Teaching Reesee and Ralphie to Stop Barking and Listen to their Owners

By: David Codr

Published Date: August 9, 2013

Reesee and Ralphie 2

Meet Reesee and Ralphie a couple of eight-year-old miniature pinschers

Their owners had contacted me to help stop the dog’s from barking at guests and Ralphie’s habit of nipping at men he didn’t know.

When I arrived, I asked the owners what rules the dogs were expected to follow. As it turns out, aside from not going potty in the house, the dogs were not under any rules or limitations.

If you have a balanced well-behaved dog, you can get away with not having any rules. However if you have a dog or dogs that have any behavioral problems, adding rules, boundaries and limitations to their daily lives can have an immediate and positive impact.

I suggested a few rules including restricting the dogs from the furniture for at least a 30 day period of time. For dogs, the height of which they sit has a correlation to their status in the pack. These dogs not only sat at the same height of their human counterparts, they often sat in a higher position by jumping up to the back rest of the couch or chair. By keeping the dogs off of the furniture, their owners will be able to communicate that the dogs have lower status and authority than the humans.

Now from the moment I walked in the door, both dogs started barking and showed no signs of stopping. This is a problem in any household, however in this situation it was even worse. The family that these dogs belong to recently welcomed a new baby girl into their home (Congrats!). Since getting a baby to sleep is often a chore in itself, having a dog wake the baby up by unnecessary barking can drive parents crazy.

I asked their owner to place both dogs on a leash. As is often the case, I got a bit of a puzzled look from the owner. But as soon as he placed the dogs on a leash and handed the leashes to me, all barking stopped.

Leashes are amazing tools for working with dogs. Many times the act of simply placing a dog on a leash can result in a change in the dog’s behavior.

I suggested that the dogs be placed on a leash anytime they started to overpark, especially when guests came over. But I also took it one step further by suggesting that they hand the leash to the guests that the dogs are barking at.

It was clear that there was some insecurity going on with Ralphie. Insecure dogs will often bark from a distance or bark and immediately dart away. They also have a tendency to nip people in their ankles when the people turn their back to the dog, such as when someone leaves the home. By removing the dog’s ability to run away, Ralphie lost his interest in barking his disagreement and quickly settled down.

One of the keys to having a well-behaved dog is to keep them from getting overstimulated. When dogs get overexcited, it’s too easy for them to get carried away with barking or any other unwanted behavior. By giving the dog a timeout and waiting until they are calm before continuing or giving them back their freedom, the dogs quickly learn to remain at a lower energy level al the time.

In Ralphie’s case, his demeanor changed immediately – he stopped barking as soon as the leash went on him. After a minute, his energy level dropped significantly and moments later he was laying on the floor next to me.

I suggested that their owners start introducing escalating consequences whatever the dogs exhibited a behavior that was unwanted. By having a clear set of escalating consequences that are applied consistently, dogs quickly fall into line as they now know what their owners do, and do not want.

Next I demonstrated a leadership exercise for the humans to practice with both dogs. I started out with Ralphie who got it right away. I repeated the exercise a few times just to make sure, that I coached his owners through it with him.

I repeated the exercise with Reesee who took a little bit more time. She danced and started around at first protesting when I corrected or blocked her, but after a few repetitions she fell in line as well. I suggested that their owners repeat the exercise daily and increase the difficulty with each new repetition to help the dog learn to respect their authority as well as learn how to restrain themselves.

Next, we took the dogs out for a walk. It turns out that they had not been walked very much by their owners due to their pulling, barking and otherwise bad behavior on the leash. I showed them how to correct the dogs whenever they got out of position as well as a few rules that make for a better walk. After demonstrating the techniques myself, I handed the leashes over their owners and offered a few suggestions. Within a matter of moments, both dogs were walking a nice heel and needed minimal corrections to stay in position.

We finished the session up by adding some structure to the dog’s meals. Their owners had been free feeding the dogs which is always a mistake when you have unbalanced dogs that don’t respect your authority.

Eating is a very powerful activity in the dog world. In a pack environment, the order in which a dog eats has a direct correlation to their status in the pack. By feeding the dogs before they ate themselves, their owners were unintentionally telling the dogs that they had more authority or were more important than the humans.

By making the dogs wait until after their humans had finished eating, the dogs will quickly see themselves as subordinates to their owners. I also advised them to control when each dog ate. Since Reesee is the leader of the two dogs, we let her eat next. When she was finished, she was asked to leave the kitchen and then Ralphie was called in for his turn.

It takes a little bit more time, but controlling mealtimes like this usually has a dramatic impact on how the dog’s see themselves in correlation to their owners.

When we returned to the living room at the end of the session, both dogs were laying on the floor in a very calm state of mind. Their owners told me that they could already see a big difference in their demeanor and energy level.

By repeating the leadership exercises and continuing with the rules and structures that we installed, the improvement in their manners and behavior will become permanent.

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