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Dog Behaviour Problems: Your dog's behaviour

Barking, Jumping Up:

Question: My samoyed dog gets very protective over my kitchen and my bedroom, and barks at me when I go into either room. He doesn't do this to anyone else. Although he is not aggressive towards me, I would like to understand this behaviour and try to stop it.

Answer: It could be a sign of dominant behaviour as controlling movements of the pack around the territory is a good way to raise your status if you wish to become the leader. You don’t say how old he is or whether he is prepared to do anything other than barking if you take no notice.

I would suggest that you get professional help, especially if your dog is an adolescent or young adult and he is difficult to groom, disobedient or controlling in other ways. Although this is not a major problem for you at the moment, your dog could decide to escalate his aggression if he finds he is winning and could become confident enough to bite eventually.

Alternatively, he could be just excited that you are moving and may need more exercise and things to do! Either way, a behaviourist will help you to sort this out and tell you whether or not there is any cause for concern. Contact The The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors for details of someone in your area who can help.

Question: My 12 month-old boxer has started barking, jumping up and clawing in a bid for attention which is understandable as both my partner and I work during the day.

I have read your advice that the dog should be ignored in a bid for him to learn that we will play with him/show him attention only when he is quiet.

The only problem with this is that he will bark incessantly, which I can't believe is welcomed by our neighbours! Is there another method rather than just turning our backs on him or ignoring him that would prevent this continued behaviour?

Answer: Totally ignoring an unwanted behaviour does, eventually, result in the behaviour diminishing.

However, ….!
Some dogs have lots of energy and lots of persistence and it sounds as your dog may have both of these in abundance. It is important to greet your dog as soon as you come home and not try to wait until he has settled down. If he has had a lonely day at home, your return will be very exciting and your attention will be very important to him. So make some time to greet him well, crouching down and keeping your hand in his collar so he cannot jump up.

Rather than let him then channel his excess energy and excitement into barking, encourage him to play with a toy or carry something in his mouth instead. Leave these near to the front door so they are ready.

I would also strongly advise you to give him more exercise and stimulation when you are with him. Try to keep him active and entertained all evening and make sure you have given him at least an hour’s exercise in the morning before leaving him – otherwise, leaving him all day is not fair.

Try also to arrange for someone to come in during lunchtime to break up the day. Leave him with plenty of different things to chew and play with every day so that he is less bored.

During weekends, when he is likely to be better stimulated, teach him a more appropriate greeting by going out and back into the house many times, rewarding what you like and ignoring what you don’t.

You may like to read Good Dog Behaviour has more information on understanding & correcting this behaviour.

Question: Our dog goes bananas barking when someone comes to the door & prevents us getting to the door to answer. If we do, it attacks the internal door as it is opened.

Answer: Dogs usually do this often have an elevated position in the family hierarchy and think they are very important. If this is the case, you will need to start begin a bit more controlling generally and reducing her privileges so that she realises her place is below that of the humans.

In addition, teach her how to behave when someone comes to the door by putting her on a lead and asking a member of the family to go outside and ring the doorbell.

Use the lead to control her behaviour, insisting she sits down before the door is opened and continues to do so as the visitor is shown in.

Repeat as many time as it takes for her to be calm and then end the session. Repeated sessions, first with people she knows and later with strangers should solve your problem.

Question: My 7 month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy bites and jumps up. This has become a problem, especially because of his size. Is there any way to stop this without using toys, as every toy that has been given to him has been demolished within hours. Your advice would be much appreciated.

Answer: It is likely that your puppy is doing this because it is his way of trying to get you to play. Young Ridgebacks have lots of energy and if he doesn’t have any toys and you do not play with him, he will have no outlet for this.

Get him some new stronger toys so that you can play with him, but don’t leave them with him to be destroyed. Keep them around the house in special places so that you can take them out and have a quick game with him every now and then. Put them back out of his way afterwards.

Sometimes take him out into the garden for a more vigorous game to use up more of his energy. Play, particularly, when he has been good for a while and has not jumped up so that he is rewarded for his good behaviour. Keep toys by the door so that you can play with him when you come in to prevent him biting you.

After a few days, his desire to play will be more satisfied and you can begin to correct him for play-biting at other times. If he stops and is good, reward him with a game.

You will also need to get him some chews and strong toys for exercising his jaws. Be prepared for him to chew a great deal until he is about 18 months old.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: Every time someone comes to, or knocks on, the front door my cross Border Collie, Keesha always barks. She also barks when people come into the house. She's never bitten anyone, and is fine when people come in and she has smelt them, but her barking scares people. Is there anything I can do to stop this barking and make her a friendlier dog for when I have guests.

