Dogs That Hate Men
Q: My Chihuahua, Crystal, hates men. This is ruining my chances for romance. What should I do? - Leila, San Jose, CA
A: Dear Leila, It is unlikely that Crystal "hates" men. Hate is an inimitably human foible. More likely, Crystal is fearful of men. Indeed, being afraid of men is very common for dogs living with single women, since the dogs have had little opportunity to interact with men on a daily basis. What Crystal needs now is what she has always needed since puppyhood-the opportunity to socialize with men-lots of them. The resolution to the problem is going to be pretty easy and, of course, man-socialization for Crystal also means man-socialization for you.
Put Crystal's food bowl in the cupboard. No more meals from her food bowl until she loves the company, attention, and affection of men. For two days, handfeed Crystal ALL of her daily ration of kibble. (If you feed her canned food or raw diet, change to feeding kibble for now.)
For another five days, invite a number of female friends to handfeed her. From this, she learns the game she is later going to play with men. Fearful responses are exacerbated by not knowing how to act. You are going to imbue confidence in Crystal by teaching her how to act, first around women, then around men. Practice "come-sit-kibble" over and over. Then add a little variation: "come sit- stay-kibble-kibble-kibble."
Finally, for several weeks, or as long as it takes, invite men to handfeed her. You must not feed her anything. Resist those sweet, pleading eyes. During this time, the only food Crystal eats must come from the hand of a man. We want Crystal to make the association between male guests and a lengthy, yummy dinnertime. We want Crystal to learn to love the presence and presents of men.
When you start this phase, Crystal may not approach right away. Sit the man comfortably in a chair (with a sports program on the telly) and be patient. When Crystal has approached to her safe distance, instruct the man to toss a bit of kibble over her head so that she has to retreat to get it. As Crystal sniffs the kibble, have the man toss three treats between her and him. As Crystal approaches again, she will be rewarded with three tasty treats. Practice this over and over.
Ignore Crystal if she barks or snaps, but be sure to praise her whenever she is brave. Let her know how proud you are when she acts confidently.
Now, I am assuming Crystal currently shies away from men or, at the very most, yips and yaps, snaps and lunges, or maybe nips men. The prognosis is good so long as you act right away. If not, her behaviour towards men will get progressively worse and eventually, Crystal will bite someone. Even though she is a small dog and her bites will be small, biting (puncturing the skin) is a serious problem. If she is already biting, contact a certified pet dog trainer (CPDT) right away (www.apdt.com).
Speedy treatment is also important because, apart from hurting men's feelings and curtailing their (and your) amorous intentions, Crystal is hurting, too. It is simply not pleasant to be scared of something and then have to confront that fear on an irregular basis.
So where do you find male volunteers for this project? Just ask. Ask all your female friends about likely candidates. Ask men from work. Ask a local trainer whether you may recruit men from puppy classes. You only want to recruit trained men, not those who might think it funny to tease Crystal and frighten her. Maybe ask the trainer to help you with the training as well.
It is always a sound plan to invite a bunch of men plus a few female friends at the same time. Not only is this a sensible safety precaution, but also some of your unmarried female friends might find a good man, too. Watching a man working with a small dog (or a large dog, or almost any animal for that matter) is an open window into his heart and soul. You never know, maybe Crystal's fear of men will prompt the ringing of many sets of wedding bells. ■
Dr. Ian Dunbar is a veterinarian, animal behaviourist, and dog trainer. He has written numerous books and videos and hosted his own television series about dog behaviour and training. Dr. Dunbar is Top Dog at the Center for Applied Animal Behavior in Berkeley, California (www.jamesandkenneth.com), which, at one time, was a three-Chihuahua office.