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I'm currently in the process of moving into a new apartment. My roommate is a stranger who I met on Craigslist, and she has been living in the apartment for the past two years. She has a 6 year old Jack Russell mix.

The first time I came to the apartment to take a look, my roommate-to-be was already outside walking the dog when she greeted me at the parking lot. The dog seemed totally fine.

Today was a different story. I came to the apartment to unload a few boxes. When I walked in, the dog ran up and barked at me like crazy. I basically ignored him, and as my roommate and I started talking, he calmed down a little bit. I noticed him apprehensively giving me the side eye once in awhile. After chitchatting, I went back outside to grab more things. After about 20 minutes, I walked through the door again. The dog runs up and barks again. This time, as I'm carrying a box into my room, he bites my calf. I was wearing stretchy gym pants and mid-walk when he did this, so he got a better grip of my pants than my actual leg (Thank God). I am not sure if he was actually going to bite down. My roommate yelled, "NO! Go back to mommy's room." As she apologized, she said that he's normally not like this when she's not home and mentioned that he's a rescue, so his past could potentially be contributing to his behavior.

Several years ago, I lived with another roommate (also a stranger from Craigslist) who also had a dog. This dog would also bark whenever I came home, but ONLY if my roommate was already home. If she wasn't home, the dog would pay me no attention to coming in. During this time, I spent the majority of my time at my boyfriend's house, so it makes sense that this dog never got "used to me." I get the sense that my new roommate's dog will also be like this, based on what the roommate said today.

These dogs are obviously territorial and are trying to protect their owners. I officially move in in two days, and this incident is sort of making me worried. The last thing I want is to live in an environment where I'll be stressed out about coming home because of my roommate's pet.

How do I establish to the dog that I belong there? Will he eventually calm down after he gets used to my presence? My friend, who fosters dogs regularly, said to do so by taking him on long walks a few times, never reward him or acknowledge him when he's behaving that way but instead push him away from me and ignore him. And when he does behave, reward him with a treat. Any other ideas?

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I kind of feel that it should be your room-mate asking this, not you - it's hard to train someone else's dog! If I were talking to her, I'd gently suggest she stop yelling at her dog. She will not make him happy and confident by ignoring his attempts to signal discomfort/danger, then yelling at him when he is pushed too far :-(

I think you should talk to your room-mate about this situation. She should be moving the dog away from you and keeping him away from you in a space where he feels safe, such as a crate or behind a dog gate, until he is more relaxed about your presence.

Ask your room mate if you can feed the dog, and what to give him. This is a good way to make friends and establish that you are one of the household - and you shouldn't need to do it often. But don't approach the dog while he is eating. Throw a chunk of cheese or a piece of sausage to him instead, so he is not tempted to come closer than he's comfortable with, then suddenly finds he's right next to you once the cheese is inside him.

I would also suggest that if you come in and the dog barks at you, it would be best to stand still or back off. Squatting down or sitting can be reassuring too, particularly if you are unusually tall, some dogs find that alarming initially and need a bit of time to get used to it. If you are holding something that might be scary - eg a box or a stick - put it down. (Ideally, the owner would then move the dog away so you can get on with things!)

Do not stare at the dog, or move suddenly, but give him space, look sideways if you need to keep an eye on him, and speak quietly.

Sometimes just ignoring can work and I can understand why you tried it, but clearly this dog is stressed enough to bite, and you don't want to risk a more serious second attempt. I hope that helps.

  • I totally agree that it should be my roommate asking this. I do not know her at all yet, and because people treat their pets like their children, I feel like I have to politely suggest ways to handle her dog in this situation. Hopefully the fact that she witnessed the dog biting me will make her more vigilant in trying to get the dog to warm up to me. – user51097 May 24 '16 at 16:52
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The main thing you need to accomplish is a Conditioned Emotional Response (CER). In short, you want your appearance to make your roommate's dog very happy.

The simplest way to do this is keep a pocket full of the dog's kibble mixed with a few treats. Whenever you enter the room, throw a handful of kibble/treats behind the dog. This does a few things. The first thing is it gets the dog further from you. Many dogs rush toward things they are afraid of, scaring themselves further. This reverses that in a positive way. The next thing it does is makes the dog sniff around to find all the food, which naturally defuses fear and aggression. I do something like this when I feed my goats because my dog gets anxious when I go in the fence without him.

In the same vein, you can give the dog a food toy in another part of the room. This amps up the searching behavior, so it's really effective.

Another thing you can do is to train an incompatible behavior, positively. This has a nice side effect that later you can use whatever behavior you've trained. One example is training a dog to lie quietly on a mat. I like the treat and train for this because I can be doing something unrelated (like carrying boxes) and my dog is getting trained. It comes with a DVD that has a lot of good information on dog training in general.

Punishing the dog for aggression will work against any work you do to create a CER, because it creates a negative emotion that is associated with the target of aggression (you), so if you can get your roommate to stop doing that, it will be helpful.

Good luck!

  • +1 for training an incompatible behaviour. It's easier to train an animal to perform a task than to train it to do nothing. – mhwombat May 24 '16 at 16:53
  • Thank you for this advice. I'll definitely keep some dog treats in my pocket. I have to move a few more boxes in tomorrow, and I was thinking that the big boxes I was carrying might have alarmed the dog even more. I'm planning on asking my roommate to keep the dog in her room until all of the big boxes are moved in. After that, I might walk back out and ask her to escort me in to see if he responds better. OR would this be a bad idea since he has to get used to me coming home on my own sooner or later? – user51097 May 24 '16 at 16:57
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    Always start with low criteria and work up to more stress/distractions/etc. as the dog is successful. My worry with having your roommate escort you in is what is her body language going to be saying and will she yell at the dog if it acts aggressive. So if it were me, I'd stick to variables I can control. – Amy Blankenship May 24 '16 at 17:00
  • I'm just really worried that he's going to try to bite me again, but break skin this time. His previous bite did not hurt and I barely even felt it, but when I took a shower, I saw a small bruise where his tooth had obviously been. I don't want to feel nervous every time I come home. Would you suggest that as soon as I walk in next time and see him coming, throw a treat his way? Do I maybe crouch down and get to his level right after I do so? I'll just have to talk to my roommate, because she said he acts this way only when she is home. – user51097 May 24 '16 at 17:05
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    I'd throw a handful, as I said above. You want him occupied searching for treats. After that, I'd personally ignore him but not be too active. You want to slowly increase the amount you're moving while he's calm, so you need to manage the situation so he's not able to even get to you wile you're moving around until you've gotten him to be calm around you while you're sitting in a chair, then standing around, and finally moving. – Amy Blankenship May 24 '16 at 17:16

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