Introducing Some Rules and Boundaries to Help a Dog Stop Overbarking

By: David Codr

Published Date: February 19, 2015


Buddy is a six year old Poodle Bishon Maltese mix who has a tendency to overbark and has accidents inside his home.

When I was welcomed inside the house, Buddy barked a bit, but far less than most of my clients. He had his head lowered and he was adding a grrr to his barks so I knew he was disagreeing with my arrival. Still, aside from the vocal protests, he wasn’t showing much in terms of aggression. It was more a territorial issue.

I observed Buddy when I sat down with his family to discuss what they wanted out of the session. Buddy moved over to his owners at first, hiding behind their legs so I ignored him while discretely observing his behavior and movements. After a minute or so he came over and started sniffing me which is almost always a good thing when dealing with a dog.

During the course of our discussion, I learned that Buddy didn’t really have any rules, boundaries or structure in his life. I also saw that any time he got near a member of the family, they reached over to pet him.

Whenever I am dealing with a dog who doesn’t listen to his owners, I always suspect that the dog doesn’t have the proper respect for their authority. Some people mistake this as needing to dominate the dog to “show it who’s boss.” While defining the leadership structure is beneficial, dominating the dog or making it submit is not a methodology that I subscribe to. I prefer to think of the structure as a family. While he has more authority, the family’s first born child doesn’t dominate his younger siblings to assume his position. His younger brothers and sisters see him as having more status due to his age, actions and experience.

To help redefine the leader follower dynamic in Buddy’s world, I suggested some simple rules that will help him see and identify as being in a position of lesser status than the humans. I also recommended that they start to practice the “No Free Lunch” method. This involves all of the family members only petting Buddy after he follows a command or correction. This is a great technique to apply to any dog that noses, paws or barks for attention. By only providing the positive reward when the dog follows a command or correction, we can gradually help Buddy learn that its good to obey.

Next I went over a few exercises to help reinforce that good to obey message. The first was a basic recall exercise. I had all the members of the family sit around the room in a circle then showed them how to call him and use their hand movements to lead and manipulate him without touching him physically. It took a moment or two, but before long Buddy was immediately trotting over to whoever called him to collect his reward.

After it was clear everyone had mastered the recall exercise, I went over a leadership exercise that will help Buddy understand boundaries while giving him the ability to practice stopping himself rather than always reacting instinctively to a noise or change in the situation. This exercise also has the added benefit of belong the dog see the humans in a leadership position.

The leadership exercise took a little longer for Buddy to master. Its really a two-part exercise and while he got the first part quickly, his lack of confidence made the second part more challenging. We stuck with it and after about 20 minutes, everyone had gone through the exercise successfully a few times.

Now that we had introduced the concept of boundaries, I had them get out a bathroom trash can that Buddy liked to explore. I placed it in the middle of the room then walked away from it. Buddy got up and started to make his way over to it. When he was about three feet away I made a sound to disagree with his proximity to the trashcan. As soon as he heard the sound, Buddy stopped moving forward and after pausing a moment, he turned around and walked back over to sit next to his owners.

I suggested that they repeat this exercise a few times in different rooms over the next week or two. Many people mistakenly move things beyond a dog’s reach when they want to keep the dog out of something. While this stops the dog from getting into it, it does not teach the dog that the object is off limits in the first place. By placing the item in the middle of the room with no instructions to it, we can help the dog learn that the object is to be left alone. Throughout the rest of the session, Buddy kept his distance from the trash can.

To address his accidents, I went over my preferred method of reconditioning a dog to not potty in the house. This involves branding the command word, supervision and proper reward for going outside. I also suggested a more structured feeding schedule. Because dogs digestive tracks are usually pretty consistent, feeding him at the same time and picking up any uneaten food will help them know when he needs to be watched so he doesn’t leave a #2 surprise for them to find later.

I finished up the session by showing his owner how to claim the front door space. I had one of his owners play the part of a guest knocking at the door then showed the rest of his family how to claim the area. Because the flooring changed from tile to carpet, I made that edge the do not cross line.

Once Buddy heard the bell ring he raced over to the door. I walked over casually behind him then once I got past the dog, I turned and marched at him until he was across the threshold and standing on the carpet. He kept barking but I ignored that for now. All I wanted to accomplish is Buddy understanding that he was not allowed to move past the edge of the carpet. This extra distance will help prevent Buddy from trying to run out the door and also afford him the ability to calm down.

After demonstrating the technique myself, I coached his family through it so they got the same result. By the third time we went through it, Buddy hardly barked and was moved away from the door by the family’s two youngest, preteen children.

By the time we finished, Buddy was pretty exhausted. We had spent most of the session focusing on mental challenges and exercises which can be very draining, especially for dogs that haven’t had this sort of stimulation.

His family said they they could see a change in his energy level, that he was calmer and listening better. The fact that he stayed away from the trash can, even when we were in another room was enlightening to them. They will need to continue to use the new communication methods while enforcing the rules and boundaries we put in place during the session. But based on how quickly Buddy picked things up, Im betting his days of over barking will be gone before the winter ends.



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This post was written by: David Codr

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