This is a case study on a dog behavior problem.

Daisy Mae, a 3 year old Golden Retriever (adopted from a rescue group at 6 months of age) was fearful and reactive to people – mainly men

Here is a brief excerpt from my evaluation file giving you some background on the owner and her dog.

Knowledge Empowers You Acronym
Background: This includes a snapshot of how owners view their dogs – a critical part in the solution.

Katie’s relationship with her 3 year old Golden Retriever, Daisy Mae, started off to be “a perfect love story” or so Katie thought. But her love affair with Daisy Mae, the perfect dog was about to go south when Katie met Brent, her soon-to-be fiancé.

Katie’s previous Golden Retriever was a near perfect dog. Like most dog owners, Katie naturally set her expectations high for Daisy Mae based on the great dog she had before.

Daisy’s issues had some fear issues: What Katie liked about Daisy was her sweet nature, even though she was a bit skittish around people, especially men. Katie didn’t let that bother her thinking Daisy would eventually grow out of it.

An obedience training class proved useless: At six months of age Katie took Daisy to obedience training and quickly discovered that instead of helping Daisy get used to people, it actually made things worse because it was not a controlled environment – too many dogs and people too close.

Katie noticed Daisy seemed frightened of people approaching to pet and in fact, snapped at them before slinking away behind Katie. This was alarming to Katie so she quit her dog obedience class.

Daisy’s lack of socialization worried Katie but the most troubling concern was Daisy’s fear of people – especially men.

No structure for Daisy: Because of Katie’s busy schedule and Daisy’s picky eating habits, Katie began to leave Daisy’s food bowl down all day while she was at work thinking she would eat when she got hungry.

Katie walked Daisy twice daily and the two of them usually relaxed on the couch watching television until bedtime. Like clockwork after the news it was a quick potty walk and return to the house for lights out and bedtime. Daisy slept with Katie and was usually the first in bed.

By the time Daisy was three, Katie and Daisy were pretty well bonded with lots of love and affection and very lite in the “structure and rules department.”

Then Katie met Brent.

Daisy’s fear hits home: Daisy was fearful of Brent even though Brent was kind, even-keeled and never raised his voice. Daisy began to react to Brent just like she reacted to people in obedience class. She would snap when he came close to her. Date night at Katie’s was miserable. Daisy had to be crated or shut in the bedroom when Brent came over. Since Katie didn’t like doing that she would meet Brent out at his car to avoid any confrontation between the two.

Katie and Brent finally got engaged but avoided the Daisy issue. Katie was worried that she might have to give up Daisy for a happy life with Brent. Their lifestyle was stressed and inconvenient. They couldn’t function like a normal couple with a dog.

The events leading up to – and immediately following – Katie’s call to me, put Katie on the hot seat almost having to make a “Brent-or-Daisy Mae” decision until they decided to give me a call.

Their call to me: I made sure they understood I wasn’t coming into their home to fix their dog. My goal was to teach and guide them to a humane and successful resolution to their dog behavior problem.

I made sure they understood that many dog problems simply don’t get resolved because the dog owner will not make the necessary changes to effect a positive change in their dog.

Some however do. Katie and Brent did. In fact, they did every single thing I recommended and, in time, it worked. They knew it would take time. Their wedding was one year away so they set that as their goal. It did take time. It took about 6 months.

The program that worked for them
(Keep in mind that this is an abbreviated version)

By this time Brent, Katie and Daisy had moved in together so it provided the perfect set up for them to get Daisy used to Brent. I recommended two things:

1. I recommended Katie slowly begin to distance herself from Daisy giving less and less social contact – even petting. With walking, Katie began to start the walks but then turn and go home and then let Brent do the walks by himself. Very hard for Katie to do but she did it.

2. Before Katie’s disengagement from Daisy, I had Brent start off clicking/treating Daisy off and on throughout the evenings and weekends. He slowly became the only source of treats and interaction. Brent eventually took over Daisy’s walking and then began feeding Daisy as well. When Daisy was comfortable with the feeding, Brent eventually put her on an earn-to-learn program (sit for everything) and began teaching her more dog obedience commands. Rules and structure was exactly what she needed.

Change is possible with many dogs with willing participants and a serious commitment to change. Role reversals like this (complete social distance from the original owner) where we diminished the value of Katie while building high value in Brent, works with many dogs.

I also find that some dog owners are not up to the task and find ways to compromise the program. They can’t stand not to interact with their loving pet. It is a personal decision – live with the dog behavior problem or fix the problem so I’m not judging.

While Daisy needed a lot of gradual socialization to Brent and other core family members using desensitization techniques, much could be achieved in confidence building through obedience commands as well. They learned that with Brent in charge of Daisy’s training and walking exercises, her progress accelerated more quickly.

Over time it did fix the relationship with Brent and Daisy. Katie couldn’t be happier. With the proper skills to desensitize Daisy to people, Katie and Brent set that as a long range goal working with core family and friends first and then gradually increasing Daisy’s circle of people she eventually liked.

Daisy is a lot less stressed now having rules and expectations in her life especially where love and affection is earned and balanced – along with everything else.


Reference article:

Jim BurwellJim Burwell, Houston dog trainer for 25+ years, serving 8700+ clients, has a profound understanding of dog behavior and the many things, we as humans, do that influence that behavior – good or bad.  Jim has the ability and the experience of mentoring and teaching dog trainers how to excel and grow their dog training talents and their business