Barks. Barking at Everything. Constant High Arousal

Barney barks at anything and everything.

he barks at everythingThe Wirehaired Fox Terrier came to live with the lovely lady ten weeks ago, a companion for her Welsh Terrier, Lily.

Barney barks for attention and simply won’t stop until he gets it. He barks at the slightest thing he may hear or see. He barks at anyone who might come to the house and this will continue, on and off, all the time they are there. He barks with excitement, he barks with frustration and he barks when he’s scared. He barks non-stop in the car.

Barney barks at Lily when he’s aroused and this can upset her. He also barks at Lily when the lady pays her attention of any sort.

Over-arousal. Habit.

There are two underlying things to be dealt with that are relevant to the excessive barking, the main one being Barney’s severely high stress levels. Even in this calm environment they are permanently so high that the smallest thing tips him over. He is constantly having to find ways to release the build-up.

The other underlying thing that’s relevant is habit. He’s learnt to rely upon barking. It’s a learned behaviour that has been reinforcing to him in some way, probably for most of his seven years.

Whenever he’s barked for attention he will have received it in some form or other, even if only to be shouted at (not by his new lady owner, I must add).

Barking may simply make him feel better (like we might feel better by screaming, shouting or crying if we had no other way to relieve our feelings of frustration, fear, anger or excitement).

His barking was worse than usual when I was there. Normally it’s just the three of them and things are more peaceful. We sat talking, sometimes in a fairly animated way. The lady was giving me her attention and not Barney. This kept him restless.

It was good that I was able to see everything at its worst.

Cold turkey.

I would liken Barney’s need for attention a bit to that of an addict’s need for drugs. The only way to reduce this is for attention barking not to work; he will need to go through a kind of ‘cold-turkey’. Things could get worse before getting better.

The antidote without veterinary intervention is plenty of attention and reinforcement being given for quiet and for calm along with various stress-reducing activities to fill his life with instead.

Where barking will get him nothing in the way of attention, stopping barking or even a momentary break in the barking will be reinforced. The idea is to teach him that not barking works a lot better than barking does.

Barking isn’t the only thing he does to relieve his stress. He may scoot along the floor or rock on his bottom. He may pester Lily. He drinks excessively and constantly licks his lips and nose. He pants.

He is using Lily to redirect his emotions by barking at her too. She tries to chase him off. I advised immediately calling him away as it upsets her.

When they did play, it quickly developed into Monty body slamming – see here. I’m told that when he is relatively calm they play nicely.

Gaps and empty spaces leave a void that needs to be filled.

I read something the other day which I like: ‘You don’t stop behaviours without replacing with new ones. Gaps, empty spaces, have a void that needs to be filled’.

The lady will be looking at more alternative activities to help him de-stress, involving chewing, foraging and so on. She had already made a good start. Anything that is currently happening in Monty’s life that works him up will be reduced as much as possible.

He will be taken into the garden on lead until he learns not to charge out, barking frantically as he goes. He won’t have unattended access to outside. The lead-up to walks and meals will be done differently for maximum calm.

We went through lots of things, ways to reduce his stress levels whilst looking for acceptable ways in which he can vent his overflow of stress for himself that will replace the barking.

A bit like the Tesco slogan ‘every little helps’, lots of small things should add together to help Barney. This in turn should, over time, reduce his barking.

 

Barks with Excitement. Barks for Attention.

Bobby barks with excitement.

Gorgeous little Bobby barks with excitement and he barks for attention.

Cockerpoo barks with excitementI didn’t witness this at all – that often happens! It may have been because we were sitting down peacefully much of the time and people moving about can arouse a dog.

It also will have been because I frequently broke off to do things with him – little training games and a bit of clicker work. He had no need to bark to get attention.

The eleven-month-old Cockerpoo was adopted by my clients five days ago. I am helping to make sure he settles in well and they start as they mean to go on. Mostly it has been general tips but they have one main problem.

Barking.

They worry about the neighbours.

Bobby barks with excitement when they get ready to go out for a walk and may also run around barking when they get back.

Bobby barks with excitement while the man plays with him.

