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Anna, Dog Expert, Biologist
Category: Dog
Satisfied Customers: 11424
Experience:  35 years training & showing dogs. Written articles for Dog Fancy, Dogs, Dog World.
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why is my dog not affectionate to me, but to everyone else?

Customer Question

why is my dog not affectionate to me, but to everyone else? example -- leave her at dog park with her best doggy friend and his owner while I run errand; come back to park; her best doggy friend and another dog come running up and greet me enthusiastically, while my dog, not busy playing, just lurks 10' away, glancing briefly at me. She does let me pet and brush her, apparently enjoying it, even lies next to me for it, but almost never wags her tail for me, while showing great enthusiasm e.g. for strangers who come to house, much less my housemates or dog park. I may officially be alpha, but she is certainly not very obedient (at least re "come"), even after five classes, including one on teaching your dog to be calm and self-controlled.

I gave up on classes because her expectation of of two cups of food rewards in one hour {the standard for four different instructors at two different schools -- the only other option AKC classes, which I'm weary of} aroused her so much she stopped paying attention to learning. She became even more aroused than in dog park -- well, at least as aroused.)

I leave her alone in car (because she shreds bedding in crate and chews in house, even with doggy companion), but even when gone for hours she shows no interest in my return.

Complete different from the more than 20 other dogs I have owned/lived closely with.

Her breed is a complete mystery (rescued at 4 mo, now 10.) Vaguely dark Tervuren, but coat mostly very short. Long legs and feathered tail. She is interested in herding (we work on not grabbing hocks), and balls, but would rather play a kind of soccer than retrieve them. Will splash enthusiastically along beaches but not swim. She is dark brown-black with fur almost as soft as Afghan or Tervuren but with "Mohawk" of 4" wide 2" high strip of longer, more curly, a bit coarser fur in strip along her whole back. Medium short floppy ears, dark brown eyes, nose almost puppy-short but not compressed. Only rarely nippy, seldom barks, whines to go out.
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: Dog
Expert:  Anna replied 5 years ago.

I'm sorry to hear you are having all these problems. Whatever breeds have gone into your puppy's make-up, we can be certain there is a high-drive herding breed in her. Such dogs are very different from other dogs you may have owned, and are a challenge. I'm glad to hear you are participating in herding because that will be very good for her. Besides being high drive, your dog may have come from an unfortunate background. Even though she was probably not abused, she most likely was not socialized as a puppy. Such dogs often can have problems with relationships. Your dog's excitement at seeing her doggy friends and people other than you is that they are different, while you are there most of the time, so you're not as exciting. She clearly loves you, but may not ever show it in the way you hope for. I have a dog like this, too, so I understand the frustration. She is very affectionate to almost anyone but me, yet she wants to be in the same room I am in, and be close to me. After I was int he hospital for a week and she was away from me, she made her real feelings clear. For two days after I came home, she was constantly trying to be in my lap, snuggling, etc. The person who cared for her told me she was constantly looking out the windows and watching the door while I was gone. So, I know she loves me, but will not necessarily be affectionate. Sometimes we just have to accept their personalities as they are.

As for the disobedience and wildness, at 10 months, she is a teenager. We know how rebellious human teens are. I know you've dealt with this before, but in a high-drive dog like this, it will be much more difficult. Until she matures, it si best not to give commands unless you are able to enforce them. For example, don't ask her to come when at the dog park and she can run off, but work on the recall at home with a long line on her.

Positive training methods are best. Recently the whole 'alpha' theory we've relied on for so long has been discredited. It was based on a single group of captive wolves who didn't even know each other. Biologists have since discovered that such a dynamic doesn't exist in wild wolf packs. There is much more cooperation and nurturing. However, positive training doesn't have to mean treats are the reward. some dogs work better for a game. For example, call her to you, and when she comes, play a game of tug with her if she likes that. If you attend an agility trial, you'll see that such games are used with the high-drive dogs very often. Another choice is a favorite toy that only is available during training sessions as a reward.

