Helping Molly and Cooper Understand that When it Comes to Barking, Silence is Golden

Molly and CooperI originally met Molly (left) and Cooper last summer when I was working with another client’s dog. That client’s dog was reactive to other dogs she saw and to rehabilitate her, we went for a walk in the neighborhood so I could show her owner how to disagree with the nuisance barking.

We happened upon Molly and Cooper on our walk and they were the perfect stimuli for my client’s dog. Molly and Cooper were barking up a storm as their owner held them on a leash in their driveway. After curbing my client’s dog from barking, I asked their owner is I could borrow Molly so my client could experience her dog walking quietly next to a dog she didn’t know.

When I returned Molly to her owner I found out that she had spent nearly a thousand dollars with a local dog trainer to stop Molly’s barking. She was less than happy with the results so I asked if she wanted a card. She said “I’ll take one. But what I really want is the thousand dollars back.” A year later their owner called me to schedule a session to put an end to Molly’s barking one and for all.

When I arrived for the session, both dogs were being held back and were barking up a storm. Clearly Molly was the more enthusiastic of the two. While both dogs were excited, I didn’t pick up and aggression or hostility in their barks or body language.

After discussing the situation briefly, I learned that the dog’s frequently got over-excited, especially Molly. It was so bad that the family had resorted to closing the blinds to the windows that looked out the front of the house  whenever the neighbors were out walking their dogs as seeing them caused Molly to go nuts.

After discussing a few ways to disagree with the barking and reaction to the sight of other dogs, I showed them a leadership exercise to help Molly learn to focus, look to her humans for guidance and to restrain herself.

At first Molly was a little headstrong, so I waited her out. Often times my clients get frustrated when their dogs don’t comply with a new command or rule. Usually they try to physically force the dog into position to rush the process. While we can usually force a dog into a sitting position, this does help with the dog’s behavior as its not doing it on its own. For this reason I take my time, remain calm, but stay vigilant and determined. By guiding the dog and staying with it until the dog does the action on their own, we can help it learn a new behavior or skill quite easily.

Don’t get me wrong, the first two times it took 5-8 minutes before she gave in. But after repeating the exercise with Molly a few times, she started to comply and surrender to it quicker each time. I coached all the members of the family through the exercise and suggested they practice it daily for the next week, gradually increasing the difficulty to help Molly learn to self restrain for longer periods of time.

Next we repeated the exercise with Cooper. While I was able to get him to surrender to the exercise, it became clear that he lacked confidence. He avoided eye contact, stayed as far away from the exercise as possible and only took his reward with a considerable amount of coaxing. As we continued and Cooper started to understand what we wanted from him, you could see a transformation take place. His stiff body language and avoidance disappeared and you could literally see a bounce in his step.

I suggested that Coopers family teach him a few basic commands and practice them daily. By helping him learn new skills and commands, they can build his confidence up to the point where he doesn’t feel the need to stay away or assume a submissive posture.

Next we fitted the dogs up with Martingale collars and I added my special twist to the leash as their owners told me they didn’t get walked as much as they would like due to the pulling. After a quick tutorial on leash management, off we went.

Their owners immediately noticed a big difference. The dogs walked at a heel with very few corrections needed. Once everyone was comfortable, we went out in search of other dogs so they could practice disagreeing with Molly’s barking. As luck would have it, one of their neighbors has a black lab and boxer in their fenced in yard.

I had their owners walk both dogs on the sidewalk next to the yard, but every few feet, I had them stop and ask the dog to sit before continuing. The lab and Boxer were barking up a storm which made it difficult for Molly, but by being patient, disagreeing with her with good timing, we were able to walk right next to the other dogs with minimal reaction or barking from Molly.

By taking our time and pausing to help Molly return to a calmer state before continuing the walk, we were able to influence her behavior and mitigate her reaction and barking to the other dogs we met. By the end of the walk, Molly was able to walk around a dog she had never met before without barking at all.

The leadership exercises had put a good foundation in place and helped both dogs look to their humans as pack leaders. Once that identity was in place, it was much easier for the family to disagree with the unwanted behavior and have the dogs respond to their corrections.

It will take some time and practice, but the changes we made in a few hours show that Molly and Cooper can learn to stop the nuisance barking. By then end of the session the dog’s were much more responsive to corrections as well as following their human’s commands and lead.

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