My dad has a medium-sized dog. She was adopted when she was a puppy, and is now about 6 years old. When she was younger (until about 3 years old) I used to visit a few times a year but now it's only about once a year, after I moved farther away.

Although I'm in no way an expert in interpreting dog behaviour, she generally seems to remember me, and also be very happy to see me. When I walk in she starts barking, wagging her tail and jumping all around me. She likes it when I pet her, and some times she comes asking for it as well, by lying on my legs when I'm sitting down.
When I talk to my dad (and others in the household) through Skype, if she's in the room and hears my voice she'll come up to the computer and start doing a bark-bark-howl, which I've read somewhere is dog for "Come back!".

However her behaviour changes entirely if we're alone in the house, or if everyone else is asleep.

When she was little (before she started being so friendly with me in general) if I went downstairs to use the bathroom, which is next to my dad's bedroom where she sleeps, I'd hear her making a low growl interspersed with a sound that's something between a bark and a snort (or maybe a bark without opening her mouth). My dad woke up and said that while she was doing that, she was pressed up against him and trembling. Eventually that stopped.

One day, last time I visited, we were out and I approached the house before my dad did. She was barking from the inside, the same way she barks at strangers. When my dad came close, she stopped. We went in and she was happy to see us both, but when my dad stepped out she ran behind a corner and stared at me making the same growl-bark/snort sound I described earlier. It stopped immediately when my dad came back in.

I've never had a dog myself so I'm not very familiar with their behaviour. It seems though that she genuinely likes me when others are around, rather than just thinking my presence is acceptable, but looks afraid when no one else is.

What could explain that behaviour?

  • 1
    It sounds like the Dog has confidence when around certain people. My mothers dog is the same. She is scared when my mother isn't visible.
    – Terry
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 10:44

2 Answers 2


How dogs act when their person is around as compared to being alone with someone else is different. My dogs ignore my roommate when she's the only one home (one of them hangs out on my pillow/bed the whole time). The minute I get home, they are totally affectionate to her (and me).

It does sound like your Dad (her person) gives her security. She most likely does remember you, but you are a friend and not quite a member of her pack. My dogs are the same way, where there are certain people they love but it's still not the same as when I'm there.

When you two are alone, I would actually ignore her and let her come to you. Her growl-bark sounds like a fear-growl rather than an aggressive growl. Direct eye contact challenges dogs and if she's feeling insecure, looking directly at her will be stressful. By ignoring her and letting her come to you, you are non-verbally communicating that you're not a threat. And dogs are primarily non-verbal creatures.

Treats are a good persuader, too, especially when they are ones the dog really loves. If you start dropping them when you're around and in the dog's vicinity without directly interacting with the dog, you'll be reinforcing that you're a safe and attractive person to be around.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive. As people we want to go and pet the dog to show that we're friendly and not a threat, but dogs don't work that way. Also, I would pet her where she can see your hand (like her chest and not the back of her neck); this builds trust, too.


I would have to agree that your Dad's presence is what makes her feel secure. I would imagine that the more time you spend with her, the more comfortable she will become. Try a giving her a new toy and finding a game you two can play together. If that doesn't work, maybe try putting bacon in your pocket. It worked for for Melvin on the movie "As Good as it Gets" - seriously, treats can help. Just stay calm, give her plenty of attention and try to find a unique way for the two of you to bond. Good luck!

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