Dogs will be Dogs: Addressing barking

In this continuation of our blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, we’ll go over barking and what it may mean, and how to address it.

Dogs bark for many reasons. It could be to alert us to something (and they have been bred for many years to alert bark for us!), because they’re excited, frustrated or bored, because they’re seeking attention and it works, or because they’re afraid of something, and it can be an effective strategy to make space. In any of these cases, it’s important to understand the motivation for your dog’s barking, or you won’t be able to adequately address it.

The overly excited, bored or attention-seeking dog

Some dogs love to express themselves vocally. My old cattle dog would sometimes just bark because she was feeling well, instead of ill, so I considered it a great thing when she would head out of the house on her walks, announcing herself. It still meant she had spunk! But for some it may be going overboard and causing neighbors to report your dog.

Gretta Mae attests, barking is fun!

In any case, if you know your dog may be too excited, frustrated or bored at times, how can you change this? While we can’t address all the triggers for dogs in this one blog post, knowing those triggers and why they occur is half the battle. If you know your dog is going to bark at you when you get home because he’s very excited to see you, for instance, you can have some treats ready to toss away from you to redirect him to playing a FIND IT game, rather than bark at you. You could also have a toy ready if your dog loves toys, to give a more appropriate outlet. Leaving him at home with enrichment toys and activities can also be helpful to “wear him out” a little more prior to your arrival home.

If your dog learns that by barking at you, he gets your attention, ignoring him COMPLETELY is key. Even “negative” attention is attention, and if it works, there is no reason not to bark! By ignoring, you should not even look at or talk to your dog. I’ve even left the room when a dog starts barking to make that behavior elicit a response they do not want. Quiet means I stay and interact with you. Some dogs, if they have been very successful for a long while at barking for attention, may get “worse” before they get better. Since it had worked a lot they will work harder before giving up. This is called an extinction burst. Don’t give up or give in–keep ignoring and know it’s darkest before the dawn.

Teaching calm behavior as rewarding can also help. There are many protocols but this wonderful video from Emily Larlham shows some great tips in capturing and reinforcing calm behavior. We often ignore our dogs when they are calm and quiet so it’s important to be proactive in making these behaviors rewarding.

Alert barking

When a dog is alerting us to something, it’s an important job for them. Many times I have clients who like having a dog that will alert them to something–because you never know what could be happening, and it’s a great deterrent to have a barking dog in some cases–but it can reach a point of too much.

For most clients they want to be able to just successfully interrupt and redirect the dog. Conditioning the dog’s name and/or a positive interrupter will help you do this. If you say your dog’s name and he looks to you, click and treat. Do this many times, in many situations. You can also do this with something like a kissy noise or other word or sound you want to make, just like in this video from Emily Larlham (she makes so many great videos!). If you do this successfully over time you will be able to increase distractions, including the moments when the dog is alerting you to someone in the yard, going down the alley, coming to your door, etc., but remember you have to practice without these triggers first.

Over time you will be able to call your dog’s name or make another positive interrupter noise, and pair it with coming to you for a treat, or redirecting him to another activity or toy. Great job for letting us know someone is here–now you can have your ball and play!

Barking out of fear

When dogs bark to make space, they learn quickly it is very effective. Making yourself look bigger and making a threatening noise is very reinforcing for dogs who are terrified of what is in their environment. We’ve had dogs who react in many ways to many triggers: at the front windows/doors at passerby, in the yard at strange people, dogs, trucks, bicycles and more, or in parks or other public areas at any or more of these kinds of stimuli; the list goes on and on.

Determining what your dog is afraid of and barks at is the first step. Then it’s your job to limit their ability to get practice at this, so if you have a dog door, it may be necessary to cut that all-access way of going out to bark out of the picture while in training. It could also mean taking shorter walks to minimize exposure to triggers, or blocking access in some way to windows, doors, etc.

Following a well-thought-out desensitization and counterconditioning protocol is key to addressing the underlying emotional state of fear these dogs have. Before worrying about any behavior, we need to make those items very positive. Then they will be able to calm down, and offer calmer alternate behaviors we can reinforce.

