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TLDR; I've tried for a year to coexist with my girlfriend's dog, and things have gotten better, but it's still not liveable for me. Is there anything else I can do?


My girlfriend and I moved in together a little under a year ago, and alongside her came her Pomeranian and two cats (in addition to my own cat). I've had a lot of difficulty adjusting to this dog over the past year - especially only ever having kept cats in the past - but we've put a lot of elbow grease into making things better, and have made a lot of progress.

The problem I'm facing now is that, even with remarkable behavior improvements and a year to get acclimated, I'm still having a lot of trouble coexisting with this dog - and I'm worried we're running out of options to make the situation any better.

First, things that have gotten better:

  • At first, he was an incorrigible barker (as Pomeranians are), literally setting off any time he heard a leaf drop outside. Daily chasing of cats, jumping on the table to steal food off plates, barking for attention whenever we leave the room, snapping at anyone that tried to touch his bed while he was laying in it. After some in-home training classes, a few months of positive reinforcement, and the purchase of a remote-controlled citronella collar, most of this behavior has subsided. Mostly.

  • Part of the problem was my own behavior as well; I learned quickly that you can't admonish a dog like you can a cat. A spritz from the squirt bottle doesn't deter them, it just makes them irritated and bark at you instead of that leaf. Training classes taught me how to get him to respond to me instead of just aggravating him.

Now, things I'm still having trouble with:

  • My girlfriend and I are sleeping in separate rooms because of the dog. He sets off anytime someone opens the door while he's sleeping and wakes him up, as a fear/alarm response. We've tried training him out of this, but he's overprotective of my girlfriend so we haven't had success - he's being stubborn about this one. We've tried putting him out in the hall, but he just ends up fighting with the cats, so this is the only peaceable solution for now.

  • There are times I'm watching TV and idly petting, not paying attention to where my hand is going. This is safe behavior with cats - if you hit a spot they don't like, they just squirm and walk away. With the dog, if you hit a spot he doesn't like, he suddenly nips at your hand. He's never drawn blood, but it's always a rude surprise nonetheless. We admonish him when it happens, and have been giving him positive reinforcement when we pet him and he doesn't nip - but it doesn't seem to be stopping. We've also taken him to the vet to make sure there's no injury or skin irritation - it's just his way of saying "stoppit!". These are really the only "good moments" we share otherwise, so this one might be getting under my skin the most.

  • Training commands can only go so far when they're reactive. He still chases the cats and snarls/barks at them, he just doesn't do it as frequently - and we can stop him a lot sooner. There's still the hackle-raising stress when he sets off. There are also still mornings that he barks when my girlfriend gets up to get ready for work - which is a problem because she gets up considerably earlier than me. He responds quickly when she uses his "quiet" command, but still - all it takes is one bark to wake me up. After months of a 6am wake-up call when my alarm is set for 8am, I'm going batty.

I'm not sure what else to do. Neither of us are willing to get rid of him - for better or worse, he's a member of the family. We seem to have hit a wall in terms of how much we can fix, and none of the resources we've tried have been able to push us past it. The lack of further solutions over the past few months has me in despair - something has got to give, and as it stands it's going to be our relationship.

Is there anything else I can do, to improve his behavior (or mine)? I'm at the end of my rope.

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    Sounds like all three of you need some real training. Dogs need a pack leader, unlike cats. Somebody has to be one all the time, or you get this kind of thing. – Oldcat Jun 26 '15 at 19:13
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    @Oldcat I'm learning the truth of that bitterly. This is my first time coexisting with a dog, so I've been acting with a lot of restraint - for fear of letting too much anger or frustration lash out under the guise of discipline. In retrospect, all this did was leave his behavior unchallenged and let him run the show. I'm signing up for training classes for all of us. – CodeMoose Jun 26 '15 at 19:28
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    I'd also put the dog in one bedroom and you two in another. Sleeping apart can't be reducing everyone's tensions. – Oldcat Jun 26 '15 at 21:41
  • There's plenty of cats whose first reaction to accidentally petting in a way they don't like is to bite or scratch too. I don't think you'll train the dog out of it as it's just the natural way to tell you it doesn't like it, and trying to set up training session around something the dog doesn't like is kind of mean. So just stop petting the dog when you're not paying enough attention to make sure you're not doing something it doesn't like. – Kai Jun 29 '15 at 20:27
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Context: I have a home with 1 dog (terrier mix) and 2 cats. Dog gets jealous of cats when they try to get human affection and used to chase cats. Cats are scared of almost eveything.

