Pet Vs. Spouse

What to do when your dog hates your husband?


Soon after my husband Dan and I got married nine years ago, we took the next logical step—we adopted a Maltese-Shiatsu who had been left tied to a fire hydrant in the city for days.

The vet estimated his age to be between 6 and 9 years old. Because he was so small and cute, we named Jefe, or “boss” in Spanish.

We were the perfect family for exactly 48 hours. Then, as I snuggled on the couch with Jefe watching some bad Lifetime movie, Dan came home from work. Jefe bared his teeth, snarled, and began barking ferociously. He was meeeaaann.

I managed to calm Jefe down, but he began reacting violently whenever Dan walked into the room, even if the poor guy was just walking out of the kitchen into the living room. Meanwhile, I was clearly the love of Jefe’s life. Whenever I entered the room, Jefe wagged his tail. He waited for me as I showered. He followed me into my office and sat by my feet as I worked at my computer. Dan wanted to return Jefe to the shelter but I refused. Who else would adopt such a mean old dog?

How to help your dog and your man get along

Many years have passed since we took Jefe into our home. We’re all older. I have grey hairs, Dan is balding, and Jefe, now somewhere between 13 and 16, can’t walk up or down the stairs any more due to arthritis. But he still hates Dan with a passion, even though Dan has grown to love him. He gets particularly mad whenever Dan wakes him up, walks too close to me, or heaven forbid—kisses me. He also hates when Dan dances, especially when he does this one move called the “Sprinkler” (I do, too. No one wants to see a grown man mimicking the movements of an oscillating lawn sprinkler).

Over the years, I’ve researched his behavior, and found that it’s not uncommon for dogs to hate one spouse, usually the male in the relationship. So I finally decided to ask dog obedience trainer Brandi Barker (yes…that’s her real last name), founder and director of Chicago’s Barker Behavior, what we, and families like ours, can do to bring peace between dog and man. Here’s her advice:

Don’t let the man pet the dog anymore.
Even though Jefe barks and growls, Dan has continued to pet him, pick him up and even blow him kisses from across the room. “Just because a dog is cute doesn’t mean he wants to be petted,” says Barker, who was voted Best Trainer by “Chicagoland Tails Magazine.” “Cut off all physical contact between husband and dog.”

Monitor your dog’s body language — not just the tail.
“The tail can tell tales,” says Barker. “When your dog hides behind you, or his body tenses, or his eyes get big, he’s saying, ‘Don’t come near me.’ He’s saying it nice at that point. When he growls and bites, he’s just not being so nice about it.” Barker suggests that the husband back away from the dog before the pooch gets to the point of extreme anxiety and anger.

Associate the husband with good things.
Barker suggests working to change the dog’s mindset about the offending spouse. In our case, she advised that I hold Jefe on my lap while Dan walked slowly towards us. When I felt Jefe’s body tense, Dan dropped a treat then walked away. “The dog will start to see, ‘Good things happen when he walks towards me and nothing bad happens when he leaves,’” she says. Another tip? Treat the dog with really good stuff, not milk bones. “All dogs like hot dogs,” she says.

Don’t make the husband do things the dog hates.
In addition to Jefe’s many peccadillos, he also hates going on walks. So Barker advised that I do all the dog walking myself (ugh…). But this way, Jefe wouldn’t associate Dan with even more bad things.

Play games with your dog.
According to Barker, dogs that dislike the man but love the woman are thinking, “It’s my job to protect her.” So Barker suggests giving a dog like Jefe another job. “Keep his brain engaged with games and tricks,” she says. “For instance, with enough time, you could train your dog to sit down whenever your husband walks towards you.” Check out Barker’s website for tips and games you can play with your dog.

Be patient.
Dogs don’t change overnight, but they can change—even Jefe isn’t destined to die with a grimace on his face. “Don’t force the dog beyond his comfort level by having a bunch of men over at one time,” Barker says. “Do a bit at a time, until it works.”

And it does work. After two months of trying out Barker’s advice, Jefe only freaks out at Dan about half as much as he used to. (And sadly, Dan is still trying to entertain use with his Oscillating Sprinkler dance).