Hush, puppy!
October 30, 2010 11:25 PM   Subscribe

We moved two weeks ago, and my dog is still in Super-Bark-Mode at everything that moves. How can I get her to chill out and be a happier dog?

I've done a question or two before about my dog, a 5 year old female minpin we adopted from a rescue who has some issues due to not being socialized right. I moved from a house in the suburbs of Phoenix with my boyfriend to an apartment with two male roommates in Portland, OR. Unfortunately despite the advice I got in my last question, she is still not quite comfortable in her new home, no matter how calm I am. I've been trying to help her transition well-- the temperature and weather change has been tough so new warm coats and slowly acclimating to her neighborhood has gone reasonably well. Due to her separation anxiety, the vet prescribed Reconcile (Prozac for dogs) and she's been on that about a week and a half now.

The big issue at hand is her barking-- while she used to be pretty good at keeping quiet on command, she's regressed a bit and previous deterrents (can of change, for example) aren't really stopping her either. Wearing her out seems to do nothing; I've taught her commands to be quiet, but instead of keeping quiet she tends to talk back in a low tone, 'urf, uff' that sort of thing. Every time the roommates come out of their rooms, go into the kitchen, go out, come in, bring a friend, (sound travels well and it's a creaky house) she is on guard and will bark-- unfortunately until I tell her to be quiet it is a banshee high-pitched bark. She's also very reactive to people and dogs on walks (and there are many more in the city than she's used to), barking and lunging-- very much a Napoleon complex with this dog!

I'm thinking of taking a 'Reactive Rover' class at the humane society after the holidays, but in the meantime may set up an appointment with a behaviorist there. I'm on a budget though, so I don't have a lot of money to spend right now to help her. I read through the archives and so far none of the suggestions have really helped. My big concern is for my roommates-- I thought that by now she'd love them (in the past when people have spent time with her and fed her, she is all over them), but she's still really defensive and they can't even pet her much. When they have food or give her treats that's a different story, but she is still skittish and not trusting of them. My roommates are very supportive and want to help her, but we're all a little stuck. It may take more time I know-- but how long does it take a dog to settle in? I'm trying to come up with options for them interacting with her--thinking about buying them each a bag of treats to dole out as they see fit to her, get her to do some tricks and hope that'll help.

Anyhow, have you ever gotten a problem barker to settle down? Or have you made friends with a dog that sees you as a threat and doesn't trust you? I don't know if this is something that can ever be fixed 100%, but I'm willing to try anything to make her a happy dog-- and I'm tired of feeling meek and apologizing about her rude behavior, so we need to improve this as soon as possible before someone complains.

Thanks in advance!
posted by actionpact to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A firm, loud, deep voice is all I've ever used to quiet any dog. Even dogs I don't own. I think it's a power or control or dominance issue. A loud, meaningful, STOP or QUIET is generally all it takes. Then make them go sit in a place. Their favorite place, right there on the spot, or any place you choose. Actively make them stop, then move them to a place you choose. If you can not do this by voice command alone, you probably need to get some classes on controlling your dog.

You have to say it like you mean it though. Not like, aww my puppy is barking and aww he's cute but he needs to be quiet so QUIET. But a real actual angryish forceful HEY, QUIET. Remember, you are the owner and controller here, you need to act like it.
posted by sanka at 11:36 PM on October 30, 2010

In the house, a firm "Quiet!" or "Shush!" accompanied by tapping her haunches. The tap refocuses her attention so she can listen to what you're saying (otherwise, you can spout commands all day and the dog won't head them because she's so focused on what she's barking at).

On walks, one of our dogs used to be a totally neurotic over-reactor (constantly barking, lunging, bansheeing whenever she saw other dogs or other people). We started carrying a squirt bottle on walks and spritzing her (along with a firm "No!") the moment she started to react. It took a lot of patience, but she's now a lot calmer on walks. She'll mumble and backtalk under her breath sometimes, but she doesn't have the freakouts anymore.

Good luck with your doggie. Training (and/or retraining) is tedious, but it's so worth it.
posted by amyms at 12:03 AM on October 31, 2010

These things take time. Keep getting the roommates to reward her with a small snack (or toy, or whatever it is that floats her boat) whenever they walk past; she will (eventually) start associating them (and hopefully strangers in general) with fun and treats instead of anxiety.

