A List of Dog Training Secrets That Helped a Pair of Chihuahua’s Learn to Stop Barking

Annabelle is a three-year-old Chihuahua who was adopted into a West Hollywood home joining another Chihuahua named Roxy. Their guardian set up a dog obedience training session with me to stop the dogs from barking at home and on walks.

The dogs live in an apartment building so the guardian had to meet me in the lobby and walk me up. As if on cue, the dogs started barking as soon as I first knocked on the door.

It was interesting meeting the pair of dogs. Annabelle is the more vocal barker of the two, yet in person she was more reserved at first. This is not at all uncommon. I have found many dogs who engage in nuisance barking do so out of an attempt to disagree or ward off something they are not comfortable with.

After meeting the dogs, their guardian and I took a seat on the couch to discuss their day to day routine and the issues she wanted to address; stop barking and better behavior on walks.

I learned that the dogs didn’t really have any rules or boundaries. Dogs probe to determine where boundaries and limits are. If we don’t have any, this can easily lead the dogs into believing that they are in a position of authority.

When a dog thinks this is the case, they often try to take on a leadership role to contribute to the welfare of the group. Because dogs are natural at guarding things, they often decide to nominate themselves to be the head of security. This involves raising the alarm, aka barking when they hear something outside the door.

To stop dog barking, we need to first change the dog’s perception of rank or authority in the home. Something humans usually don’t understand is dogs share authority. One dog may be in charge of one thing, where another dog is the leader at something else. So even if your dog acts like a follower to you in one capacity doesn’t mean it doesn’t think if itself as a leader in another. And if a dog thinks its a leader in some capacity, you will find they do not listen very well when you disagree or attempt to correct them in that regard. This is why when the guardian tries to stop them from barking, they just ignored her.

I suggested a number of rules and boundaries so that the dog’s will start to see the human acting as a leader in their eyes. I also went over new ways of communicating and disagreeing with the dogs in their native language. Dogs don’t communicate much vocally, so I have found teaching the humans how to communicate through movement and body language is very beneficial.

It will be important that the guardian consistently enforces the new rules with these non verbal communication cues within 3 seconds of the dog’s breaking the law. Dogs learn through association, so the timing of our reward or correction is extremely important. After 3 seconds, they struggle to connect the reward or correction with a specific act.

I also suggested that the guardian start practicing my Petting with a Purpose method. By asking the dog to sit or lay down before we pet them (especially when they demand attention by nudging, pawing at us or jumping up), we can help them start to think that they must earn our attention which makes it more valuable. It also shifts their way of thinking from telling the human what to do into asking and paying for attention by demonstrating some basic obedience.

An offshoot of Petting with a Purpose is what I like to call Passive Training. This involves petting the dog after it voluntarily engages in a desired action or behavior like sitting, coming to you or laying down. By petting the dog within 3 seconds of it coming to you and simultaneously saying “sit,” we can create a positive association with that action. The dog starts to think, every time I come to the human, they pet me and I hear the sound of the word “sit.” After enough repetition of this kind of positive dog training, the dog will be more inclined to sit, when they hear the command word sit. This is classical conditioning at its most basic.

If the human can get into a habit of Petting with a Purpose and Passively training the dogs, their respect for her as an authority figure will grow exponentially. As their respect for her an an authority figure grows, their reluctance to listen to her when she corrects or disagrees will wane. Once this leadership dynamic shifts the dog will be less likely to bark and when they do, they will listen when their guardian tells them to stop barking.

To help speed up this leader follower transition, I walked the guardian through a Leadership Exercise I developed a few years ago. The exercise involves the human claiming a high value item (in this case a piece of chicken liver) by standing over it and using body language to tell the dog it is to be left alone. Once the dog gets the message, the human moves away so the dog has no other option but to control itself. Because there is no obstacle to overcome, this exercise helps the dog develop self control; a skill set Annabelle and Roxy need.