For clients with dogs who are fearful I recommend choosing one or two very high-value food items (i.e., bits of hot dogs, chicken, roast beef, cheese–whatever your dog loves most!) and use it in conjunction with these triggers. If strangers walking down the alley mean meatballs, over and over, they will be less scary and more wonderful! It’s important to not overdo it–if the dog is allowed to still rush the fence and react (we call this going “over threshold”), that’s not the best scenario. I will recommend putting the dog on a well-fitted harness and leash and stay as far away from that fence as possible to cut off the rushing at the fence, and therefore limit the barking/reactivity. It is also important to remember that the trigger should make the food happen; if the food shows up first, you risk not only having an ineffective method, but you could very well make the food a negative association for the dog as the food means a scary stranger shows up.

In all these cases, particularly with fear, we do recommend hiring a professional who can help you plan out training to be more successful. There is no substitute for such! And it can save you a lot longer of a training path if you are clearer from the very beginning. It takes far longer to undo a bad protocol so we encourage anyone facing these problems to reach out.

Need help right away? Contact us now to solve your problems!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

September 2017 clients

It’s pretty unbelievable how quickly the weather has been changing here in Colorado, and the beautiful colors that herald the change in season are always beautiful. We are very blessed to live and work here with a wonderful array of amazing clients! Thanks to all of you who have used services this month and who have been referring us to family, friends and colleagues. We are very grateful for all of you!

You can click on the below photo icons to visit our Flickr album of September’s clients, and you can click on the slideshow button (top right computer/play icon) to view all the photos in a fun slideshow format. You can also join us on our Facebook page and Instagram account for more awesome photos and other content.

Samson and Cocoa Misty and Ginger Gunner Rosie, Daisy and Maggie Lexi Bailey Chopper Juniper Alice Max Chunk Berrin Josie Missy Sawyer Neko Harper Nemo, Beau and Chips Ginger Bucky

Happy Training!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Client spotlight: Samson and Cocoa

Congratulations to our September client spotlight, Samson and Cocoa!

Samson and Cocoa, reporting for training!
Samson and Cocoa, reporting for training!

We originally started working with Samson and his mom on behavior modification coaching for him specifically, as Samson has a hard time accepting other people in his home, and being calm on leash when he sees other people or dogs. It took him a little time–and a good amount of liverwurst and other delights–to realize we were pretty cool. Now we’re a part of the Inner Circle of Trust! Samson is such a sweet guy once he realizes there is no need to go on the offense.

As time went by we were happy to also provide some Day Training for him, and regularly care for him and his sister, Cocoa, when mom and dad go out of town as part of our Stay N Train service (not offered to the general public, but to clients who have used our services in some capacity). Cocoa is a sweetheart who has some challenges being connected with her handler while out on walks–she finds the environment and all its delicious smells very distracting!

Working with both of these awesome dogs over the last several months we have seen some amazing improvements. Samson in particular is doing a lot better on walks, checking in with his handler instead of fixating on whatever may be worrisome in his environment. He also really loves playing with puzzle toys and getting belly rubs! Cocoa is getting better at responding to her name on walks and doing short amounts of loose leash walking. She really loves all the attention we can give her, as well as wonderfully stuffed enrichment toys. Step by step, these two sensitive souls are growing each day in their confidence and focus.

We really appreciate the dedication Samson and Cocoa’s people have had in working with them, and us. Thank you for allowing us the pleasure of working with all of you!

Happy Training,
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Dogs will be Dogs: Addressing jumping on people

In this part of our blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, we will discuss the problem of jumping on people.

Like most problem behaviors, jumping is a very common and acceptable behavior for dogs—it’s a way to greet someone they like, so in a lot of ways, it’s a great compliment. However, it’s not what most people want, and while it may be cute when the dog is smaller or a puppy, larger dogs and older dogs can be seen as a nuisance and, at worst, injure people by jumping on them.

We do not advocate for allowing the dog to jump, and then punish the behavior. At best it may stop the behavior in the moment, but it’s still allowing the dog practice at jumping. Jumping can be very self-reinforcing to the dog so allowing it to continue is still helping the dog learn how to get better at doing it. At worst it will damage your relationship with your dog; they may start to view you as a scary person, or feel the need to fight back. Punishment has the potential for some very devastating fallout, so we opt for other approaches to cut off the behavior and teach the dog what we want, instead. It’s more productive and safer for all involved!

Arranging your antecdent

As discussed in our introduction to this blog series, antecedent arrangement–what happens before a behavior occurs–can make for less stressful, and more efficient and effective training. It is proactive rather than reactive!

