Help! My Dog Doesn't Like My Husband

Man Giving Dog Treat
Get your dog to associate your husband with good things by having him ask the dog to do a trick she already knows, and then reward with a treat.

Q. We adopted a shelter dog a few months ago. She and I have become very close, but she either ignores or avoids my husband. We thought she just might need some time to get used to him, but there is no sign of her warming up. What can we do to help ease the tension? 

A. First of all, congratulations on your new family member! I know from experience the joys and challenges that come with an adopted pet — and it sounds like you’re seeing them firsthand. 

I understand your concern, but the tension between your dog and husband isn’t necessarily permanent. I want to start by exploring some possible reasons for your dog’s behavior and follow up with a few strategies for promoting a better relationship between them.  

Why Your Dog Loves You Best

Your dog’s choice to bond primarily with you is not surprising. Though some dogs can be affectionate and loving with a variety of people, others will form an attachment to only one or two individuals. I have this type of relationship with my Pug, Willy. He enjoys other people, but when he’s given a choice, I’m the one he wants to be with.

Sometimes, however, this type of extreme devotion can stem from anxiety rather than affection. Fear can cause a dog to avoid certain people and cling to others. This may be the case in your situation: Your dog may be more timid with your husband than she is with you because of fears she developed before you adopted her.

How Dogs Develop Fears

Dogs may react fearfully to certain people because of the way they were socialized as puppies. Your dog may be uncomfortable with your husband because she was not exposed to many men as a puppy, or maybe she wasn't exposed to men who look like your husband. Men can be frightening because of their appearance: They are typically bigger and taller and have deeper voices than women. Details like beards and glasses can also unsettle a dog who is not used to them.

Your dog may be picking up on other, more subtle factors in her interactions with your husband, such as the way he approaches her. My husband, Ben, and I were recently at a friend’s house; to my surprise, my friend's dog reacted fearfully to Ben, who was leaning forward in his chair with his arms resting on his legs, looking at the dog. Ben was trying to be friendly, but his posture and direct eye contact were apparently perceived as a threat by the dog. When Ben adopted a more neutral position — turned slightly to the side and looking away — the dog’s reaction changed. Your dog may be reacting to similar unintentional cues from your husband.

It is also possible that a difference in the way you and your husband discipline your dog is affecting her interactions with him. If you rely on positive reinforcement to get your dog to behave and your husband uses punishment, this may cause your dog to be nervous around him or avoid him all together. It is important to take a consistent approach to training and discipline, and I always recommend positive reinforcement training over punishment or confrontation-based training.

Teach Your Dog to Love Your Husband

The first step in changing your dog’s relationship with your husband is to carefully structure their interactions, in order to make them more predictable for your dog. At the same time, teach your dog to associate your husband with good things, like treats and rewards. Both of these things will help her feel more secure around him. 

One of the easier ways for your husband to interact comfortably and predictably with your dog is for him to ask her to do a trick she has already mastered, like sit or down, and then reward her with a treat. Other tricks, like hand targeting and shake, allow your husband to approach and make physical contact with your dog in a comfortable situation. Have your husband reward every successful trick with a treat.


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