Barking at the Door. Anxiety? Something Else?

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.

barking at the door when left

Forrest – my treat box is beside me!

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.

I wonder.

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.

Bingo!

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

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)

 

What Function Does Growling Serve?

It was no start in life for a puppy.

Rose growling? It was hard to believe!

Lurcher Rose, now four, came over from Ireland as a seven-week old puppy, already separated from mother and siblings and having been in one or even two shelters.

What function does growling serve her

Rose

She lives with Molly an elderly Collie mix, an older Chocolate Labrador called Bryn and an excitable Jack Russell called Mouse. All are rescues. The couple have done wonders with these dogs – particularly with Bryn who was totally shut down when they first took him in a few years ago.

Lurcher Rose’s behaviour is what has been causing them concern for a while.

From the start she might growl when people approached. This developed into growling at the other dogs also. She will growl at them if they enter a room after herself, if they enter a room with her particularly if they try to go in ahead of her, and she may growl even if she is lying down and one of them gets up to do something.

The intimidation is affecting the lives of Molly, Bryn and Mouse.

The couple have successfully cured the growling at people by, every time someone entered her presence, that person giving her a treat.

Bryn and Mouse

Bryn and Mouse

They had been using same idea when she growled at the other dogs – feeding her while she growled. Unfortunately I think this may have backfired. What probably has happened is reinforcement for growling.

I believe food is still the answer, but the timing was wrong.

More recently they have reverted to telling her off.

What function does growling serve for Rose?

Starting so early in her life, its roots are surely either genetic or behaviour the little puppy learnt for her own survival in the first few weeks of her life – or both.

Molly

Molly

It will undoubtedly also, after all this time and with so much rehearsal, be a learned behaviour, a habit.

We looked at what function the growling can possibly serve for Rose – what’s in it for her.

During the day when people are busy all seems to be fine. The dogs can all be closely together with no trouble at all though Rose does prefer to take herself out of the way much of the time. The others are together, she is apart.

The intimidating, growling behaviour starts in the evening when humans and dogs all go into the sitting room together for a quiet evening.

She directs her growling at all the dogs – she doesn’t have one particular ‘victim’. This doesn’t seem to be a girl thing as she includes Bryn.

She (most likely) only does it when people are nearby. She possibly is worse when additional people are there; she also may guard a new person from the other dogs by growling. She never now growls at people.

In one respect growling is good in that it is a warning, which in this case the other dogs fortunately take heed of. If extinguished rather than being understood and resolved the dog may feel forced to take things further.

So what function can growling at the other dogs possibly serve for Rose?

One function it successfully serves is to keep the dogs out of her own personal space or directs them away from herself and possibly away from a particular person. She also is in control of where they are and what they do. It worries them, poor Molly in particular.

Another function is that growling gets reinforcement by way of attention of some sort from the humans. This is something they can work on.

A third function is that it may simply make her feel better and this another thing they can do something about. They can make not growling feel better still.

All the time that I was there Rose lay spread out on a sofa as Lurchers do, beside the man. Typically she showed me none of her usual behaviour towards the other dogs until the end when I got up to go. They did plan her entry well, though. First Mouse was with us, then the other dogs joined us and were settled before the friendly and inquisitive Rose came in. She ignored the other dogs, jumped up on the sofa, stretched out on her back and stayed like that all the time I was there!

I shan’t go into detail here because our plan is very specific to this particular case, but in general they will be working on their own relationship with the dogs. They can take ‘responsibility’ away from Rose by showing her that they make decisions. This involves treating all the dogs as individuals rather than a gang, getting and holding attention, cutting out free food etc. so that it can be used for working on her growling issue.

It’s the humans’ job to control the other dogs should control be needed and not Rose’s job.

We need to deal with Rose’s emotions that are driving her to behave like this, pairing negative feelings with good things. Teaching her to cope.

They need to do their very best to prevent further rehearsal of the behaviour as I am sure that, in addition to any actual function growling serves, it’s now a habit. Something she simply automatically does now.

 

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 Rose and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. 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, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. 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)