*Bark* *Bark *Bark* *Bark*
November 21, 2016 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Parent's dog won't stop barking/marking territory. Help me help them.

My parents adopted a 4 year old maltese/bichon mix a month ago. He's naturally a loving pet whom my parents adore but there have been problems. He's been neutered yet he continues to mark territory indoors. The first time it happened was when they left him alone in the apartment. He barked non-stop, scratched the door and peed on their couch. This happened in the second week so we thought it was just separation anxiety. We worked on it (not giving him attention when leaving, doing practice sessions where one of them would leave and return after a few minutes) but then the problem grew. He now pees or "mark" on the carpet and on the furniture whenever he gets left alone in the apartment. So if they went upstairs, he would stay downstairs and pee. We took him to a vet and they found no urinary tract infections and we make sure he's gone to the bathroom. He's also very protective of his toys sometimes and will growl.

He barks non-stop at every single noise. It's especially worse when it's windy outside. But other noises (like when someone upstairs opens/closes a door, the garage door opens, doorbell, people walking by outside) and he'll mindlessly bark. We usually react by yelling NO or checking out the noise and telling him it's okay in a calm voice but he still does it. We do our best to make sure he gets enough exercise but my parents are older. They can only do so many walks and they don't have a yard. Also we feel it's not safe to let him off his leash at a dog park. He gets very intimidated by larger dogs and will immediately be defensive. Walking him is another issue as he pulls a lot as well.

We've done research and kind of concluded that the main problem is that he thinks he's leader of the pack. My parents purchased a crate in order to train him and while he does not mind going in and having the door close, he'll bark non-stop if he is left alone while still in the crate. My parents are willing to train him and do what it takes to fix this but they've become restless. My mom and dad (at 60) still work and they need their sleep uninterrupted. Dash sleeps in their bedroom on a dog bed.

How can they train Dash to not bark at noises and feel safe? How can they stop his territorial marking and growling? Are all of these problems caused by one thing they can work on?
Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
posted by morning_television to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IANYDog Trainer, but I would caution you against pack-hierarchy-based thinking here.

To me, it sounds like fear and anxiety across several axes. In dogs, fear often comes out as aggression (the best defense is a good offense).

I'd urge your parents to seek out a qualified behaviorist, and further urge them to NOT hire someone who comes in talking about dominance and submission, but rather focuses on desensitizing, counter-conditioning and positive behavioral modification (the former is a good sign that the person is kind of talking out of their ass, the latter that they have actually done academic coursework in psychology and animal behavior). A good behaviorist will be able to come and diagnose these behaviors, give your parents a modification plan to work on with Dash by themselves, and maybe come back once or twice more to evaluate progress.

Barking is a self-reinforcing behavior and can be quite difficult to correct without either getting to the root of the problem or doing some serous behavioral modification ninjitsu by teaching the dog to "speaK" (bark on command) and then just never giving that command. I've heard that can work but I wouldn't try it without consulting a behaviorist or trainer for fear of backfiring.

If they want to start doing something right now, have them look into the Protocol for Relaxation.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:38 AM on November 21, 2016 [17 favorites]

Well, one month is still pretty early in the adoption process. Your parents are humans who understand cognitively what is going on. Dog is still confused and scared, and he doesn't trust your parents fully yet. I wouldn't necessarily chalk it up to dominance issues (and as soren_lorensen alluded to, this type of thinking has gone out of favor).

I was going to suggest crate training so I am glad that they are trying that. I would recommend getting the dog comfortable in the crate when they are home so that he thinks it's his safe space. Feed the dog in the cate. Give him a treat every time he goes in. Try giving him a frozen Kong with peanut butter, or a rawhide bone, or some other toy that will distract him for a some time while he's in the crate. Put the crate in the bedroom and have him sleep in it.

For now they may want to get some baby gates and make sure that he is always with them in the house which will keep him from marking.

It sounds like Dash would benefit from professional obedience training. That will help with the pulling on the leash, and it will improve his confidence and bond him to your parents. I had a great experience with group classes at Petco (it was like $100 for six classes). The trainer can also give you some suggestions about the barking and marking. It's definitely possible to train dogs out of barking at the doorbell, but it takes some dedication and practice (I will admit that I have not attempted this yet).

Also, you're going to have to provide a photo of Dash. :)
posted by radioamy at 8:43 AM on November 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

When we adopted our little dog when he was 3 years old, he had a lot of the same problems. Four visits in our home from a dog behaviorist who focused on positive reinforcement and he was like a new dog! It was sooooooo worth every dollar we spent on it.