I see no mention of a crate for the dog. We've crate trained ours since she was a puppy, so I don't how well it will work for an older dog. The crate would help with the sleeping issue, as it gets the dog out of your girlfriend's bed. It also serves as a buffer for the cats. There are sometimes where we'll put the dog in her crate so we can give dedicated playtime to the cats.

Be consistent with commands you give and enforcing them. If you give the dog a command to get off of something or go into their crate, make sure your girlfriend backs it up. My wife got into the habit of saying "oh it's okay" when I tried to get the dog off the couch or go in her crate. Now the dog goes to my wife when I give her one of those commands because she knows that she doesn't have to listen to me.

I know Cesar Milan's methods aren't popular on some online boards, but some of his exercises may help. I'm thinking of one where the dog gets defensive of the gf while sitting on a piece of furniture. You would sit with her on the couch/bed, and she would remove the dog from the couch everytime he starts barking at you. (There's bound to be videos of this on youtube).

Best of luck, hope something in my ramblings help you.

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    "Oh, it's okay" has been at the root of every dog issue I've ever seen, ever. Consistency is huge. – rlb.usa Jun 26 '15 at 16:39
  • @rlb.usa hear hear - I suspect that's close to the root of our problem too. – CodeMoose Jun 26 '15 at 19:19
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    After paying closer attention to both our habits and minimizing the "oh okay", we've been able to make more progress. Thanks for the tip! – CodeMoose Jul 6 '15 at 14:43
  • I'm glad to hear this helped you. – Core.B Jul 6 '15 at 18:46
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Stating the obvious, not so nice thing that you don't want to hear

Reading through your post, I think the biggest issue here isn't that you're having issues with the dog, but that the dog seems an ill fit for your girlfriend, who is its owner. I really think that this high maintenance dog requires a skillset that's beyond either of you combined. And I think the best way to solve the issue is to give the dog away and hope its next owner does have those skills - and the dog will be happier where it doesn't have to be so viligant. There is a lot to be said for matching personalities/skillsets and this dog seems badly fitted to your girlfriend and evenmore so to you. I'm really focusing on your girlfriend here because she is the dog's owner and master, and if she can't handle him, there's little hope for you. I think that your best option is to do your research on a dog that will suit both of you- something that's not so guarding, barky, ignores cats, and preferentially laid back and low maintenance, and I think the quality of both your lives will be significantly better. Or maybe no dog at all. This is a mean thing to say - but I have found that when people own dogs like this, they really aren't attracted to the dog much at all, but rather, the dogs appearance, and the few cute mannerisms it has - everything else that the dog is, the majority of who the dog is, they are not happy with at all. (people tend to pick dogs that look like them).


Consistency and girlfriend

Dogs are supposed to be a team effort and consistency is key. You haven't written much about your girlfriend and that lack of it leads me to believe that she really isn't so much on board at all. It's always you trying this and you trying that as if you're the only one that has an issue - pretty sure the dog acts up when you're not home. If this really is the case, then I'm afraid this is about the best its ever going to get. Either the girlfriend gets entirely on board, or this is your life, now. Half-assed will not do. Your relationship with your girlfriend is out of scope for his question, so I'll stop talking here.

Master of the house

I also wanted to mention that it sounds an awful lot like the dog is the master of this family, and not either of you humans.

On addressing problems before they become problems

I don't know what training methods you are using, but if it were me, I'd be working on preventing problems from ever happening. It sounds as if you are just addressing symptoms of issues (maybe not, dunno what your training is like) and not the root issues themselves. With jumping on the table, the dog really should never be jumping at all, and it should never be taking food that isn't his. With getting mad at the cats, it should never be paying attention to the cats, period.

