Teaching a Barking Bichon to Respect Her Guardian

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 14, 2016

Bella Bichon Frise

Bella is a one-year-old Bichon Frise who barks a lot, doesn’t respect anyone’s personal space, nudges for attention and jumps up on people.

When I first met Bella I could sense a tiny bit of apprehension. However, she greeted me with her nose – which is always what you want. I was a bit surprised that she did not even attempt to jump up on me during the greeting.

Normally I like to start each session by chatting for a few minutes with the client about the dog’s day-to-day routine and what they want to accomplish. This gives me an opportunity to observe the dog and identify any leader follower dynamic deficiencies and get a feel for the dog’s personality.

But in this case, as soon as I sat down, Bella started to get excited and attempted to jump up on me or nudge at me for attention. When I refused to comply, she moved over to her guardian and started to rub herself against him and nudge him until he started to pet her.

When a dog nudges at us for attention, and we comply, this can confuse the dog into thinking that they have the authority to tell us what to do. Additionally when a dog is consistently rubbing it self against you, it’s often its way of marking you with it’s scent.

To help the dog understand that it does not have the authority to tell humans what to do, I spent the next few minutes explaining my Petting with a purpose strategy to Bella’s guardian.

It’s going to take Bella’s guardian a couple of days to get into a habit of not automatically petting the dog anytime she demands it. I also stressed how important it is to repeat the command word when we start to provide attention instead of using the expression “good girl.”

If you say “good girl” when a dog sits, or lays down, or eats its food, or comes to you – or any other combination of activities, the platitude means everything, and therefore to the dog it means nothing.

By marking the behavior with the command word vocalized within three seconds of the dog sitting or laying down, etc we can communicate that the reward is a response for the dog’s compliance. Over time, this helps the dog start to see and identify as being in a follower position. A follower mindset will be needed to curb Bella of her unwanted behaviors.

Another great way to help a dog a start to identify as being a follower is to incorporate rules, boundaries and limits, then enforce them in a timely fashion, consistently.

One of the rules that I suggested to Bella’s guardian was to make all furniture off-limits for 30 days as dogs often relate their authority to the height at which they sit amongst their peers. Whenever I suggest this I also recommend that the guardian provide the dog with a dog bed. After wrapping up how to communicate that the dog is to stay off the furniture, I attempted to train Bella to use the dog bed on command.

In the process of training Bella to go to this dog bed, I saw a more obstinate side of her. As soon as Bella recognized that I was asking her to do something, she stopped responding. At first I thought this was strictly a case of her not wanting to do something because I asked her to do it. But the more I worked with her, the more I realized that she was also a little bit insecure or lacking confidence.

It will be important for her guardian to consistently outlast her and to follow through when giving her commands to address the obstinance issue. Bella is most certainly going to put up a little bit of a fight as she likes things how they are now. But just as a parent does not cave into their child’s demanding request, Bella’s guardian will need to stay strong and not let the rules slide.

I also recommended that Bella’s guardian utilize YouTube to find a few different tricks and commands to teach her. Whenever I have a dog that has lower self-esteem, I find the best way to change that is to teach them new tricks. Just like humans, dogs feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when they a master a new skill.

By building up Bella’s confidence, her reactivity to people passing by the house should decrease. And as her guardian assumes the leadership position, he will be able to disagree and stop her barking outbursts.

Next I went over a set of escalating consequences that I like to apply whenever a dog is breaking the rules. We were able to put these consequences into a real-world application when the neighbor dropped by to say hello.

Because she is such a quick and nimble dog, I suggested that her guardian utilize a tennis racket and leave it near the door. This will enable him to extend the reach of his arm low enough to block Bella from trying to go around him when he repeats the same technique I demonstrated in the above video.

We finished up the session by going over a way to add more structure to Bella’s feeding ritual.

By the end of the session, Bella was showing more respect for her guardian’s authority. She was listening and responding faster and had stopped nudging or pawing at him for attention.

Basically Bella’s guardian will need to demote her into a follower position to stop many of her unwanted behaviors. The good news is Bella is a very smart dog who catches on quickly.

I’m guessing that the biggest obstacle to overcome is going to be Bella’s determined nature. It will be important for her guardian to consistently Pet her with a purpose and disagree whenever she violates any of the new rules or boundaries – right away.

Once Bella realizes that her guardian has changed and is no longer going to allow her to get away with whatever she wants, she will start to look for ways to make him happy rather than the other way around.

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