Bo reacts with fearful barking when a guest visits their flat.

Bo has lived with the couple since he was a puppy. He’s now one year old today! Although they started off well with his meeting people and socialisation, lockdown has made keeping it up difficult.

‘Socialisation’ which means happy encounters with all sorts of things to habituate him including various guests to the home, doesn’t just happen when the dog is a puppy. It has to be maintained.

Few people come to their flat.  A lockdown dog, Bo is okay with with the young man’s parents whom he knows, but that’s about all.

Breaking things down into details

This is what currently happens when a guest calls:

At the gate the guest activates a couple of bell-rings. Bo begins to bark.

The caller then rings again at the main door. Bo renews his barking. He can then hear the lift bringing the guest up to their floor. His anxiety and reactivity intensifies.

Meanwhile, the young man usually sits by Bo’s bed feeding him as the guest is let in.

When he eventually settles, he will start all over again if the guest has to get up and go out of the room – particularly when they come back in. We looked at the best way to help Bo with that.

Desensitisation and counter-conditioning

The whole issue should be broken down into increments and they should start at the beginning.

What is the beginning? The first couple of bell-rings on their phone from the gate is the beginning.

They themselves should pretend they are guests by activating the ringing and immediately he hears it, the other person will drop food around him. This needs many repetitions.

The bell-rings trigger the food (they may try to change the ringtone for a fresh start).

They will then add the bell-rings at the door. Again, more food.

When Bo can hear the bell-rings without reacting – looking to them for food even, they will be ready for the next step. This is to do the same thing with the sound of the lift coming up.

A guest comes in

Now they will work on someone actually entering the flat. They will break it down, starting with Bo being somewhere else, maybe in the kitchen.

The guest can be sitting down before Bo is let into their presence.

The guest will be instructed on the best way to act. If they get up and walk about, they can ‘leak’ food!

They have cleaners. Although Bo sees them weekly, he’s not happy with them.

He will never learn to like the cleaners while he’s so scared of the vacuum cleaner, so they must desensitise and counter-condition him to this too.

They start at the beginning.

First the vacuum can be left about, turned off; sometimes he can discover food on it.

Next the young lady can stand by it, holding it. No moving it. Not switched on. She will drop food.

When he’s happy with that and coming for food when she is holding the vacuum cleaner, she can move it just slightly and drop food……. and so on.

Starting at the beginning, they should eventually be able to switch it on and move it about with a happy Bo.

With work, a guest will seem less of a threat to him. He should accept the cleaners who are, after all, familiar to him. Progress will take time and work.

A few days later: ‘I thought I would just let you know … we changed the phone dial and he’s stopped the barking already. He now associates it with treat and he has started sitting by the table waiting for his treats.

We also had the cleaners in today. I put him in the kitchen with J and asked them to take a seat and throw treats at him when J let’s him go.

After the first treats were thrown the barking stopped. We only got one more bark in the hour and that was because of the hoover 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼. I’m so happy. Thank you so much!’

If you have a dog that reacts to people coming to your house and would like help, book an online consultation where I will look into your dog’s ‘bigger picture’ and show you how to help him to accept guests.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ and is always written with permission of the client. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help