Barky dog, safe neighborhood.
April 3, 2014 10:57 AM   Subscribe

I live in a house with a guard dog, but we don't even lock our front door. Is there a good way to calm this pup down?

She barks at cars, people, babies.. you name it. And ordering pizza is never fun. If she's outside she will bark at people through our fence for hours on end. She isn't violent, in fact she will run to her dog bed and pee herself if someone scares her. What should we do?
posted by pwally to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Professional, expert training would be a lifelong kindness to the dog, to you, and to the pizza guy.

(To expand: training doesn't just instill good behavior, it also teaches a dog what constitutes a real threat, and therefore that she need not be afraid of everything. Good training results in a happier, more balanced, less barky dog.)
posted by jessicapierce at 11:03 AM on April 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Right, yeah it's not my dog and the owner probably won't be shelling out for expensive professional dog training.
posted by pwally at 11:43 AM on April 3, 2014

The only correct answer here is professional guidance. Randoms on the internet can't tell the non-owner of a dog that they can't see how to fix a complex behavior that can be rooted in genetics, fear, boredom, or a dozen other causes. What's needed is not necessarily a trainer (although the right kind of intelligent, positive-reinforcement based training will help) but a certified animal behaviorist. Here is a guide to finding a qualified professional. It may be that the problem could be 80% solved in one session with a behaviorist. Maybe offer to pay yourself?
posted by HotToddy at 11:48 AM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dogs aren't people. You can't explain to them how crime free the neighborhood is and how the pizza guy is actually just bringing food. The only way these explanations can be understood is through training. If it's not your dog and the owner has no interest in training the dog, there's not much you can do.

At best, you can remove the dog from the situation where she feels threatened, but again, if the owner doesn't want you doing that, it's gonna be hard to accomplish. When you know the pizza guy is coming, try sitting with her on her bed and giving her treats. Comfort her, pay her attention, but only while she's in the safe spot of her bed. Have someone else in the house answer the door, get the pizza, etc.

Over time, that should help out, by letting her go to her safe place, getting positive things when she's safe and there's an "intruder." But honestly, this is rough gig for the dog. At some point she may become violent if someone backs her into a corner and doesn't allow her an escape route. Most bitey dogs aren't mean, they're scared.

See if you can convince the owners to get her training, maybe you can use all the responses here to back you up.
posted by teleri025 at 12:00 PM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Actually, most trainers cost $60-75/hour to come to your home and you probably don't need more than an hour. They'll teach you how to teach the dog.

There are probably videos on youtube with more or less the same advice, but it can be really helpful to have a trained eye assess the dog and the house, as there may be environmental factors that are also controllable. It's also often helpful to have someone show you the physical motions.

I sympathize. My dogs are complete idiots about their "territory" and they feed off each other, and then they get reinforced because the damn mailman goes away every time they bark, so obviously they are fierce and formidable guardians!

The primary thing our trainer taught us (this was particularly about fence-barking with the neighbor's dogs, but works to some extent with people walking by as long as those people are not being especially loud, or lingering) is to march over to where the stimulus is, with a very strong attitude of "I'm in charge, I got this, I'll bark if barking needs to be done. You are safe and I am handling this threat." This works really well outside, though it is tedious, so I started training them to come to me for a tiny treat when they are stimulated by some kind of activity on the other side of the fence. It works fairly well, I am able to move to only very occasional treats and instead make them sit and get pets as a reward.

One of my problems indoors is that they get so wound up they're just freaking out, and I have to shout to be heard, except now I'm barking too. The trainer suggested a whistle or can of pennies to make a very big loud noise to interrupt them, and then proceed to Be In Charge.

An additional problem that I know I have and I know is true is that an under-exercised dog is a bad dog. They're barking because they're nervous, and they wouldn't be so nervous if they were getting enough exercise.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:02 PM on April 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

A little more context as to your relationship, proximity, etc. with the dog and its owner would allow people to respond more helpfully.

If it comes down to it, you could incentivize the dog's owner to pay for training by calling Noise Control every time there's inappropriate barking, especially after hours. No idea if this is appropriate to your situation though.
posted by jessicapierce at 12:04 PM on April 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

No, there is no cheap, easy way to calm the dog down.

