I can’t believe I’ve actually just typed that, but after last week I feel that it needs saying – and sharing!
I was on leave last week, and with the weather the way it was, any time I spent at home all the windows were wide open. Early in the week, a neighbour was having some work done on their house; and during the first day I heard one of the workers shout at Starr. She’d been barking at all the strange, new noises the workers were making, and while it was a little annoying, as far as she was concerned she had good reason to be anxious and try to make the scary stuff go away and/or alert me.
That’s why, when I first heard her being shouted at to “shut up”, I responded in kind and shouted back “don’t shout at my dog”. Aside from the fact that it’s not the job of a complete stranger to attempt to change my dog’s behaviour, it certainly is not up to anyone else but me how their behaviour will be modified; not to mention that with that one action the worker showed how little he knows about dogs and behaviour modification (yes – I know – pot/kettle!)
The next day, when a similar thing occurred, I was otherwise occupied attempting to make pizza dough (and failing horribly!), once I’d washed my hands and had moved on to other – less involved – tasks, I kept an ear out for the man coming to get tools out of his van. That was the problem today – he was to-ing and fro-ing between his van and his work, and every time he slid open the door to his van, that set Starr on edge and she would bark until he went away again.
This time, I did better – for Starr, for the workers, and for myself. The next time I heard someone at the van, I went and spoke to him. It turned out that I’d missed a second worker arriving, and it was actually him I spoke to – but I asked him to pass the message on, that shouting at my dog was doing her no favours; she was barking because the strange noises outside made her nervous, and the best way for them to help me help her was to ignore her and not respond in kind to her frantic shouting.
This did the trick, and while they unsettled Starr as they continued to work, they didn’t shout at her any more.
However, I can’t help but find it sad that in general people think shouting will stop or change a behaviour.
Here’s the deal: it won’t, at least not permanently. If you’re lucky, you might come across as so terribly, horribly, scary that whoever you’re shouting at doesn’t want to be anywhere near you, and will just do nothing whenever you’re around. More likely, however is that (to stick with the example), the dog will think you’re joining in – either on their side, or against them. Whatever the reason the dog is barking is now secondary to the support or opposition the dog is barking along to.
As a stranger, it’s never your job to modify a dogs behaviour – unless you’re being paid as a professional to do so, in which case you wouldn’t be a stranger. As an owner, it’s generally up to you to find out why your dog is barking, and mitigate that in an appropriate way, unless you’ve employed a professional to help you.
In our house, we use classical conditioning: scary noise outside = yummy treat. We also have cues: a cue to bark, and one to stop. These have worked wonderfully for Inka, and while he still barks at some things, he’s generally pretty cool with external noises, or being quiet when he’s asked to be. Starr, on the other hand, isn’t doing so well with these, but that’s part of the story of why I’m considering behavioural drugs for her, which is an entirely different post!
How do you deal with excessive barking in your house?