Barking For Attention and Getting it

Barking for attention is ultimately guaranteed to succeed.

Taking a break from barking for attentionWhat constitutes attention to Stella?

Anything involving a human looking at her, talking to her or touching her – or all three at once which is usually the case.

She may be glared at. She may told QUIET. She may be pushed away.

Stella is sixteen months old. She is mostly French Bulldog with a bit of English Bulldog thrown in – which makes her quite a bit taller than a Frenchie. She is remarkably agile and it’s nothing for her to leap from the floor directly onto the table.

In the photo we are have managed a brief respite from the barking by giving her a Stagbar to chew.

Stella lives with several people – a couple with adult sons, two of whom can get her very stirred up. There is also an older calmer dog, a Great Dane.

The family all work together and the dogs go with them, remaining in the office. The dogs have a great life. At work Stella is no trouble. There is no barking for attention at all.

Why is her behaviour at work so different to her behaviour at home? It might be because at work people are busy and regularly moving about. At home it’s when they have sat down that the barking for attention routine starts.

I had not been there for long when the barking for attention began – mostly directed at me.

Stella is not a dog deprived of love and attention – not at all! However, she has learnt that barking brings her results and very likely if she’s quiet she will be ignored.

Let sleeping dogs lie. Why wouldn’t you?

 

Now the family will need to go cold turkey.

If they want the barking for attention to stop, there must be no more responding to it.

They must all ignore her noise and keep their nerve and patience. Very difficult. When I was there it was hard to think, let alone talk.

When barking wasn’t working she would then push her luck by doing other things – jumping on the table, jumping on the seat behind me to get to my treat box on the table, chewing the leaves of a house plant and nicking a wooden clothes peg which she couldn’t be allowed to keep owing to danger of swallowing the metal spring.

Running off with something can be guaranteed to result in a chase!

It’s very hard for them not to keep scolding her and telling her ‘no’ and to get down (all reinforcing to Stella). They will get a harness (Perfect Fit like in the picture below) so they can give her a bit of gentle help ‘Off you Get’ and then ‘Good Girl’ when down. They must act casual and keep their cool!

They may need to resort to shutting her alone in the kitchen with something to do for a while if she pushes her luck too far.

What a little monkey! What a challenge!

 

This is a project requiring a sense of humour and endurance.

To help her learn not to bark, she must learn that what they do want – quiet – is rewarding.

So, in addition to not reacting at all to her barking for attention, we started to mark and reward just moments of quiet – gradually increasing the duration. She kept reverting, but we made a little headway. The lady said ‘Yes’, I used my clicker. It doesn’t matter which is used so long as Stella learns to associate it with not barking and the sound is followed by food.

When people are moving about at work she doesn’t bark, so this gives us another strategy to try. As soon as she starts, the person she’s directing the barking at can move about or walk out of the room.

Stella in my harness

Stella in my harness

I see it as being quite a challenge in so far as the whole family needs to be reliably consistent. ‘Can’t be bothered’ could compromise success.

Stella has two or three walks a day. She comes back from her evening walk wired up. It’s like she has built up a head of steam which she has to release when she gets home.

This of course is when everyone wants to settle down after their day at work.

We have drawn up a list of constructive activities that should help her to calm herself down and keep her more busy. Walks need to be adjusted so that they are less arousing in terms of length, exercise and encountering things she’s reactive to, so that instead of careering around the place when she gets back, unwinding in the only way Stella can, she has a drink and settles for a while.

Instead of responding to any barking for attention, they will respond to breaks in the barking instead with ‘clicking for quiet’ sessions.

They should resist all play activities that over-arouse her. They will do all they can to keep her as calm as possible.

Instead of ‘letting sleeping dogs lie’ they can initiate short useful activities at times when she’s quiet – thereby showing that NOT barking works a lot better than barking does!

 

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 Stella. I don’t go into detail. 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, making sure that we are dealing with the real causes of barking. I also provide moral support and they will probably need it for a while. 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 Get Help page)

Jumping Up and Nicking His Master’s Tools!

Basset Merlin has a great personality, and look at that face!Sometimes there has to be a trade-off between what people want of their dog and what they are prepared to do to get it!

6-month-old Bassett/Welsh Foxhound Merlin is hilarious. What a face! He has a wonderful personality – he’s affectionate, friendly, playful…….and deliberately ‘naughty’!

His ‘crimes’ are stealing things, especially his owners tools including even an electric drill, and hoarding them in the garden. He jumps up at the sides to take anything he can find. He jumps up at people.

He would do none of these things if they weren’t rewarding in some way. I noticed that whenever he jumped up at the sides, people were slow in calling him down and not on the look-out, so from Merlin’s point of view there’s no consistent rule. When he is caught, loud DOWN and crossness is quite high-value attention for a tough dog!

He jumps up at people because it always gets a big result. He needs attention only when his feet are on the floor, but everyone has to do this. Unfortunately, the dogs are out in the garden much of the time and people who call are jumped on as they get out of their cars. The owners have a choice. They keep the dogs in unless supervised (which they don’t want to do) or they put up with the jumping up at callers. Something has to give. They want their dogs to run free on their land, so it’s their choice.

Stealing things is such fun! Being chased by an irate man who actually loves him dearly is a great game. He shows no aggression or possessiveness, and the tools can always be found in the usual place outside. The price to pay for now and until Merlin gets beyond his teenage stage is to keep things out of his reach and restrict free access to the garden – as one would with a toddler. Again, the people have a choice. Merlin is always ready for the main chance and misses little!

Their current ways of trying to teach him involve punishment, sometimes physical, or scolding. He must see little point in not jumping up because feet on the ground isn’t rewarding, and coming away from the sides in the kitchen isn’t rewarding. Resisting the temptation to nick something isn’t rewarding – but to Merlin running off with it is! It enfuriates them.

Seeing him lying on his back on the sofa is a picture. He really is the softest and silliest dog. I loved him. To the extent that his owners are prepared to change what they do, they will be able to change what Merlin does.