For a dog like yours, I recommend clicker training as a way to get her to focus her attention on you.You may have used a clicker before, but if not, they are sold in pet stores. The clicker makes a noise when you squeeze it, and you use that sound to let the dog know that she's about to get a reward. The first step in clicker training is called "loading the clicker." You'll need to have a reward. Most trainers have a handful of tiny treats - about pea sized, but you may want to use a toy or special game instead. Without asking the dog to do anything, click and give her a treat. You repeat this until he realizes the click means a treat. some dogs will learn this in one session of about 15 clicks, while others take several sessions. Treats tend to get a quicker result than other rewards, and in this case, it won't matter if your dog becomes excited. Later you can switch to some other reward.

Once she knows what the clicker means, you use the clicker and rewards to teach her things. At first, you don't give any commands, but wait for the dog to do what you want. Sit is a good one to start with. Without saying "sit," wait for her to sit. The instant she does, click and reward. After she does this a few times, start saying "sit" just as she begins to sit. Soon, you'll be able to say "sit,", and she will. You can continue with a variety of common commands, such as come, down, shake hands, etc. At some point, your dog will start to do what is called "offering behaviors." that is, she'll be so excited about the clicker and rewards that she'll try all sorts of things to get you to click and reward. Here’s a site where you can read more about positive dog training methods:

Here is a link to an excellent book on the subject:

The destructive behavior in the house when you are gone could be the result of adolescent rebellion, but I am more concerned that it is separation anxiety. You won't be able to take the dog with you everywhere throughout her life, so you need to deal with this. I recommend crate-training so she can be left in a crate. If you want more information on crate-training or dealing with separation anxiety, just let me know (there would be no additional charge).

In summary, I suggest accepting your dog's personality as it is, continue to herd as often as possible, start clicker training, don't give commands when she is in a position to ignore them, try rewards other than food, crate train her, and give her some time to grow up. When she is old enough, agility training would be an excellent idea.

If you have more questions about this, just let me know by clicking on REPLY.


(If you find my answer helpful, please click on the green ACCEPT button. Thank you.)
Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Anna --

Thank you for your thoughtful answer. I felt very space-limited asking questions so some things not clear.

1) Wookie was crate-trained from the day I got her. At first it went fine, and she still sleeps every night and part of day in crate, now with open door to allow her very long body to stretch out fully (no real space for larger crate-- I live in one room of shared house). But once while moving heavy furniture I had to put her in closed crate for 15 minutes within sight/sound of me -- and she immediately shredded her bedding. I feel she treats the back of my car as a surrogate crate with much more interesting scenery than real crate. (As I've noted, she seems to ignore my comings and goings from-to car). Only one thing in car minimally chewed -- sheep wool on sheepskin car seat cover.

(2) She has *increased* her furniture etc chewing as she gets older, virtually *all* done while I am in house and she had access to me. Though she often chooses not to be with me, even before she could play with new dog, 2 yr old corgi, Oz, who arrived in Nov w new house mates. While Oz & Wookie love to play and play well together, Oz eats/gets diarrhea from toy stuffing. Meanwhile Wookie has suddenly dramatically increased attacks on furniture, possibly because no longer allowed to pull stuffing out of toys. (I do pick it up regularly but not instantly.) We also have to keep rawhide chew-type toys from Oz, but for some reason he is allowed to chew a baseball-bat sized hunk of wood, of no interest to Wookie.

(3) Although I discourage hock-grabbing in dog park, I haven't tried to give Wookie herding lessons -- not trivial to find around here. I lost a Tervuren last spring, and even though I promised her herding lessons when I adopted her (she was clearly interested), I never managed to. Now new training center just opened only 45 minutes away. In any case, I did spend 14 years with a shepherd, and Wookie is not like the Terv, who worshiped me.

(4) I know the "alpha" theory is discredited, but Oz's owners suggested that I should give him an "alpha roll" when he jumped up on and peed all over my bed and bedding, just to show him who was boss. I also occasionally hold his mouth shut when he gets into fits of barking (Wookie almost never barks, but strangely did this morning at something she could see from back deck.)

