Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Considerate Canine: Barking - Post 1

Lowcountry Dog Magazine
by cindy carter filed in The Considerate Canine Training


The Problem:

Our 1 year old springer/flat coat mix barks at the neighbors' dogs when he is out and they are out. We couldn't really socialize him much as a pup because he was so sick. How can I train him to live peacefully with the neighbors? Our beagle is fine with the other dogs. Thanks!

The Solution:

This is a tough situation and one that plagues many of us. There are many reasons that your dog may be barking at the neighbor dogs: frustration, fear, excitement or territorial guarding to name a few. Regardless of the reason it can create problems with the neighbors, stress for yourself and encourage your other dog to join in. In some cases it can become dangerous if the dogs are able to reach each other through the fence.

The first step is management.

1) Do you leave your dog unattended in the yard? If so, stop. Let him out only when you are in the yard with him. Unattended dogs frequently spiral into relentless barking, a very self rewarding behavior. The more he practices barking, the more he barks, and then all the other dogs start to join the party! What could be more exciting from a dogs point of view?

2.) Try to meet with your neighbors, explain the situation and let them know you are working to change your dogs behavior. Regardless of the outcome it may go a long way in preventing complaints and you may be able to get some help from them while working with the dog.

Exercise.


A dog left to his own devices in the yard is not exercising himself, mentally or physically. Yes, he may run around for a few minutes, but it isn’t the same as a long walk or run. If he is running around barking, he may be just getting himself more anxious and over stimulated. Mental stimulation can be in the form of “work for food” toys: a stuffed Kong or food dispensing toy such as Busy Buddy makes him “earn” his meal. Also high on the list of mental stimulation is training: basic obedience, tricks, or a dog sport requires him to use his mind.

It is an old saying but so true -- a tired dog is a good dog.

Training.

Teach your dog to respond to his name. We all assume that our dogs know their names and maybe he does under normal conditions. But running a fence line is anything but normal, he is in a highly aroused and emotionally charged situation. Begin teaching him to attend to you when he hears his name. Start in a low distraction environment, somewhere in the house where you can control things. Show him a treat and toss it a short distance away - when he starts to lift his head from the treat, call his name. The instant that you see his head begin to shift towards you, mark that behavior with a “yes” and toss another treat. Be sure that you are getting enough distance so that he has to turn his head to look at you. Do not wait for eye contact, you want to mark the instant he shifts his attention. Practice this in all kind of places: the kitchen, the driveway (with him safely on leash), in the backyard without the distraction of the other dogs.

Leave it: Teach him to walk away from something he wants in order to get something even better. As with all training you will do this in small steps. Begin with a treat in your hand, say leave it and close your hand over the treat as he tries to take it. Hold your hand still, opening it as he moves his head slightly away. The instant that he shifts his head away from your open hand, say yes and present him with a different treat, he never gets the bait. Gradually begin to teach this in harder locations and with “real” life items.

Come when called: This is a vital cue for all dogs, whether they are barking at the neighbors or off leash at the dog park. The first rule for teaching come is to NEVER call your dog to come if you aren’t prepared to go and get him if he doesn’t respond. Second rule, NEVER call your dog to come for something that he finds aversive, be it a bath or going into this crate.

a) Once again start in a low distraction area. Call his name and say “come” in a very happy voice. When he starts towards you, encourage him to hurry by clapping your hands, telling him to hurry or dashing off in the other direction. When he reaches you, touch his collar and give him yummy treats.

b) If possible, have someone help you. They can lightly restrain the dog while you get him very excited. Call his name, say come and encourage him to dash to you, reward immediately upon arrival. Then you hold his collar while the other person calls him back. Pretty soon you’ll have a dog that dashes back and forth between the two of you.

Reward hush: It is always tempting to yell at the dog to hush while he is barking. But that must seem as if we are joining the party, the more we yell the louder he barks. Instead reward your dog for being quiet. Wait until he is quiet for a few seconds, say “hush” and pop a treat into his mouth. The more you work on this the longer you can wait between the last bark and the “hush” cue and reward. You are not only rewarding no barking but calm behavior. This does not happen over night, it is a long process but worth working on.

If you are lucky, your neighbor may be willing to give you a hand in the training department. Have all dogs on leash for this. The rule of thumb: the leash is only to keep the dog from leaving you, DO NOT use the leash to correct the behavior. Have your neighbor stand with his dog some distance from the fence and remain still and quiet. You will have your dog in your yard at a distance where he is comfortable, able to see the other dog without barking or lunging. With lots of yummy treats you’ll have him notice the neighbor and feed while he is calm. If he barks or lunges, you are too close, walk away and start further away. Always work at a distance which allows your dog to remain calm. Reward him for seeing the other dog, remaining calm and then walk him away. Repeat as often as possible, always working where the dog can be calm. Use short training sessions instead of one long, exhausting session where everyone becomes anxious.

Remove your dog. If your dog wants to be outside more than anything, bring him inside when he starts to bark. Let him drag a short traffic lead around, 12” or so is good, that is short enough to not get caught on something but long enough for you to pick up. DO NOT let him drag a line unsupervised. When he barks, be calm and just go get him: don’t call him to come or lecture him about his bad behavior; simply walk up to him, catch his lead and take him inside. He stays inside until he is calm, not barking and able to respond to some simple cues such as sit or down. Then out he goes.

Expose him to more dogs. Make sure that all of his encounters are positive. He does not have to meet the dogs, just see them and remain calm in their presence.

I wish there was a quick fix for this and all problems concerning our companion dogs. Unfortunately that isn’t the case. No one can fix this over night. Instead develop a plan and stick to it.

If the problem continues or gets worse, consider working with a trainer to help you implement a training plan and behavior modification program.

Happy Training!

If you have a question for Cindy Carter of Mindful Manners Dog Training, email your question to leah@lowcountrydog.com using the subject line: The Considerate Canine.

Cindy Carter has been training dogs in the Charleston area for the past 4 years, the last year as owner of Mindful Manners Dog Training. Cindy is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, CGC evaluator for the AKC, and member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. She has written articles for local publications and been featured in several publications focusing on local business owners.

As the owner of two dogs with “issues” she is uniquely qualified to help owners develop and implement management and training plans. She brings commitment and empathy to owners struggling to help their dogs have better lives.

For more information about our training programs visit us at www.mindfulmanners.net

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