Adding Rules and Structure to Stop a Pair of Dogs From Barking

By: David Codr

Published Date: April 23, 2015


For this session I worked with Benny (left) and Runi (right) a couple of little dogs who happen to live a few blocks away from some good friends of mine in Santa Monica. Their guardian called me in to help put an end to the dog’s barking, mostly when they are left alone.

When I arrived for the session, both dogs were so comfortable on the couch they couldn’t be troubled to do much barking, lol.

When I sat down on the couch to discuss the situation with their guardian, Runi crawled over to where I was sitting and started to pseudo-climb up on my leg while Benny remained on his perch on top of the back cushions of the couch. While I wanted to pet Runi, doing so would have sent the wrong message.

Instead I blocked Runi from climbing on me and made a few movements to communicate I wanted her to show some respect for the boundary around my personal space. When a dog climbs on top of its guardian or handler, it usualy indicates a lack of respect. There is nothing wrong with a dog on a persons chest or lap, but it should be when the human asks, not whenever the dog feels like it.

Runi’s response to my blocking her from crawling on me was to crawl over to her guardian to get some attention. Although she didn’t paw or nose at her guardian for attention, Runi’s proximity to her prompted her to pet the dog.

When I am dealing with a client who has over barking dogs, I always look at their living situation and interaction with their guardian to see what kinds of rules or boundaries are in place to govern their behavior. When I posed this question to their guardian, she struggled to come up with any rules. When you combine a lack of rules with attention for no reason, its easy for dogs to get out of balance as they don’t have experience or practice limiting their behavior or wants.

I suggested a few simple rules to help the dogs start to see their guardian as being in a leadership position. I don’t believe in dominating a dog, but I do want the dog to see and respect its guardian’s leadership.

One of the first rules I suggested was to make the furniture off limits for 30 days. To dogs that live in a group, the height that they sit at has a correlation to their rank or status amongst their peers. By letting the dogs sit at the same level, their guardian was unintentionally telling the dogs that they were equals. Actually in Benny’s case, he was sitting at a higher level than his guardian which is worse.

After showing their guardian how to ask the dogs to get off the couch, I watched as she addressed her charges. At first she was a little soft in her movements and commands so the dogs didnt pay attention. She started to repeat the “off” command before I stopped her. Asking a dog to do something over and over only teaches the dog that they can listen when they feel like it. For this reason I only ask a dog to do something verbally once before I move on to other ways to accomplish my goal.

In this case, I had their guardian put her hand behind the dog’s rear end and push Runi firmly to the edge of the couch.  Pushing a dog off the couch (of picking them up and placing them on the floor) doesn’t teach the dog anything. Instead I prefer to push or pul the dog to the edge of the couch so they feel as if they may fall off. Once they are in that position, they jump off the couch on their own. Once she did this, Runi jumped off right away.

Benny on the other hand didn’t plan on giving up his place as easily. He simply moved to the other fusion back when his guardian gently pushed him from behind. I stepped in and showed her how to move him with a firmer touch. The goal is not to shove the dog off, but to get it moving. Benny bared his teeth at me and emitted a low growl to communicate he didn’t appreciate me doing so, but he did get up and move down and eventually off the couch.

For the next 15 minutes, Benny attempted to regain his former position on the couch. I coached his guardian as she disagreed with his attempts and blocked him. He didn’t keep at it for the entire 15 minutes, he would come and sit near the couch (this is how a dog communicates that it wants or plans to get up) then move away for a bit before returning and trying again. After 15 minutes, Benny realized his guardian meant business and wasn’t giving up. Once he came to this conclusion, he walked over to the dog bed (his guardian had said he never used it before) and hopped in next to his room mate.

Benny and Runi 2

Usually it takes me about half a session before I can get a guardian’s timing right, but not today. After about 30 minutes I didnt have to disagree myself as their guardian was on top of it. As the session went on, her timing continued to improve until it was spot on. When correcting a dog, the timing is extremely important.

Next I went over a leadership exercise to help the dog’s develop the ability to self restrain while observing the boundary set by their guardian. I also went over a few non verbal communication methods to help the dogs better understand what their owner wanted (or didnt want) from them.

As we were finishing this discussion, their guardian’s friend and dog walker Kate dropped by to ask if she wanted her to take the dogs out for a walk. This gave us the opportunity to practice the new self restraint skills we had introduced to the dogs. Their guardian stood in the doorway to block her dogs from saying hello to their dog friends who were with Kate.

Instead of blocking the dogs with her body and a half opened door, I showed their guardian how to communicate that the dogs were to stay behind an invisible boundary seven feet from the door. Using the techniques we practiced with the leadership exercise, their guardian was able to get both dogs to stay behind the boundary, even when another neighbor dropped by with her dog.

When the guests remarked at how much calmer and better behaved Runi and Benny were, I knew we had made good progress. It will be important that their guardian practice the techniques and exercises we introduced in the session daily for these new behaviors to become the dog’s default behavior. But by the end of the session the dogs were no longer trying to get on the couch, were showing respect for their guardian’s personal space and following commands and corrections without hesitation.

Because of the new good citizen behavior the dogs were showing, I was able to pick them up and get in a little one on one love. Man are they cute!

Benny and Runi 3

By the time we wrapped up the session, the dogs were tuckered out and the barking was all but eliminated. As the dogs learn to see and respect their guardian’s leadership they will be better practiced at respecting the new rules and structure on their own. With time, the nervous barking should dissipate and eventually stop altogether, allowing their owner to enjoy the tranquil living that comes with living in Santa Monica.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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