A Pair of Dogs in Marina del Rey Change Roles and Stop Dog Barking

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 18, 2016

Eddie and Emma

Eddie is a one-year-old Shih Tzu / Maltese mix who lives with twelve-year-old Maltese Emma in Marina del Rey, California. More than anything else, their guardians wanted me to teach them to stop dog barking.

I got a very clear demonstration of the dog’s barking when I arrived for the session. Eddie was up front and center, barking intermittently and trying to jump up on me, while Emma stayed several feet back unleashing a constant barrage of barking.

On the phone, the dog’s guardian had described Emma as the top dog and Eddie is being submissive to her. But based on my observations of the initial greeting, it appears that Emma was the insecure dog while Eddie showed more normal, albeit excited, energy.

One of the dog’s guardians was running a little bit behind schedule so I sat down with the other to discuss the dog’s day-to-day routine and get a feel for the amount of exercise and discipline in their lives.

For most of my clients, a lack of exercise is a contributing factor to their behavior problems. But in this case, the dogs were walked three or more times every day, which is awesome!

However as I watched the dogs interact with their guardian, I saw several signs of a lack of respect for her as an authority figure. These warning signs continued when the dogs other guardian arrived for the session a few minutes later.

Because he had been on the go, he grabbed a jar of mixed nuts and started to snack as we discuss the situation. As soon as she saw him do this, Emma got up and promptly invaded his personal space to communicate to him that she wanted some of what he was eating.

Eating is a very primally important activity for dogs. They place a lot of structure around the eating ritual and certain things are not allowed; such as getting with them 7 feet of anyone who’s turn it is to be eating. In dog terms, Emma’s presence near her guardian as he snacked was inappropriate if she considered him to be an authority figure.

I used this opportunity to show the dog’s guardians how they can claim of their personal space or claim the space of other people.

It was great to see how quickly Emma responded to these new nonverbal communication cues and the impression that progress made on her guardians. The timing of the corrections is key in this exercise. In fact, the speed and timing of your corrections is one of the dog training secrets dog trainers have known for years.

Although the session had only lasted for half an hour at this point, I had noticed both dog guardians petting their dogs quite a bit of doing things that weren’t the most desired behaviors. While petting our dogs and giving them attention and affection is a healthy and positive thing to do, you have to remember that you are agreeing with whatever the dog is doing any time you pet it.

I have found that adding a little structure to petting can go along way in developing a healthy leader follower dynamic.

It’s going to take a couple of days for the guardians to get into the habit of refraining from petting their dogs unless they do something for them first. However once they make this transition, they will engage in a mini dog obedience training session every time they pet their dogs.

Next we went over some rules and structure that the guardians can incorporate into the dog’s lives. Because the dogs did not have any rules and were able to tell the guardians when to pet them, these dogs considered themselves to be of the same authority level as the humans. When a dog considers itself to have the same rank as you, then listening to you becomes optional.

Instituting and enforcing clear rules, boundaries and limits can go a long ways towards helping a human achieve more of a leadership role in the dog’s eyes. I stressed how important it will be for the guardians to disagree with the dogs the instant they break the rules rather then several seconds later. While a few seconds may not seem like much, to dogs and the way they learn, these extra seconds of delay can cause a dog to not understand what you were disagreeing with or rewarding them for.

Because security for the group is usually a job handled by the senior ranking dog, I wanted to show the guardians how they could take over this activity as it will go a long ways towards helping the dog see and respect them as having more authority.

I had one of the guardians head outside to play the part of the guest so that I could demonstrate the technique personally first.

While I was able to get the dogs to move away from the door, there were a few issues with this demonstration. Number one, the dogs had alternate routes to get to the door. I suggested that the guardians block the access point between the chair and front porch and if necessary tape down a line on the floor so the dogs know where they boundary lies.

Additionally both dogs were feeding off of each other. While the guardians thought that Emma was the dominant dog, over the course of our session she had demonstrated multiple times that she was actually somewhat insecure. This is not uncommon for an insecure dog to attempt a mask this deficiency by acting out in an attempt to ward off any potential challengers.

Because I was not responding to her advances and was correcting her when she attempted to use them towards Eddie, Emma receded into him more subordinate or submissive role. It’s important that we don’t feel sorry for her as she transitions as this is likely a temporary lull. As her guardians consistently lead her properly, she will develop a new role that is not dominant or submissive, but simply that of a middle ground follower.

Because Emma was clearly uncomfortable and having two dogs was making the exercise more challenging, we gave her a break so that we could focus exclusively on Eddie.

Our first attempt at having the guardian answer the door himself with Eddie proved to be quite the challenge. Eddie was barking at such an intense rate at the doorbell that he was not responding as well to his guardians attempts to correct and move him away. Part of this is due to the guardian’s being unfamiliar with the techniques as his timing and responses were rather slow. This will prove as he practices and gets more comfortable with the technique.

However I wanted to put him in a position to succeed by changing how Eddie felt about the ringing of the doorbell itself. Clearly the sound was a trigger that caused him to get over excited and somewhat territorial.

I spent the next few minutes going over a counter conditioning exercise that will help both dogs learn to associate the ringing of the doorbell with something good rather than cause for alarm.

I suggested that the guardians practice this technique with both dogs separately multiple times a day for the next week or two. It should only take a couple of days before the dogs stop barking when the doorbell rings. Continuing to practice the exercise a few days after that transition will help solidify this new behavior. Once this is the case, the dogs will no longer get over excited when they hear the doorbell. This will make it much easier for their guardians to claim the area around the door before opening it.

When we repeated the exercise, I made a few changes to make it easier for everyone involved. I moved a hallway carpet to outline the border and gave the guardian a tennis racket to extend the reach of his arm. This allowed him to more effectively block the dog from going between his feet or around him.

Putting a stop to dog barking is one of the primary issues that the dog’s guardians wanted me to assist them with. So you may find it strange that we did not disagree with the dog’s barking while we practiced the door answering ritual.

When you are working on several issues at once, I have found it important to pick and choose your battles. The barking is a symptom of the dog’s being over excited and communicating that they disagree with the arrival of the new person.

Once the dogs are counterconditioned to no longer respond to the doorbell, this excitement will no longer be a factor and the barking should subside quite a bit. Any residual barking that continues past that point should be something that they can easily disagreed with.

We finished up the session by taking the dogs out for a short walk. One of the big triggers for these dogs was to bark at people and dogs that they encountered while on these walks. This is likely result of not having the proper respect for their guardians as well as a lack of structure on the walk itself.

I showed the guardians how they get the dogs to walk in the heel position, how to correct with the leash and how to reward them for engaging in the proper placement, or behavior.

Insecure dogs are often much more reactive and when you place them in front of the guardians on walks. By keeping the dogs in the heel position, waiting for them to achieve a calm and balanced state before leaving and correcting them with good timing before they get into trouble, the guardians can use this leash training to help their dogs develop a new walking behavior.

By the end of the session, both dogs had adopted new more relaxed and balanced behaviors. Eddie had regained some confidence and seem to be carrying himself with more self-esteem as a result. Emma was certainly much more subdued which had a positive impact on her nuisance barking. As she adjusts to the new leadership role taken on by her guardians, she will become more confident and find a new way behaving that is somewhere between dominant and submissive.

As the dogs see their humans assume more leadership roles, their inclination to become territorial and the over barking should subside considerably. Once the dogs see that humans have the situation under control and respect them as authority figures, it will be inappropriate to continue to bark or challenge them when they were corrected. With enough timely corrections and practice, the dogs will stop these behaviors completely.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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