Until you see a trainer, you can get a belly band for him to keep him from peeing all over everything. It's like a diaper for dogs. They sell disposable ones at Petco/Petsmart. Or baby gate him into the bathroom if he doesn't like the crate.
posted by ilovewinter at 8:50 AM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would put a belly band on him to control some of that indoor marking. He sounds scared and anxious about everything. Do you know his history? A dog with these issues probably has been placed more than once. The behaviorist idea is an excellent one. The other option is elavil or Prozac to help with his anxiousness. You would get that from your Vet.
Good luck.
posted by cairnoflore at 8:53 AM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

The "dominance" theories of dog training are definitely from another time now. Dogs do look for leadership and reassurance that someone else is taking care of Big Dog Tasks so they don't have to, because having to do that in a people world is hugely stressful, but that's about making a show of taking care of the things that cause the anxiety, not intimidating the dog into not showing anxiety.

So, it's not that he "thinks he's the leader of the pack" but "is freaking out because your parents are letting him down as leaders".

When you get a behaviorist - who is there to train your parents, not the dog - you can expect that the low-hanging fruit will be tackled first: crate-training the dog (you just have to, really, if at all possible, with pissers, until they re-learn that the whole house is their den) and keeping them literally and later virtually tethered to you at all times until they learn the rules for behaving inside*, providing the dog with food as benevolent overlords**, how to walk a dog and how to otherwise sufficiently exercise a dog into being calm and good.

* Yes, this is likely what it will take. For many months, dog never out of your sight. Yes, it is hugely inconvenient and unpleasant. No, it doesn't seem likely that your parents will comply if they are "going upstairs and leaving the dog downstairs" because no, you don't do that with a new dog, for many reasons. They are earning that pee, in particular. And this, therefore, may not be a resolvable issue with this dog. They may need to consider returning the dog and having the house professionally cleaned before looking for a more amenable dog, or just not having a dog.

**This feels dumb even when you are alone with the dog, but it works. We originally made them sit before their bowls would be put down, this eventually evolved into them a) going to the food spot when they want to eat b) mostly refusing to eat unless we are present***, though they will eventually give in and eat for a sitter.

***For a while we both had to be present, so make sure your parents mix that up a little.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:55 AM on November 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

Oh, poor scared guy. He needs lots and lots of positive reinforcement. Job one is to figure out what thrills him to bits -- toys? play? cheese? bits of chicken? and use that as your reinforcer. I'd start with basic house training. I agree with all above who suggested a (positive reinforcement oriented) trainer if you and your folks don't know from dog training.

Yes, this is all caused by one thing. Fear. You can take all that alpha dog stuff and throw it in the trash. It is BS anyway and absolutely utterly wrong when it comes to a fearful displaced dog like this one.

FYI my dog (see my profile pic for his face) is a rescue who was horribly treated -- starved, beaten, abandoned -- before a pet rescue outfit found him and I finally adopted him. Positive reinforcement has helped him be his confident loving and firmly housebroken self. But even now when we take him to a pet sitter for the first time, he tends to try to mark. That's his effort to overcome fear and make himself feel at home. Luckily it is so easy these days to remind him of his training with our magic weapon for him, cheese.
posted by bearwife at 9:58 AM on November 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

This is probably an unpopular option, but I know people who've had good luck with anti-bark collars. Like their dog would bark incessantly after they left (and the police got involved, saying they'd have to get rid of the dog if it kept barking). The collar delivers a light shock that startles the dog after giving a warning noise. Soon the dog would bark once, hear the noise, and not bark after that, so it wasn't like it was shocked more than a few times. That combined with crating can help a lot with these problems (of course, also work on helping the dog to be less scared, but after more time in a safe home it'll almost certainly be happier anyway).
posted by ldthomps at 10:59 AM on November 21, 2016

If you are considering a bark collar, do NOT get the kind that shocks. There's a model that sprays diluted citronella oil (not in the dog's eyes, just as a brief mist around the neck in response to bark vibration) that works as a deterrent.
posted by furtive_jackanapes at 12:12 PM on November 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Many dog behavior issues are improved with lots of exercise. Lots. A visit to a dog park, or a good run gives the dog mental stimulation, and tires them out, which tends to improve things.
posted by theora55 at 12:17 PM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

So, maybe bark collars work on some dogs, but I have to ask -- who thinks a scared dog will be less scared after experiencing being "lightly" shocked or sprayed with stinky oil?