If you’re expecting house guests and you know your dog loves to jump on them as soon as they come in, putting your dog in a crate or Xpen, behind a gate, or even in another room or the backyard, can cut off this behavior from happening. You could also put him on his harness and a leash and have him tethered to a sturdy piece of furniture, or to a leash hitch attached to the wall, or if you have others in your home who can hold the other end of the leash, he will be able to be managed while they arrive. Remember to make ample space, whatever management technique you use.

In other environments, having your dog on a harness and leash at all times, and ensuring there is enough space between them and the person to not gain access to jump, is key. A portable crate, Xpen or other tethers can also be used. The goal is to ensure the dog is unable to get to and jump on the human, but we also want to make sure whatever we are using that is safe for the dog, and doesn’t create anxiety. If your dog is not properly crate trained you shouldn’t use a crate but perhaps tether instead. We also do not want to leave a tethered dog unattended as they can get tangled and possibly injured. Whatever management technique you use, make sure it is safe and that you’ve considered all the possibilities.

Luna is learning that sitting gets more attention; her harness and leash is on for management in case she gets too excited!

Teaching an alternate behavior

Now that you’ve addressed how to stop the jumping from occurring, it’s important to have a plan to teach what you want your dog to do instead. For a lot of people, sitting for greetings is a goal. If your dog is managed well, you can reinforce a sit as the dog is able to sit. However, some dogs find it difficult to have the self-control to sit, even if you ask for it. It may be because the visitor is too close and he REALLY loves your aunt because she always bring him a special gift!

It’s always important to consider what the dog is able to do and how to teach him by starting where is able to be successful. For this special aunt, I may be treating him for standing as she comes in, starting the instant he notices her, and I may use a higher-value food reward because she is so exciting and I have to have the right motivation for my dog. By lowering my criteria—rewarding for the standing as soon as he notices her arrival—I am meeting him where he can be successful, and making it very rewarding to be standing rather than jumping in this moment, with a very potent food reward.

Over time, I will be able to get a sit. If I have done a great job of reinforcing him, over time he will be able to offer behavior more consistently, and relax more to offer a sit. That sit may mean aunt comes over more quickly to say hi! Standing/sitting are both alternatives that can mean attention from the aunt. If he is too excited and jumping, the aunt takes steps away, or possibly leaves. Being consistent with the consequences will mean he will learn faster and be overall less frustrated.

A harder part of this equation is instructing guests to COMPLETELY IGNORE the dog and not approach him so that he understands that jumping or trying to get at the guests doesn’t result in getting to greet them. Some people will accept being jumped on by puppies or adult dogs but it can work against your training as it won’t provide consistency for your dog to understand that jumping isn’t the way to interact with humans. Start with coachable humans and plan carefully. The human should know they can approach if the dog is standing or sitting, but should stop or even move away if the dog starts to jump.

Being patient and consistent will mean more success for you both. It’s important to repeat this process with different kinds of people who come to visit so that you can help your dog learn that ALL humans prefer standing or sitting, and do not like jumping.

Need help right away? Contact us now to solve your problems!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

August 2017 clients

Autumn is around the corner, and we really appreciate all our clients who filled our summer with fun. We have had one of our most successful years to date, and I am very grateful to all of those who come to Delightful Doggies to find assistance for their dog training and behavior needs. Thank you for choosing us, and for referring your friends, family and colleagues to us as well!

You can click on the below photo icons to visit our June 2017 clients Flickr album. By clicking on the slideshow button (top right computer/play icon), you can view all the photos in a fun slideshow format. Remember to also join us on our Facebook page to see even more photos of client dogs, great articles, news items, blog posts and more! You can also check us out on Instagram.

Gordie Harley Misty Sawyer Finn Lexi Nemo, Beau and Chips Miles Berrin Missy Samson Cocoa June Harley and Opie Bailey Alice Azacca Juniper Mochi Scraps Chopper Sadie Rosie Daisy Mae Maggie Jack

Thank you for another lovely summer!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

August client spotlight: Gordie the Great Pyrenees mix

Congratulations to our August client spotlight, Gordie the Great Pyrenees mix!

BestLargeBreedDogTrainingDenverLakewoodColorado
Gotta love Gordie’s smile!

Gordie is a very sensitive and loving gentleman who enjoys playing with puzzle toys and chewing on a good stick. He was adopted from Big Fluffy Dog Rescue as a puppy by his current mother, who is very devoted for him and wants the very best for him. He’s such a lucky guy!

