Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dog Gone Problems,
I adopted a beautiful 10-year-old long-haired chihuahua mix a few months ago. I am totally smitten. She is playful, loving and smart. She needed to be re-homed because bigger dogs in the house would bully her. I have managed to stop her from barking inside, but outside is another story. She will bark her head off if she sees another dog — no matter how far away. She pays no attention to my verbal commands. She is not aggressive; just loud. What can I do?
Before I share advice on how to stop your dog from barking outside, I want to address the barking inside and barking in general.
I have found that many people use aversive training methods to stop a dog from barking. Examples of these include using a squirt bottle, shaking a can of pennies, spanking, yelling or using a bark collar that shocks the dog any time he or she barks.
When a dog is barking, the dog is trying to communicate something to us. Often, as humans, we are unaware of this or of what the dog is barking at and simply see the behavior as a nuisance. But if you were trying to get someone’s attention or warn them about something, and every time you started to speak they spanked you or told you to shut up, it would not alleviate your concern.
So if you are using any punishment-based methods to stop the barking, please discontinue. Not only does it damage the relationship you have with the dog, I've found it often results in worse behaviors like chewing, soiling, frustration, insecurity and even aggression.
When I have a client whose dog has a barking problem, I don’t focus on the barking, since that is just a symptom. Instead, I focus on the root cause of the barking and try to determine why the dog feels the need to express itself. Once I do so, I'm able to address the root problem.
You referenced your dog would “bark it’s head off” when she sees another dog outside no matter how far away. This could be because your dog has had negative experiences with other dogs in the past and this is her way of letting you know there is a dog there. Or it could be your dog’s way of communicating to you that she would like to meet and play with the other dog.
In a small percentage of cases, simply acknowledging the dog’s barking will address the problem. The next time your dog is barking at another dog, say “thanks,” followed by saying her name in a cheerful voice. If that doesn’t work, I would recommend you increase the distance between your dog and the other dog. I know this is sometimes easier said than done when you are walking a dog in the neighborhood.
In some cases, dogs are barking in a territorial display. This is more often the case when the dog is in his or her home looking out the window or in his or her yard or perceived territory. Often, the area surrounding your home is considered your dog's perceived territory. In urban areas, sometimes it is impossible to go for a walk in your neighborhood without seeing another dog. The problem with this is any time your dog engages in a behavior, she is practicing the behavior. Another way to put it would be this: The more your dog barks at other dogs on walks, the more likely she is to do so.
I would recommend you start taking your dog to parks with wide open spaces for your walks. This gives you the ability to see other dogs at a great distance and altar course so that you can maintain the appropriate distance to prevent your dog from barking.
You mentioned no matter what the distance, your dog will bark at other dogs but I can assure you that is not the case. Every single time a client of mine has told me that, we have been able to find a distance where the dog can see the other dog but does not bark at them. Sometimes the distance is pretty great, but I promise you can find that distance.
Once you find the appropriate distance, I would suggest you practice something I like to call "click for looks." This is a way of helping the dog build a positive association with the sight of another dog. This video will explain how the process works.
Be sure to go slow with steady progressions and avoid getting greedy by trying to decrease the distance too rapidly. That is the most common mistake people do when using this method. The idea is to help your dog practice being calm while she sees another dog at a distance she feels comfortable with. Then reward the calm and quiet behavior. Once the dog is comfortable and not barking at that distance, you take a stop closer and repeat the process.
It takes some practice, but I have used this method to great success. Try to set a goal of going to a park at least three times a week consistently for a month. Consistent practice will accelerate your dog's progress.
Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.
Meet the 10 (very good) dogs who have been at the Nebraska Humane Society the longest:
Meet the 10 (very good) dogs who have been at the Nebraska Humane Society the longest
These are the very good dogs who have been at the Nebraska Humane Society the longest. All are up for adoption as of Aug. 3. For more information on the adoption process and to see all dogs available for adoption, visit nehumanesociety.org/adopt.
All adoptions are being done via appointment only. The application can be found inside each animal's bio on the Humane Society's website.