Even for dogs that bark for other reasons than fear, negative reinforcement like this is at best unpredictable in terms of outcome. But there is no way it is the right solution for this dog.

Please stay away from scary solutions like this for a scared dog.
posted by bearwife at 3:02 PM on November 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Crate training.

No dominance or alpha theory. No Cesar Millan.

He needs to be taken out every hour; praised and treated when he does eliminate; if he doesn't, crated for twenty minutes and taken out again (until he gets the hang of where to eliminate). He will, of course, have been trained to enjoy his crate first. Restrict his access to the house with baby gates. Ian Dunbar (see below) has a very clear path to success in his books with regard to housetraining and it works amazingly well.

He needs exercise. Multiple walks daily and occasional visits to a dog park that allow him to socialize with other dogs of similar size. (Assuming he is fully vaccinated.) Even in my largely working breed city, we have dog parks that have small dog sides for safety.

Play with him indoors. Toys. Chew toys. Squeaky toys. A flirt pole. Nosework. Teach him tricks.

Look up Dr. Ian Dunbar and Patricia McConnell's books.

He is barking because he is bored and maybe barrier reactive. He is guarding resources because he feels insecure and afraid. He needs owners who will work with him to build his confidence and let him know he can relax and leave the ordering of the world to them.

For a very simple resource guarding tool, try two things: hand-feed all meals, and try trading his toys; offer him a high value treat in exchange for the toy. When he drops it, give him the treat and praise him. Repeat.

Try looking up kikopup or Victoria Stilwell on YouTube.

Please don't use punishment. This dog is insecure and does not need to be trained through fear.
posted by Nyx at 7:24 PM on November 21, 2016

Hmm, here are my thoughts:

This is so important, even for little dogs. If your parents can't walk him enough (I aim for at least 2 hours of total walking daily with my bichon mix, which sounds hard but is surprisingly doable with a long post-work walk) then can they hire someone else to? Professional walker, neighbor kid, neighbor already walking their own dog, you? Alternatively, consider doggy daycare (if there's one with a group of small dogs he could do well with?). Also, you mention "letting him off his leash at a dog park" - if that means you have him on-leash at an off-leash dog park, stop taking him there - it's scary for a dog to be tethered when the other dogs aren't. If he's not a good dog park dog, that's totally ok and don't feel the need to push him to be a good dog park dog. It's a common problem (it's basically the equivalent of a crazy nightclub for dogs and is stressful for plenty of them) and it's not a sign that he couldn't be social elsewhere.

Look up ways to train loose-leash walking and just start working on it - it's very doable with some consistent effort, and a very common issue for adopted dogs. If they can't handle him easily, tools like a front-loop harness or a head harness (I like the snoot loop) are useful - but make sure you're using them properly. It's an important issue to address but please don't let it get in the way of sufficient exercise!

This could have any number of causes (and could have more than one cause) - sounds that make him fearful, separation/isolation anxiety, poor housebreaking. I'd do a mix of housebreaking from scratch (using the crate, probably), keeping him with them in the house (keeping him leashed with them, probably), and lots of training and potentially medication to address all the underlying fears.

Same as peeing in many ways - this sounds like fear, so you'll need to do a mix of addressing the scary sounds with desensitization (and potentially medication) with rewards whenever he doesn't bark. Yelling "no!" or using a bark collar will only exacerbate the fear and even if he learns to stop barking, he might just express the fear in a different way and his stress levels will stay way up...I don't think either of them are a great option. If he's just alert barking, that might be different, but that doesn't sound like the case here.

This is between you and your vet (or WAY better, your veterinary behaviorist) but it's worth considering. Remember, though, that it's not at all a silver bullet and it may help his thresholds but won't solve any underlying fears. Without a prescription, consider a DAP diffuser or collar or rescue remedy for dogs. Both get mixed reviews but probably couldn't hurt to try.

A positive reinforcement based trainer, a behaviorist, or a veterinary behaviorist (a specialist who can prescribe medication in addition to suggesting behavior modification) are all good resources. Book in the "dogwise training manual" series are invariably fantastic for specific issues like pulling, separation anxiety, etc. I like authors like Pat Miller, Pat McConnell, and Kathy Sdao. Youtubers like kikopup and Zak George are great. Protocol for relaxation is fantastic, I totally concur with that recommendation.
posted by R a c h e l at 10:43 AM on November 22, 2016

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