Teaching Molly its Not Nice to Bark or Growl at Employees at Work

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 12, 2015


Molly is a five-year-old Poodle Pointer mix who barks at people and dogs she doesnt like. Her outbursts usually occur at her guardian’s company as he takes her to work with him.

After discussing the situation with her guardian and some of the staffers at the company, I learned that Molly didn’t really have any rules. Whenever a dog doesn’t have any rules, it generally thinks its the rule setter and rule setters are the boss. Obviously when you have dogs in an office environment, its critical that the dog knows how to behave. While Molly did so most of the time, there were more than a few people and actions she didnt like.

Two men in the office were the guardian’s primary concern as Molly often barked at them when they came or left the boss’s office. He arranged for the men to come in one at a time so I could see the reaction myself.

When the first guy came into the office, he was moving a little slowly with a cautious and tense body. This is understandable as Molly isn’t a small dog and had nipped some men from behind. But if you act timid around a unbalanced dog, that can quickly become a problem.

Molly didn’t bark at him until he tried to leave the office. While it wasn’t the harshest bark I have ever heard, there was some substance to it. I noticed that before she barked at him, she lowered her head and it appeared that she was staring at him. I was sitting behind her so I couldn’t see her eyes, but staring is often the first communication dogs engage in before reacting.

I had him come back in a minute later so that I could add a leash and try a different technique. For many dogs, the act of simply applying a leash can change their mindset and energy level.

When he came back in, I used the leash to try to correct Molly when she started to react. This wasn’t as successful as I would like, mostly due to my timing. I was reacting to her reaction. But as a Behaviorist, Ive found the most success by stopping the dog before it gets started.

We tried again and this time I used a treat to redirect the dog’s attention when the gentleman started to leave. This was much more successful as I was able to get her to ignore him while she got the treat. I had positioned her so that she would see him as he left. I wanted to see if the treat was sufficient a reinforcer to hold her attention. Fortunately it was.

I had him come and go a few times while I delivered a positive reinforcer while he exited the office before I moved on to the next step. I had him come in again, but this time used the leash to disagree with Molly as soon as she started to stare at him. Coming on the heels of several practices using the positive reinforcement, she wasn’t sure what to do.

I ended up correcting Molly three times; that was enough to allow the man to leave the office without any barking or growling from the dog.

Next I showed him how to position his body in a more authoritative way and to pause when Molly started to show any signs of agitation. By moving this way, the man was able to leave the office without any reaction from Molly.

I handed the leash to her guardian so we could practice the exercise again, but this time with her guardian in control.

Because her guardian was taking control of the situation and we were able to disagree with Molly the instant she started to disagree by staring, we were able to get her to stop reacting or disagreeing with the men in the office when they want to leave the boss’s office.

While Molly’s guardian understands that her behavior needs to change, he has a pretty laid back energy and nature. This can cause a dog to see the human as less authoritative and is likely a contributing factor in her outbursts. While he now knows how to disagree with her in a way she understands and  responds to, I wanted to tackle the issue from another angle.

I took Molly outside with another co worker and we did some leash work while we waited for one of the men she reacted to, to get back from lunch. I wanted him to take a short walk with the dog to help improve their relationship.

Dogs love to walk, and walking a dog in a heel position helps develop a good leader follower dynamic. I started out by holding the leash with the dog on my side away from the gentleman. I wanted to make sure that both the dog and man felt relaxed and comfortable with being together. After a few minutes, I moved so the dog was walking between us. They both were in the groove so I handed him Molly’s leash and off they went on their own.

I suggested that the man take Molly out for a few short walks like this over the next week or two. The more time they spend together outside while he leads her on the walk, the less likely she will be to react to him when he comes into the Boss’s office.

This was a unique session for me and Im glad the guardian reached out for help. I can only imagine what it would be like to work at a place where the boss’s dog didn’t like me and growled or even nipped me just for coming around. Fortunately Molly isn’t a real aggressive dog.

Molly’s problem was her perception that she was in a position of authority. Any time you have a dog that tries to control humans, especially a dog that isn’t trained to be a guard or watch dog, that can quickly turn bad. If a dog is in charge, then its ok for them to disagree with unwanted actions or behaviors. That was what was going on here. Moly was disagreeing with delivery men or other people coming or leaving the office without her permission.

It will be important for her guardian to immediately disagree with Molly any time she starts to show any assertiveness or hostility to any humans. If he does so consistently, Molly will start to defer to his lead and stop reacting. It won’t happen overnight, but if the guardian follows through for the next two weeks, Im betting these outburst stop for good.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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