July 6, 2014 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Advanced dog advice, positive feedback loop edition: Looking for advice on convincing our new rescue pup not to bark at our neighbors' even barkier dogs.

This is Molly, our new rescue dog. She's about a year old, rescued by a mobile spay and neuter clinic that does rounds on one of the Native American reservations in New Mexico and then brings dogs backs to Denver. We've had her for about 3 weeks, and she's super well adjusted... except for one thing.

Our neighbors have barky dogs. Dogs that bark at us whenever we go into the backyard. Dogs that bark at other dogs barking. Dogs that insisted on throwing their entire bodies against the 6 foot fence and try to scrabble underneath it any time our older dog, Moose, deigned to walk in front of it and wag politely, because apparently he finds barking beneath him.

Molly has no such compunctions, and has gone from general curiosity and interest in the neighbor dogs in week one, to racing out of the back door each morning on the offensive, barking at the fence. We're working on that in all the usual positive reinforcement ways (treats for hushing! humans have got this! run through your other tricks!), and have had a lot of success at getting her to hush while she's inside the house and hears them barking outside. Out in the yard is a different story, though - if the neighbor dogs are in their yard but not near the fence, we can call her back to us and get her to settle (reluctantly), but if they're right there barking, both sides will rile each other up further.

So, I'm looking for advice on how to manage this. Neighbor dogs are outside a lot, so waiting until they're not there to let my dogs out isn't a good plan. I'm also trying not to limit Molly's backyard access too much in the nice weather, because she burns off a TON of puppy energy wrestling with my older dog out there. Right now they spend 4-5 30 minute play sessions outside, usually with me in and out of the backyard during that time.

Is there anything else I should be doing to train her out of trying to engage in this situation? Is there a point where I say screw positive reinforcement, and turn the hose (gently!) on both sides of the fence to get them to knock it off? Dragging our puppy away bodily seems to be barely putting a band-aid on the problem, and all our hard work on hushing seems pretty moot when neighbor-dog is hurling his entire frame at the fence to get to her.

For what it's worth, I don't think neighbor dogs are bad dogs, or that they're pissed off - just inherently territorial dogs whose people don't care that much. Whenever they stop barking, they're wagging. If I could train BOTH sides of the fence to shut up, I would.
posted by deludingmyself to Pets & Animals (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If we hadn't moved (to a glorious secluded yard with a brick fence and no dogs on any side), I was going to rig up a soaker hose, the kind that has intermittent holes along one side, turn it hole-side-up, and put it on a connector so I could turn it on/off from the patio. In a couple of places I did decrease fence-running by putting an obstacle there (I turned two large flower pots upside down and put a 6' fence board across them, and then a couple of big flower pots on the "shelf" that made) so mine just couldn't get so close. There seems to be a lot of communication via smell going on with the territoriality.

We had a trainer out, and she said we needed to go out to the fenceline ourselves and back our dogs off, with a "I'll bark if barking needs to be done, I'm in charge" attitude. This would stop them when they were barking, but at the time we lived on a corner with people walking by, and I just couldn't spend all day doing it.

I had (still have) partial success teaching my worst violator to come to me to sit for a treat when she was tempted to bark. It didn't work every time, though it made calling her off a ton easier, and I can still get it to work when she's over-agitated by a squirrel or the neighbors using lawn equipment.

But I was ready to move on to water, and I suspect you'd get at least get partial improvement out of that.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:22 AM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Fence aggression is really weird. It seems almost completely unconnected to any other aspect of a dog's temperament. My one dog is just head over heels in love with our backyard neighbor lady when she's out in the open, but barks incessantly at her when she's behind a fence.

Sometimes but not always, we've had some success sometimes with treat training.

Just ask your neighbor if it's OK, and if it is, every time both dogs are out, go over to the fence, give your dog a treat, and throw one over for the neighbor dog(s). (We've had dog poisonings in our area, so it's really important to get permission just so they at least know you're not trying to kill their dogs.)

We turned some arch enemy dogs into BFsF that way. They've come to associate our dogs with delicious stinky lamb treats, so instead of snarling and lunging when they see us coming, they run over and wait for treats. And the dogs actually started liking each other, which was a much better outcome than I'd thought possible.

It doesn't work for every dog in every situation, but every now and again, it works like pure magic. And it's really easy, so it's worth just seeing if it works.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:45 AM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

You could try a bark control collar, available lots of places.

Or you might try a bark control device like this:

that MIGHT have an affect on all the dogs.

I am not endorsing any of these products specifically, but I have had good luck using hand held devices to quiet annoying dogs when I am out walking, and the above devices use the same high frequency sound principle to create a squeal audible only to the dogs to urge them to stop barking.

posted by gnossos at 11:47 AM on July 6, 2014

I have a feeling if the dogs could see, sniff, and meet each other, they wouldn't have so much to yell through the fence about. I think it's the separation of the fence that is causing the behavior.

Maybe--maybe--letting the dogs meet each other for a play date in one or the other yards would help satisfy some of the unfulfilled desire for contact.

Perhaps a more ideal, but less feasible, solution would be a doggy window of some kind where they could actually meet eyes and noses. It is hard to imagine the dogs continuing to bark right at each other's faces once they can see and smell each other.
posted by General Tonic at 12:03 PM on July 6, 2014

I have a feeling if the dogs could see, sniff, and meet each other, they wouldn't have so much to yell through the fence about.