On Sanity

You have to understand that your sanity is far, far more important than how comfortable the dog is. I feel like all the measures you take are moderate. Please never be afraid to go to a more extreme solution if it gets rid of an issue. For example, what if you crate the dog at night? Then he cannot get out, and you get to sleep in the same bedroom. It's not a moderate solution, but it gets the job done. Because sleeping in two bedrooms because of the dog sounds as if the dog is completely terrorizing your relationship. Things should never get that bad. Your life sounds like a reality tv episode where a dog trainer comes in and fixes everything - even with the improvements that you've made.

Dog training classes

I know that you have a personal trainer already, but I would really suggest both of you going to dog training classes with your dog, even if he already knows basic commands. I feel like it will help you to bond better with your dog, help you get the right kind of attitude that the dog can respect, talk with other owners, and help you figure out how to manage and control your dog better. My dog already knew basic commands and had no issues but dog training classes were the best thing I ever did for her - and for me, too. I really recommend looking up your city's local kennel club for class rates deeply discounted from the rates a pet store would charge.

"Attitude"

On attitude, attitude is huge. It's hard to describe what it is, but it's basically a changing of yourself (in a good way). I realized I was jittery, anxious, and jumpy, and all this my dog reflected and magnified into a very scared, unhappy animal. I learned how to be calm, collected, take charge, etc. Next time you are around dogs, take a look at how an owner acts and how the dog acts. Make some observations, and then think about yourself. Attitude is going to be one of the biggest improvements you can make.


(new additions)

Schedules and rituals

Dogs almost need schedules to be happiest and spur-of-the-moment / fly-by-the-seat-of-pants families have the hardest times, especially with high maintenance or energetic dogs. Adopting a schedule and keeping it that way can greatly help. I'm not suggesting you change your life all around and make everything up anew, but rather to try to keep doing what you're already - but just keeping it the same way.

Many times dogs don't have a clue what they're supposed to be doing and do whatever they think is best. So if the dog knows what he is supposed to be doing, there isn't nearly as much issue. Establishing proper protocols comes from those rituals.

For example, doorbell rings? BARKBARKBARAKRAKARKAKARKAARK... it's a crazy house in here! Establish the ritual by telling your dog what he is supposed to do. (Go sit or lay somewhere and be silent). Most times dog owners only tell the dog what he is not supposed to do, and it doesn't work well because it is a process of trial and error for the dog. It's too complicated, and too stressful. (You can always practice rituals, too. Say, you have girlfriend ring the doorbell and you practice with the dog inside).

Dinner time? Maybe dinner is around 5 and the dog should be laying on his bed. Or maybe during dinner preparations / cooking the dog should be laying on his bed so he isn't underfoot doesn't get stepped on and isn't begging at the table .

Couch time? Perhaps the dog is supposed to be only in one spot, so that he is not around the cats favorite spots and interactions with the cats are limited.

You pick whatever works best, enforce it, be consistent, and often your dog will be happier because now he knows what he is supposed to do, instead of doing everything all the time randomly and intermittently getting fussed at for things he doesn't understand. The theme here is that you can create rituals that circumvent problematic behaviors before they start.

Rewarding behavior and not rewarding everything

On this note, be very particular with rewarding. You never want to reward your dog for doing "everything". Often, I will tell my dog to sit, and she does all the tricks she knows, including sitting. This is not the desired behavior, so I don't reward. No treat, I walk away, and "punish" her by ignoring her completely (surprisingly effective); I don't reward her with more attention. I try again later, and only when she sits and only sits does she get the treat. There is no "feeling sorry" for her and giving her the treat anyways, this is very detrimental.

Rituals and moods

You can also have a mood be a part of a ritual! In fact, it is probably a ritual already.

Example, you open up the door to come home from work, and there is the dog. Many, many owners greet their dogs with WHOSAGOODBOYYESHEISYESHEIS , and can't understand why the second they open the door the dog goes into a hyperactive looney madness! They have trained the dog to be in high energy mode when the door opens.

Walks are another great example where dogs are often hyperactive. A walk is supposed to be a relaxing experience, but it's often instead your dog trying its hardest to give you a heart-attack and simultaneously de-socket your arm joint. It shouldn't be that way! Start out with the mood you want and re-inforce it. Dog bouncing around everywhere? "No, sit". Only when the dog is calm does the leash go on. Dog pulling and going nuts? "No." Only when the dog is calm and not pulling does the walk continue. You may have to stand there for a while an idiot, but it works.