Answer: As far as she is concerned, it is her job to alert her pack leader to the fact that there is a possible threat to the pack and territory. Stopping her barking completely probably isn’t possible, or desirable, but you should be able to get to the point where she stops barking quite quickly.

If she is very keen to play with toys, this should be easy. If she isn’t, you will have to teach her to play first. Once she plays readily, pick up all her toys and put them in a box out of her reach by the front door.

Whenever any of the family enters the house, they should knock on the door or press the doorbell. When they come in, they should get out one of her toys and play with her. After a few days of this, ask a few people to come round and practice this procedure until she barks once or twice and then goes to her toy box waiting for a game.

Continue with this over the next few weeks until she is happy to let people into the house because she knows she will get a game with a toy if she does so. If you want her to stop barking before you open the door, take a toy out of the box yourself and throw it into another room for her to chase. Shut the door to that room so you can open the front door without her being there to bark at people.

Question: My 2 year old West Highland Terrier has taken to continuously barking outside in the yard where he exercises as well as this he continuously urinates at certail points throughout the house even after being out. He is extremely restless and distracted and highly strung. Can you help?

Answer: The answer lies in working out why he is behaving in this way. Did it begin suddenly or has it been builiding gradually? If it began suddenly, did it coincide with anything? You don’t say whether or not your dog has been castrated.

A likely explanation is that another male dog may have moved into the neighbourhood with which he is competing, particularly if there are any bitches in season in the vicinity.This may account for his indoor marking of territory.

Alternatively, and more likely, he may be anxious about something which is causing him to be worried when outside, hence the barking, and making him feel that is it necessary to mark his territory with urine to feel more secure. It may be necessary to seek advice from a Pet Behaviour Counsellor to help you tease out this problem and find a solution.

Question: My 3 yr old border collie dog acts ridiculous when he is out for a walk with me when he passes a house where there are other dogs he starts bouncing up and down and his fur stands up he charges towards the gate nearly pulling me over barking and snarling at them but if he is on a field and meets another dog he only plays with them do you think he does this because he finds his leader restricts him also when the postman comes he goes wild and Ihave to shut him in the kitchen do you think if we had him neutered it would help?

Answer: The behaviour patterns you describe are usually caused by fear and neutering does not help to make dogs less frightened. Border collies are sensitive dogs and rapidly learn to associate certain places and events with frights or threats.

When walking past a house where other dogs live, he will be expecting a threat display from them and, to protect himself, gives one of his own.

It is best to cross the road to avoid him feeling threatened and hence behaving badly. If this is not possible, putting yourself between him and the fence and getting more control by using a canine headcollar will help.

The postman will also be seen as a threat because he comes everyday, rattles the letterbox and runs away!

Keep him on a lead during times when you know the postman is coming and offer an exciting game with a toy in the back garden instead.

Question: I have a 2 year old Springer Spaniel. When we are out for a walk she starts barking furiously at me when I stop for any reason, i.e. sit on a bench, stop to talk to someone or stop for my son to play on the swings. She is very excitable when she is out walking at the best of times.

This is my second Springer who had behaved like this, so I realise it is my fault, but would like some tips on how to possibly cure this annoying problem. She is very good at retrieving but I stopped throwing the ball for her after this problem started because I feel it is aggravating the problem.

Answer: When she barks, you will be doing something that rewards her and reinforces the behaviour. Ask a friend to walk with you to help find out what it is it. It may be something obvious such as telling her to be quiet, or it may be more subtle such as shaking the lead or moving on more quickly as her barking gets more insistent.

Once you know how you are rewarding her noisy behaviour, it is relatively easy to train yourself to stop. Let us say, for example, that loud, persistent barking makes you say ‘quiet’ a few times and then makes you move on more quickly than you otherwise would have done.

You need to find a place in the park or at home where barking doesn’t matter. Take her toys with you and keep them hidden. Walk to the chosen place, stop or sit down, and ignore any barking. Ignoring means don’t touch her, look at her or speak to her. Turn away from her, take ear plugs if you need to, but keep ignoring until she is quiet, even if it take a very long time at first. For interest, count how many times she barks.

When she is quiet, count to three and then take her toy out of your pocket and throw it. Repeat as many times as you can on the walk. You will notice that the barking gets worse for a while as she tries harder to get you to respond. Then there will be a dramatic decrease in the barking. When she is quiet when you stand still, throw her toy immediately. It may take a while to achieve this but it will be worth persevering.