We have been working with Gordie through our Day Training program on learning how to go to his bed when guests arrive, and his leash reactivity towards other dogs while on walks. He’s a quick study, and has realized that other dogs mean great things so it’s better to look back to his handler than to fixate and react.

Gordie’s mom has been attentive to our reports from Day Training, studying the videos we take and resources we provide, and learning how to maintain the training through transfer sessions. She’s doing an excellent job so far! It will no doubt take time and consistency but Gordie is lucky that his mother understands this, and is committed to what it takes to achieve a solid, long-term success.

We wish all dogs could be as lucky as Gordie, and we are grateful to him and his mother for entrusting us to help with their dog training and behavior needs. They are very worthy recipients of this month’s client spotlight feature!

Thank you,
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Dogs will be Dogs: how to address problem behaviors

Welcome to our new blog series, Dogs will be Dogs, on addressing common problem behaviors!

In this first post we’ll discuss some basics of how to approach problems and considerations when dealing with any problem behavior you’re facing. Future posts will give insights on how to apply this to different common problem behaviors clients want to address, and change.

Many times in training, and in life in general, we focus on consequences for behavior. Consequences are of course important. If the animal we’re teaching finds consequences reinforcing for a behavior, that behavior will likely increase. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if the consequence is punishing or unpleasant, the behavior will likely decrease. Having this knowledge and understanding how it applies based on the animal and the behavior s/he is presenting is crucial. Far too often, however, we are looking at it from our own point of view and not through that of the animal’s.

Mac is learning that sitting will get him out of his kennel

Let’s take a simple example of this: if my dog is barking at me because he wants me to feed him dinner, and I feed him, then I’m reinforcing his barking. That seems pretty simple and most people can understand how feeding the dog dinner if he is barking at me is actually working against me and my goal of a quieter dog.

If my dog is barking because he not only wants dinner, but my undivided attention, and I decide to yell at him or tell him QUIET to communicate that I’m unhappy with him, then I am very likely still reinforcing the behavior even though I’m trying to discourage it. Any attention, even if it’s “negative” attention to try and dissuade him, is still reinforcing for him. This is not as obvious to some people–attempts to discourage him are actually giving the dog what he wants: attention!

However, if I know once I get home my dog is going to bark at me for dinner, or attention, and I ignore him COMPLETELY–maybe even going straight from the front door to the bathroom, shutting the door–then I have removed myself, and the attention he finds reinforcing. I then wait patiently for quiet. Once it’s quiet for a few seconds, I go out and give my dog a treat, or attention. The dog will learn that by being quiet, he will get what he wants, if I’m consistent with these consequences.

Consequences are important. Sometimes, though, they can be too little too late, and make for more frustrating or stressful training. With barking, it may be just as stressful for the human as the dog because the loud noise can be jarring and unpleasant. Also, if the dog has been rewarded a lot for barking, it can take longer for the dog to quiet, meaning the person has to be patient and deal with the noise.

What if I told you there is a better way?

Antecedent arrangement–what happens before a behavior occurs–can make for less stressful, and more efficient and effective training. It is proactive rather than reactive!

So, if you know your dog is going to bark as soon as you get home, how can you arrange things to make it work better for you?

If your dog is very good at a behavior that is incompatible with barking, you can ask for that behavior as soon as you walk through the door. One option may be to go get his favorite toy. If you’ve taught your fabulous, food-loving Labrador retriever to “go get his ball,” then ask for that as soon as you walk in. He can’t bark with a toy in his mouth! Once he brings it to you, you can play with him.

ABCs of behavior graphic courtesy of Lili Chin, doggiedrawings.net

If you take careful consideration of how to set you and your dog up for success to prevent or redirect the problem behavior through antecedent arrangement, you will benefit the most: your dog won’t get practice with the behavior you don’t want, making it stronger, and you will instead be able to reinforce behaviors you want instead of resorting to punishment, and experiencing frustration and a deterioration in your relationship with your dog.

You will learn more about the ABCs of teaching dogs as we continue this blog series with addressing common problems like jumping, digging, bolting doors and more. Most of what we perceive as problem behaviors are naturally occurring behaviors for dogs, which is why we have named this series Dogs will be Dogs. With patience and careful planning, you can remedy problem behaviors, give your dog appropriate outlets, and instill good manners in him.

Need help right away? Contact us now to solve your problems!
Laura
Owner, Delightful Doggies