Oh the Barking!

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Of course I get a lot of clients who need help with barking. There are many reasons why dogs bark, frustration, excitement, alert, boredom, attention seeking and others. Here is a story about some crazy barking at my house!

In December my husband and I rescued a 2 year old female German Shepherd from New Hampshire and named her Moxie. Moxie had been found at 6 months old in an abandoned car by a police officer. They kept her for 1.5 years but really didn’t have time for her. She was crated way too much, didn’t get enough exercise or mental stimulation and was developing serious issues. Thank you to Facebook and a friend of mine from 30 years ago (dating myself here I guess) Moxie was delivered to me.

I’ll blog later on about Moxie’s beginnings and where she is now, amazing transformation with love, training and exercise and mental stimulation. BUT …………

As Moxie develops a sense of belonging and confidence in her new home, along came nuisance barking at my other female German Shepherd dog, Gretchen. Very annoying, Moxie blocks her and barks at her, won’t let her up the stairs and barks at her, blocks her from going through doorways and barks at her, it’s attention seeking, it’s a nuisance and really annoying to Gretchen and to us!! So, what’s a trainer to do?

First, I tried just body blocking her. When she’d charge up to Gretchen barking, I’d stand between them, facing Moxie, and back her off with my body. Under normal circumstances, this is a great way to let a dog know (in his own language) that the behavior is unacceptable and in general can defeat the problem. BUT when one has 3 German Shepherds (herding dogs mind you) it’s a big herding dog game so everyone is blocking and herding everyone and it’s a challenge to them and a big game WHILE BARKING! This didn’t work. It taught her that barking at Gretchen brings everyone out for the fun!

Next I tried to block her using a trekking pole. The trekking pole is about 4 ft long or so and worked nicely to block her access to Gretchen. This, however, was also a challenge to Moxie who was up to the challenge! So, this method of blocking also did not work. It taught her that barking at Gretchen brings everyone out for the fun!

Next I tried the kibble toss. This gave me some hope, however had some disadvantages. As Moxie was approaching Gretchen, and before she started barking, I’d just toss a handful of kibble. What this did was get Moxie to STEP AWAY FROM GRETCHEN, rewarded her for quiet behavior and everyone gets to eat kibble quietly. But, Moxie won’t mess with Gretchen when there is food around so this did cause some anxiety for Moxie. Also, Gretchen was eating most, if not all, of the kibble which is not good for her waistline! I wasn’t sure that Moxie was being rewarded for quiet behavior. Her quiet behavior did not increase, so I determined that she was not learning what I wanted her to learn which is to stop barking at Gretchen.

So, what’s a trainer to do?? A good trainer gets out her clicker and says “ok dog, you WILL learn what I want you to learn”. But what was it that I wanted her to learn? No bark, sure but what do I WANT her to do? This is the most important part of training, what is the dog suppose to do? Just look at me and without barking Moxie and you’ll get chicken. So, I got out my clicker and I had plenty of chicken strategically placed especially in the most challenging areas such as stairs and doorways. Each time Moxie approached Gretchen, barking or not, I would say “Moxie Moxie” then click and throw chicken. After a few repetitions, she would look RIGHT AT ME when she heard “Moxie Moxie” and I would click her and throw chicken. (Oh, you are most likely thinking what about the whole staying away from Gretchen when food is around? Yes, but I toss the chicken artfully, remember all 3 dogs are usually together and I didn’t want to split them up for this particular training.) So we walk leisurely around the yard, up the stairs, down the stairs, through all the doorways and just as she would glance at Gretchen I said “Moxie Moxie” and she’d look right at me and get Click and Treat !! As we play this game, sometimes “Moxie Moxie” gets her Click and Treat and sometimes “Moxie Moxie” gets her a pet and a scratch. This is working fabulous. We are creating a pattern where she looks away from Gretchen and I’m SURE that subconsciously she is hearing “Moxie Moxie” as she is glancing at Gretchen and then looking away. Fixed? On the way!!

This also acts as the “Name Game” so Moxie is learning to look at me when she hears her name NO MATTER what else has her interest!

Work with instinct, not against it
Subtle aversives don’t work, they annoy and challenge
Don’t try to prevent a behavior, teach a new one