At first the timing of the guardian’s movements were far too slow. But considering this was the first time she did it, its understandable. As we continued to practice, the guardian got much better a keeping her hips pointed at the dog and was stepping forward the instant the dog started to move towards the treat. She also improved her timing of stepping back when the dog sat or laid down which is equally important as these two motions (forward or back) are how we communicate we agree or disagree with the dog’s actions.

I recommended that the guardian continue practicing this exercise with each dog separately. Once the dog is starting to lay down right away (within 15 seconds or so), then the next step is to ask the dog to wait for progressively longer periods of time. Although you want to tailor the delay to the dog’s skills and capacity, this is usually the progression I use:

  1. Wait for 5 seconds after the dog lays down.
  2. Wait for 10 seconds after the dog lays down.
  3. Wait for 15 seconds after the dog lays down.
  4. Wait for 30 seconds after the dog lays down.
  5. Wait for 45 seconds after the dog lays down.
  6. Wait for 1 minute after the dog lays down.
  7. Wait for 2 minutes after the dog lays down.
  8. Wait for 3 minutes after the dog lays down.
  9. Wait for 4 minutes after the dog lays down.
  10. Wait for 5 minutes after the dog lays down.
  11. Wait for 6 minutes after the dog lays down.
  12. Wait for 7 minutes after the dog lays down.
  13. Wait for 8 minutes after the dog lays down.
  14. Wait for 9 minutes after the dog lays down.
  15. Wait for 10 minutes after the dog lays down.
  16. Wait for 11 minutes after the dog lays down.
  17. Wait for 12 minutes after the dog lays down.
  18. Wait for 13 minutes after the dog lays down.
  19. Wait for 14 minutes after the dog lays down.
  20. Wait for 15 minutes after the dog lays down.

Now the dog is able to get up and move around the room and have the counter still running. We would only reset the delayed permission to het the treat counter if the dog attempts to get the treat (moving within 3 feet of it).

The human should only sit down after the dog is sitting down. I recommended that the guardian do the exercise between the couch and TV so that she can sit down and watch something which she practices the exercise with the dog at the same time.

Some dogs need to go farther than 15 minutes, but for most dogs, hitting the 15 minute mark is sufficient to develop good self control. The exercise also helps the human get used to using the Escalating Consequences.

After wrapping up the Leadership Exercise, I heard someone moving outside in the hallway. Since it was just the dogs and their guardian, I needed a third person to knock at the door like guest would so I could show the guardian how to claim the area around the door. This is an important thing to master as it will help the dogs give up the thought that they need to be the door keepers.

I wasn’t able to get my camera filming fast enough to capture the first knock, but you can see how the guardian was able to move the dogs away from the door and then help them practice the new desired behavior by breaking down answering the door into small individual steps.

I like to call this putting the dog in a position to succeed. I find many people simply expect their dogs to behave the way they want without ever teaching the dog what that expected behavior is. Then in the hear of the moment, the dog reacts instinctively by doing what it thinks its supposed to do and the human gets resentful for the dog doing so.

By training the dogs to stay behind a boundary and then having the human disagree using the non verbal communication cues, Annabelle and Roxy barked far less and didn’t continue to challenge their guardian as they could see that she had matters under control.

I wanted to also give the guardian a tool to redirect the dog’s attention so I went over a simple Focus exercise. After demonstrating it myself a few times, I coached the guardian through it herself. She started out working with Annabelle.

At first I did a poor job of communicating the movement the guardian needed to use which slowed things down initially. But the guardian stuck with it and after two minutes she was moving her arm in two distinct movements the instant Annabelle looked up at her face.

Once the guardian got the movement down, Annabelle started to get dialed in and performed much better.

Next up was the other dog, Roxy.

Because Roxy watched Annabelle run through the exercise a minute before, she performed much better. Some of this credit needs to go to the guardian who really improved her treat delivery technique and timing.

If Roxy continues to back up when doing this exercise, the guardian may need to practice closer to a wall to block her from backing up while sitting in front of the human. This would only need to be for a few practice repetitions though. Usually once dogs figure out the exercise, they move towards the human instead of away.