(5) I do own about 4 clickers, but find it harder to have one handy (not helped by arthritic hands) than to use my voice. At lease several of my 5 obedience classes included "loading the clicker." Wookie does do commands like "watch me" and "sit" and "down" and even half-decent "stay", and is MUCH better (all-but-once, when something freaked her out) about keeping within 20-30' of me off leash than Oz, the corgi, who can't be trusted for an instant. And Wookie will reenter gated yard from the park it backs up to if I say "follow me" or "lets go" rather than "come." In dog park, I don't ever say "come" -- I just walk up to her (and since I have orthopedic problems) ask for help catching her occasionally. She does "come" in house for modest food treat -- but can also play "catch me if you can" when she'd rather spend night on couch than in crate. Long lines are hard for me with my orthopedic problems and the complex layout of house, where they can get tangled in the electric stair lift between couch she wants to stay sleeping on and floor I'm calling from.

(6) The only thing (besides getting me to let her out or take her on walks or to dog park) that Wookie ever shows interest in is rolling a ball back and forth between her and me or a friend's young daughter or if she can persuade it, another dog (yes, she has persuaded one or two).

Or she acts like a kid practicing soccer kick set ups, playing with ball herself with her feet. She will chase balls, and intermittently we've worked on fetch. But Oz the corgi is so competitive re balls we no longer try in house. Even with a "loaded" clicker and treats handy, I can't see Wookie trying to do anything more inventive than poking me to persuade me to give her one. (Whereas Oz is so rewarded by ball that he will pester endlessly for reward of game of fetch.)

Wookie is so agile in dog park, jumping with 180 end-swapping turns over several large dogs, that I really think she'd love agility classes when ready. At one out-of-state dog park we visited she started exploring the up-down pyramid ramp and other play structures.

So even though she doesn't seem to be rewarded by tugs of war, and all ball games in house are interrupted by the corgi (who is leaving at end of January), I think ultimately being allowed agility games or herding may act as "big" rewards, like play in dog park is now. But there isn't any "little" play reward I know of for her now, and she seems completely indifferent to praise.

(7) I know I should be making her sit outside each door, wait until I've opened and entered, and then given her permission to follow. But it is so difficult for me to struggle to endlessly climb up from basement to let her out back door (around obstacle of not-currently-used electric stair lift) that I just don't have energy to enforce that routine often. Sometime when we come in easier side door, or other level places.

(8) I'm frankly overwhelmed by the conflict over training approaches. I think some negative input needed so a dog understands what you don't want it to do when you can't wait for it to figure something out on its own.

E.g. when Wookie was in her wild mushroom snatching stage I couldn't wait until she'd learned "leave it" -- nor pay for constant vomit visits to vet. (I actually used to collect and eat mushrooms myself, but I can not ID one that disappears down a throat before I've seen it. We were about to resort to muzzle when mushrooms stopped appearing.)

I've always liked Patricia McConnell, and was very upset when Wisconsin Public Radio stopped producing her show.

I suppose Wookie will just be Wookie and I can't give her a magic potent to change her personality. But after living with/knowing many many dogs, including ones that saw me only rarely (my mother's, former housemate's) but still greeted me enthusiastically, I find it sad not to get that from Wookie. After all, I live in metro Washington DC, where Truman(?) famously said "If you want a friend, get a dog. If you need more friends, get two dogs."

I had a golden retriever during the same 14 years I had the Tervuren. It was very sad when Terv no longer could move to come greet me or wag her tail (broken hips before adoption) and the golden went deaf and couldn't tell that I'd arrived, and then abruptly died of lymphoma just as I was teaching her sign language. (The corgi, incidentally, is very well trained to both voice and sign.)

I was going to get a second dog this time too, but Wookie is my first rescue, and everyone advised against it, though she enjoys living with Oz so much I wonder. Anyhow, she plays almost daily with her first best friend, Yankee Doodle, who always greets me with excessive exuberance. So we'll take things one day at a time for now, especially since I may need more surgery.

