I followed the gentleman up the stairs to join the family, and towards two little dogs at the top, barking frantically.
We all went into the kitchen (there were five or us) and the dogs carried on and on barking. Younger Rocket, age five (left) stopped first and was suddenly quite friendly and interested. Older Elmo (16) who in other ways is the more relaxed of the two, carried on. Rocket is the instigator of barking, but when Elmo joins in he doesn’t stop. We wonder whether it now may be somewhat age-related behaviour or, as it’s been going on for years, simply entrenched
Eventually all was quiet. Elmo chose to stay in his bed in the kitchen and Rocket came with us into the sitting room – friendly and cuddly.
I soon found out that both dogs also were very noisy when any family member came in the front door down below, and walked up the stairs to them.
After a while I decided to see what would happen if I visited Elmo in the kitchen; he opened his eyes but seemed relaxed. I did it again when the daughter was in the kitchen to see if maybe he was being protective. I walked towards her. No reaction. Very strange.
There were other anomalies, one being that they were quieter when everyone was out and the first person came home, and also quieter in the morning.
One can guess that it’s the presence of people that stirs them up and that as the day wears on they become more stressed. There will be five people coming home, one at a time. The more stressed the dogs are, the more reactive they will be – and barking itself raises their stress levels even more.
It seems the stairs are a big part of the problem. There the dogs stand, at the top, barking at people advancing on them.
So – we have plan! Each family member is going to work on this. A step at a time they will begin with frequently (maybe be TV advert breaks) just walking downstairs, picking up a dog treat by the front door and coming straight back up again – feeding the dogs as they walk past them. Gradually they will progress to opening the front door, going out, staying out and so on – always treating quiet dogs as they come up the stairs, and never going to the next stage until the dogs are not barking at the previous one.
Eventually they should be able to knock on the front door, call out ‘Hello’ (something that always starts the dogs off), walk upstairs and they won’t bark.
Perhaps the family should also be positively reinforcing themselves with a treat waiting at the bottom of the stairs – from a box of chocolates maybe!
When visitors arrive and because Elmo bounces off Rocket, I suggest separating the dogs initially and keeping them away from the top of those stairs.
I am sure so long the all family members have sufficient patience, they will end up with two much quieter and much more relaxed little dogs.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rocket and Elmo, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).