Once she is quiet in areas where barking doesn’t matter, take her to places where it does and repeat the process. Hang on for quiet, try not to get tense and then reward her with a run in the same way. At other times, never let her off the lead until she is quiet and wait for quiet before leaving the house or moving forward when she is on the lead. If she barks at any time, deliberately stand still and wait for three seconds of quiet before moving on. Be consistent and try not to lapse back into your old habits when someone stops to speak to you. Practice meeting friends until both of you know how to behave well!

Being a Springer, one of the reasons she is excitable on walks is that she needs lots of exercise. Not throwing the ball for her will make her worse rather than better, so go back to doing this as much as possible. Keep the ball in your pocket until you are ready to play and never throw it when she is barking. It may help to take two balls out so that you can throw one of them as soon as she returns with the other, giving her no opportunity to bark to try to speed you up.

Gradually she will learn that barking at you is not worthwhile and will give up. Once you have begun this process, don’t go back to rewarding the barking occasionally because it is more important sometimes for her to be quiet. If you do, you will be rewarding randomly and this is likely to make her bark even more than she does now!

Question: My three dogs used to be so well behaved ­ but they're becoming more and more naughty every day. They have started barking when they get their leads on and in the car as we approach their favourite walk. They also bark as we turn into our road on the way home and all the way into the house. No matter what I do the excitement seems to build every day.

I have trained one of them to bark on command ­ but once they're all woofing and wagging there's no reasoning with them! I know they're having great fun and I'd hate to make them miserable, but they are getting a little out of hand! Just as I get one quiet another starts woofing. Help!

Answer: Problems often start when we try to teach our dogs to bark on command. It’s as if they suddenly realise how much fun it can be. Worse still, excited barking is quite infectious and it seems like the other two have caught on and are now joining in. You don’t say what kind of dogs they are, but three dogs barking loudly is no joke and it’s time to calm things down before they all develop an unbreakable habit.

First of all, it’s important to remember that any behaviour that is rewarded will happen more often. This means that any attention from you, even if you are trying to scold them, will add to the reward they are getting from barking and make the problem worse. It may even seem to them as though you are joining in, so don’t tell them to stop or shout at them when they bark but, instead, use clever tactics to stop them.

The best, but most time-consuming way is to train each of them, individually, to bark, and to be quiet, on command. If you have already trained one of them to bark, this should not be difficult. To train the ‘quiet’, get them to bark, then ask for quiet and wait until the barking stops before rewarding well. Gradually lengthen the time spent being quiet before rewarding until each dog know exactly what ‘speak’ and ‘quiet’ means and will respond readily. (You may need to enlist the help of a more experienced trainer to help you with this is you have difficulty.)

Make sure all your lessons are conducted in a place away from the other dogs so they don’t interfere. Sometimes, once you have taught a dog to be quiet on command, they seem to realise that they can shut up too and seem to do it more often – but you would be very lucky if this happened with all three of them!

When each dog knows the command, you can use it to ask for quiet during exciting situations. Barking is fuelled by excitement so you will need to ensure that when you have asked for quiet, none of your dogs are rewarded by further movement and fun. For example, when you are putting on leads, stop and stand still if any of your dogs begins to bark.

Don’t say anything and stay calm. Quite soon, the excitement will reduce and they will be quiet.

Give your ‘quiet’ command just as the excitement is dying down and reward them by getting on with the process of taking them out.

Continue with this process, stopping and starting as necessary until you have got them all out of the house quietly and back in again. It may take a long time at first, but, eventually, they will realise that that do not go anywhere fast when they are making a noise and will learn to be quiet.

A quicker solution is to invest in a product called a ‘Husher’. These are small elasticated tubes that fit quite snugly over the nose. Since they exert a force when the dog opens it’s mouth, it quickly becomes tiring for the dog to keep barking. This may help to give you temporary relief, particularly in the car, so that they learn to be quiet again, but is not a long term solution unless you want to put on their ‘Hushers’ whenever anything exciting happens but it may help to stop this bad habit from developing.

You may like to read Good Dog Behaviour has more information on understanding more about your dog's behaviour.

Question: Shotzee is a hunting dog who is kept in an outdoor/indoor kennel. Several months ago, he had a barking fit that lasted about two hours. These barking fits are now becoming more and more frequent and do not respond to anything my husband and I do for Shotzee. What could have caused these barking fits in an otherwise quiet and obedient dog?