Expert:  Anna replied 5 years ago.

It sounds like you really have your hands full right now. You have tried a lot of things with Wookie already, and it seems they aren't working in the ways they should. She seems to be a strong-willed dog, and quite possibly was not socialized correctly at the right age. If you can afford it, it would be a good idea to see an animal behaviorist. This link will take you to a directory:

Your vet or one of the trainers you've worked with may know of others in the area. Standard training doesn't seem to be working, and a behaviorist is qualified to analyze the problems and help you figure out what to do.

I understand your confusion about training methods. Dog training is in a state of transition right now, with some trainers insisting on the old ways, while others move on to the new ones. Positive training is supported by good research, while the older methods, especially the alpha theory are not. That doesn't mean you can't use a firm command, such as "Leave it" or "No." Sometimes those things are necessary. The alpha rolls, picking dogs up by the skin on their cheeks, and manhandling them are the things that have been discredited. Dominant wolves never force a submissive wolf into a position on the ground. The submissive wolf rolls over voluntarily to show it is submissive. The alpha roll doesn't exist in the wolf's social world, and it mostly confuses dogs when a human does it to them. Here is an interesting thorough article on the subject:

Your idea of taking things one day at a time is probably the best approach right now since you have health problems to deal with. Continue to be as consistent as you can with Wookie. Some of these behaviors she may grow out of, but many dogs remain in that adolescent stage for quite a long time. For that reason, I hope that seeing a behaviorist is within your budget.

Regardless of what you decide to do, I'm hoping for the best for you and Wookie.

Customer: replied 5 years ago.
Anna -- I tried to send message earlier but may have crashed. Fear my dog wookie just isn't very affectionate or cuddly nor eager to please. At 11+ months she is still occasionally peeing indoors and has taken up checking wooden furniture (now thickly covered with bitter apple, as fabric she was chewing was earlier).

There is new research showing that some german shepherds may have gene like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in humans. I strongly suspect wookie (a mutt) has that, and maybe doggy autism spectrum too. (After all, we're all being poisoned by environment.)

Yes, I know she's a rescue, and rescues are difficult, but I think this may be in here genes.

Since I have friend with two autism-spectrum children, trying some of her methods. Just a lot of patience and repetition and attempt to move from treat-rewarded training to praise training, though when she stands there for five minutes refusing to sit it is really aggravating, especially when cold outside.

Seriously considering investigating drugs, though not sure what tested in canines except Prozac, Zoloft, and that mostly discredited.

Suggest you at least look at german shepherd ADHD results and consider when advising clients.
Expert:  Anna replied 5 years ago.
Hello again Sarah,

I'm sorry that you feel I was negligent in not suggesting this possibility.I would offer you a refund, but since you have not clicked on accept, I have not been paid anything, so there is nothing to refund. So far, there is only a possibility that German shepherds have these disorders. The usual signs are poor impulse control and inability to pay attention. Here is a link to a scientific study on the subject:

Because these findings are relatively new, there are no established medical protocols. The drugs used in humans work only when the child certainly has ADHD. They are stimulants, and have the opposite effect in normal children. In addition, the chemistry of the disorder may be completely different in dogs. You can speak with your vet, but many vets would be hesitant to use them. there are owners of GSDs who have self-diagnosed the disorder int heir dogs and are using herbal remedies and supplements recommended for humans. This, too, is risky, because osme of these substances are actually toxic to dogs. If you wnat to go that route anyway, the supplements used are easy to find with a quick search for ADHD supplements. I can't recommend them.

As for your dog's accidents in the house. It is not unusual for a dog this age to have accidents. Approximately half of the dogs I have owned still had a few accidents up until about 18 months of age. Wookie has learned some commands, she is able to concentrate on her ball game, and she is not a purebred GSD. For all these reasons, it is unlikely that she has the genes for the defect in enzyme production. She may simply be a highly-reactive dog (quite likely in many herding breeds) who is not affectionate.

I hope that whatever you decide to do will work out well.