Non-Stop Barking Down the Road

Cavalier King Charles stretching

Sunny

Little Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Sunny’s barking is a big problem for his family. He barks in the night, he barks at TV, he barks at anything he hears, he goes mental when the post comes through the door, he barks at birds in the garden and he barks on walks from the moment they leave the house and all around the village.

His companion, a little girl Cav called Sky, is quieter (a ‘little angel’).

Barking can affect people’s lives big time. Night time barking means they get sleepless nights, barking on lead means walks are stressful and embarrassing and barking at the TV means their evenings are frustrating and punctuated by shouting at the dog.

Shouting at barking dogs just doesn’t work more than perhaps temporarily. Shouting does nothing long-term and merely adds stress to an already stressed situation.

People understandably concentrate on finding ways to STOP their dogs barking. Like many, Sunny’s people had resorted to using a Citronella collar but it stopped working as the dog got used to it (for dangers of Citronella collars please see here).

We concentrated less on the barking itself but on doing something about the hyped up emotions that drive the barking. In Sunny’s case I feel it’s a mixture of excitement tinged with a bit of fear, and some of it has been unwittingly reinforced. He is being taught to bark. He barks as they go down the road – and they keep going down the road. He barks in the night, and eventually someone comes down. He barks at the TV, and he gets their attention away from the TV and onto himself.

Sky

Sky

The gentleman, with me beside him, walked him out of the door and around the road a couple of times. After a number of false starts while we worked out the most suitable method to use, we were marking and rewarding quiet on the door step, he stepped out, said ‘Yes’ and rewarded, each couple of steps we stopped, said ‘Yes’ and rewarded quiet until we got to the difficult corner where other dogs lived before turning back for home. Sunny was still quiet.

The gentleman was quite chuffed at how well he had managed. In effect, he wasn’t teaching Sunny not to bark; he was showing him how to be quiet.

We worked in similar fashion with the barking at TV. The daughter had a clicker and food. Each time Sunny glanced at TV and before he could bark, she clicked and rewarded him by dropping food – he had to look away from the TV to pick up the food. Obviously programmes will need to be carefully selected to start with.

Sunny

Sunny

They are now putting the dogs in a different room at night-time. The rule simply has to be ‘no coming down’ – not even the once – unless they want the barking to continue. This is a behaviour that has only started recently.

The dogs should be kept away from the front of the house because passing people and post coming through the door only encourage barking, and they should only be let out into the garden when someone is about to help Sunny out immediately he starts to bark at something.

The less barking Sunny does the less stressed he will be. A calmer dog will be less reactive and quieter – sort of chicken and egg. He will for the time being be earning much of his daily food quota for being quiet. As you can see, he is a real little cutie!

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Sunny. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog 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 dog (see my Get Help page).

Barking Upsetting the Neighbours

LucyLurcherLucy barks when they go out and leave her. Now they have had a letter of complaint from their neighbour.

You would not believe that Lucy Lurcher, a cross between Lurcher and German Shepherd, is now nearly sixteen years old which in itself merits two photos!”

Lucy is absolutely no trouble at all, spending a lot of her time sleeping – that is until she is left. A change in circumstances a couple of years ago meant she was left alone all day, something she wasn’t used to; she barked all day.

The man now drops her off at his mum’s on the way to work, but the barking problem occurs when he and his wife want to go out in the evening or weekends.

Not only does it annoy the neighbours, it’s not at all good for Lucy herself.LucyLurcher1

Many questions didn’t quite give us the complete answer as to why she’s doing this. There are several possibilities.

It could be loneliness – when any company would do. It could be specific separation from a person – and this would be the gentleman not his wife because Lucy follows him everywhere and cries if she can see him talking to a neighbour through the window, even if his wife is in the room with her. She says Lucy is quiet in her company when the man has disappeared out of sight.

Separation problems can be caused by boredom which won’t be so in Lucy’s case.

The other thing they hadn’t considered and I feel is a strong element, is that she or hears sees something outside and that starts her off, and that there could be a mix of causes.  Her food bowl is left just outside the window and a visiting cat and birds regularly come to eat unfinished food which causes her to bark. There is no curtain.

They will be setting up a video camera which should give a few answers. They will also put static window frosting over the garden window so she can’t see out and they will be feeding her indoors now. Finally they will be working hard at desensitising her to the triggers that herald their departure along with other ‘separation’ strategies.

This beautiful old girl deserves to live out the rest of her life to be devoid of this distress and panic.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Lucy, 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).

Little Dogs and Too Much Barking

Poodle sisters Squirrel and Teddy

Squirrel and Teddy

20-month old Poodles Squirrel and Teddy were joined a couple of months ago by little Westie/Bichon cross Lily who is now 5 months old.

Their family runs a children’s nursery. As our meeting progressed, they kept saying, ‘I can’t believe this is just the same as we would do with the children. Why didn’t we think of that’?

Instead, they had been reading books and stuff on the internet. With so much conflicting information it’s not surprising that some of it was a bit unwise – stuff to do with dominance and trying to stop behaviours they DON’T want, rather than positive reinforcement for behaviours that they DO want.

Too much barking

The problem manifests as much too much barking. The Poodles were not too bad until Lily joined them. Lily barks and reacts to everything. Little sounds outside, birds in trees, animals on TV, other dogs and nearly everything when out on walks, and in the middle of the night the sound of one of the cats walking over the floorboards outside the room.

Squirrel

All three dogs charge down the stairs barking, they charge out into the garden barking, they suddenly rush around the house barking at a sound. Teddy barked persistently at me when I came, obviously fearful. The two Poodles had a little spat as a result of built-up stress. We worked out a strategy for Teddy’s lady owner to take control of the situation and then we tackled his fear using food.

There are quite a few ways that the barking opportunities can be reduced through simple management and then they need to approach the problem differently. If more doors are kept shut the dogs can’t charge around the house like a noisy doggy whirlwind. They agreed that their usual ‘Be Quiet’, ‘Shh’ and getting cross simply haven’t worked. In fact, saying ‘Shh’ while the dogs are actually barking is probably labelling the noise with ‘Shh’, in effect telling them to bark and not to be quiet! ‘Shh’ needs to label NO barking for a long time before it can be effectively used to mean ‘be quiet’.

Each time the dogs start barking they need reassurance that there is nothing to be alarmed about because the owners take charge of the situation.

Using food

too much barking

Lily

The humans are missing big opportunties by not using food.  Jean Donaldson in The Culture Clash says this:

‘Exploit the most potent motivator in animal training. If you have puritanical misgivings about food as a reinforcer, get over them and fast. He has to eat anyway. ….it is like saying, “Yeah, but if your employer pays you for working, won’t you always expect it?” ….. Suffice to say that you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you deprive yourself of food training and expect to compete with the rest of the environment using your personal charm only. (Food training) enhances your bond by associating you with one of the most potent reinforcers on the planet. The alternative to training with positive reinforcement is training with aversives (punishment). Choose and stop agonizing”.

So now the family will be concentrating on reinforcing the behaviour that they want and on dealing with unruliness, and Lily and Teddy’s fears in the same sort of way they they would children in their care.