Teaching Rocco the Sounds of Silence

By: David Codr

Published Date: March 11, 2015


Rocco is a four-year-old Pug rescue who over barks aggressively at people walking by the fence to the family’s back yard, jumps up and sometimes nips small children.

I met Rocco and his family in the back yard as his owner had arranged for a few neighborhood children to be available to walk by to trigger a response from Rocco. When the preteen child first came into view, I observed Rocco and saw him dip his head slightly and hold his breath as he watched the child approach. Once the child was about to start walking on the sidewalk parallel to Rocco’s yard, he tore off after her barking excitedly.

I followed him but allowed him to do as he pleased. He ran to the corner of the yard closest to the approaching child then started racing along the fence line while barking at her. The bark was more or a territorial alarm than an aggressive sound.

After Rocco raced back and forth along the fence line twice I inserted myself in the middle of the fence to block him. When he got close to where i was standing I made a hissing sound to disagree with his actions. As soon as he heard it he stopped moving, his energy level dropped and he stopped barking. After the girl walked away Rocco’s owner told me that his reaction was much more subdued than usual.

I had someone else walk by and got a similar response from Rocco. I went over the actions I took as well as Rocco’s non verbal cues so so that Rocco’s owners know what to watch for and how to disagree with this behavior in the future, then we all went into the house to dig deeper into the dog’s psyche.

After discussing things with the family, I learned that they didn’t have many rules or structure in place. For some dogs, having owners who take a very passive or relaxed approach can give it the impression that there is no leader in place so the dog nominates itself.

While Roccos owners were very thoughtful and loving, they were also a little slow in their movements and corrections. When it comes to dog communication, timing is huge. To help them practice being more deliberate and assertive I went through a leadership exercise to help the dog see and identify the humans as being in a position of authority,

Rocco caught on so quickly the first time I repeated the exercise again to be sure it wasn’t a fluke. When he repeated his action, I coached all the members of the family through the exercise as well. When Rocco laid down and waited for the family’s four year old to give him permission to get his reward the first time I told his owners that he was in the top 10 of all dogs Ive conducted the exercise with.

I went through some various communication methods as well as ways to disagree with unwanted actions or behavior. One of his owners told me that now that he knew what to look for from the dog, combined with the techniques and communication methods he felt much more comfortable.

Rocca is not an aggressive dog. He just thought it was his job to sound the alarm when people passed too close to his yard. Now that his owners know what to look for and how to correct him, I suspect his days of fence barking and nipping will be over before the tulips are in bloom.


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This post was written by: David Codr

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