Sister's barking dog is driving my mom crazy
September 30, 2016 6:54 AM   Subscribe

My sister has a rescue dog, lab mix, probably about 10 or 11 years old. This dog will not stay in a kennel when my sis goes on holidays, away for the weekend or overnight, etc. so my mom (84 years old) ends up looking after her quite often. She barks at anyone coming into or even walking past the house, and my mom's nerves are frazzled.

The dog loves my sister to distraction, but is absolutely indifferent to everyone else, even my sister's husband. Her bark is very loud and agressive, and nothing will get her to stop. We don't shout at her. Sometimes she makes for your feet in a threatening way, though I don't think she's ever bitten anyone. The other day, my mother had a guy doing work in the garden and the dog barked for hours and hours while he was there. She even barks at my mother if she happens to go outside the house.

My sister reckons that the dog is too old for training, and my mother is too nice to let my sister know just how much this distresses her. She has occasionally put the dog into a room with the blinds down, but feels that this isn't something she should do all day long - and even then the dog will bark if she hears someone coming in the front door.

I can't look after the dog unfortunately, because reasons, but while she's at my parents house, I get one of my kids to stop by daily to walk her (when she can be bothered to go with them). This doesn't offer much relief, however, since the dog will only go on long walks with my sister. With anyone else, she'll reluctantly go around the block at most. We're all generally dog lovers, but it's not easy to warm to a dog that gives all the signs of being about to attack you whenever she sees you. I imagine the poor thing must have had a traumatic life before my sister got her (about 5 years ago) - she has some other odd quirks that aren't threatening.

It doesn't bother my dad, because he's deaf.

Any ideas?
posted by Samarium to Pets & Animals (17 answers total)
Your sister needs a dog sitter to come to her house and stay the entire time she is gone. If this curtails her weekends and overnights, well, welcome to dog ownership. It costs money to do well.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:59 AM on September 30, 2016 [43 favorites]

Seconding DarlingBri. Your sister needs to take care of this; it is HER problem. It is not your mother's, your father's, nor your problem. It costs way more money to own a pet than people realize, but people often think that they should get free services (e.g. guilting people into dog-sitting) because they "rescued a poor, cute doggy!"

No, she needs a proper dog sitter for her [loud, undesired] dog. It's really that simple as far as you and your parents should be concerned, aside from standing up to your sister and telling her no.
posted by TinWhistle at 7:17 AM on September 30, 2016 [10 favorites]

No dog is too old for training. There are trainers who specialize in barking. Either your mom needs to put her foot down about not watching the dog, or she needs to insist she will only do so if your sister gets a trainer. Or if she needs to keep enabling this (what you call being "too nice"), she can bring in a trainer the next time the dog is at her house. It will require working with the dog according to the trainer's directions, so it's really unfair to put on your mom, but if your sister won't do it and your mom sees that as the path of least resistance, it's an option.

There are also anti-bark collars that spray citronella. I don't know whether they actually work, and some people have issues with how humane they are, as it's negative reinforcement. But they exist.
posted by Mchelly at 7:24 AM on September 30, 2016 [7 favorites]

The cornerstone of modern dog training principles is to set the dog up for success and then, when they succeed, mark that success. I know your mom may not feel like she can/should train the dog, but really, any sort of behavior modification is "training" and a lot of it will probably take less time/stress than the status quo. Here's how that might translate:

Set her up for success: put her in situations where she doesn't want to bark at things going by. The closed room is a perfect example of this! It's not cruel, it's just relieving a set of stressors (as it sounds like her barking is probably distance-increasing behavior/keep-away warnings - if she shows signs of excitement instead, then the appropriate modification might be different). She does need social time, but when she's not getting that, there's nothing wrong with closing her away and it's a good thing if she's more comfortable there. Other forms of setting her up for success might be distracting her with something REALLY good (probably a few notches above her normal food/treats) as soon as you think a trigger might come into view, so that she prefers to stay away from it. Or, perhaps, set up a barrier like a baby gate so that she can't see out the window? Feel free to get creative.

Mark good behaviors: as quickly as possible, when she does something wanted (or something on the path to the wanted behavior), reward her. Does she go on a walk with your kid? Reward her. Does she look away from a trigger eventually? Reward her. Does she come up to you? Reward her. Rewards should be as good as needed to get her attention - if she'll work for a regular dog cookie or kibble, great, but if not, what about fruits/veggies/meat/cheese/peanut butter? Avoid the toxic-to-dog things and keep it in moderation and it's fine to give "people food". Try to do that as consistently as possible and time it RIGHT when the wanted behavior happens. You can also use toys as a motivator if they're more powerful for her than treats.

Other notes: I recognize that some might say your sister shouldn't leave her, but I also recognize that most attitudes toward dog responsibility vary hugely culture to culture so whether or not that's on the table is up to y'all. Of course, it might help! Also if she barks at things with your sister around, get your sister on board with training - explain how tough it is when she's gone.
posted by R a c h e l at 7:24 AM on September 30, 2016 [8 favorites]

Not sure why the kennel is not an option? Have they had a bad experience at a kennel? Some dogs do just fine at the kennel, as they are away from all of their people and get to interact with other dogs. If they've never tried it, sounds like now is the time.
posted by clone boulevard at 7:41 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

What does will not stay in s kennel mean? Has a kennel rejected the dog?

A dog that barely tolerates people and barks incessantly is not a happy animal. Your sister needs to rescue this dog from its state of confusion and socialize it and train it.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:24 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't have a huge amount to add to R a c h e l's fab training advice. It is certainly possible to train any living dog, it takes longer when they are older is all.

