Thursday, June 5, 2014

Stranger danger! Dealing with dogs who bark at the door

Sinead the Boston terrier at the door

Overall, Sinead the Boston terrier is a very quiet dog. She doesn't bark in order to head out into the yard, she never lets out a peep while she's in her crate, and I have yet to hear her make a sound while we're in the car. If she's dissatisfied with me or something I'm doing, she might let out a sigh. But that's about as vocal as she gets in correcting me and dealing with my habits.

However, she can turn into a barking machine when she either hears or sees another person approaching the property. Apparently, she's not alone in this, as a study from California suggests that 88.4 percent of dogs who bark excessively when their humans are home do so in response to a new sort of stimulus, such as a person walking by.

It would be easy enough for me to ignore this behavior. After all, Sinead weighs less than 8 pounds, so her barks are far from deafening. She's not even all that threatening to people who are walking by. But, barking like is is a very serious problem. In fact, this blogger suggests that excessive barking is the third most common reason cited when people abandon their dogs. The yipping just tends to get under the skin, and sometimes, people feel as though they have no choice but to remove the dog from the home altogether.

Now, I am not intending to give up my dog due to her barking. But, I would like to make her stop, so I did a little research on the subject. Here's what I found out.

The ASPCA suggests that some dogs bark like this because they're friendly. In short, these dogs bark because they see someone outside that they'd like to meet and hang out with. Unfortunately, Sinead doesn't fit into this category. She has a wide-legged stance when she barks, and often, her hair is standing up. This isn't a friendly thing.

So she's probably barking because she wants people to get off of her lawn. Tackling that means taking one of two steps. I could:
  1. Block her sight line, so she can't see people walking by. 
  2. Train her to come to me for a treat instead of barking when she sees people. 
Option 1 is easiest. By keeping the front door closed, or adding some sort of film to the screen, I could keep her from seeing out. But, Option 2 might allow her to continue to do what she seems to think is her job (alerting me to stranger danger) without all of the noise. Plus, I know that she loves treats.

So the plan is that I'll redirect her barking with the word "Quiet!" When she does stop barking, she'll get a yummy treat. As she improves, I'll start ringing the doorbell and otherwise upping the challenges until she can stay silent despite overwhelming reasons to bark. I'm hoping this will cure the yapping for good.

Liam the pug is not barking
"I'm not barking. Can I have the treat?"
Liam might be a good ally in this, too, as he rarely barks when he either hears or sees people near the house. If he gets treats long before she does, she might learn that barking means missing out on something good. I'm a big believer in using the other dog to help the first, and I think that might be my secret weapon here.

Does your dog bark at the door, and if so, how have you handled it? I'd love to hear your suggestions.

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