Helping a Hermosa Beach Dog Learn to Stop Barking at Her Guardian

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 30, 2016


Tashi is a three-year-old Maltese who lives in a beautiful spot in Hermosa Beach. Her guardian reached out to me for help with her nuisance barking at her husband (who is living with Alzheimer’s) when he comes into the room, moves around or tried to engage with her.

Shortly after arriving for the session, I had Tashi’s guardian invite her husband into the room so I could observe the dog’s behavior.

It was pretty obvious that the dog disagreed with the presence of her guardian’s husband Frank. Usually I would recommend that Frank not engage with the dog at all and leave the correcting to the other guardian. However due to the Alzheimer’s, that wasn’t a valid option here.

I gave Tashi several minutes to calm herself down, but when it became obvious that she was going to continue barking at Frank, I used a common tool to disagree with this unwanted behavior.

As noted in the in the above video, Tashi’s barking stopped the instant that she was placed on a leash.

Although Tashi’s guardian had been making a valiant effort at disagreeing with her nuisance barking at Frank, she was doing so in a way that the dog did not recognize or respect. Using these new nonverbal escalating consequences will be much more effective, and if used consistently, will greatly diminish Tashi’s barking outbursts.

But these escalating consequences will not work unless the guardian uses them with the correct timing.

It’s natural for any dog guardian to become distracted in our normal day-to-day lives. But when we are the caretaker of someone who’s memory doesn’t always update, that challenge certainly goes to the next level. I have to commend Tashi’s guardian on how positive and upbeat she was despite all of the things on her plate. She truly is a an inspiration to those of us who think that our own issues are so problematic.

I wanted to show Tashi’s guardian how she could effectively disagree with the dog’s nuisance barking when Frank moves around the room.

As I was walking Tashi’s guardian through the technique, it became clear that she was applying some of the human psychology that was appropriate to Frank to her dog. As any good opportunist would, the dog recognized and picked up on this. Basically the guardian was catering to her dog to such an extent that the dog had gotten the impression that she was in a leadership position.

It will be important for Tashi’s guardian to understand that setting rules, boundaries or correcting her dog is not mean. Correcting a dog with good timing when it does something that we disagree with is an important part of the human canine relationship.

The good news was how quickly Tashi absorbed the correction. If you rewatch the above video you will notice the dog starts to look up at her guardian for guidance after the first correction or two. This indicates that the dog is open to change and should translate into a faster rehabilitation that a dog who is flagrantly defiant.

This was quickly apparent when we changed positions a bit to practice the exercise again.

Tashi’s guardian will need to re-create situations where the dog would normally react to Frank or his movements. By re-creating the scenarios and practicing them until the dog behaves the way she wants, her guardian can effectively communicate to Tashi that her nuisance barking will no longer be tolerated.

While disagreeing with Tashi’s nuisance barking will be an important part of her rehabilitation, it’s not going to address the root cause of this behavior; a lack of discipline and structure.  Her guardian mentioned that when she first brought the dog into her home she had a lot of rules, boundaries and limits for the dog, but due to the dog’s perceived insecurities, she had stopped enforcing these.

It will be important for Tashi’s guardian to start implementing some structure into the dog’s life to help her develop self-control and discipline. I spent the next few minutes going over some simple rules that will help the dog start to see and identify as being in a follower position.

It will be very important for the guardian to consistently correct the dog anytime it violates any of these rules, even if they are minor. Each time that a guardian correct the dog this way, they deepen the leader follower dynamic between the two of them. Developing a healthy leader follower dynamic will be a crucial part in increasing Tashi’s respect for her guardian as an authority figure. Once the dog identifies the guardian as being in a leadership position, she will adhere to her commands and corrections right away.

The other issue that Tashi’s guardian had asked me to help with was her habit of eating poop. While this is disgusting to us, it is not particularly unusual for dogs. Most dogs will eat the scat of rabbits, squirrels and other small creatures in the wild.

Dogs generally eat feces for a few reasons, bit the most common are; the food that they are consuming does not provide all of their nutritional needs or they are bored / hungry.

Because Tashi’s guardian had switched her food a couple of times and was now feeding raw, I’m guessing that this behavior started out of boredom and has continued for so long that it has now become a habit.

I made a few suggestions regarding Tashi’s food such as warming it up rather than providing it in it’s frozen form. While dogs will eat frozen items, they prefer warm food as they are hunters as well as scavengers.

In the course of discussing this potty issue, I found out that Tashi was never fully potty trained. Her guardian made many of the same errors that’s my clients do when attempting to potty train their dog. I spent the next few minutes going over some potty training basics as well as offering suggestions for Tashi’s specific situation.

After we wrapped up the potty training discussion, we went out to the boardwalk so that I could show Tashi’s guardian how to lead her dog in a structured walk. When we returned to their home, I noticed a large pile of feces that an irresponsible dog owner had left in the yard next to Tashi’s guardian’s home.

The guardian’s initial reaction was to lead her dog away from the feces before she could attempt to eat it. While this is normally a good practice, it prevents the guardian from using this as a teaching exercise.

I used a similar technique to the one that I implemented when the dog was barking at Frank and suggested that her guardian practice this with the dog’s interest in the feces as well.

By granting Tashi access to poop under a controlled environment, her guardian will be able to effectively communicate to the dog that feces are to be ignored.

A great way to get a dog to stop engaging in unwanted actions or behaviors is to redirect it. To help with this I showed her guardian how to instill a a strong response to the recall command so that she can redirect the dog’s attention more effectively in the future.

While Tashi picked up on the recall pretty quickly, her response wasn’t particularly strong yet. It will be extremely important for her guardian to practice recalling the dog to her several times a day every day until the dog responds without any hesitation. The more that the guardian practices this exercise with the dog with the proper reward, the better the dog’s response will be.

Earlier in the session, Tashi’s guardian picked her up rather than having the dog use the stairs to go down to the boardwalk. Because the steps were not particularly steep and Tashi has no health issues, I spent a few minutes helping her get over her fear of the stairs. In this case I don’t think it was a fear of the stairs so much as the dog preferring to have the guardian pick her up and carry her down.

The work that we spent on the other set of stairs paid quick dividends as we returned from our time outside.

By the end of the session, Tashi was already moving around with more of a followers mindset. I noticed that the dog was frequently looking up to her guardian to check in or look for commands or corrections.

Based on how quickly she responded in the session, I am confident that her guardian will be able to stop Tashi’s nuisance barking at Frank. I think one of the biggest challenges is going to be for the guardian to remain focused on the dog while she re-creates the situations that cause Tashi to bark at Frank. By practicing when the guardian has the time and attention to spend on her dog, she will be able to create a new habit or behavior that Tashi will engage in from that point forward.

Practicing and correcting the dog from engaging in nuisance barking, combined with consistent enforcement of the new rules, boundaries and limits should provide Tashi with the structure that she needs to relinquish the leadership position she felt she occupied. Once Tashi thinks of herself as a follower, it will seem inappropriate for her to bark at Frank the way she does now.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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