Teaching Willy the Basics to Build Up His Confidence and Stop His Barking

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 12, 2014

WillyWilly is a eight-year-old Daschund. Willy’s owner passed away a few years ago so he was rehomed with her owner’s son. They called me for help in stopping Willy from getting too excited when guests arrived, nuisance barking and poor recall when called.

As soon as I met Willy in person I could tell he was stressed out. He showed quite a few insecure traits and seemed torn between wanting to investigate me and wanting to keep a safe distance. As I observed the dog interact with his owners, it was easy to see that they had unintentionally put the dog into a leadership position.

They picked him up and put him in their lap any time he wimpered. When they wanted to interact with him, they walked over to where he was. On walks, they had him on a long leash walking out in front. They fed him before they ate themselves. When Willy was standing in the way of where they wanted to go, they walked around him instead of expecting Willy to get out of the way.

Making matters worse, they picked the dog up and attempted to sooth him when he shook from stress or fear. While this is common for humans, its something to avoid when dealing with dogs. When you have a dog in an unbalanced state of mind and provide affection, the dog interprets that it is receiving the affection BECAUSE its scarred. So rather than having a calming effect on the animal as you would a human, his owners were actually reinforcing and amplifying his fears.

I suggested that in the future, they attempt to distract the dog whenever he became fearful. Dogs get over things by literally moving forward. So taking a dog for a walk or playing with a toy that involves the dog moving forward is a much better way to help a dog deal with stress or fearful situation.

In Willy’s case, a large part of the stress was due to the fact he thought he was the leader of the pack, but the humans weren’t acting like dogs should. This mistaken belief that he was in charge of guarding his owners and their territory resulting in Willy’s barking in disagreement with any neighbors who were out and about or near his home. Same thing when guests knocked on the door.

The best way to eliminate this problem is to help the dog start to see and identify the humans as being the leaders. I suggested a few basic rules that will help Willy start to see his owners this way. Simple things like making the dog wait for his food, not being allowed on the couch or having to sit before being let in or out are repetitive actions. Each time we repeat them, Willy gets another practice session at deferring to his owner. Thats something a follower does.

To help build up Willy’s confidence, we went through a basic recall exercise. At first Willy was very timid. His body was stiff, he hesitated and needed to be coaxed a bit to come. But after a few minutes, you could see the light come on for Willy as he gained confidence by mastering the exercise. He loosened up, reacted faster and put a little bounce to his step. I always love seeing a dog transform right before your eyes and this exercise in positive reinforcement couldn’t have gone any better.

Next I demonstrated a leadership exercise to help Willy’s owners practice establishing and reinforcing boundaries. Once mastered, his owners can apply this exercise to objects, people and areas that are off limits to Willy.

I also suggested that his owners adopt the “no free lunch” methodology. The basic concept is you don’t pet or give the dog any affection or reward unless the dog does something to earn it like siting or recalling on command. This causes the dog to “earn” his praise while also responding to his owners which helps him identify them as being his superiors or leaders.

By the end of the session Willy wasn’t barking or reacting to neighbors when out for a walk. He was responsive to his owners commands and even their corrections. Practicing the basic commands is imperative for Willy to continue to gain confidence. Once his self esteem is back to normal, his real personality can replace the fearful, insecure dominance that was causing him to be so stressed out.

 

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