever biting him because she gets scared. She has bitten me in the past, early on when I had her, but it's easier for me to let that slide. I cannot have her bite anyone else, period.
We've had to start introducing her to the crate again, even though it stresses her out a great deal. We have no other options, as she will have accidents and chew when left out by herself. She was starting to get a bit better with it, but lately I've had to fight with her to get her in. She will not come to me when I call her to go in her crate anymore, and she will proceed to either hide behind Tim, or try to crawl under the bed. We go through the same scenario practically every day.
When I have to approach her to get a hold of her collar to lead her to her crate, I have to go slowly. She has always had issues with having her collar reached for, and to a degree I've always had to go slowly, as her body language tells me that if I were to go too fast, she would not hesitate to bite (wide eyes, ears back, stiff body and lips). There have been a few occasions where she has turned quickly as if she were going to bite, but so far she hasn't crossed that line.
I have tried to associate her crate with good things, by putting her in to feed her at meal times, (with the door open, and sometimes closed) as have I tried putting in treats. Treats do not work at all to lure her into her crate, and neither does praising her. I've tried putting in towels and dog beds to make it more comfortable, and she will either urinate on them, or chew them up, or both.
Once I can finally get her into her crate, she will sometimes let out a very low growl and even bare her teeth at me once the door is closed (she has always been fearful if cornered in a small area... this is not a new reaction, though it was something that I thought was beginning to go away... and now it's come back).
I don’t like the fact that I have to be so very cautious around her, and warn others to be as well. I have never been able to completely trust her with other people, because the slightest mistake could lead to a lawsuit, and I’d be charged with having a “dangerous dog.” All because she will suddenly become fearful and react. About the only thing I can be sure of is that she is predictable, meaning that I do know exactly what will trigger her behavior, and thusly I have had to modify my own behavior around her.
For all of the times that she is a well-behaved and well-adjusted dog, it makes me cry the times when she is suddenly not. If she has it stuck in her mind that I am going to do something “bad” to her, how on earth can I show her that that isn’t the case? With all of the positive training and situations that I’ve been in with her, I can’t believe that she still has so many trust issues with me. I know that her previous owners scared her and were mean with her, and that conditioning from her first home are most likely the cause of her behavior. But if in two years I have not been able to convince her that I am not going to do to her what her previous owners did, than I don’t know what to do.
Continuing her obedience in general is always a great thing, but that does not solve the real behavioral problems that she has, and unfortunately I do not, at this time, have hundreds of dollars to spend on a behaviorist. I also have no way of knowing if this is something that she will ever get over, if she went to a behaviorist or not. Her attitude with me has changed a great deal, and she no longer seems to be the same happy dog who once looked up to me, and smiled and wagged her tail. Now, even when I just want to give her a pat, her ears go back and she hangs her head. When I call her, she comes with hesitancy, almost a crawl. She does not make eye contact with me anymore. She is always looking off to one side, or will just roll over onto her back in submission.
I hate the thought of my dog being afraid or worried around me, and I have no idea why this has suddenly changed. I don't know if all of this is mostly due to the stress of moving to BC, from Ontario (that could be a huge part of it). Maybe it's the new environment. Maybe it's because there are two of us now - both Tim and I, whereas before it was just Zena and I, and she followed me more readily. Now she seems to ignore me, and follows Tim.
If the situation was different, and it was still just she and I, then I would probably continue to put up with her quirks. But it is not just she and I anymore - I have to take Tim into account now, and any of our friends who come to visit us. Her behavior has become quite unacceptable, and is beginning to become a huge concern to both me, and Tim. The fact that my dog no longer trusts me - and that I cannot trust her - has broken my heart, and I really don't know what to do at this point.
I suppose the biggest question here is, should I be putting up with a dog that I can't trust? I love this dog so much... those of you who know me personally and have met Zena know just how much I adore her. But if I cannot find a way to work through this with her, what are my options? :(