Training a Mae Day Rescue Dog to Focus to Stop His Barking Problem

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 31, 2017

Mister Pants is a mixed breed dog who lives in the Mid Wilshire section of Los Angeles. He was adopted through our friends at Mae Day Rescue early this year. His new family set up a dog behavior training session with us because once he settled in, he started to develop a barking problem; to bark at visitors he doesn’t know, barking at people who pass by his home and showing dog aggression to some dogs on walks.

I sat down with Mister Pant’s guardians to discuss the unwanted dog behavior issues and his daily life to get a feel for the structure his guardians had in place.

One of the primary issues was that Mister Pants barks and darts towards guests who make any sudden movements such as standing up, coughing, or speaking loudly. This is a result of the dog thinking that he was in a leadership position and in charge of security for the pack. When a guest came inside or moved around, Mister Pants barked or darted towards them to communicate he did not give them permission to do these things.

Why did Mister Pants think security was his job? Dogs develop this guard dog mindset for a number of reasons, but one consistent theme I find as a Los Angeles dog behaviorist is the dogs usually don’t have any rules to follow.

Dogs learn through repetition, consistently and good timing. Without any rules, his humans were practicing none of the above in their day to day life. This can easily result in a dog who is confused and not sure what his place in the family is.

Dogs identify leadership based on what they see another do (and don’t take into account the many other things we do that actually make us the leader). If humans are consistent in enforcing rules and boundaries, the dog sees them acting in a leadership capacity. With enough repetition and consistently, the dog starts to see that the human is the authority figure, so it no longer feels compelled to fill that role. That was not the case in this house.

To help Mister Pants start to transition into a follower’s mindset, I suggested some rules and the escalating consequences I like to use to enforce them. Now Mister Pants isn’t going to say “OK ill give in to the new rules” right away. He is going to test the resolve of his humans to see if they are pretending or actually assuming the leadership role (in his eyes). So it will be important for his guardians to note that his testing and probing are not acts of defiance. Rather his way of evaluating whether the human’s changes in behavior are for real or not.

I suggested the guardians start adding structure to repeating tasks by petting with a purpose and rewarding him for desired actions and behaviors via passive training. These deceptively easy interactions alone are insignificant. But when repeated dozens or more times each day, they become mini obedience training sessions each time the human pets the dog.

I also shared a number of positive dog training tips with Mister Pant’s family that will help him develop skills that will help improve his relationship and dog behavior. A great example of this is teaching a dog to focus on his human’s face on command. You can watch how I taught his guardians how to do so with this simple dog training exercise.

I also spent time going over the non verbal communication cues dogs give before reacting or demonstrating aggressive dog behavior. Being able to recognize Mister Pants body language will allow his humans to use the Focus exercise to redirect his attention and head off unwanted behaviors before they can get started.

By the end of the session, the person shadowing me and myself could move around the room unexpectedly without Mister Pants barking, lunging or reacting at all. Now it will take time and consistent enforcement of the rules and practice at the dog behavior and dog training exercises before this stop barking behavior becomes the norm for Mister Pants. But the fact that he progressed so much in the session is evidence that these dog behavior problems can be stopped for good.

Roadmap

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This post was written by: David Codr

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