Bobby barks at them while they are eating their lunch.

Bobby barks at them for attention when they are busy.

Bobby barks with excitement while they prepare his food.

We look at why Bobby barks.

It’s caused by a mix of over-arousal, largely human generated, along with habit due to his having created noise successfully getting him attention in the past. If he barks with excitement before food or a walk, then, because the food or walk continues to deliver he will deduce that barking works. Excited barking, to Bobby, triggers food or walk.

People believe exciting play will result in a calmer dog but that’s not so. There is the belief that lots of exercise results in a calm dog, but it can be the opposite.

The gentleman will tone down play and avoid chasing games or games that are too repetitive which can fire Bobby up. Lots of mental stimulation, sniffing, hunting, doing ‘dog’ things interspersed with exercise produces the calm dog. This is a useful article: overexcitement, stress and exercise

Instead of ‘fielding’ and reacting to his barking, they will instigate short enriching activities or brain games instead – but when he’s quiet. Being calm and quiet should become more rewarding than barking.

Before they sit down to lunch, they will give him a stuffed and frozen Kong to keep him busy and quiet while they eat

At times when they know he’s going to be wired up, they can give him something else to take it out on and to wreck! This is a lot better than chewing their shoes or furniture. I suggest a ‘Box of Tricks’: a carton big enough for him to get into, where he can find empty food packets, old towels, cardboard tubes, plastic bottles etc. – with kibble hidden.

What a glorious mess he can make of that!

Barking before walks?

In just five days since they have had him, they have an established routine which Bobby has sussed. They should vary their routine. They can put his harness on well beforehand. A bit later they can casually walk around with his lead around their shoulders. Shoes can be put on earlier. Then, when he’s calm, just walk to the front door, pop the lead on and go out. They should avoid opening the door while he is barking but just wait in silence (commands are counter-productive).

Let him work out for himself what works now and what doesn’t.

If he seems wired up when they get back home, it’s likely the walk was ‘too much’ in some way. Too long? Too far? Too restricting on a shortish lead? They will now give him some freedom on a long line. If he needs cooling down when they get home, they can give him something to help him unwind – like sprinkling some food over the grass for him to concentrate on foraging.

It’s possible the excited barking will get worse before he gets better. As the noisy demanding will stop bringing the usual results, it wouldn’t be natural if he didn’t then try harder. In the past there will have been a breaking point where he eventually got the attention he wanted. No longer. Where barking used to work, it will now be met with failure.

Bobby won’t need to use barking now. He will gradually begin to get the idea, particularly as his new life will now contain so much more enrichment.

 

Jumps Up, Bites, Barks and Digs

EBT Staff mix‘Jumps up, bites, barks and digs’ – this is how the lady described their 8-month-old English Bull Terrier/Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix in their first message to me.

If he doesn’t get the attention he wants he may either bark, or go on the rampage, tearing about from room to room and all over the forbidden furniture. If he is thwarted or disciplined, he may leap up and nip quite roughly in a way one could almost call biting.

His digging in the garden is driving them mad also.

It’s hard not to treat life with an adolescent dog such as Sam like some sort of battle. He is non-stop throwing things at them that they have to ‘stop’ him doing. Our own emotions get in the way as we become increasingly exasperated. We believe that we should be ‘disciplining and controlling’ the dog. This makes him defiant. Confrontational or dominant behaviour from the humans is a slippery slope that too often ends badly.

After about ten minutes of countering his jumping up until he had stopped (as with most dogs that jump up, if the usual pushing them and telling them to get down actually worked they wouldn’t be jumping up anymore), I tried to sit down, but he was on the go all the time and we couldn’t get on. I had a deer antler chew in my bag and gave it to him. He chewed frantically on this for the next two and a half hours with barely a break. EBT mix Chewing Stagbar

If any dog needs a way to unwind, it’s Sam.

I suspect that some of his highly strung nature is genetic, but they are unwittingly responding in such a way that makes him worse.

When he is quiet they are understandably so thankful that they leave him be, so he only gets attention when he is ‘naughty’ so the undesirable behaviour is constantly reinforced.

