At last, after going to several dogs reactive to visitors, here were dogs that were pleased to see me!
Two Border Collies greeted me, two of the most polite, chilled and friendly dogs I’ve met for a while. Absolutely beautiful.
It was hard to imagine one of these dogs barking at the door, disturbing the neighbours.
When looking at a problem, I ask myself ‘what does the dog get out of it’?
Barking at the door – what’s in it for the dog?
What can Forrest, aged two, get out of standing at the front door and barking? What does the younger Luna get out of wrecking things? Often the answer is that because of the dog’s state of mind the behaviour simply helps him or her to feel better – to vent.
These two dogs are quiet dogs. There was no barking when I rang the bell and they greeted me calmly.
Before ten-month-old Luna arrived there was no barking at the door. Forrest never barked when left. Puppy Luna was more of a challenge. She would cause wreckage including digging in the carpet. The dogs also had access to the garden where she would dig and then bring the mud indoors.
They tried various things including, more recently, crating her. This seems to be when the barking at the door began.
It seems that, from the crate, she would whine – maybe bark. The assumption is that she is either bored or unhappy at being left.
In the crate she was, unlike previously, separated from Forrest who had free run of the downstairs. She may well have wanted to join him. Even when they abandoned the crate the two dogs were now left in different rooms. Luna continued to bark and whine.
The noise however that has got the neighbour unhappy is Forrest’s barking at the front door which had only started since they began to confine Luna due to the damage she was causing. This also coincided with when the dogs were no longer left freely together.
Things may not always be what they seem.
That dogs barking when left alone are suffering from straightforward separation problems is an obvious assumption to make.
Could it be that Luna’s crying when unable to join him started the whole thing by unsettling Forrest?
Could it be that the very neighbour who is worried by the barking has himself actually taught Forrest to bark at the front door?
Both dogs can hear him doing things down the side of his own house. They can hear when he’s about. Forrest, with access to the front door through which people enter, barks.
What has the neighbour (who, incidentally, loves the dogs) done?
He has come to the front door with Forrest behind it, let himself in, no doubt made a big fuss of the dogs – and then taken them for a long walk!
It is very likely that Forrest’s barking at the door eventually brings the neighbour round. The result is a walk.
I asked the question, does Forrest bark after the neighbour puts the dogs back after the walk? They think not, but will check. If the answer is no, it adds weight to my argument.
Luna may be different. She is a young dog and inseparable from her humans. She is only ever alone if they are out, so she could well be anxious, particularly if separated also from Forrest.
Separation could be the cause of damage but so also could boredom and frustration generated by Forrest barking at the door where she can’t join him. It could be a mix of all three.
We try the most likely and obvious things first. (We will look at separation distress of some kind if Forrest is still barking later when he realises barking at the door no longer results in a walk). They have a camera and have watched him on their phone and that’s all he is doing – barking at the door. No pacing or other signs of distress. This is what they tell me, they haven’t recorded it.
He could of course get worse before things improve. If barking has always resulted in an exciting walk, he’s not easily going to give up trying!
Changing the environment.
Keeping Forrest well away from the front door is essential as is leaving both dogs together. If nothing else, the barking will be more muffled in the kitchen. Giving Luna plenty to do and to chew will help any boredom and chewing will help any stress.
If we are very lucky, leaving Forrest and Luna in the kitchen with no access to either back or front door may be different enough for Forrest to be less persistent at barking at the door as a way of getting a walk. Of course, the neighbour could spoil that very quickly by entering the house while Forrest is barking! I suggest he doesn’t walk the dogs at all for a couple of weeks and after that only enters the house when it’s silent.
Looking at the overall picture of the dogs’ lives.
The dogs are a great tribute to the way their family care for them. There are however a few other things they can do a bit differently that should help any underlying stress which may or may not be compounding the problem but would be good for them anyway. I like to take a holistic view.
These include getting Luna used to not following them everywhere by sometimes shutting doors; by changing diet, by providing more brain work and less physically arousing stuff.
They give their dogs at least two wonderful long walks daily, one being immediately before they leave them – which is never for very long. The walk is meant to tire them out physically, but would it be better to have the kind of walk that would relax them? The dogs, off lead, have the environment and all its smells – what more could they need? See Worshipping the God of Exercise Walks.
So let’s see what happens.
They family will first get the dogs used to being left together in the kitchen for short periods with something nice to do, like a stuffed Kong each. They will film and record them this time. It will be interesting to see how Forrest reacts after a few days when he can’t get to the front door and realises that barking from the kitchen, away from the front door, never results in a walk.
Progress! ‘I’ve waited to message as I wanted to be sure but we are now into the 3rd week of sticking to the routine and both dogs seem calmer and happier when left. Keeping regular checks but fingers x all seems ok.’
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 Forrest and Luna 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. 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)