Welsh TerrierAs I came in the door, Welsh Terrier Taffy was behind the kitchen gate – barking. The lady was embarrassed but she need not have been – this is something not uncommon for me to walk into.

The five-year-old dog was then brought into the sitting room on lead to join us – barking. He barked and barked as we experimented with various things that might give us a break that didn’t involve shutting him away (he would probably have continued barking from there anyway).

We tried repeatedly taking him out of the room which stopped him briefly but he started as soon as he was back so had to go back out again.

What halted the barking most effectively was the lady getting up and walking out of the room, leaving him behind. He would stop for a couple of minutes before starting again.

Was he simply barking for attention of some sort? He barked at me in exactly the same way as he barked at the lady and her daughter. I detected no fear and no aggression. When he barked at me it wasn’t like he wanted to get rid of me. It was almost like he was frantically trying to get an important message across – VERY LOUDLY!

Within a few minutes of my arrival it was obvious that he didn’t need to be held back on a lead. He was actually quite friendly between bouts of barking – in fact in the photo he’s lying across my lap. He really did seem to be wanting attention of some sort.

For some reason this barking has escalated over the past couple of months. He will now, in the evening, obsessively bark at ‘nothing’, facing into the corners of rooms.

Trying to watch TV in the evenings is near impossible. He barks at them all the time they are eating so has to be bribed with their food. As soon as all is quiet, the barking into corners will start. He will eventually settle down, but someone only has to move and off he goes again. They have a supply of toys filled with food and other things, but these distractions only work for a very short while.

He has bitten family members a few times in the past – not badly. If someone makes a sweeping action with a hand or a foot he may bite it. Sweeping actions are things we do without thinking, so he needs to be desensitised to this for peoples’ safety. He jumps at any sudden movement and hates people cuddling. Amongst other things he goes frantic when the lady tries to lift the black bin liner out of her rubbish bin.

He is one mixed-up little dog.

After about an hour and a half of mixed success I got my clicker out. We ignored as much barking as possible with the lady walking out when it simply got too much in order to give us that break. Every small lull, looking away, sitting down or hint of relaxation we clicked and then fed him.

A dog that is quite so aroused is incapable of learning anything much so it took time, but after about two hours from my arrival, as though a cloud suddenly lifted from him, Taffy stopped panting, sat down and then lay down. Peace.

Phew.

The rubbish bin can be worked on very gradually, desensitising him over time. He needs to be relieved of the barking into corners compulsion. Catching it before he gets started is the best thing.

What will probably be the best therapy of all is the list of very short and non-exciting activities that we have drawn up – little hunting games, gentle training sessions, foraging for bits of food, sniffs walk round the block and so on. For no more than two or three minutes at a time but at very regular intervals whenever they are home the lady and her daughter can initiate these things – picking moments when he happens to be quiet. This way, his fulfillment and attention should be addressed but not in response to barking and he will get plenty of it. There will be no need to crave it.

This isn’t going to be quick and it will take hard work. The barking could well get even worse before it starts to get better.

It’s all a great shame because he’s such a good little dog in other ways. He walks nicely and has no problems with people when out – or with other dogs.

This is the start of a long journey. A couple of days later I received this very empowering email – empowering to myself and to anyone using old-fashioned methods of force and punishment:
“Since your visit I have been looking at books, websites etc that you recommended and I have found them very enlightening. I really think that for Taffy its an escalation of lots of things over time which have filled his stress bucket to overflowing.
The major thing for me is the removal of the terms “dominance” and “pack” leader. As a first time dog owner I  tried to make sure I was doing the right thing and felt that these words were the things I should be striving for and imposing on Taffy. I used methods recommended which I now realise were ill advised. Water sprays, loud noises such as tins filled with keys to stop undesirable behaviour, pinning down and citronella collars are amongst these. When I contacted you I was was at my wits end, having tried so many things I no longer knew what to do for the best for Taffy.
We are starting to use the methods you gave us and yesterday I distracted and avoided and there was no barking in corners – hooray!
My regret now is that I did not find you and these methods sooner in Taffys life, and that positive training is not advocated as the norm for every dog. I am looking forward to enjoying my lovely little dog now I understand him better.”

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out here. Finding instructions on the internet or TV can do more harm than good sometimes. Every dog is different and every situation is different. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)