Bark Less. Reinforce Calm Quiet Behaviour

They want their Cocker Spaniel to bark less.

Nearly all action and activity in Woody’s world is generated by Woody. Much of it as a result of barking.

The two-and-a-half-year-old barks to get attention. He simply carries on relentlessly until it works. Some days they must take him out on his lead over ten times (they have no garden). Continue reading…

Barks Aggressively at Dogs. Counter-conditioning. Changing Emotions.

On walks the Deerhound Lurcher barks aggressively at other dogs.

At home Daniel is a well-behaved, quite self-contained but friendly boy, four years of age. The gentleman has had him for two years.

He lived on a narrow boat

barks aggressively at other dogsFor the first two years of his life Daniel lived on a narrow boat.

He has had several years to rehearse barking at other dogs in order to drive them on their way.  When he barks aggressively, it works!  The dogs carry on walking.

Living on a boat, this I’m sure has been the case. I have been to several dogs living in marinas that are very reactive to people and particularly dogs passing along the bank or walking down their pontoon.

Now in a house with the gentleman, Daniel continues to rehearse the territorial and protective behaviour. From the front windows he barks aggressively at people passing with their dogs. He barks aggressively at any animal that dares to come into his garden. Even the more distant dogs that he hears shouldn’t be there.

This behaviour is understandable really when a dog feels in some way restricted, whether out on a lead, in a house or trapped in a narrow boat.

If free, he would increase distance

If Daniel were roaming free he would simply increase distance and stay out of the way. Videos of dogs in countries where they wander freely show that dogs seldom stand barking at other dogs to make them go away. They remove themselves.

Up until now, nothing has been done to make him feel more confident around other dogs when he is trapped on lead. To the contrary. When he barks aggressively he is held even more tightly and not allowed to increase distance as the dog gets nearer.

It’s exactly the opposite needing to happen. Seeing another dog should become good news or at the very least something non-threatening to ignore.


Daniel seems to be a beautifully calm dog at home, but this can disguise things going on inside him. His basic state of mind plays a big part. For this reason there are various things to do at home as well like working on getting instant eye contact and attention.

At home, too, he will now be unable to rehearse barking at windows. They will pull blinds and shut doors.

At home in his garden, Daniel will begin to associate dogs he hears barking in the distance with something good (counter-conditioning).

Barks aggressively? Too close.

On walks the man will now use systematic desensitisation. Daniel will be aware of other dogs but at an acceptable distance. Avoiding dogs altogether won’t help at all.

Then he can apply counter-conditioning. This basically helps to neutralise Daniel’s negative feelings towards dogs by associating them with something he loves. I suggest chicken. He won’t get chicken at any other time – only when he sees another dog  and from a comfortable distance.

The whole thing has to be systematic and planned.  Listen to this very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in. It’s only just over a minute long.

Over time Daniel will be encouraged to look away from the dog and to the gentleman – for chicken.

It’s a slow process.

Prey drive

Daniel barks aggressively at another dog to increase distance, but he may also react in another way. He gets very excited when he sees a small dog, a cat or any animal small or fast enough to be considered prey. Then his prey-drive instinct kicks in.

The gentleman can redirect the dog’s instinct to chase if he catches it fast enough. Currently, the only way he can let Daniel off lead is when the dog is running after a ball, which he does multiple times. Repeated chasing after balls fires him up for more chasing. It’s not natural. Chasing by a Lurcher in real life would be after one animal. When he’s caught it, there would be a break from chasing.

There will be no more ball play on walks.

There is plenty of sniffing to do and a world to explore. Starved of his ball, it will gain even more value to Daniel.

Using a long line, the man can now work on redirecting Daniel’s prey drive onto something acceptable – that ball! As soon as the dog’s body language tells him that his chase instinct is kicking in, he will throw the ball in the opposite direction.