Same with around the house. You can establish a command like "Settle down", and reward only when settled. It's entirely possible to create a dog that is mellowed down three notches. Settle him down when he should not be riled up and watch your dog become happier, as if he is saying "Whew, all that bouncing around sure was stressful to me, it's so much better now I know how I'm supposed to act". Petting time doesn't need to be a vigorous commendation for saving little Timmy from the well, it can be a calm, relaxing, methodical rub. In fact, your dog may be happier like this. Homework assignment for you both: See if you can get your dog to nearly fall asleep while being petted.

Remember that your stress contributes, so think about what's happening. And get the girlfriend on board, or else it's basically all for nothing.

Homeworks

There's a ton of content and you're not going to be able to swallow it all at once. Here's a list of homeworks for you:

1 - I would really like you and your girlfriend to watch some Caesar Millan's The Dog Whisperer; there are some episodes on youtube. Some people hate him, but I'm recommending him because I want you to see how the behaviors/environment in the house have created the dog. I want you to see even more how radically things can change and get better.

2 - Talk to your girlfriend about consistency and getting on board more. Seeing those videos should help you both feel more empowered and inspired that you do not have to live this way

3 - Start thinking about your problems and how you can fix them, talk about what will work for both of you

4 - Have a session where you lull the dog into near-sleeping by petting alone. Have a session where she does the same. I want you to see that your dog does not need to be a tazmanian devil (unless you want him that way).

5 - Investigate dog training classes, which will also be inspiring and empowering, but more hands-on. It is hard to describe the can-do aura and attitude that is lit there.

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    Thanks for this. I've been trying to find a basis for stronger measures that aren't fueled by cruelty or frustration, and you've given me a lot to chew on here. The only thing I'm not ready to consider is giving him up. My folks raised me with 6 cats and the belief that pets are family - i.e. you can't give them away any more than you can give away your siblings - so that option, to me, carries with it a deeper betrayal of my values. – CodeMoose Jun 26 '15 at 19:18
  • You have a ton of leverage. One of the things that you can consider is : what if the dog kills a cat? if things are rapidly spinning out of control. Or, what if you have a child? Is all the barking going to wake the child up to crying, dropping the child, dog being unsafe around child, etc, etc. But the big thing here is not sleeping - sleeping is extremely important, people turn insane without sleep, and it is likely hugely damaging in your relationship currently. – rlb.usa Jun 26 '15 at 20:02
  • Added some new stuff. – rlb.usa Jun 26 '15 at 20:31
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    Training really is a good approach. You get to learn how to understand each other, and that is invaluable. Once you "get" dogs they are much easier to deal with. – Sobrique Jul 1 '15 at 22:25
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    @Sobrique completely agree. As a dog person myself, I couldn't understand why I was having such issues with my dog until I realized I'd watched all the shows, read all the books, but didn't "get" my dog - every dog is different. – rlb.usa Jul 1 '15 at 23:03
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I wanted to comment on two things first. One, is I refuse to believe you can effectively admonish a cat. :)) Two, is I'd give my sibling away in a heartbeat. Well, before I'd give a way my dog.

If I were you, I'd ditch the citronella collar. The dog becomes immune to that the same way they do to incorrect stimulation of an electronic collar. It aggravates their noses well after the correction is applied as well. I think that while it seems harsher, an electric collar is actually more human when utilized properly, because it has different levels you can control and the stimulation stops as soon as the behavior is corrected. I really don't recommend either for a pom, though.

I don't think you need to get rid of the dog, though. I think if you all agree to shift your behavior, then you can have the problem licked. You already seem willing and like you've put a lot into this, so I don't think it'll be a problem.

The biggest effect to change of a dogs behavior is consistency. As an example, say you tell your dog that under no circumstance is he to get on the table and eat out of your plate. Then you sit down with a nice charcuterie platter and he looks at you with his evil cuteness beam and you feel guilty, so you slip him a piece. What you've actually done is tell him that no matter how many times you tell him no, you actually mean keep asking and I might eventually give you some.