Scolding the dog, or shouting etc is bad advice in this particular context. She's doing this because she's scared, and that will only make her more nervy. She needs to be distracted, preferably with something she really loves (like food!). This will take a little while but consistency is key. Good luck!
posted by smoke at 12:14 AM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are there not drugs for this sort of thing? Doggy Downers?
posted by pracowity at 12:33 AM on October 31, 2010

A firm, loud, deep voice is all I've ever used to quiet any dog. Even dogs I don't own.

Yep... Seconding that. You are in control, not the dog.
posted by Biru at 4:25 AM on October 31, 2010

While shushing a dog with a "firm, loud, deep voice" will indeed get many/most dogs to stop barking at that moment, in the long run it's actually reinforcing the barking behavior.

See, dogs don't view their barking behavior as "bad" the way humans do. They're not trying to be annoying, they're just trying to do their job and alert the leaders of their pack -- i.e. you -- of anything going outside the perimeter of their den. So when you make a loud, low noise, they don't understand that you're yelling at them, they think you're yelling with them at whatever it is they're barking at. They may stop barking themselves, not because they feel chastened, but because they feel that having gotten you on the case, they can relax, with the satisfaction of a job well done. The more of a fuss you make, the more vindicated they feel about the "threat" they just alerted you to.

In truth, the den-guarding behavior is such a fundamental instinct for a dog, there's really no way to negatively condition is out of a dog, without seriously damaging the dog's psyche. Instead, you need to use positive conditioning to re-channel the instinct into a less obtrusive behavior.

If you don't already have your dog conditioned for positive training, that's a first step. Teach your dog something simple, like "come" and "sit," and when he does it, make a specific sound -- it can be a particular way of saying "Good Boy" or a click of your tongue, or a whistle, or anything -- and then reward him with a treat and affection. The sound is important -- you want this dog to associate this sound with having completed a reward-worthy task.

Once this is done, when he starts to bark, gently touch him and say his name to get his attention, and then have him come and perform the obedience trick of your choice, after which, reward him and praise the ever-living dogstuff out of him. Also, try your best to anticipate barking fits -- if you hear a noise from outside, or you know someone is about to pull up in front of your house, etc -- and have him do his trick right away, before he starts barking.

It's take a little time, patience and dedication, but soon enough, you'll have a dog that runs over to you and sits instead of barking when he hears a noise outside. You don't have to keep giving him a treat every time, but you should always give him the conditioning sound followed by a quick pat and a "good doggy," so he knows that he's still doing a good job.
posted by patnasty at 9:24 AM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks guys for the advice! The loud firm voice has never worked for me, but I think distracting her with a command seems like a good idea. She already knows quite a few and is a relatively quick study-- I think the key issue is getting her to focus on me when I tell her to do them. Right now when barking starts, I'm sort of in the background in her mind, so maybe I have to get her to do it right before. I've been practicing when I call her name for her to make eye contact with me to help build her focus, and I'll try getting her to come and lie down by me when a noise happens.

Really appreciate the help-- if anyone has any more suggestions or experiences I'd love to hear them!
posted by actionpact at 10:53 AM on October 31, 2010

If your goal is not having to interrupt the dog every time they bark, then I recommend the positive reinforcement route. Rather than telling them that you don't want them to bark, instead give them something you do want them to do instead. And at first, you're going to have to train this behavior independent of distractions, so they learn how awesome it is to drop everything and sit or lie down.

Use high value foods - things they love but rarely get. Could be sardines or boiled chicken pieces. Something above and beyond kibble and your normal treats.

Train them on sit or lie down. Gradually build up the distractions. Move around a bit. Do a little jig. Do it while you're on a walk with them.

Then, try to do it just before they enter bark mode. If you have the time and patience, you can have someone come to the door over and over while you do this, so you know when the stimulus is going to set them off and can start the training before this happens.

Combine this with clicker training (or any other special sound) and you'll see slow but long-term improvement.
posted by zippy at 12:29 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

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