It is particularly important Daniel comes to feel better about other dogs. In a couple of months the man is re-homing another Lurcher from a friend who is going overseas and can’t take him. We have discussed the best ways of introducing the two dogs when the time comes.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. 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

Punish Fear. Training Discs. Scared of Clicker

Little Terrier Ricky was found abandoned in Ireland, very young and with a broken pelvis. He is two years old.

Ricky now has the near-perfect life for him with the couple he has lived with for a year. He’s very friendly with people and best loves to be snuggled up on the man’s lap. He is however a sensitive little dog – perhaps more sensitive than one might think.

Something has frightened him badly either in his past life or as the result of someone demonstrating how they should ‘cure’ his barking at the hoover. They tell me this person threw spoons on the floor in front of him – or it may have been training discs specifically manufactured for ‘scaring’ a dog out of doing something.

Why would anyone think to punish fear is a good idea?

This has led me a bit away from this actual case, but I find it incredible that anyone can think punishing a dog already exhibiting fear with further terror can be a good way to go about things. This was often the old way of ‘curing’ a dog of barking at something – and there are a few old-school people including a well-known TV trainer who carry on promoting the ‘punish fear’ kind of approach.

to punish fear makes it worseIn human terms, would we slap a child for crying because he’s afraid, say, of the dark? The noise may stop but for sure the fear would increase.

Fortunately Ricky’s lovely owners would never knowingly scare their little dog and didn’t take up the punish fear advice to stop his barking at other dogs.

We discussed ways of helping Ricky to become more confident and to overcome his fear of dogs in situations where he feels vulnerable or trapped. A clicker can be a useful tool. It turned out that he was very scared of a clicker.

Ricky’s owners had bought a clicker a while ago and, as most people would, just clicked it.

Ricky ran and hid. They didn’t try it again

Could the sudden click have reminded him of the sudden throwing down of spoons or discs, I wonder? Perhaps the click reminded him of something from his early past.

I’m careful when I introduce a clicker. I will muffle it under my arm on in a pocket, just to check how the dogs feels with the sound. It’s not uncommon for a nervous dog to react.


Because I thought a clicker could be useful, I had another go, this time being very careful to muffle it so the sound was very soft.  I clicked and I threw food. Ricky was fine.

I gradually brought it out from under my arm, making the sound less muffled.

Then, all of a sudden, it was too much. Ricky was scared. Even though I thought I had been bringing it out gradually, it wasn’t gradual enough.

Needless to say, clicker will never be used with him again.

It was an interesting for them to clearly see, though, the dog’s fear ‘threshold’ and how slowly things have to be taken. Once over threshold, the dog is scared and unable to learn or function properly.

Ricky then was then for a while uneasy with me also. This demonstrated how scaring a dog in this way may spread to fear of other associated things like the person who administers the frightener or even the location where it happened. It can destroy trust.

This shows the principle of how they will be dealing with Ricky’s fear of approaching dogs. He only reacts when they get very close and when he’s on lead, unable to escape. However, if they watch him carefully, they will see that he is uneasy long before it gets to that.

This is the point at which they will start to work on his fear. And they certainly wouldn’t punish fear. Instead they will do the opposite. They will work on reducing fear by building up positive associations.

Taking their dog to the pub.

An end goal, similar to that of quite a few other people I go to, is to be able to take their dog to the pub!

They want him to ignore other dogs coming in or passing by rather than barking defensively at them.

Punish fear by throwing discs, keys or spoons as some people (certainly not Ricky’s humans) might? Possibly the barking would stop, temporarily. How, though, would the dog feel about an approaching dog another time?

When another dog is sufficiently far away for Ricky to know it’s there but he’s still relaxed, food should rain down on him. The challenge is to do this before Ricky goes ‘over threshold’ with the other dog being too close or Ricky already being too stirred up to accept it.

Fortunately he has quite a few doggy friends and is fine in a group. It’s only when he feels cornered or trapped and the dog gets too close.

To get to the stage of sitting in a pub garden with other dogs coming and going also requires Ricky to feel more comfortable when directly approached by another dog when he’s out on lead.

