A Punishment Free Way to Stop Dogs From Barking at the Door

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 21, 2021

For this Council Bluffs in-home dog training session, we worked with Alex, a 5 year-old Bichon Shih Tzu mix who barks at guests and gets upset when people come to the door.

Knowing that Alex is reactive and sometimes nips strangers when he is with his guardians, I arranged to meet outside and took him for a short walk without his family. Alex grumbled for the first minute or so but soon was occupied by sniffing the ground. I took him on a 15 minute walk and gradually got closer to him until I was able to touch and pet him with his consent (didn’t offer cut off signals or move away).

Unfortunately as soon as we returned to his home, the barking and grumbling returned but to a lesser extent.

I sat down with his humans to discuss the situation and learned that Alex had an autoimmune disorder that he nearly died from when he was a puppy. This resulted in a lack of early socialization that is certainly a big pat of why he is so closed off to new people.

I also learned that Alex lived with several other dogs. They barked and grumbled in the background as the guardians kept them away from us during the session. I discovered that several of them were rescue dogs with their own unique issues.

While having a group of dogs can be an awesome experience, if any of the dogs have behavior issues when you bring in the new dogs, those unwanted behaviors can quickly transfer to the new members of the pack. That was definately the case here.

As I chatted with the humans, I learned that the dogs didn’t really have any rules, were free-fed and likely under exercised and stimulated. This is not a great situation for any group of dogs, but when you have a few unbalanced dogs with confidence or socialization issues, it can be very problematic.

I made a number of suggestions including increasing their daily exercise, letting them sniff on walks, looking for ways to mentally stimulate them such as training and puzzle games as well as switching over to a structured feeding format.

Because these dogs had no rules or structure, it was very difficult for them to see why they should listen to any of their humans and often disagreed with the humans when they did things they didn’t understand or agree with.

The dog’s guardians clearly love them a lot and made the super common mistake that many people do, equating rules and structure with being mean. While we think we’re doing our dogs a favor by providing them with no structure, this often rob them of confidence as well as motivation and respect for us.

I showed the guardians how to do a simple hand targeting exercise as well as the concept of using a marker word.

I was really happy to see how well Alex responded to the hand targeting and marker word. It was like you could almost see the wheels turning in his head as he figured out the exercise and made the connection that “good” meant he did something that was going to earn him a treat.

A close second was watching the reaction of his family members who were equally pleased to see Alex’s quick progression. I recommended they do some basic training with all the dogs using the marker word. In additon to teaching the dogs new skills, this will increase their confidence, help them practice listening to the humans and provide some mental stimulation.

I also pointed out that they were in a habit of repeating their commands over and over. If the dog does not comply with the request within two seconds, the guardians should move on to doing something else. No correction or punishment but the dog does not get rewarded or reinforced.

Another suggestion was that the dogs should not be allowed on the furniture unless they do something to earn that privilege first, again only receiving the cue request once. This is avariation of my petting with a purpose phiopophy of asking the dogs to do somehting to ear attention or privlidges. This is going to be a test of wills to see who blinks first. Its important the humans prevail and remember there is a difference between being mean and not granting access to a refusal to listen.

Once the dogs realize that listening and following their guardian’s cues is something that is rewarding, they should start responding quicker and feeling more relaxed and go a long ways towards creating a healthy leader follower dynamic.

Incorporating rules like sitting before getting them to go outside or opening a door or having a leash attached or small actions on the humans part that can add up to big changes on the dog side but only if the humans are consistent.

I wanted to show the humans how they could train their dog to not bark when people moved around. When a dog barks at strangers who move, it’s the dog’s way of communicating it disagrees with the action.

Like many people, the guardians had chosen to correct or disagree with the dog when it offered these barking behaviors. While that makes sense to a human, it can actually cause the dog to become frustrated and cause the dog to bark and react at guests even more. The dog is communicating, even if we dont like it, telling it to stop commincatining will only cause the barking to become more intense (no one is listening) or transiton into somehting worse.

A better way to stop the dog from barking when people move is to use some desensitization and counter conditioning. I set up my camera and grabbed some high-value treats so that I could show the humans how to desensitize the dog so it doesn’t bark when people move as well as how they can use the same principle to open the door while the dogs stay on their dog beds.

Watch the free positive dog training video below to learn how to stop the dog from barking at unknown people who move.

Since the family has several dogs, it will be important for the humans to practice this punishment free exercise to stop dog barking in short practice sessions with each dog at least once a day. The other dog should be put outside or placed away somewhere so that they are not barking or contributing to the unwanted behavior.

Since we covered so many dog behavior tips in this Council Bluffs dog training session, I wanted to make it easy for the humans to remember. I pulled out my camera and filmed a roadmap to success summary video that you can check out below

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This post was written by: David Codr

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