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So first, here's lots of background on a dog in the hopes someone might be able to glean the root of my problem and offer a solution.

I work at a doggy daycare that also fosters shelter dogs that would otherwise be put down due to behavioral issues and also works to socialize other shelter dogs. One such dog came to the daycare for permanent boarding due to his crippling fear of people. His previous foster mom said she was unable to handle him at all after 2 months of care and a medical evaluation was out of the question. They had tried to check him at the shelter but he bit the vet tech (but no damage was done.) That's when they thought this foster mom would be a good next step but it didn't work out.

The dog came to the daycare as a male, neutered, German Shepherd mix of about 20 pounds. Extreme fear of people, collar shy in particular, but is fine with other dogs. The shelter said he was about 8 months old and came in as a stray. Strangely, this dog warmed up to me within a couple days with no effort on my part to befriend him (and maybe that's why since the other employees were actively trying to engage the dog). Over a period of about a month I alone was able to handle the dog and transition him between areas by calling him. It got to the point that he would just follow me around the daycare and when he was put up in his kennel suite to eat, he would get highly stressed and jump constantly at the door until I came back to let him out. (Other employees had trouble putting him up to eat and bringing him out since he would run from them.)

After being at the daycare for 3 months, I started doing overnights at home with the dog where he met my male roommate. I'd instructed my roommate, who we'll call Joe, in how to greet the dog and act around him. So when the dog first came in, Joe knelt down and faced to the side with one hand held limply out with his palm down while he blinked slowly. Miraculously the dog went up to him after a few minutes to check him out before running back to me and settling on the couch. Joe continued displaying non-threatening behaviors whenever the dog came home and after a few days they started to play together with various toys. Contact did not go beyond play, though. Joe could not pet or otherwise handle the dog beyond pulling a ball from his mouth.

As for the other employees at the daycare, the dog warmed up rapidly to the other female members but still shied away from the men at this point.

Fast-forward another 2 months to July of this year. I adopted the dog and kept the name the daycare had given him, Willow, when I moved into a new house. He is now friendly with everyone at the daycare including the men and can be pet and called by all the employees and happily goes up and greets them when we arrive. He is still collar shy but I can gently lead him if necessary without adverse reactions.

Now here's my problem -

While Joe and I are home, Willow is constantly bringing Joe his toys to play. He paws at him, drops balls in his lap, and play bows until Joe participates (which usually doesn't take very long). Joe can call Willow, they snuggle together and wrestle occasionally, and are otherwise the best of friends. However, there are some instances where I have to leave Willow at the house with Joe and the moment I leave, it's like he reverts to his old shelter self. Willow won't engage Joe at all. Joe will feed him breakfast for me and when he does it while I'm home, Willow is bouncing at his food bowl in anticipation and dives right in when his food is ready but if I'm not there, Willow stands at a distance until Joe moves away from the bowl and if Joe walks by again, Willow runs. The dog won't chase his ball, play tug, or anything until I return. It's just odd - the moment I walk in the door and finish greeting Willow, he runs and grabs his ball and goes right to Joe.

This fearful behavior happens still during one other instance. Joe works very early in the morning and gets home at 9am while Willow and I are chilling on the couch with our morning coffee and rawhide. When Joe comes in the door, Willow will growl and Joe has to wait by the door for him to come sniff him before everything goes back to normal. The weird thing is, is that this doesn't happen every morning, just some of them and it doesn't happen if Joe comes home in the evenings.

A bit of extra info : Willow will growl at anyone who comes into the house who doesn't have a dog with them. My landlord, for instance, gets growls, lip curls, tail tucks, and barks when he comes over but when I had a potential roommate view the house with his 3 year old Shiba Inu, Willow immediately engaged in play with the dog and thought her male owners were the best people ever. Willow will curl up with me and go to sleep if I sit down while the landlord is here. Willow does not display stressed behaviors if he is at the daycare on my day off but does if he is in a different room from me while I am working (ie. will wait at whatever door he last saw me go through or will jump through windows to be with me.) When left alone at the house, other than getting into the trash, Willow just sleeps.

He has also now had a full medical check and pronounced completely healthy and is now up to a healthy weight of 27 lbs. Willow does not like children and he will resource guard his food from other animals. Joe and I can take his bowl away with food in it just fine but if my cat walks by Willow will growl and lunge. The guarding behavior also occurs with other dogs (we babysat a giant schnauzer and ended up having to feed them on opposite sides of the kitchen.) Willow also has a good relationship with the cat. They play and sleep together on a regular basis.


Anyone have any thoughts on why Willow doesn't like Joe when I'm not around? Can dogs have security blankets like children? Is there a way to remedy this? I know Joe isn't mistreating Willow when I'm gone. I set up a series of webcams around the house to record while I was gone and Joe tries taking up the non-threatening posture I taught him if Willow comes into the room with him but otherwise leaves Willow to his own devices. Could the fear toward Joe be a manifestation of his stress that I'm gone? Any insight would be a huge help. I just want Willow to be comfortable at home when I have to go out.
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