Some dogs, like some people, are more easily excited and more vocal than others! Genetics is involved and in the case of a dog this includes the breed.
Dylan is a Border Collie, not one of the breeds I would say that’s renowned for being quite so over-excitable and vocal, particularly when time is spent on enrichment and training as it is in this case.
The lady joined me online with her two young daughters. Three-year-old Dylan was quiet throughout.
The family is calm with the young daughters knowing just what to do – and what not to do – to avoid adding to Dylan’s excitement.
Well trained, well socialised
I don’t mean to sound patronising when I say the lady is very well informed indeed. She has read and followed what I would call the ‘right’ people; she has applied everything she can find to getting Dylan to be less vocal.
She knows that the main cause of Dylan’s being so vocal is excitement – with a bit of fear thrown into the mix sometimes. He whines if he has to wait for anything and he barks when particularly aroused.
Changing rituals and sequences
The lady also knows the main trigger times and has done things to change them the rituals. For example, at bedtime her husband used to stretch before getting up to let Dylan out for a last pee before bedtime. (I should say ‘take’ him out on lead – necessary because of his vocal reaction to owls and a local fox).
As soon as dad moved to stretch, Dylan instantly awoke and charged towards the back door. The lady would prefer him not charge high speed indoors.
Now the man remembers not to stretch so now just a movement or drawing-in of breath may be sufficient trigger. Dylan is off, like a bullet from a gun!
One has to keep changing the rituals to keep one step ahead of a dog like this. I know – I have a Working Cocker called Pickle – now ten years old, born to be alert and vocal. I have learnt.
Vocal excitement on walks
What the lady would most like to resolve is Dylan’s vocal excitement on walks. Whenever she stops to talk to anyone he stares at her – and barks, and barks, and barks.
Fallout from this, because of his state of arousal, is that he may now be a bit more impatient with certain other dogs.
The lady has always paired seeing other dogs with food and very well socialised, He has lots of doggy friends.
The pairing constantly with food has backfired a little in that, when he sees a person or dog, he then stares at the lady and becomes very vocal. He won’t look away.
He’s undoubtedly waiting for the food she always gives him. She has tried sending him for a stick which works too (but reinforces the barking). If there isn’t a stick he simply keeps barking at her. It’s impossible to have chat.
Barking at her on walks
I would pre-empt this by taking with her a stick, ball or soft toy and giving it to him quickly before he barks – not prompted by the barking.
I would place it on the ground, so the placement prompts him to look away from her after having engaged.
The item in his mouth will help him to remain as calm as possible.
So the two things she wants to conquer are the rushing in the house to get either through the baby gate or to a door, and barking at her when out.
Pre-empting, and behaviours incompatible with barking
They have religiously ignored his barking whenever possible. What they haven’t done is to pre-empt barking by finding a thing for Dylan to do that is incompatible with barking before he starts.
They also haven’t capture moments of calm or quiet and rewarded them.
They will now reinforce the behaviour that they do want instead of only ignoring the behaviour they don’t want. They can start with the shortest of moments of quiet or calm in these certain situations, and then gradually work on duration.
Clicker and pattern games
I suggest clicker for this. Dylan is already clicker savvy.
Dylan will learn to walk slowly, beside them – through the gate or to and through the back door into the garden. I suggest pattern games for this – the lady can then create her own sequence that is controlled.
A very simple example would be taking slow steps, starting with step one, counting aloud and pairing ‘one’ with food placed on the floor. She could then wait, calmly, before starting again. A step at a time, she can build up to 1 2 3 4 5 (food). Soon he will be anticipating step 5 (or whatever number she chooses).
There is no point in his rushing ahead anyway because the food won’t be there yet.
Of course in our consultation we covered everything in a lot more detail.
The thing missing from her already excellent work is showing Dylan more how to do the behaviour that she does want. Having the unwanted behaviour not working for him isn’t enough.