Alarm Barking. How ‘Stopping’ the Barking Can Make Barking Worse.

It was hard to imagine as I sat with Cocker Spaniels George and Rupert that the problem is alarm barking. Having had a sniff of me they simply settled down for the evening.

These two dogs have a very good life! They want for nothing. They go to a very good daycare while the couple are at work. They are taken on holiday with them and are very much loved.

Neighbours have complained.

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Little Dogs Bark at People, Dogs, Traffic, Bikes

The two little dogs bark at the smallest provocation. One sets the other off – or they may erupt into barking simultaneously.

The  Maltese/Chihuahua mixes (Malchis) are one-year-old brothers. Two dogs of the same age can be hard work, particularly if they are littermates.

The adorable Reggie and Ronnie bounce off one another. Much of the work involves working on them separately – treating them as individuals.

The little dogs bark a lot!

The pair are extremely easily aroused, torn between fearfulness and being friendly. They bark at people, at other dogs, at traffic of all sorts, bikes…. nearly everything.

the little dogs bark at everything

Barking at me

When I was there, the smallest sound that we humans couldn’t even hear had the two little dogs racing out into the garden, barking.

When dogs are reactive to something our natural instinct can be to push them into the situation. To ‘get them used to’ it.

A dog can be reactive to traffic by lunging or barking at it, and people will keep walking the dog near to traffic, holding the lead tightly.  When the two little dogs bark at an approaching person with a dog, their humans don’t divert but may even try to make the dogs say hello.

It is actually exactly the opposite we need to do. If we translate it into human terms it’s easier to understand. If a child is scared of something or has a phobia (even if we find it unreasonable), we would deal with it slowly and not force the child to face it. We wouldn’t shut a child that is scared of the dark in a dark room for an hour to get him over it! We would be aware that therapy could take months.

It can be embarrassing.

On top of this, when our little dogs bark at people – or our big dogs for that matter – it’s embarrassing.

The temptation then is to attempt to stop them in some way. Fortunately they hadn’t yet tried to use the compressed air dog ‘corrector’ they had bought. They can now see how that is the equivalent to smacking a child who is screaming ‘Go Away’ to something that is terrifying him and coming too close.

The noise might stop, but the fear will increase.

The only way to change the barking behaviour is to get to the root of why they do it and deal with that.

They barked at me for a while, making it impossible to talk, but soon stopped with the help of dropped food. They started again a couple of times – like when I went out and came back in while we were rehearsing a technique for people coming to the door.

The little dogs bark at things they might hear from the garden. This means reacting instantly, calling them away, making it worth their while – and not giving them unlimited access (difficult in this very hot weather).

The thing that impacts on their humans the most is when the little dogs bark at everything when they take them out on walks.  

Helping the dogs one at a time.

They will walk each dog, one at a time, to their garden gate and watch the world go by. Lots of very short sessions are best. The very instant he shows alarm, they will drop food. The idea is to pre-empt the barking whilst building up positive associations.

They must be ready to retreat quickly back to the house at the first reaction or bark – increasing distance. Bit by bit they will build up the dogs’ confidence and trust in them. They must not get impatient and try to push ahead too fast.

Only by keeping ‘distance’ from the car, person or dog at the same time as those things triggering something good, will the situation change.

Currently, the opposite is happening. Because their leads are attached to collars and not harnesses, reactivity and lunging will result in discomfort to their little necks. Humans get agitated.

Only when each dog is much less reactive individually should they try them both together. Slowly they can advance further away from their house.

They need not walk the dogs daily while they are doing this. People can play with them in the garden. For ‘proper’ walks I suggest they find somewhere open with as few dogs and people as they can. Until Reggie and Ronnie can walk beside the road without being being upset by everything, they need to take them by car.

The car?

This is another problem. Seeing people (or other cars, dogs, bicycles) from the car window makes the little dogs bark frantically. The only way out of this for now is to somehow prevent them seeing out – by being creative. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Six weeks later: ‘All is going really well The boys have calmed down so much. They have adapted well to me saying ok come on boys to get them back into the house when they start barking in the garden. They have stopped barking when I  let them out. Throwing food over the gate works well when I leave them now and they are far more settled. No more destruction of furniture. Walking has been a lot better. Whilst on holiday if they became anxious and started to bark we adopted the ok lets go and turned the other way which worked well. Reggie ignores cars now whilst on a walk. We feel that your techniques have worked really well. There is hardly any reaction now when we come home from work.
They are 2 different dogs a much happier home.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. Click here for help.

Barking Dogs Getting Used to New Life

The three dogs bark The dogs’ barking is a problem.

Previously the lady had lots of land where her four dogs could run free, and she spent a large part of the day outside with them and her horses. The dogs lived in a conservatory with access to the outside.  Living out in the country, the dogs’ barking was no problem and was actually welcomed for the security it offered. It was fine life that suited everyone very well.

Then the lady’s circumstances changed, and a couple of months ago she moved to somewhere smaller with just a garden – and near neighbours.

To start with the dogs were left in the conservatory as before, with access to the garden, but their barking caused problems with neighbours. There were, after all, many new sounds to alarm the dogs. Consequently, their environment has necessarily become increasingly small to limit barking. They will now live in the kitchen where they will hear fewer sounds and any barking will be muffled.