The dog probably needs a new owner.

Its not guarding anything. I doubt very much it has been to Schutzhund training. Real guard and protection dogs only bark when it is appropriate to bark.

Failing a new owner, it needs training classes, socialization, a job (even learning tricks 5 x 5 minutes per day will work), and possibly anti-anxiety medication. In other words, she needs a life with someone who cares.

She is terrorizing your neighbors with the barking for hours on end, who no doubt hate the dog and the owner with almost unimaginable passion.

Whenever I see the clone of this dog in my neighborhood, I tell it I am sorry that its owner hates it so much that it never gets exercise or training and that its brain is turning to mush due to OCD prompted by the endless barking, fence running, etc., and that I am sorry it will eventually be put down due to it attacking the first thing* it runs across when it eventually escapes its yard due to the intense barrier frustration it experiences almost every minute of every day.

*This has been MY DOG multiple times, hence my passionate response here.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 12:42 PM on April 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

This dog needs training, and it needs to be consistant. If the owner isn't willing to commit, the situation will deteriorate. The dog is not happy, she is stressed out because she thinks she's in charge of everything and there is SO MUCH happening.

Dogs bark at things outside to get them to leave. The reason they keep doing it is because IT WORKS! If the dog barks at the pizza guy, doesn't he leave? Sure, barking isn't the proximal cause of his leaving, but the dog is not sophisticated enough to make that differentitation.

You need to speak with the owner and implor him/her to train the dog, to do otherwise is cruel to the dog and a pain to the neighbors.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:22 PM on April 3, 2014

I dog-sat a dog like this once, and she was surprisingly responsive to being calmly told "it's ok, be quiet". Basically Lyn Never's Be In Charge description. She was thrilled that someone else was taking over checking on intruders. I checked what it was, assured her it was fine, and told her to stop barking. It's been a while, but I probably also asked her to lay down or come over to me for petting as further distraction from the barking.

It's important to be really really calm about it, since the barking is probably fear and they pick up on your reaction. Resist getting anxious about the dog barking, because she'll interpret it as you being anxious about the "threat". But if she sees that you know about the threat and have decided it's not a problem, she will hopefully relax. Oh, and tell her she's good when she doesn't bark, that's huge! They need to know what you do want, not just what you don't.
posted by sepviva at 3:39 PM on April 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would like to point you toward kikopup on Youtube. Her videos are fantastic, her wonderfully well-behaved chihuahua mix was once anxious and yappy about everything and is now relaxed and confident, and her methods are all positive reinforcement-based.

Have you tried training her to bark on command? If you can do that, it's relatively easy to train a "quiet" after the "speak" (or whatever respective commands you choose) and the "quiet" command can then be generalized to other situations. Teaching a reliable down-stay or sit-stay is a good way to keep her away from the pizza guy if she tends to rush him at the door too. For these commands, I refer you again to kikopup's channel.

If the dog isn't yours, the owner may not be thrilled with the idea of you training their dog, but it's worth a shot at least.
posted by Urban Winter at 4:32 PM on April 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree with the comments about professional help.

No such thing exists such as the effective "training" of an animal such as this one without also "training" the owners. If the owners don't see the animal's behavior as being an issue, it will do no good at all to send just the dog to a trainer. The reason for this is simple: there's probably nothing wrong with the dog.

I'm not clear who the "we" might be in your narrative, but at least one of "them" needs to be on board with learning how to deal with the animal before anything positive will happen. As someone above mentioned, the solution might be as simple as one or two sessions with a professional, but no amount of work will change the dog's behavior unless the human responsible for him also is on that learning curve.

I'm sure the neighbors (and the pizza guy) don't think the dog's behavior is trivial: at the very least I would think it to be annoying. The dog doesn't seem to be happy with the situation, either.

The humane thing to do is get professional help.
posted by mule98J at 8:52 PM on April 3, 2014

A good dog is a tired dog.
Anyway this dog can get some daily exercise? A couple of good, long runs around a big park and our little guy is good as gold.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 10:06 AM on April 5, 2014

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