Behavior Tip of the Month
A family writes that their one year old intact Pekinese barks when their friends arrive at their house and also when they leave. They say they left the pup in a crate by the front door on Halloween night and they wonder if the dog was traumatized by that and if that's why he's barking. They state that the dog is friendly to the people during the visit. They wonder how to stop the behavior and also why it's happening.
I want to commend this family for not only asking how to stop the problem but for also asking why it's happening. Many pet owners and even trainers don't ask why the behavior is happening. They just want a quick fix. So they receive advice from a book or an acquaintance to punish the dog. Punishment can range from ineffectual yelling, to jerking a choke chain, squirting something in the the dog's face or even using a shock collar.
By ignoring why the barking is happening and just using punishment, you can ruin your relationship with your pet or even make the problem behavior worse.
Regarding Halloween night; yes, exposing a puppy locked in a crate to non stop Halloween trick or treaters can be traumatic. It could cause fear of the door bell and fear of people going in and out. That's why on Halloween I put my puppies at the end of the living room. When the kids ring the bell I have them step into the house. In order to receive a Halloween treat, the children must first throw a dog treat to my dogs. The kids love it and the dogs grow to love trick or treaters. I do the same thing when company comes over. As the pups grow up and get better at down stay, I bring them closer to the door. But I still have visitors give the dogs a treat for down staying when they arrive. I encourage my dogs to bark and alert me when the doorbell rings but to downstay and be quiet when company comes in. "Downstay" and "Quiet" are wonderful commands, and teaching them using the new clicker methods is fun for owners and dogs.
The above approach may have prevented the Pekinese's barking problem, but let's get back to the treatment. When I go to a client's house to assess a behavioral problem, the first issue I need to address is WHY the dog is exhibiting the behavior.
In this barking case, was it really fear because of the Halloween incident? Alternatively, could it be that the dog is just highly reactive, and barking is how he registers his excitement at people moving fast during arrivals and departures? However, it also could be that he is a little bossy and wants to control the people's movements. Barking annoys and does get a response out of people. Evaluating these possibilities requires additional information. Was he ever picked up when he barked and given attention? Was he comforted and told "it's all right"? If he was, he may have a little Napoleon complex. Lots of dog owners inadvertently teach their dogs to bark by unknowingly reinforcing that behavior.
Finally, barking is normal dog behavior. They're programmed to bark. We have to teach them to be quiet.
As you can see, there are many causes of barking and if you don't ascertain the right cause, you probably won't use the right treatment and get the desired result. This is why it's so important to see the dog n his home environment doing the behavior and then recommend an individual approach that addresses the specific cause of his problem behavior.
If trauma was not the cause, simply leashing the dog at the door, teaching him "quiet" and rewarding quiet behavior with a food treat is a good first step.
A second good step would be neutering the dog. It could lessen territorial aggression if that is a contributing factor and is much healthier for the dog. A lot of behavior problems can be prevented or lessened by neutering your dog.
Woofs and Wags,
Best Friend Behavior Counseling and Training
San Diego, Ca.
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The information contained on this site is in no way intended to replace that of proper veterinary advice, diagnosis or treatment.
It is meant to provide resource, so that we can better understand canine health related issues.