At the moment their life is neither one thing or another. On one hand, gone are the freedoms and outdoor activities of the old life, but on the other hand it has not been replaced by any alternative.  Where they before had outdoor freedom and stimulation and plenty of company, they now have much less of both.

They now need to learn to be polite house dogs and the lady can build her bond with them accordingly.

One of the dogs, four-year-old black Labrador Bramble, is a nervous dog.  She was hand-reared as a puppy, her mother and siblings having died, and she has not been exposed in her early months to enough people and everyday things like traffic so she is scared. She barks Wary of people and too much barkingconstantly in the car at everything she sees. She has snapped a few times when someone has gone to touch her. Her lunging at traffic makes her hard to handle, so these things, along with the barking, are what we will be working on.

On the right was the best picture I could take of Bramble – she didn’t like being photographed!

The lady has two more Labradors, one aged fourteen and the other a strong two-year-old Chocolate  elevn year old Springer SpanielLabrador. She also has an eleven-year old Spaniel (I couldn’t resist taking this picture of him!). Because of their behaviour on walks which now have to be mostly on lead and where they encounter more people, dogs and traffic than they are accustomed to, she is unable to walk more than one dog at a time.

She now therefore has quite a complicated daily dog-walking rota which she admits has become a tedious chore where once being outside with her dogs and horses was a joy.

Because of the constant worry about the barking dogs upsetting the neighbours every time they hear something along with the walks being challenging, neither the lady nor her dogs are enjoying life together quite as they used to.  Dog problems can become quite overwhelming at times, but changing objectives and doing things a bit differently will change all that.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bramble, 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 dog (see my Get Help page).

Doberman Barking in the Garden. Pulls on lead

Barking in the gardenWhat a beautiful dog! Doberman Roxy is two years old and really only gives her owners two problems. It would be far easier to list her good points. She is polite and friendly, she’s good with other dogs and she is clever. She has never shown aggression of any sort. She understands and obeys quite a number of words.

But Roxy barks too much outside and she pulls on lead.

Roxy has been unintentionally led to believe that she controls nearly everything in her life – when and where she eats, what she will eat, when she’s played with, where she sleeps and who with, when she goes outside, when she is petted, when she comes back from playing with other dogs…………and the garden.

Barking in the garden

They hadn’t seen how they have been encouraging the barking in the garden. A Doberman, after all, is a guarding breed and to ask for no barking at all would be like asking a human not to talk.

Roxy looks out in the garden through the conservatory windows, on high alert.  Her tail is up. She is looking for cats or birds perhaps – or even a masked gunman? She agitates to go out until door is opened for her.

If they are sitting watching TV, she has learnt that if she simply keeps staring at the gentleman he will always give in and let her out. She is in a highly aroused state even before he opens the door. She rushes out, hackles up, and charges around the garden, barking.

If Roxy could speak she would be saying to the man, ‘Let me out right now so that I can check the boundaries, chase off the enemy and let the world know whose territory this is’ –  and he does it! I’m sure he won’t mind my quoting him (and he’s a big, strong young man): “I’m so weak-minded Roxy can control me telepathically!”

At night time they worry about the neighbours so need to stop her barking in the garden and have resorted to muzzling her to muffle the noise.

Making the decisions

How much better to take on the parenting and decision-making role themselves!

The young man will need to ignore the staring and let her out when he chooses and when she is calm. He won’t open the door until she has worked it out that it stays shut until she hangs back calmly and he may then step out with her. If she barks outside they will thank her and call her straight back in – rewarding her.

At night time she will need to go out on a long lead so she has no choice but to do as she is asked straight away. No more night-time barking in the garden.

Other little things they do throughout daily life will help too, gaining a bit more control of some of the important things like food and play. Roxy, who is a slightly nervous dog, when she accepts the new way of things should become more confident.

Barking and a Neighbour has Complained

Jack Russell Tilly is friendly and biddableJack Russell Tilly lying peacefullyWhat a lovely little dog Jack Russell Tilly is! She is friendly and biddable. She is also inclined to be excitable and a barker, but a lot of this is because her humans don’t understand her needs. They are imposing human values on her – assuming what would be important to a person is also important to a dog and often it’s completely the reverse.

The other day they received an anonymous complaint from someone living nearby, about Tilly’s barking. It’s surprising how many people I go to where the neighbours haven’t the guts to knock on the door and resort to anonymous notes. Tilly’s owners hadn’t realised that Tilly was barking so much and the last thing they want is for her to be distressed – or for neighbours to be disturbed.

The lady is of the belief that Tilly needs lots of freedom and space when they go out. She has run of the whole house, from their bedroom, down the stairs, to the sofa overlooking the front window and then out the dog flap and open access to the garden. So it is, for the hours when her people are out, she will be charging about barking at sounds. She is reactive to most noises as many Jack Russells are and she’s being given guard duty.

She will be a whole lot more settled shut in a smaller, less stimulating and more den-like area without the stresses of noisy neighbours, dogs barking, pigeons, cats teasing her from the fence and so on. Humans may feel shutting her in and away from windows is unkind, but from the dog’s perspective it is a lot kinder. She will feel safe.

Just to double-check that there are not other issues causing her to bark when she’s left alone, the teenage son will rig up his iPod to record exactly what she does when they are out. This will be easy now that she will be contained in a smaller area.

 I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.