I have just been to two lovely little dogs, a Westie and a Miniature Pinscher.
Both bark in a frenzy when someone knocks on the door. Westie Jock barks non-stop when out on a walk.
I group barking roughly into four types – one when the dog simply wants something, another when the dog has been trained to ‘speak’. Then there is barking in play. The fourth and most common type of barking that I go to help reduce is what you could call ’emotional barking’.
Barking – a symptom not the problem
This is where the barking itself is merely a symptom – of some emotion. It could be fear, excitement or anger.
Owners often do all they can to ‘stop’ the barking itself but are looking at the wrong thing. Efforts to put a lid on it will usually make things worse. Real results happen when they instead work on changing the emotions that are actually causing emotional barking.
The lady has come a very long way since she adopted Jock a year ago. He was scared of everything. From being a little dog that she couldn’t touch at all and snapped if she tried, he now relishes a cuddle. His skin was super-sensitive, causing him to scream if he bumped into something or if something sudden happened.
He has been very thoroughly vet-checked and it seems the screaming is probably due to something locked in his early memory. He only now yelps like this when his stress levels are particularly high.
The lady has overcome many of Jock’s issues but the thing that is making life particularly difficult for the lady (and for Jock) is his emotional barking. So, their next big step forward will be to do with lowering his stress levels which in turn will reduce this barking. It’s chicken and egg – barking results in higher stress levels – high stress levels result in barking.
Is the lovely view so lovely for Jock?
The lady’s upstairs flat has a wonderful view over a large field. It’s in a city and bikes, dogs and walkers are constantly moving both on a nearby footpath and along a distant track. Joggers and dogs chasing balls and playing with each other cross the field.
Jock looks out of the window.
He begins by simply jumping up to have a look. It’s like when nothing else is happening his default is to go to the window and resume look-out duty. He is drawn to it. Then he spots something and his barking becomes increasingly loud.
Importantly, he is bound to believe that if he barks loudly enough and for long enough, whatever he is looking at goes away. It always does eventually.
Emotional barking – the underlying reason
The emotions are likely to be either territorial anger or fear – or both. Jock is on guard duty and we know he is a fearful dog
It’s not surprising that when they go out of the gate into this same field that he is constantly watching over, that he’s frantic.
He is on constant high alert, barking continuously. He doesn’t feel safe.
The lady suggested to me that Jock looked out of the window through boredom and she likes to keep him occupied. Boredom may be the case. When he has nothing else to focus on he reverts to a learned and much-rehearsed behaviour, that of look-out duty and barking.
What he practises and rehearses at home very naturally will be continued when out.
Most of the day he’s rehearsing the very behaviour they don’t want – emotional barking. He gets himself thoroughly stirred up and it’s not good for him. Imagine how we ourselves would feel if always watching out of a window, perhaps fearing invasion, and yelling ‘Help – Go Away!’.
It’s vital the lady blocks her little dog’s view out of the window. She will give him better things to occupy him now, things that will help him to stay calm instead.
The way to deal with the emotional barking is to work on the underlying emotions that drive the barking behaviour, not the behaviour itself which is merely a symptom. To work on the fear itself.
The lady has the power to intensify the emotion or to reduce it by her own actions.
Moving forward involves a ‘jigsaw’ of stress-reducing pieces which also include better diet and working on both dogs’ reaction to a knock on the door. When she has put the various bits in place, greatly lowering Jock’s arousal levels will also reduce his need to bark.
The ultimate aim is for his walks is to be what they should be. Not a dog on tenterhooks, emotional barking and feeling unsafe but mooching and sniffing.