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Ask Jean Donaldson
Q: My dog used to get up and be all wiggly and cute when I returned home, but now she doesn't even bother getting up to greet me. I have to go looking for her and then she'll yawn and roll on to her back so I can pet her tummy. She's only three so it's not like she's an older dog lacking in energy. What's up? -Jim, Portland, OR
A: Before I toss out training recommendations, make an appointment with your veterinarian to make sure you kid is well. It's unusual for a dog not to greet effusively. If your veterinarian gives a clean bill of health, it's time for some relationship rescue. There are a couple of possible reasons why she's not so keen to greet.
One is that she thinks something bad is going to happen when you come in the door. If, in the past, you've ever scolded or punished her for naughtiness committed while you were away, she might have learned to associate your arrival with bad stuff. This would explain the yawn, which in dogs usually indicates conflict, in this case a conflict between "yippee, he's home" and "oh-oh, he's about to get scary."
Another possibility is that she's reaching social maturity and is destined to have an aloof nature. You don't mention her breed, which could provide a clue. Many sighthounds and some of the Asian breeds can be more stand-offish and this could have a developmental onset (usually between age two and three), which would explain why she's been gooey up until now.
If you'd like to rev her up some, initiate an enjoyable arrival ritual. If her favourite thing is walkies, immediately take one with her on your arrival home. It needn't be long if it's an inconvenient time-a token few minutes down the block would do. If she's a cookie hound, commence an "I'm-home-cookie" routine. If she loves to play, do a quick round of fetch or tug with her toys as soon as you're in the door. Don't fret about any lack of reaction in the early weeks. Simply follow through on the ritual. Once enough coming home-predicts-fun money is in the bank, I bet she'll brighten up. ■
Jean Donaldson is the founder of the San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers and author of several books on dog training and behaviour, including Dogs are from Neptune and The Culture Clash.