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).

Gentle Duke Turns Into a Snarling Devil Dog When Cats Appear

Handsome HSD Duke sitting on the sofaToday I visited eighteen month old German Shepherd Duke. He is a perfect example of how people unintentionally teach their dogs to do the very opposite of what they want.

When they first got him as a puppy he was fine with their cats. In fact he would sleep with one of them. However, as he got a bit older an maybe over-playful, his family became anxious. Their initial reaction involving scolding and panic would have started things on a downward spiral. The cats now stay well out of the way upstairs when Duke is about.

Gradually things have escalated to their current situation. As soon as he hears a cat jump off a bed upstairs or meow, Duke hurtles at the stair-gate, snarling and barking. If the cat is visible he is truly ferocious – they say like a totally different dog. They feel if he actually caught one of the cats he would kill it.

How did things come to this? I asked the four family members what each does when Duke charges at the stair-gate. All immediately shout at him and dive towards him. They may try to grab his collar, still shouting, and may wack him with a rolled-up newspaper – firing him up even further.

The other day Duke bit the teenage son who had the rolled newspaper in one hand and was trying to grab his collar with the other.

Let’s look at this through Duke’s eyes. Cats mean trouble – his humans have taught him this. As soon as he charges at the stair-gate, snarling, his humans join in – all making angry noises. They back him up. They behave aggressively towards him too.

While I was there we tried something different. A cat was moving about upstairs. I immediately dropped a tiny bit of food for Duke. Every time we heard a cat I fed him. It wasn’t long before one cat was halfway downstairs staring at Duke under the open side of the stairway. So we could all relax, I slipped a longish lead on him and, making sure it was loose, continued feeding him.

Soon the cat actually jumped down into the room, going under the coffee table beside us. Duke gave one alarm bark but that was all. He stared at the cat so I then decided he should do a bit more for the food – something to distract him that was incompatible with staring at the cat. It worked perfectly. We then called it a day and separated them. This was more than enough for one session.

The family could see how responsive Duke was to a gentle and calm approach. Nobody had taught him what he should do when worried about the cats. There are one or two simple things they can do to make things easier, like blocking the view of cats on the stairs.

If all the family can behave the same way with no more shouting, panic or rolled-up newspapers – showing Duke by their own behaviour that cats are cool, I’m sure they will be all live happily together, given time.