Adding Some Structure to Help a Pair of Over-Barkers Stop Barking at the Door

By: David Codr

Published Date: May 18, 2015

Maggie and Chase

Maggie (left) is a six-year-old Schnoodle who lives with Chase a six-year-old Yorkshire Terrier. Their guardians called me in to put a stop to their excited barking whenever anyone knocks on the door.

When I arrived for the session, I could instantly see that Maggie was a little insecure, She darted around the room anytime anyone moved, her head was on a swivel, she tried to climb up on her guardians or their furniture and had an uneasy body posture.

Whenever I have a client with an insecure dog, I always advise their guardians teach the dog new tricks and commands. Mastering new skills leads to an increase in self esteem for dogs the same way it does for humans. I suggested that Maggie’s guardian set a goal of teaching her one new trick or command a week for two months. This will help her develop her confidence and also help the family interact with the dogs better.

I went through a recall exercise with the dog’s guardians but only used one treat. Often people with multiple dogs give a treat to each dog to be fair.  But if one dog listens and responds right away, and the other dog is tardy to recall, is it fair that they are both paid the same way?

I prefer to only present one treat and give it to the dog who complies with my request first. This way we can use a little jealousy to motivate the other dog to respond quicker. At first, Chase was responding quicker, but as she saw that he was getting treats and she wasn’t, Maggie started to respond faster. Within a few moments, both dogs were trotting over right away when called.

I suggested that their guardians continue to practice this same reward structure for any activity that concluded with a treat or reward. Once the dogs are both responding right away, they can go back to giving both dogs a treat.

Next we had a friend play the part of a guest at the door. As soon as the dogs heard the knocking, they raced to the door barking up a storm. Its natural for a dog guardian to feel embarrassed when their dog is over barking at the door. This causes them to get up and move faster due to the belief that it will stop the barking.

But in reality, moving faster only excites the dogs more. For this reason I suggest that their guardian practice this exercise with a friend or family member.

I got up and walked over to the door in a calm manner. Once I passed the dogs, I turned so that the door was behind me and I was facing the dogs. I took a sudden and deliberate step towards Chase which stopped his barking and backed him away from the door. Once he was back 10 feet, I turned my attention to Maggie. She only needed one correction before she moved away and stayed there. I only opened the door with Chase behind the 10 foot boundary I had asked him to respect.

After demonstrating the exercise, we had the friend go outside so we could practice again. This time one of the dog’s guardians answered the door with the same technique. This time the dogs only barked twice and were much easier to move away from the door.

Maggie and Chase aren’t bad dogs, they simply thought it was their job to announce any new arrivals. But once their owners took over a leadership position in the dog’s eyes, they gave up their security job pretty easily.

By the end of the session, Maggie was carrying herself with a more confident body posture, both dogs were responding to commands quicker and their barking was almost non existent. It will take some practice (usually 6-12 times), but due to how rapidly the dogs changed their behavior, it shouldn’t take long before the nuisance barking is gone for good.

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