Teaching a No Kill Shelter Rescue to Stop Barking So He Can Find a Forever Home

By: David Codr

Published Date: October 31, 2015


Hamilton is an eight-year-old Terrier / Beagle / Bassett mix in Los Angeles who was rescued from a kill shelter by MaeDay, a great rescue group who rescue dogs from death row.

Hamilton has bounced around to a few different homes that didn’t work out, really for no fault of his own; he is a smart, lovable dog with a calm and balanced energy. One of the last homes he was placed with had a dog who attacked Hamilton, and after that experience, he started to over-bark at different noises from outside the apartment of his foster home.

MaeDay wanted me to work with Hamilton with the hopes of stopping this new barking habit to help him get adopted into a forever home without any unwanted behaviors.

After observing Hamilton for a few minutes, I was impressed with how well mannered he was. He wasn’t needy, and didn’t shy away like many shelter dogs do. Despite the fact that his foster home didn’t really have any rules or structure in place, aside from the barking, Hamilton didn’t have any other unwanted habits.

Often dogs who over bark at people arriving or outside beyond their sight do so because they believe they are in charge of security of the house. In Hamilton’s case, this is probably because his foster home is a stable and safe situation for him. He was trying to contribute to his new home, almost to say thanks for letting him in.

By incorporating some rules and structure, Hamilton’s foster guardian will help the dog start to see himself as being in more of a follower position. When a dog identifies this way, they are less reactive which makes it easier for them to leave door security duties to the humans.

Next I suggested that Hamilton’s foster guardian stop petting him when he jumped up on them and instead pet the dog for following a basic command like sit, come or lay down. By petting the dog for these actions, we can encourage the dog to engage in them in the future as a way of getting the attention or affection from a human.

Problem was, Hamilton didn’t know any commands except an inconsistent come. Before we started working on Hamilton’s barking, I wanted to teach him a few basic commands.

I have to apologize for the poor camera work in the above video. What you miss seeing is how I had the foster parent and Natalie the founder of the MaeDay rescue offer the treat. When a dog has a highly scented item in front of it, it tracks the movement of the hand with this treat. By starting out in front of the dog’s nose, then raising our hand in a small arc (keeping the treat right on the dog’s nose), we can get the dog to move into a sitting position.

This exercise illustrated just how smart Hamilton is. It took him all of two minutes to start sitting on command!

Once we finished the sit exercise, I started to show the fosters how to use that hand position with a few movements to get the dog to come over on command. The foster parent’s other dog had been watching the action from the couch and decided he had seen Hamilton get too enough treats, so he came on over when the first person tried to call Hamilton.

Instead of shooing him away, I used this as an opportunity to go over a new way of disagreeing with the dogs when they come asking for something that the human doesn’t want to give.

We put the other dog back up on the couch and continued our work with Hamilton’s recall. By building on what we had just taught him, Hamilton instantly connected with the exercise and was recalling on command in a matter of minutes.

It was pretty amazing to see how quickly Hamilton picked up on the recall lesson.  As with the sit exercise, he got it almost immediately and was coming over to whoever called him. He went right into a polite sit and looked up at the person to see if they would reward him for following their command.

Because Hamilton is a new name for the dog and his future guardians may change it, I had everyone exclusively use the command word of “come” as we practiced. This way there will be continuity from his foster home into his future forever home even if they change his name. Based on how quickly he learned sit and come, any potential name change will also be quickly learned by the dog.

To help Hamilton learn to develop his self control, I went over a leadership exercise that I developed a few years ago. The exercise also helps the guardian practice using non verbal cues to communicate with the dog and the dog practices listening to and building respect for the guardian.

After only two repetitions, Hamilton understood what I wanted in the exercise, so I walked his foster guardian through it herself.

Because the guardian was a little slow in her reactions to Hamilton’s movements, it took him longer to complete the exercise the first time I ran through it. This isn’t unusual for anyone doing something for the first time.

But even though it wasn’t an instant success, I had to smile because even when Hamilton was challenging for the treat, he did it in a soft and affectionate way. His tail was medium-lowered and he regularly looked up this his guardian’s face for encouragement and direction. In dog communication, this is very polite and respectful behavior showing the dog wants to please.

Seriously, how did this dog make it into a kill shelter?

To make things a little easier for dog and foster, I had her turn to face a different wall so that we could use the edge of the carpet as a visual for the boundary we wanted Hamilton to respect. This also would allow us to use the carpet’s edge as the new boundary that Hamilton needs to stay behind when people come to the door.

In only the second time his guardian ran through the exercise, Hamilton cut the time to complete it by a third! I suggested that the foster guardian practice this exercise daily with Hamilton to really develop his ability to restrain himself from reacting.

Next I wanted to go over the walk so that his future guardian gets a dog who is calm and stays next to them in a heel position. Prior to the session, his foster had been walking him on a longer leash allowing Hamilton to walk in front and go whereever he wanted.

But when we have a dog walk out in front, its often on alert and in some cases thinks that they are literally leading the humans in an authoritative way. This position likely was part of the reason that Hamilton thought that his job was to defend and protect his foster guardian by barking at other dogs.

I fitted him up with a Martingale collar and showed the foster how to add the special twist of the leash to stop him from pulling. We started out in the living room, an easier environment that doesn’t have the distractions of outside.

On the walk Hamilton was relaxed and quickly fell into a nice heel position on the foster’s right side. She only had to offer a few minor corrections when Hamilton drifted a little too far in front, but aside from that, the walk was a breeze.

Now that Hamilton had learned these basic exercises, he was ready to tackle the real issue, his barking at knocks and sounds outside the apartment door.

Natalie had to leave our session to look after another dog they are rescuing, so I had to go outside and play he part of the arriving guest myself. This wasn’t ideal as its impossible for me to coach the guardian through the exercise when I can’t see them. I went into as much detail to prep her as I could and then headed out to play the part of a guest and see how the dog did.

This was by far the most difficult exercise for Hamilton. As you can see in the video, his instincts were telling him to rush the door and bark a territorial warning. When the foster’s other dog started to bark too, it became even more challenging.

All things considered, the foster did a heck of a job of claiming the door which had an impact on the dog’s reactions. While you an see and hear him reacting in the video, his guardian said that previously Hamilton was barking 30 times worse before the session. This is another great example of how quickly dogs can adapt and change when they understand what the humans want.

Even though we had made considerable progress, I knew Hamilton could get even better so we practiced the exercise again. I apologize for the over-exposure in the video, but Hamilton’s improvement makes the shoddy cameral work an afterthought.

Im really glad Natalie from MaeDay called me for help with Hamilton. But I have to admit, this was one of the easiest sessions I have ever had. Hamilton had a really pleasant demeanor and is obviously intelligent learning all the basic obedience commands in less than an hour.

Now that Hamilton’s habit of over barking has been fixed, its time for this cute little guy to find a great guardian. If you can post a link to this session write up on your social media pages and email it to friends who live in the LA area, I’m sure we can find someone who would love to welcome this great little dog into their home.

If you are interested in adopting Hamilton, please contact Natalie at MaeDay.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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