Reflecting on the number of barking questions asked by frustrated dog guardians, I’ve decided to share Akira’s story. When I began implementing this method, Akira was 1.5 years old, and had some reactivity issues – we’re working on those and it has improved heaps, but a side effect to her reactivity was barking in the garden.
Oh Lord, I was fearing a summer where I wouldn’t be able to let her enjoy the garden, so I had to come up with a plan because I live with my front gate right up to a very busy walk path where people and dogs walk and children play and I just can’t have a dog that barks every time someone passes her garden. So I had to come up with a plan.
The first step was to only let her have garden time under full supervision on a lead in order to give me chance to redirect her before she reached the fence in her frenzy. In my pockets: yummy treats and her favorite toy. In my head, observant eyes looked out for any triggers in order to beat them for her attention. So what I did was whenever I saw anything I would suspect her to react on I would call for her attention and dish out toys or treats and lots of praise and interaction.
It only took 4-5 sessions on a lead with her in the garden for her to realize that people or dogs walking by equals awesome fun so we offed the leash and went on to simple supervision – actually, I would supervise the surrounding area more than supervising Akira in order to be ready to play to the max when I saw something she would usually bark at, but it worked. Again, the recipe was “whatever she would usually bark at=awesome play with mum”. After a few days, she started looking to me when people walked by and expect to play so darn right she got to play. And lots of it.
Then we kinda hit a roadblock. People who stopped by our fence and allowed their dogs to keep barking at mine or try to let them interact with mine. Goodness Akira did not like that at all (neither did my other dog Shorty, so that’s when she joined the program).
I know it is all-natural for my dogs to bark back, so I tried to reason with the people, telling them I was trying to teach my dogs to be quiet outside and them letting their dogs provoke mine like that was making it very difficult so, if they could just pretty please walk past instead of insisting to try and let their dogs interact with mine.
But, no such luck. New tactics were in order.
I simply began teaching my dogs that barking meant “Come on inside and get something yummy” – I did this with both dogs because, well, handy skill.
I did it by every time a dog barked, I gave them a treat. If they weren’t near me, I called them and gave them a treat. Worked like a charm – also, I have really barky neighbors, so lots of barks to reinforce without the difficulty level of the barker being right outside the garden.
In the end, I needed to teach her two things to connect with awesome: passerby’s of any kind should equal fun and yum, and barking of any kind should equal come to momma for treats.
Status now: I have dogs that (most of the time, granted it’s not perfect yet) look to me instead of rushing to the fence when they hear barking. I have dogs that can, mostly, calmly observe the world from the garden without having to bark at every passerby. They can also hear stuff outside and run to investigate, but without barking a majority of the time.
Akira still has a few select dogs that she can’t allow to walk past without yelling at them – I have found no reasonable explanation as to why those exact dogs trigger her as she doesn’t know two of them and actually knows and has played with the last one. Also, if someone stops with their dog outside our fence and tries to let their dog interact with her through the fence, she will still tick off on it, but I think that’s as much a part of her dog reactivity we’re still working on as it is the barking in the garden issue. Either way, it’s just something we’ll have to keep working on, now that we’ve got the basics down.