Fearful Dob, injured, pain, now worse social issues-COMPLICATED!
I'm really looking for help and ideas. My female dob Bonita A2, has always been fearful in character. We've worked a lot on the related issues (barking, stress, anxiety) from when we got her from a responsible breeder at 2 1/2 months. We have two other older dogs and she gets along fine with them. From the beginning we socialized Bonita with walks in town, play with other dogs in a park, always lots of exercise, discipline, and had several disappointing individual trainers from age 8 months, plus socialization and discipline group class when she was 18 months old. Bonita made some progress in outdoor settings, did really well in the discipline class with other dogs (better if there weren't too many dogs), but was always really stressed whenever anyone entered our home.
Then the real problems came. She tore the ACL ligament which required surgery, then two very serious infections, then surgery again. She was confined and isolated from the world for 5 months, in severe pain for much of that time, and after the second surgery, the rehabilitation process began, which we followed religiously including hydro-therapy. The only other dogs or people Bonita saw during this period were at the Vet, and there were many, many visits. Nobody came inside our home during this period in order to avoid undue stress or possible re-injury.
Now it is 5 months after the second surgery. She still limps and obviously has some pain, but has re-built much of the lost muscle, thanks to the hydro-therapy, and the vet says it is important at this stage that she "be a dog', sniff, and have some gentle play with other dogs.
Problems begin with the introduction to other dogs and people, which started two months ago. She's fine if they are 20-25 yards away, although there is some initial barking, but this distance seems to be her warning and we respect that. We keep her on loose leash, walk in a controlled area, and gradually get closer, and this is progressing fairly well. She has growled at a few dogs or people if they get too close too soon, and again we respect that and patiently work on improvement.
We've noticed an increase in the growling and this concerns us. Recently, while at a hydro-therapy session, she growled at the Vet whom she has seen many times. This surprised us. Its possible he approached her too quickly, but he was disappointed as well as we were. We need help in how to manage this.
Last evening we had friends over for brunch and the afternoon. Bonita has met this couple before, they are dog lovers and aware of her issues, but nobody has come inside like this for 7 months. We met outdoors, then came inside. Bonita barked as expected, and actually calmed down in about 15 minutes, and she got treats for good behavior, but she would periodically bark. We kept a distance of say 4 feet and occasionally she would attempt to sniff the couple's hand, but we were unsure of her behavior so tried to maintain the distance. Then while laying down, she started to growl towards them and this I have to say, alarmed us. Maybe she wanted them to go home (so did we by that point) but we really didn't know how to handle it. I know better than to pat or caress her, and the growl wasn't vicious, but we are seeing more of this, and certainly don't want it to escalate. How should we handle this? We know she has pain and discomfort, and probably always will due to the significant arthritis that she has in the knee joint. However, she is a young, super affectionate, loyal doberman, who gets along beautifully with our other dogs, loves us enormously, and the only issues we have are managing her fearfulness, providing situations wherein she can gain confidence in how to behalf, but this new growling has us a bit concerned. I should add that we've been working lately with a trainer and clicker technique, plus she will re-start the group socialization and discipline class in a few weeks. I work with her daily on obedience and she's super.
So, any and all suggestions and comments about how to help Bonita gain confidence in herself and us, deal with her pain which isn't gonna disappear, and growl only in appropriate situations of warning. Not at our friends or strangers!
Didn't mean to go on so long, but it is indeed a complicated situation. Looking for advice and ideas. Many Thanks! And Happy New Year to all!!