Answer: I suspect that something has scared him sufficiently for him to try to seek protection from his owners. Barking that lasts for two hours is usually driven by anxiety, unless an ‘intruder’ is prowling for that length of time, and he would have been trying attract your attention in the hope that you would make him feel more safe.

What scared him is up to you to find out, but it could be a noise or someone or something that is worrying him. Usually, it takes one or two incidences with something scary to cause a dog to become anxious.

Now that he is sensitized to it, a smaller amount of the stimulus will set him off. Each time, he will become more anxious, which is why the barking sessions are getting more frequent. Generally, problems like this are accentuated by illness or old age. I would suggest a vet’s visit just to check that all is well. I would also recommend that Shotzee comes into the house to sleep for a while so that he feels he has the protection of his ‘pack’.

Failure to do this is likely to accentuate the problem and the problem will continue to get worse. Once he has settled down and got his confidence back, he can be reintroduced to his kennel gradually, but you may have to desensitize him to his fear of the unknown thing first.

Question: Elfed is a 13 week-old Welsh corgi cardigan who has started barking to get attention when he is in or out of his pen. Could you suggest a way of stopping him?

Answer: First of all, you need to make sure he is getting enough exercise, mental stimulation and social contact.

Young puppies need lots of sleep, but they also need things to interest them and lots of social contact with people.

Give him set periods when he gets your undivided attention – perhaps 10 minutes every half hour – for play, visits to the garden, feeding etc. When he barks or tries to get attention (unless you think he may be asking to go out to the toilet), ignore him completely and turn away.

This means not speaking to him, looking at him or touching him. He may try harder at first, and it may take a while for the penny to drop, but he will eventually realise that there is no point to his behaviour and will cease to do it.

Long term, this is the best and most lasting way of stopping this irritating behaviour. Try to ensure that he has things to occupy him when he is awake, such as new chews, toys and even old cardboard boxes and other items to amuse himself with so that he is kept entertained and doesn’t need your attention so much.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: We recently got our Yorkshire terrier (approximately 12 years old) from Battersea and are having great problems with her feeding. She has obviously been hand fed in the past because she refuses to eat anything we put in her dog bowl and will only eat if we hand feed her our leftovers.

She is constantly barking and gets agitated when she is hungry but simply won't eat anything unless it is off our dinner plates. We try not to give her anything in the hope that she will get so hungry she'll eat her dog food, but her barking drives us mad and we give in. Can you please advise how we can get her to eat dog food?

Answer: First have her checked by a veterinary surgeon to check that there is nothing physically wrong with her and to discuss a suitable diet for her age. Mix small amounts of your leftovers with her normal diet and offer her this food at three set times of the day only.

Do not respond to her barking at other times, even if your meal times do not coincide with the times you have set aside for her. Ignore her completely or shut her into another room if you can’t.

She may bark more at first, but she will quickly realise that this behaviour is not going to be rewarded and she will stop. Some dogs are afraid of eating from bowls due to some scary experience, so continue to hand-feed her for a while until you get her into a routine and have stopped the barking.

Then begin to offer her food on plates or saucers and encourage her to eat from there by hand-feeding her from the plate. You could even put the food onto the floor to see if she will take it from there. Once you have got her into a routine and she has stopped barking, it may just be a matter of shutting her in a room with her food at set times and leaving her to it.

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding & correcting separation anxiety.

Question: Our Lhasa Apso Jess had the whole house to live in but she tended to wet on the carpet. She is five and a half. In the front room we have just had a new carpet laid, so at night she is in her basket in the kitchen she now barks and scratches at the door most of the night is it just a passing phase or is there any thing else I can do? Thanks for your help

Answer: She is probably lonely at night and may be feeling insecure since she is now made to sleep somewhere unfamiliar. She may get used to it and you could leave her there for a while to see.

Alternatively, you could let her sleep just outside your bedroom but confine her to her bed so that she cannot get out of it to go to the toilet in the middle of the night. The most convenient way to do this is to use an indoor kennel.

You will need to get her used to being in the cage during the day at first so she doesn’t panic when she finds she cannot get out. Put her bed in it, put the cage in her usual resting place and praise her whenever she goes in.

Then you can begin to use it at night. If she wakes up in the middle of the night and causes a disturbance, take her outside as she may need to go.

Don’t make a fuss of her or give her attention. Since it is now inconvenient for her to go in the middle of the night, this regime should, eventually, break the habit.

Please also see Gwen Bailey's article on Indoor Kennels (Wire Cages & Crates)

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