LIke most responsible dog owners, they feel they must ‘control’ him, but what Sam totally lacks is self control. In order to control him they have become angry. They do this not because they don’t love him – they do, but because they are at their wits’ end with his behaviour.

The first thing they need to do is to completely change things about so that they are watching out for Sam being good, not bad. When you look for good you find there is a lot more of it than you had realised! Each even short moment of calm or self-control should be rewarded – he can earn some of his daily food this way.

Not much can be done until he’s less hyper and frustrated, so he needs proper stimulation of a healthy kind. The days and evenings should be punctuated with the sort of activities that don’t hype him up or make him frustrated, like short sniff walks, hunting games, foraging for food, gentle training games, brief ball play or tuggy and so on. They should only be initiated when Sam is calm and quiet – never as a result of his demanding behaviours.

The gentleman walks him daily on a short lead – and this is ‘power walking’ to keep himself fit. When he comes home Sam is still in an aroused state, not as satisfied as a dog should be after a nice walk and still needing to unwind. On a couple of occasions during the walk he has suddenly leapt at the man and bitten him quite hard. A little clue that this kind of walk not being quite what Sam needs is that he is less keen on the outward journey and he only pulls on the way back home which is unusual.

For the walk to be beneficial to Sam, I suggest the man stops for several five-minute breaks when he can lengthen the lead so that Sam can sniff and do his own thing for a while.

It’s hard, but with some imagination they need to treat every thing Sam does ‘wrong’ as having in it the seed of an idea for something good.

For instance, if he jumps on the sofa (which is out of bounds), the man currently pushes him off and is cross, so there is a stand-off where Sam then may stand and bark at him or may even fly at him. Then it is battle stations. But this can be done differently. The man can stand up, go to Sam’s bed and call him off the sofa and to his own bed, and when he gets there ask him to lie down and reward him. He can them give him a bit of quality time teaching him to stay. When the man goes and sits down again Sam will undoubtedly go back and jump on the sofa again, so patience is needed. The third time Sam can be put in the kitchen for a few minutes – but with something to chew or do – it’s not punishment. It’s to allow him to calm down.

Another example of an unwanted behaviour having in it the seed of a better idea is the digging in the garden (no pun intended). They can get a child’s covered sandpit and bury toys in it. If he starts to dig the earth, they can direct him to the sandpit, perhaps burying something new in there for him to find. If he keeps going back and they repeatedly have to say ‘don’t dig there – dig here instead’, instead of getting cross they can either bring him in or have a tie-out cable to fix him to for a short while so he simply can’t do it.

Being positive doesn’t mean being permissive. Boundaries can be introduced and maintained kindly.

Based on how frantically he chewed that bone, Sam needs chewables at the ready for times when he’s particularly stressed – something for him to redirect all that boredom and frustration onto.

With imagination, patience and foresight, frantic sessions can mostly be preempted. Doors can be shut, routines can be changed, the dog can be given a rummage box full of rubbish to ‘attack’ and so on.

If everything is done calmly and kindly, if he is recognised and rewarded for all the good things he does, and if a sense of humour can be mustered, Sam will become a lot more cooperative.

It takes time, patience and imagination but the eventual rewards in terms of their relationship with their lovely dog will be immeasurable.

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 Sam. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).

Little Dog Barks at Everything

Scared Shihuahua Yorie mix

Freddie

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

Belle

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).

Chihuahua Bit Man on the Mouth

Chihuahua Ant on the left is quite a confident little dog while Dec is restless, on constant alert

Ant and Dec

Here we have Ant and Dec – adorable eighteen-month-old Chihuahua brothers. They have had exactly the same upbringing but their personalities are very different. Ant on the left is quite a confident little dog while Dec is restless, on constant alert, wary of being approached, barks at people he doesn’t know well or dislikes – and has snapped and bitten.

Both little dogs are overweight despite the couple who own them sticking rigidly to the diet regime. This is because they need the help of another couple to look after them so they are not left alone too long, and unfortunately these people, who absolutely adore the dogs, can’t be persuaded not to over-indulge them. The alternative would be leaving the dogs all alone for hours.