Our dogs are bffs with our neighbors dogs and they still do this. I get the impression it's super fun. I have put a big dent in it by shooting them with a hose but they'll still do it given the opportunity.
posted by fshgrl at 3:01 PM on July 6, 2014

The only thing that I know of that actually WORKS is a bark collar.
Anything else just teaches them to hush when their humans are present; they still bark the rest of the time.
posted by stormyteal at 5:22 PM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I really hate to agree with stormyteal, but I think that's the way of it.

The sonic bark control punishes all the dogs, even the ones not barking (poor Moose!)

Spraying with the hose just sends the message that dogs are allowed to bark until the owner walks out the door and aims. (Or in the case of my dog: WOW, a new game! That backfired)

A bark collar on your pup teaches her it's not OK to bark. Period. If she's as smart as my dog, it will be nearly instantaneous understanding. Now, even without the collar she's hardly barks. Wearing the collar without it being on is enough to keep her silent all day. (although she is smart enough to know that the first level vibrate doesn't hurt, and there's a time delay, so she can say, "Woof." pause "Woof." if there's something important going on she wants me to know about.

Before I put it on her, I did teach Spicy to bark on command. Big WOOF. little woof. Now we sometimes bark and howl together as play. Teaching my dog to 'speak' also helped with the "no bark."

Some dogs just really have a drive to play the woof-woof run-the-fence game. Moose apparently is above all that, but it's going to be hard to stop your pup with the neighbor's dogs constantly issuing invitations to sound out. Dogs that lack stimulation are going to find something to do, and running up and down the fence yelling is Great! Fun!
posted by BlueHorse at 2:15 AM on July 7, 2014

Pennies in a can. We had a dog trainer come out because our dog barks like crazy at the UPS guy but also other dogs and other reasons but the UPS guy is the worst. He also started barking when visitors leave. So it was very easy to try this method right away. He liked the trainer and she acted like she was going to leave and he immediately started barking. She shook a soda can with pennies in it and duct tape over the hole. This IMMEDIATELY got his attention. He stopped everything he was doing and looked at her. She said "sit" and "Quiet" and gave him a treat. Problem solved!

Another tip is that I bought a bag of expensive dog food - buffalo meat - and I use this for treats for training. This is working better for me because I was using biscuits which are not very healthy and too many calories if I train a lot. So I was reluctant to do training because I was worried he was getting too much calories from all the treats. But the buffalo dog food is just little kibble size and high in protein.

And another tip - do you have some sort of bench or something that the dog could jump up on and lie down for training? Over and over again? I have a day bed and I train the dog to "go to his spot" and lie down. And then "off" and over and over. For a kibble treat each time. This totally wears him out. Then if I let him outside he is less likely to bark or also more set-up to do the shake-can quiet training.
posted by cda at 4:45 AM on July 7, 2014

Ernielundquist's suggestion is a good one, but you don't need to train your neighbor's dog, too. First, get the most scrumptious treats known to dog. Wait to do this until before meal time, when your pup is the most food-motivated. Let Molly watch you cut those yummy, stinky treats up into little bite-size morsels in the house. Put the treats into a container of some sort, such as a tupperware or your pocket. Go out into the backyard with Molly, Moose and those treats. Ask both of them to sit politely for a treat. Chances are, neighbor dog will be barking at this point. The goal is to keep Molly's attention on the amazing treats you have, so as long as Molly is sitting politely and keeping her attention on you and NOT on the barking dog next door, keep the treats flowing! The goal is to get Molly to associate neighbor dog's barking with sitting quietly and getting treats.

If she's completely ignoring the neighbor dog's barking and focusing on the treats, you can try to redirect her attention to a new activity, such as playing fetch or tug-o-war, or romping with Moose. If she instead immediately starts barking at the other dog, go back to step 1 of sitting for treats. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

- Molly is not as interested in the treats as she is in the other dog. Get better, more insanely delicious treats. I know of a board certified veterinary behaviorist who will resort to SPRAY CHEESE if necessary--think of the power you could wield!
- Molly immediately runs to the fence to start barking at the neighbor dog as soon as she gets outside. Put her on a lease first before you go outside, so that you and your treats have a captive audience.
- Molly has terrible, eye-watering gas from all the treats you fed her. Clicker train her so you don't need to feed so many treats. Or if she's doing really well with this, slow downgrade to less and less delicious treats, like: SPRAY CHEESE > stinky doggy jerky > milkbones > carrots > her actual kibble > verbal praise.
posted by gumtree at 3:38 PM on July 8, 2014

Response by poster: Every suggestion in this thread was a good suggestion, so I'm not marking favorites because anyone with the same problem should work through these progressively (except maybe the ultrasonic bark deterrent, which punishes all dogs for one dog barking). That said here's the follow-up:

- "The humans have it covered" attitude was useless (rescue dog has no inherent trust in our ability to handle the situation because OMG FENCE CRISIS)
- Additional positive reinforcement helped reduce the behavior to a degree (especially treating her every time the other dogs barked while we were inside), but failed as soon as Other Dogs got close to the fence
- The hose helped cease crazy bark fests but was a useless as a deterrent to starting them

But! A citronella bark collar was the winner. We now have a much quieter dog with built-in, lemony-fresh mosquito repellent action. Everyone is happy! Well, everyone with two legs, anyway, and Molly seems overall calmer about which disruptions she actually should respond to.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:22 PM on August 15, 2014

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