I just wanted to say that your sister needs to be told some home truths about her approach. Saying a 10yo dog is too old for retraining when you have owned it FOR FIVE YEARS is a massive cop-out!
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 8:25 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Not to threadsit, but in answer to queries about the kennel - my sister has tried putting her in a kennel and the dog freaked out so badly that she couldn't leave her there.

Thanks for the answers. I'm going to have to step up and let my sister know how much this distresses my mother, and I'll suggest either a dog sitter or training. For the most part, she is a responsible dog owner, but she doesn't seem to realise (or is in denial about) how difficult it is for anyone else to look after the dog.
posted by Samarium at 8:32 AM on September 30, 2016

Older dogs learn fine just figure out what they want most as a treat, in fact I would suggest they learn faster because they usually "get" that humans want them to do a thing to get the treat they just need to figure out what the thing is.

Your sister needs to take the dog to training classes if she wants your mother to keep pet sitting.

If your sister won't train the dog it's possible for your Mother to work with it. My MIL's dog is a barely trained runaway chaotic mess at her house, but is as well behaved as I expect my dogs to be when I dog sit, dogs are very capable of understanding that different people expect different behaviours.

The going for your feet sounds like herding behaviour, the best way to stop that is with a simple displacement activity. If the dog starts doing that spend a few minutes working on training some other behaviour or one it already knows like sit & reward it for that, let it learn that the nipping at feet doesn't lead to anything interesting happening but being good get's it yummy treats.

Barking a little when a stranger arrives or your mother comes home isn't super bad behaviour, it's the not stopping that is the problem. Try distracting it with treat filled kongs, or by again by running it through any "tricks" it knows or distract it by teaching it some good behaviours or by taking it for a nice long walk. A tired dog is a quiet dog. Hell maybe take the dog out to meet the guy in the garden, dogs are less likely to bark at something once they know it's not a danger.

Also counter intuitively the way you train a dog to stop barking is to train it to bark on command. Here is some advice from the experts.
posted by wwax at 8:42 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sometimes people just don't know what their dog is like when they're gone. My dog is pretty "good" (at home) for me, but when I went on vacation, my husband would say "He chews stuff and makes a mess". And that was hard for me to quantify - it sounded to me like normal dog stuff that you just check and isn't a problem, so I was like "ugh, husband, come on!"

Then my husband started taking actual pictures and quantifying: what did he chew? How much mess? How long? And it turned out while I was thinking "he made a move for the slippers he loves to steal", my husband meant "he is chewing open plastic containers and overturning garbage cans." And for me, that was a "Whoa! Not cool!" insight into the fact that how dogs behave with their People is not always how they behave with others.

What is the dog like when he's at your sisters' house? What is he allowed to do at your sisters house? Is he worse at your mom's, or the same?
posted by corb at 9:01 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not to threadsit, but in answer to queries about the kennel - my sister has tried putting her in a kennel and the dog freaked out so badly that she couldn't leave her there.

I genuinely understand this. We too have rescue dogs who cannot be kenneled; dog sitting curtails the plans we are able to make but is what works best for us and will likely work best for your sister. People generally find it to be the last stressful for their dogs.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:04 AM on September 30, 2016

Isolating a dog in a confined space--an animal as social as a human--is not going to resolve any behavior issues. It often makes problems worse. Dogs get anxiety from separation, and treating separation anxiety with even more social isolation is how (for example) closed bedroom doors and window blinds get shredded from a panicked dog.

Sister needs to step up and either board her dog in a place that has socializing time for dogs (playgroups and such) or hire a sitter to fill the same role when she's away.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:15 AM on September 30, 2016

My neighbors had the same issue with their dog. Their vets prescribed Xanax to help quell the anxiety that triggered the endless barking, and then insisted the dog go through doggie training camp with both the husband and wife to establish the humans as the Alphas in the home so that the dog would stop bossing everyone around. It worked well. (And the entire neighborhood was very, very grateful.) YMMV.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:01 AM on September 30, 2016

Reminder that not all kennels are created equal. The kennel that my dog went to in our previous city had the dogs in an open space 24/7. The kennel she goes to now has them in an open space most of the time, but they get crated for naps, meals, and at night. Your sister's dog may need more or less crate time, and different kennels will handle that differently.
posted by anotheraccount at 10:05 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Much good advice in this thread.

It seems to me that, from her point of view (since kenneling isn't working, and her own efforts at training her dog have failed), your sister has solved her problem by leaving your mother, you, and whomever you can enlist, to deal with it. By any reasonable standards, the dog's behavior is unacceptable. One important issue is who should deal with it. A more important issue is safety. I didn't see anything that indicated how frisky the dog is. My concern is that the dog might unintentionally trip your mother in it's enthusiasm to bark at whatever catches its attention. Yet another issue is the pain in the ass factor your mother must endure.

Being nice is sometimes confused with enabling rude behavior. I'm sure your sister is an otherwise lovely person, who has trapped herself into a situation she can't seem to resolve. In any case, your mother's safety and peace of mind seem not to have become a topic of conversation to either your sister or her husband.

I believe that, once your mother is taken out of the loop of responsibility, your sister and her husband can come up with some plan to deal with their dog. Let them figure out what to do with their dog when they go on vacation.
posted by mule98J at 6:49 PM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

The dog also sounds like it needs more interaction and exercise in addition to training.
posted by canine epigram at 4:36 AM on October 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just adopted a senior dog who did this. We've mostly trained her out of it in a few months. It's totally possible and will reduce everyone's stress. If that's a non-starter then she needs a dog sitter to stay in her house while they're away.
posted by barnone at 11:04 PM on October 3, 2016

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