Little Dec may bite if removed by the gentleman owner from his lap when asleep and he has bitten a child. He is actually fairly tolerant of them, but when he’s had enough his signals simply are ignored. We need to be looking out for ‘look-aways’, lip-licking and yawning which all show the dog is becoming increasingly uneasy.  Growling will follow. He may then be scolded for giving what is really quite a reasonable warning. By now he is between a rock and a hard place; he has no options left – he snaps.

The poor dog can’t talk ‘human’ and the humans aren’t understanding ‘dog’.

Dec is scared of vehicals and bicycles; air-brakes send his tail between his legs and he would run if he could. He hates the vacuum and the strimmer – and fireworks. Visitors may pick them up which makes Ant pee.

He bit a man on the mouth

The final straw came the other day when the friend bent over Dec as he slept on the sofa (in order to kiss him I believe), and he bit the man’s lip badly.

These little dogs are carried about too much (as chihuahuas often are); they are subjected to big hands reaching out on top of them to touch them and large human faces getting uncomfortably close. They are also allowed to dictate when they get attention and when they are played with. Food for rewards has little value.

Over-feeding, pandering to fussy eating, giving too many un-earned treats and sharing one’s own food, carrying little dogs about, forcing kisses on them and getting them too excited when greeting to the extent that a dog pees may be done in the name of love, but isn’t kind really. The owners themselves are more restrained whilst having some tightening up to do, but they need to be much firmer with the other people who share the care of their dogs.

It is always best if I can have my first meeting with everyone willing to be involved in changing their own behaviour in order to change the dogs’ behaviour. The couple are very keen to understand Ant and Dec’s needs, but fear the other people may be unwilling to listen to my advice or change their over-indulgent ways. Consistency from everyone is so important.

Just see in the photo how eager and attentive they can be if motivated!

It is just after Christmas and I received this email: Hope you had a good Christmas! Just wanted to let you know of some fantastic success we have had with Dec. It’s funny that we only saw small changes until we visited Craig’s parents over the last couple of days…
Normally Dec has been petrified of Craig’s brother…..When we visited we had been using the pen lots when things got too busy and hectic to keep them calm and calmly brought Pluto into the room Craig’s brother was in- seriously was like a miracle moment- no barking, no signs of him being anxious he even went onto his lap and let him stroke him!!!! I think knowing the signs of when they are anxious has really helped us to keep him calm- we can’t always remove him from a situation but just knowing what to look out for really helps!
Normally visiting Craig’s family with the dogs is something I find really stressful but they have been 100% better behaved which just makes everything so much more enjoyable!

German Shepherd. Failed Police Dog

Cora is a failed police dog

Cora

German Shepherd Cora is a four-year-old ‘failed’ police dog. Who knows what her puppyhood was and what essential socialising she missed out on?

Like so many German Shepherds I go to, she is reactive to people coming to the house though she settles quickly. She is also very wary and barks at anything that worries her – and a lot does worry her: people who look different when out, new objects in different places, anything sudden, other dogs when she is on lead, vacuum cleaner, fireworks, the neighbours. The list goes on.

She lives with young Wheaten Terrier, Molly, who a couple of times has received the fallout as Cora redirects her stress onto her and they end up fighting. Molly herself is quite good also at winding Cora up and a couple of fights have been over bones. She, too, is a barker – particularly indoors at every little thing she hears. Understandably, the neighbours aren’t happy.

Wheaten Terrier Molly barks at everything she hears

Molly

Our starting point is to calm everything down in every way possible. The barking needs to be addressed. Telling a dog to be quiet when barking at sounds outside may stop her briefly but it does nothing to resolve the problem. Holding a frantic, barking dog on a tight lead does nothing to teach the dog to be chilled around other dogs, traffic and approaching people.

Cora’s owner admits that had she known just what she would be like she wouldn’t have taken her on, but they love her and are now fully committed to do all they can to give her a good life – to help her to become more relaxed so that eventually they can enjoy walks, take the dogs camping and be confident that there will be no more fights.