It sounds like your girlfriend made the common small dog mistake of not installing manners and behaviors in her dog because he's small and it's cute. People try this with larger breeds as well, but what's cute in a pom or a puppy, isn't cute in a 100lb lab and they are forced to correct it the hard way.

It's not too late, though. Consistency can fix his issues. Basically, you need to treat him like a big dog. Just because the living room to him is like a football field to you, doesn't mean he doesn't need walks. He needs them just as much as a larger dog, just not as far. He needs two walks daily to not only burn off excess energy, but to get out and see the world. I don't know about you, but even with all kinds of inside toys, I can only stay inside for so long before I go stir crazy and need to get out and do something physical. It's the same for dogs. He can't be happy just in the house.

Step 2 is that he needs training. Get online and look up clicker training. You can do this with your cats as well if you're patient, and a masochist. Training sessions should be multiple and short. You have a small attention span to work with. You can come up with creative tricks, but work on the basics. You always want to end on a good note, something they can do well. So if you get frustrated, go back to something else, to end the session. This has the added benefit of getting him conditioned to look at you and to do what you ask. The more times you repeat this type of behavior, the more he naturally falls into it.

Some other issues you have can't really be corrected with training of this nature. For instance, you say he might nip at you when you pet him in the wrong spot. A dog isn't allowed a wrong spot. He can certainly get up and move off if he doesn't like what you're doing and I always let my animals do so if uncomfortable, but I wouldn't let a pom nip my hand for petting him any more than I'd let my horse kick at me because he didn't want his feet touched. I don't get mad, I just find an effective solution to correct it and apply it till it's not an issue anymore. In this case, I'd put the dog off the couch and send him on his way. If he nips at you and you leave him on the couch, he's claimed the area and taken control. Putting him off lets him know that isn't going to work, because it's your area. Your girlfriend needs to reinforce all of this and work on it as well.

One thing I notice when people interact with animals is they expect them to understand English. They'll sit there and tell a dog, horse, etc... not to do something, or explain how they've done wrong. The animal might understand you're upset, but not why. It's important that you make it clear. So I see people that tell their dog not to get on the couch and why they shouldn't, they may even be body blocking them, but the dog is trying to dodge around them the whole time. There is a look you'll recognize when the dog has actually given in. I know Cesar Millan can get this type of submission fairly quickly and dramatically, with the dog laying down. I've never had this happen, but I can easily tell when my dog is saying "Okay, I'll stay off the couch" and when he's whispering under his breath, "until your backs turned". I don't let my focus off of them till I feel like I've gotten the first. The correction is pretty much useless if he doesn't feel you mean it.

Lastly, as far as the sleep issue, the dog needs to be out of the bedroom. The barking thing will hopefully resolve itself with the other issues as you work with the dog, but you need your sleep and there really isn't much of a fix at this point. It's great that he is quiet when told. I think you need to crate train him and either put him in the crate in another room or maybe in a bathroom. Either way, he should be just fine and won't wake you up. You can try having him in the bedroom later and see if he's improved. I honestly think it'll clear up eventually, because right now, he doesn't see leadership and thinks it's his role to guard the house/territory. Once he thinks you're on the job, he'll quite.

It might also help if you had a friend with a mean cat. You could take him to their house and let him get wailed on a little. Our cat broke a 90+lb lab of chasing cats. He'd been chasing city cats for a few months. He was tearing around in our yard and we were on the back deck. We let our cat out to say hey to everyone. The dog saw him and you could see him buckled down and come running at him. The cat bowed up and took half his nose off. The dog started yelping and hid behind his owner's chair. The cat was still huffing and turned and jumped onto the rail. The dog thought this was a tactical retreat and ran to the rail bark, where the cat took off the other half of his nose.

He came to the house a couple of weeks ago and kept running to the front porch and back barking. We finally figured out the cat was sitting on the top step leading to the water dishes and the dog refused to go up. We walked him over with him hiding to the outside, keeping us between him and the cat and when the cat came down the stairs, he ran up to get water. So that could give your cats a major boost. They also need places they can get up to where he can't climb. It'll make them feel more confident and if you stay on him all the time about focusing on them, they'll either get friendly or they'll get up the confidence to roll the little dandelion puff. Good luck with your dog issues.

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