I have just been to a couple of Labradoodles, Sol and Cristal. What the owners would like to achieve is much less barking at home and, from Sol, on walks also. He may bark and lunge at other dogs but only when he’s on lead and when they get too close.
A big problem is a dog barking behind the fence on the corner of their road.
They have worked hard training their lovely dogs. The problems they are facing are, to my mind, less about training than about the emotions that drive the behaviour.
Emotions not obedience.
The older training methods don’t take account of the dogs’ emotional state but are more about ‘obedience’. Commands don’t really alter the feelings that drive the behaviour.
The ‘behaviour’ approach is holistic – covering all aspects of the dogs’ lives, because everything is connected like a jigsaw puzzle. The dogs now will be helped to make their own correct decisions without commands or correction. This is done by emphasising what they are doing right. Also by giving them choice, on walks in particular.
Anyway, in this story I am just picking one aspect of what we are working on. This is Sol barking and lunging at the dog behind the fence on the corner.
Sol and Crystal have lovely runs in the park with their doggy friends, but to get there they have to pass a house with a terrier that barks like mad from behind the fence. This dog had attacked the, now much bigger, Sol when he was a puppy.
Sol alerts well before he gets there, even when the dog isn’t out and behind the fence.
How can they get past without Sol barking and lunging? Commands and physical control aren’t helping at all. (The strategy for Sol isn’t the only way to work on this kind of thing, but having met Sol and his owners it seems the best fit).
First the two dogs should be walked separately for a while – the lady can for now make the journey to the park by car.
For working with Sol and the dog behind the fence she will take a clicker because I would prefer she doesn’t talk. Let Sol work things out for himself. (See here for an intro into what clicker is about).
The enemy behind the fence: ‘Engage’.
This is the game stage one:
They will start out calmly, letting Sol sniff and walk about a bit on a loose lead before heading towards the terrier’s garden.
As soon as Sol looks in that direction, engages, the lady will click and drop some food. This food is dropped rather than fed for two reasons. One, that the food should be associated with the terrier and not the lady. Secondly, dropping the food means Sol looks away and down at the ground, ready to look back up again and earn another click.
Slowly they can advance – clicking each time he looks in the direction of what may be the dog behind the fence, dropping food. If the terrier comes out it will bark and they will have to quickly retreat and start this game from a lot further back.
They will gradually work their way nearer the house on the corner. At some stage Sol will start to react as he looks for his enemy behind the fence. He will go stiff, stare, ‘get big’ with ears and tail rising.
He is now about to go over threshold. He’s too close.
They should back off a little to where Sol is comfortable again, and continue with the game. Bit by bit he will get closer.
This game should be played daily for five or ten minutes at a time – the more sessions the better. The main rule is not to push him over threshold – get too close. If they do, they are back to square one – a bit like going down a snake in snakes and ladders! Listen to this very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in. It’s only just over a minute long.
Now for stage two.
Sol, after a two or three weeks of hard work, should now have the hang of the ‘engage’ game, even when the little dog is out and barking behind the fence if from sufficient distance .
They will stand still as before. Sol will look in the direction of the dog’s garden. Is his enemy behind the fence? But now the lady won’t click.
If Sol is ready for stage two in the game of ignoring the dog behind the fence, he will now look round, “Where’s my click and food?”.
Now the lady will click eye contact instead.
Stage two teaches Sol to look away from the dog behind the fence, even if he’s out and barking.
With patience they should soon be walking past that garden, the other side of the road is sensible. They will need to do some work with Celeste before walking them both together to the park to play, past the house with the dog barking behind the fence.
Sol may in the future regress, so they must top up again with a couple of days of the ‘engage/disengage’ game.