If you check the internet for advice about any dog behaviour problem you’ll find a selection of conflicting dog behaviour advice. It can’t all be right, can it? Well, the difficulty is that they are all correct. It’s the behaviour itself that is the problem. Let me explain…
Let’s think about a dog that is barking at other dogs. There is a huge number of reasons he might be barking at other dogs. So, before we start thinking about how to stop the barking, we must know why he’s barking, and what he’s trying to tell us. Here are three common examples, but there are tons more possibilities to consider…
Max: He’s scared of other dogs
If Max is barking because he is afraid, his main goal will be to scare the dogs away. If they go away he will feel instantly better. He might also be trying to get his owner/dog walker to help him. Gathering his pack up will (hopefully) put off the scary dog from coming closer. Plus, If it comes to it, he will have his pack ready to fight with him.
Sammy: He’s frustrated
It’s common for dogs to bark when they get frustrated, especially when they are trapped on leads and can’t meet their friends. This happens a lot, and is often misdiagnosed as reactive behaviour. When two dogs approach each other in the park, and they want to meet each other, they will quickly get frustrated when we pull them away too often. This can escalate from barking to aggression, which means the problem will quickly get worse, not better.
Lucy: She’s over stimulated
When a dog gets over stimulated it doesn’t take much to provoke them to bark. Another dog barking, one walking towards you, or a dog running and playing nearby, might tip them over threshold. This might also be labelled as reactive, but actually Lucy was just too close to overwhelm and they were pushed over the edge by the presence of another dog.
We can see from these examples that there are different reasons to bark, so it stands to reason that each reason may have a different solution. So we must now consider what is it that’s driving the barking. What need is the dog trying to fulfil?
Max is scared of other dogs
This is a safety need. Max needs to feel safe more than anything so you’ll not be able to distract him with a treat!
Once you’ve helped Max feel safer, you’ll be able to start confidence building and even start some counter conditioning. Only then will he start looking for rewards for his new, quieter, behaviour.
Sammy is frustrated
This is a friendship need. Dragging him away will only make him more frustrated as he needs, more than anything, to meet other dogs. The need to spend time with our own kind is a powerful one, we found that out during lockdown, so it won’t be overridden by treats or being told “leave it” for very long.
Once you’ve found a safe way to help him socialise again, this need will reduce quickly. Then you can start working on loose lead training and using rewards, and well known cues, to encourage a new, calmer behaviour.
Lucy is over excited
She needs more exercise and stimulation. Shouting at Lucy is never going to make her less excited, or stimulated. In fact, being shouted at increases adrenaline so it’ll actually slow the calming process down. She needs more time away from the house exploring, learning, and exercising.
Once Lucy has reduced her excess energy and is keeping it low, add some stimulation such as new walking locations, sniffy games, or teach a recall so she can start to explore more. Once you’ve done that you can use treats, or “watch me” type cues to distract her, if needed. Lucy’s barking will most likely fix itself!
Goals as Rewards
You can see that in all these cases, the base solution is different, because the problem is different. You have to solve the need before you start using tips from the internet. The most common advice is to use a cue such as “look at me” or “quiet” and/or using a treat to distract the dog. But, when the goal is to feel safe or to make friends, no amount of cues or treats will make any difference in these cases.
If you are feeling burned out at work, more money is not going to be as powerful a motivator as a four day week! Likewise for dogs, we must discover what the behaviour is trying to achieve and find a way to use that as a reward first. Then…
Treats, cues, distraction, and praise, help form and reward the new behaviour you want. So basically, most of the advice you’ll find is good, but only after the need/goal has been solved.
Are you struggling with your dog?
Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the greater Dundee area. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!