It was hard to imagine as I sat with Cocker Spaniels George and Rupert that the problem is alarm barking. Having had a sniff of me they simply settled down for the evening.
These two dogs have a very good life! They want for nothing. They go to a very good daycare while the couple are at work. They are taken on holiday with them and are very much loved.
Neighbours have complained.
The alarm barking has become increasingly out of control not least because, paradoxically, they have been doing all they can to stop it! By trying to stop alarm barking with scolding or the Pet Corrector, they have been actually making it worse.
They have missed the main point. It’s not actually the barking itself that is the problem. The alarm barking is a symptom, the result of what George in particular is feeling. They will now work on the cause instead.
The cause is emotional – the emotions that could drive alarm barking being anxiety, alarm, over-arousal, excitement….
If a young child were to scream ‘I’m scared, we are being attacked!’ how would we respond? This puts it into perspective.
What we wouldn’t do is to try to scare the child out of screaming. Neither would we join in (secure in the knowledge that we are safe). Shouting at a scared child can only make him more scared. We would reassure him and help him feel safe, wouldn’t we.
So, the couple will react differently now when the dogs – George followed by Rupert – bark. They will help them out.
To do, rather than not to do
Next they will consider what they actually want the dogs to do rather than not to do. Instead of trying to stop alarm barking they will now concentrate on what they want them to do instead which is to be calmer and quieter.
The other important aspect is management – removing as much opportunity for rehearsing the alarm barking behaviour as they can. Not only does this mean blocking the dogs’ view out of the bottom of the front windows (window frosting works a treat), but also stopping letters coming through the door by installing an outside mailbox.
The couple must be consistent and deal with the barking every time, not just when they feel like it. They will let the dogs outside only when they are able to deal with any alarm barking straight away.
A dog living next door charges the fence, barking. This is a big problem too. Now the couple will make sure they don’t leave their dogs outside when this dog is in his garden. When he is out, they will make sure he triggers fun. They will throw George’s favourite ball and have a game – something they will now reserve solely for this.
Alarm barking – a vicious circle
Like so many cases the solution involves keeping the dogs as calm as possible generally. The more aroused a dog is the more he is likely to bark. The more alarm barking he does, the more aroused and stressed he becomes – a vicious circle.