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Dog Barking

Question

My Cairn Terrier barks at every sound she hears: the telephone ringing, the mail carrier coming up the walk, company ringing the bell. She sets to barking and nothing I do gets her to stop. I am a widow, living alone, so I am happy that she alerts me, but the continuous barking is a real nuisance. Is there anything I can do to control this?

-Ida from Medford

Response

Terriers are definitely predisposed to sounding the alarm, a job they take quite seriously. As you have pointed out, the barking serves a useful function, so you aren't looking to extinguish the behavior. “Control” is definitely what you need. The game you want to play, then, is “bark on command.” The rules of the game are simple: your terrier must bark when commanded to and stop barking when commanded. In other words, you want to be able to turn the barking on and off at will. At first, you should practice this game where there are no distractions and when your pooch is relaxed and quiet. Command her to bark. If at first she doesn't respond, give the command again, this time exciting her in ways that you know will get her to bark. When she gets the idea and starts to bark, praise her—“Good girl! That is a good bark.” Once she seems to understand the “bark” command, follow that with the “shhh, quiet” command. When she stops barking for a full 2 seconds, praise her profusely and give her a small treat, something very special that she rarely gets. After a few days (or weeks), once your pooch has caught on, you can take the game to the next level. Have a friend call or come over at a pre-agreed time. A second before the phone rings or your friend arrives, give the “bark” command, followed by the “quiet” command. Whenever you are aware of a noise or some movement that you know will set her off, give the “bark” command. Give the command even at those times when she starts to bark before you have had a chance to initiate the game. Eventually, she should respond to the “shhh, quiet” command even when you have not initiated the game.

Question

My 4-year-old lab is going to get us evicted if we don't do something fast. When we are at work, he sits in our apartment and barks at the window all day long - or so our neighbors claim. He has the run of the house and plenty of toys. We even leave the radio on, but it doesn't seem to help. Help!!

-Liz & Glen from Salem

Response

Our guess is that, given his breed, your dog is bored (so what’s new??) and under-exercised. Let’s deal with the latter first.         

Labs are high-energy dogs. They are rugged, muscular (unless they are under-exercised and overfed) dogs, bred, as were most dogs, to do work. Labs demand a high level of exercise. Running around the yard or walking around the block just doesn't do it. Your lab probably needs at least 2 hours of rugged exercise a day, the type of exercise that leaves him panting and drooling!! As for the boredom, if it is within your budget, you could hire a dog walker to come in a few times a day or you might take your dog to doggie day care. Or you might know someone whose dog enjoys playing with your dog and who can care for your dog during the day. One technique you might try to keep your dog mentally and physically challenged while you are away is having him “scavenge” for his food. Divide his daily ration into a number of small portions and “serve” them in toys such as food cubes and kong toys . A variety of such toys is available in pet stores.  These toys are designed in such a way that your dog will have to work to get the food out. Some toys allow you to adjust the level of difficulty he will encounter. Hide the toys in a number of places around the house. Be creative; make the hunt progressively more difficult as your dog catches on to the game. Your dog will be totally dependent on the hunt for getting his daily “kill.” That should keep him busy for a while. Finally, be sure to keep outdoor stimuli to a minimum. Draw the shades on windows; confine him to areas that are quiet and not directly accessible to the outside.