Once the dogs are sitting in front of the handler and looking up at their face right away, the next step is to start increasing the delay of the second movement. The first movement is to raise the treat up so its about 6 inches in front of the human’s nose (between the human and dog’s faces) so the dog is looking at the treat which is directly in front of the human’s face.

At first the handler should only add 1 extra second to the second movement, then practice with all 10-15 treats with the same delay (1 second for first movement, 2 seconds for the second movement). Once the dog can consistently hold its attention to the human’s face for all 15 treats for 2 seconds on each one, then she can add an extra second to the second movement for the next practice session.

The idea is to practice this exercise in short training sprints (1-2 minutes tops) multiple times a day with each dog. We are essentially training them to maintain a gaze at us for longer periods of time and doing it in the easiest environment possible. There are few distractions in the living room, so its an ideal place to practice new behaviors.

Once the guardian can get up to the second movement taking 20 seconds (and the dog focuses on the human for all 20), then she will be ready to start practicing outside of the apartment. At first, i recommended in the hallway right outside the door when no one else is present.

When changing to a new location outside of the apartment, the guardian should go back to a 1 second delay on the second movement, but do so while walking instead of sitting in front of the dog. Once the dog will keep on walking next to the human while looking up at her face as a treat is being delivered, then the guardian can progressively add in an extra second.

I usually progress by adding one extra second to each walk. So today its a 1 second delay and if the dog is able to hold focus for that 1 second while walking, the next day Id move up to 2 seconds and so on. The key is to practice this in gradually more challenging environments. To suddenly try to use the Focus command while a dog is playing near by or in a crowd wold put the dog into a position to fail. Its the gradual progression that makes all the difference.

Now that we had addressed rules, boundaries, structure, communication and leadership, it was time to take the dogs out for a walk and see how well the guardian could lead them.

Because Annabelle was more likely to pull on the leash and react to passers by, I fitted her up with a Martingale collar and showed the handler how to add the special twist of the leash to give her more control, then off we went.

The guardian immediately commented on how different the dogs were behaving and that Annabelle had never walked that straight for that long since being adopted. That was music to my ears and put a big smile on my face. Seeing how quickly dogs transform once the human uses techniques and approaches they understand is one of the things I appreciate the most working as a Los Angeles dog behaviorist.

Seeing both dogs fall into line next to their guardian in an almost perfect heel was a great way to finish up this session. These are a pair of great dogs who were simply confused as to what they role was with their guardian. Now that she knows how to assume the leadership role and provide the dogs with the structure they need, their days of non stop barking will soon be over.

ROADMAP to SUCCESS

  • Enforce new rules consistently within 3 seconds.
  • Use the Escalating Consequences to disagree with ay unwanted action or behavior.
  • Start petting the dogs with a purpose.
  • Use passive training to reward the dogs for desired actions and behaviors.
  • Come up with a consolidated list of commands (instead of “come,” “come here,” “over here,” “here-girl,” etc – just use one command “Here”).
  • Practice the leadership exercise a few times a day with each dog separately until they can both leave the treat alone for 15+ minutes).
  • Practice the Focus exercise a few times a day with each dog separately, in progressively more challenging locations, but only progressing as the dog masters the skills.
  • Practice leashing the dogs up multiple times a day without going for a walk to desensitize them.
  • Stop the leashing process any time the dog moves in front of the human or gets over excited.
  • Make sure to walk out any door, down any stairs or any other threshold in front of the dogs.
  • Do not let the dogs walk in front on walks.
  • Do not stop next to anything the dog is barking at. Instead practice enough so the handler can use the focus exercise to redirect the dog’s attention BEFORE they stat barking.
  • If the dogs cannot stop barking or calm down due to something they experience on a walk, move around an object that blocks their line of site or increase the distance until they can perform the focus exercise.
  • Have friends come by to practice the door claiming exercise and establishing a boundary.
  • Do not let the dogs within 7 feet of any human who is eating.
  • Look for ways to delay gratification to help the dogs develop more self control (asking them to sit and wait at the door before moving through, sitting patiently for the human to throw a ball when playing fetch, etc).
  • Feed the dogs with structure, waiting for permission to eat food sitting in the bowl on the floor.
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