Dogs an Inconvenience Not a Pleasure

GSD Sascha watching the rabbit

Sascha

 

GSD Sascha is a handsome dog

Sascha

Sascha is a beautiful two-year-old German Shepherd who lives with GSDs black Tango (10) and Annie (4).

The couple who own them run a rabbit rescue and these dogs are incredible. Rabbits are free in parts of the house and run around the dogs who are completely chilled with them.

This visit was a good example of how people who are living in the middle of their situation can’t see it clearly, and how under the general pressures of life things have gradually slipped until, to quote the lady, their dogs were no longer a pleasure but an inconvenience to put up with.

Sascha is generally quite pushy but also more nervous; she hackles and barks when people come to the house. In no time at all after I arrived she was happy and friendly, as were the other two. All the time I was encouraging the lady to keep quiet, not to scold the dogs, not tell them to go away and not to use the word ‘no’. To relax. They are dogs after all. It’s natural for them to gently sniff a stranger.

These dogs get nearly all their attention when they are doing something unwanted – Sascha in particular, and mostly in the form of ‘no’ and scolding. They get no attention or reward for being good.

Annie is bullied by Sascha

Annie

Sascha opens doors and child gates, she toilets on the floor immediately after she has been taken outside. She bullies poor Annie who spends much of her time hiding in the kitchen. The couple would leave them to get on with it – to sort it out for themselves. I ask people in this sort of situation, ‘what would you do if you had a child bullying her sister?’. Would you leave her to get on with it? Would you not kindly teach her a better way of behaving and protect the victim? Sascha is a very brainy dog who needs more stimulation. We did a bit of very simple clicker training and it was marvellous to see how focused and eager to please she became with something that is reward-based. We wouldn’t want to work for nothing and it’s the same for dogs, whether it’s food reward, play or merely praise.

Reinforcement drives behaviour.

Soon this lovely young couple should be bonding with their beautiful dogs, and enjoying them once more like they used to.

English Bull Terrier on High Octane Fuel

English Bull Terrier has manic bouts of frenzyPoor Leo, a four-year-old English Bull Terrier, is in a bad way. They were so worried that he might bite me that he was muzzled throughout our meeting  – with it just taken off for this photo.

Here was yet another dog who as a puppy that was the strongest, greediest and bossiest in his litter. Leo belongs to a young gentleman who lives with his father and has serious problems with pent-up stress, leading to aggression – around food in particular.

He gets manic bouts of frenzy, flying around and going for the two men. The young man then physically pins him down to prevent someone getting hurt. This is all getting increasingly out of hand. Castration made no difference at all.

Leo’s aggression around food is puzzling. He is reasonably calm while his food is prepared, and OK when it goes down. It’s afterwards that the problem starts. It’s like he is hyped up with high octane aggression fuel. He starts to spin around like he’s winding himself up before attacking. They have to catch him and muzzle him quickly. He is fed quite smelly cheap tinned food. Food can influence behaviour in a big way. While they prepare their own food they have to keep feeding Leo bits to stop the spinning and biting.

Putting him out of the way is also a problem. The house isn’t big so it means the garden, and then Leo simply barks and barks.  They will need to enlist the understanding of their neighbours for a while.

They really love Leo and want to do the best for him, but simply don’t know how. The confrontational dominance methods seen on TV are making him worse. These techniques create a battle which they are unlikely to win and who wants that sort of relationship with their dog anyway?  Leo is alone for about ten hours a day, and not given daily walks. Interaction is either rough and tumble exciting play, or getting cross with him for persistently barking until they do what he wants. He is allowed to lie on top of the young man, effectively pinning him down, but then may bite if removed from the sofa.

This is a dog with huge stress issues and simply no rules and boundaries in terms that he understands. De-stressing Leo is where it all starts. I suggested a technique for feeding him, after which I feel he should be left alone for a while to give him time to calm right down.  The energy rush of his food is all in one meal – understandable because they don’t want this ordeal in the morning before work as well as in the evening – but it should be spread.

I so hope that they can manage to give Leo the calm kind of leadership he so needs. It will be hard work requiring a lot of patience.

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