They will give Ricky coping mechanisms.


NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, 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 Ricky and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Little Dog Barks at Everything

Scared Shihuahua Yorie mix


Sometimes people can be at their wit’s end with a dog that seems to bark incessantly, particularly when they know it affects the neighbours. This is the case with the owners of little Chihuahua Yorkie mix Freddie, on the left. He is only ten months old and lives with thirteen-month Westie/Yorkie Belle, who is now joining in.

Actually, although Freddie spends a lot of time barking, he’s not a barker as such. At times when other dogs would be barking, he is quiet – like when he is put in the kitchen alone. He doesn’t bark for attention either. He has a lot of attention and gentle training so isn’t lacking stimulation. It is very evident that the one and only cause of his barking is fear.

If fear is causing barking, then it’s the fear that needs to be dealt with rather than the barking as such. His barking is basically yelling ‘go away, go away, I don’t feel safe’. On the left I just caught a break in his barking at me for this photo,

Westie Yorkie cross


When I arrived and for much of the time I was there, Freddie was so aroused that it was hard to do anything at all about it, so we experimented with various approaches before popping him into the kitchen for a break where he calmed down, eventually leaving him in there. It seems that so many things alarm Freddie that he’s in a permanently heightened state, most particularly when he hears any sound, when he meets a new person – particularly someone coming into his house and also people, dogs and noises when he’s out on walks.

The five-minute walk to the park is yet another story of barking that needs working on! The lady has resorted to carrying him so he can be off lead to play with Belle. I am a believer in little dogs walking, but in this case I would say that anything that can be done to reduce Freddie’s stress and anxiety is valid just now.

We ‘unpicked’ Freddie’s day and found quite a few little things that, when added together, should make him calmer. The two main ones were to block the dog flap so that he hasn’t constant access to the outdoors even when they are out and can bark at everything he hears, and to control the two dogs’ unchecked and prolonged wild play when they are out in the park.

Again, like a jigsaw, there are several small pieces that when added together can create a better picture.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Freddie, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet 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).

Boxer Lunges at Other Dogs on Walks

Boxer Candy lying asleep with her tongue outThis is Candy, a 2-year-old Boxer in her typical pose with  tongue out! Up until last October her sister, Floss, lived with them also, but due to Floss’ bullying and dominating Candy who was the more sensitive and nervous of the two, they found a new home for Floss. This was additionally necessary because it had developed into fighting and drawing blood, and the family has two young children. It is likely we could have done something about this had I been called in back then.

Straight away Candy was a happier, more relaxed dog – in all respects bar one. Where before she had been fine around other dogs,  now she is extremely reactive – barking and lunging in a scary manner.

It seems she felt that the bossy Floss was the leader, protector and decision-maker out on walks and without her the burden has fallen upon Candy herself. She simply can’t cope.

At home she is mild-mannered, gentle and loving. Then as soon as the door is open she charges out, pulling. This will be very uncomfortable for her because she still pulls despite wearing a Gentle Leader head halter which she hates and tries to remove.

It is a really clear example of how dogs, especially dogs of a more nervous temperament, need leadership in the sense of ‘guide, decision-maker and protector’ (not ‘dictator’) and it would seem in Candy’s case that even Floss’ sort of leadership was better than none. The lady has taken her to classes. On walks they continually correct her by jerking the lead and saying ‘heel’. It makes no difference beyond probably adding to the stress of all concerned. All they are doing is trying to control her physically because they are stronger than she is and have the head halter. This is not what I consider to be leadership and neither, evidently, does Candy.

It would be a rare sight to see a dog that walks calmly beside a person on a longish loose lead, sniffing the ground and doing what dogs naturally do, with no gadgets like head halters or retractable leads, suddenly lunging and barking at other dogs.

Happy, calm, loose-lead walking is where it all has to start, and I show how this is achieved. Then ‘other dogs’ can be added gradually into the equation, but in controlled situations to begin with.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.