Monday, March 17, 2014

Barking Problems - worse in the spring time?

With our recent weather, it's starting to feel quite a bit like spring time!  And with spring on it's way, a lot of doggie naughtiness can rear it's head... 

Just like us, the dogs have been cooped up all winter.  So, you might have noticed some behavior and obedience issues that are new in your dog, or some old habits that seem to have returned.

Does it seem like lately...

...your dog is barking more than normal? 

Windows and doors that have been shut all winter are starting to be open again, and that big, beautiful world out there is fascinating to your pooch.

Fido may have forgotten all about all the kids coming and going from school, the UPS & FedEx delivery folks, the neighborhood dog who walks by at 2pm each day, the bicyclists, the skateboarders, the lions, the tigers, the bears, oh my!

Barking isn't necessarily a sign of aggression, it's just more of an alert or alarm system dogs use to tell their family (pack) that someone or something new has entered the area, and they're unsure of whether it's a friend or foe. 

But practice makes perfect - and each time Fifi barks and the 'intruder' goes away, she believes she was the cause of them leaving.  They were most likely just passing by anyway, and would have left without her barking, but how can she know that?!  Continued repetition of this behavior can make it harder and harder to break the barking habit.

One of the best ways to reduce your dog's vocal reaction is to prevent it in the first place.  You can do this by not leaving blinds and doors open when you're not home to monitor Fifi's behavior. 

You can also practice an indoor (or in the yard) version of the "Look at That" game.  Stand with Fido at the window or door and the moment you see someone or something new, mark and reward him with a goodie BEFORE he barks. 

This takes practice and keen observation on your part, but it really works!  Remember, the key to this game is to mark (the verbal "Yes!' cue or a click from your clicker, or whatever you use for marking) Fido for LOOKING at the new object in his environment, but not for BARKING at it.  If he barks, you were too late with your cues, and he doesn't get the mark or his reward.

Practice this during relatively quiet times at first, and then gradually work up to 'rush hour' - when your neighborhood has lots of things going on.

Only practice for about 2 minutes at a time, and then close the blinds and doors for awhile to give your dog a 'brain break' - a rest from the mental stimulation of seeing new things outside and from training.

Whether your dog is barking more because of increased exposure with warm spring weather here, or he's always been a barker, hopefully these 2 tips help.

By eliminating the barking when you're not home, and by playing the "Look at That" game for 3 or 4 short sessions a day, you'll usually find that Fifi and Fido start to relax about all those things going on beyond the door, windows, or fence pretty quickly.

If you're having more extreme reactions, or trouble out on walks, check with us about our new 'Reactive Rover' classes!

That's it from this end of the leash...............

Jennifer Hime is the owner of Front Range K9 Academy and Horsetooth Whippets. She can be reached at www.k9counselor.com.