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Stop Barking!!!! PLEASE!

Barking! There’s more to think about than the noise!

 

Look, if  could tell you how to stop it in one blog, or even 2 I would.  The number of owners who don’t get to enjoy their dogs, dogs that are rehomed or worse because of reactivity is huge.  Having volunteered in rescue since my late teens, I've seen so much. It’s a sad state of affairs, and its awful to see so many dogs and their caregivers struggling, and I genuinely wish I could give you that quick fix. I've tried to link to any relevant blogs, although there are plenty of others to help you find a way forwards.


There is a reason the reactivity (stop barking) course I run involves several hours each week and continued support after the course, it’s a HUGE subject with so many variables, and situations. As in humans "mental health" isn't given the same input as physical illnesses, people are very judgey and it can lead you to have your own anxieties, when all you want is to enjoy time with your dogs. Remember the people judging, will find something, even if your dog was "perfect." Don't let them run you down or dictate to you how you should address your dogs issues. They will only make you feel worse about things.


My ultimate aim is to empower caregivers, to give you to the tools to understand and to be able to address any issues you may have now or in the future, with support and kindness. I hope I give you confidence in yourselves as well as your dogs. I try and do this through the courses, 'zoominars' and 1-2-1 sessions, alongside any support I offer on top of that. We all deserve to be treated kindly, without judgement.

Here's a link to the 6 week online courses I run on reactivity: https://www.perfectlypolitedachshunds.com/book-here


Barking is a symptom, it’s a loud (very) communication of “something.” its not actually the problem.  Well, it is for you, but for the dog it is them communicating something, in CAPITAL LETTERS, as no-one is listening.  This may be an emotion such as fear, anxiety, frustration, excitement.  It may be habit, it could be a combination of all the above.  Which is why it is so important to get a experienced and qualified professionals support to guide you through things.    


There are devices out there that will scare the bark out of them, you “just need to show them” type of devices, but if you are having to show them, then, think about it…..what are they doing? So, its not working is it? And all you end up doing is desensitising them to something and when that’s not enough, you need more. So long term, it actually is worse. If you choose to use them, that’s your decision, I am not going to get into a debate on that but please be honest with yourself.  It is not a distraction, it relies on the startle response at the least, it is a threat (if you just have to show them) and its not fixing the actual problem.  You need to understand that. More on that here: https://www.perfectlypolitedachshunds.com/post/is-it-just-a-distraction


Here’s the thing, as with any behaviour, their barking has taken a while to manifest, and then its taken a while for you to see it as a problem to address.  That’s not a dig at you, it’s the reality.  We often don’t see problems build until they are actually a problem.  Please remember this advice is generic, and should not replace the advice of someone working with you and your dogs to address the issue.


I did start trying to write a barking blog, but 3 pages in and I realised, its really not doable as a blog. I’ve tried and failed before. Much like trying to shorten the content on my courses, can’t do it! There’s just too many things to consider, like a massive flow chart. 


So instead I’m going to do a top 10 tips. 


1)        Always rule out any medical issues.  Chronic pain or discomfort is massively underdiagnosed.  The other day I was in town and saw 3 dachshunds, every single one of them had bad movement. The owners, probably thought it was just “how they are,” but if you walk in a way that you are not meant to it will ultimately cause discomfort.  Just because they are used to it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt!  I think, from memory, 88% of cases referred to Lincoln Behavioural Clinic had an undiagnosed medical condition.  I wrote this blog, its long, but very important: https://www.perfectlypolitedachshunds.com/post/can-chronic-pain-really-cause-behavioural-issues. Working closely with your vets is important, just like visiting your gp when you are having mental health issues. You need their support.

2)        Barking is a symptom, its communication.   We pay attention to the noise as its annoying, or embarrassing.  We miss the pre bark communications.  Look at what they do before the bark and make changes here, BEFORE the bark, their body language.  After they bark they’ve just got another round of practice in, and have been pushed to the point where they can’t cope. Here's a blog on body language: https://www.perfectlypolitedachshunds.com/post/its-all-about-the-body-language-baby

3)        Do you know why they need to bark? Understanding the emotion of why they bark, what leads to it, what they want to achieve helps you psychologically. They’re not just being annoying they are saying something.  What are they trying to say before they shout?  Understanding this will help you put in the right strategies to make changes.


4)        Look at where they get “fizzy.”  The lead coming out? Going out of the back door? A van pulling up? Someone walking into the room?  Again, look at what leads to the bark, where do they start to pay attention to the “trigger.” This is where your work needs to start! Or actually, just before.  But pay attention as addressing this bit will help the domino affect of behaviours after this point.  With dachshunds, whether it is reactivity or separation anxiety, the highly explosive “boom” at the start is the key element to focus on.  If you can reduce this down, the rest is so much easier!


5)        Are they on a good diet and getting enough?  I know, this one doesn’t flow with the other points but its important and often not addressed enough, its often the “quick fix” for many dogs.  The dog food industry is a joke, there are so many foods out there charging an absolute fortune for cereal.  Whilst they may claim these foods are “balanced” I cannot comprehend how a diet with little or no meat is suitable for a carnivore!  This website is really helpful, its not perfect, but its not biased towards one brand or another.  www.allaboutdogfood.co.uk. If they are on a good food and have a good body score ( Dachshund IVDD - Body condition (dachshund-ivdd.uk)) but you think they may still be hungry add low calorie fillers like green veg, white fish etc.  Some dogs are better fed across 3 meals. If they are tubby, you do need to reduce that down, but how do you do that without them feeling starved? Yup, add in low cal fillers.  My old girl has got a bit podge as her mobility has reduced, so I’m adding cucumber to her food so she doesn’t notice the decrease.  Similarly if they are lean, you need to address that, often dachshunds that are too lean are 'hyperactive' and struggle to settle, they tend to be wired like a coiled spring. There is nothing worse than a hangry dachshund!  Full transparency, I’m not a nutritionist and I wouldn’t presume to try to guide you on this one, which is why I’m signposting you to a site set up by a nutritionist and dog food “expert.”


6)        Look at your expectations.  You want to take them to the pub? At this point, right now, be honest.  Are you trying to make a round peg fit a square hole? I’d love to learn to ride a bike, but the reality is it terrifies me, so taking me on a bike ride really isn’t going to be a fun adventure for you or me?  Are you being unreasonable? By all means, start working on this so its an aim, but be realistic and fair.  Its actually pretty good for them and you not to be with you all the time (those with separation anxiety aside).


7)        What about the “they don’t take treats” when they are on walks issue?  Where do they stop taking treats? (For clarity, when I refer to treats, I simply mean food – their meal portions, meats, veg, anything safe and nice for them that they would usually eat at home). Them not eating treats on walks (if they generally eat them at home) is a clear indication of where the problem starts! Or actually, a step beyond where the issue starts.  Try and find that tipping point and start just before that moment. Blog on that here - https://www.perfectlypolitedachshunds.com/post/my-dog-doesn-t-eat-treats-or-play-with-toys-what-do-i-do.


8)        Look at the approach. Human or canine. A head to head meet is quite confrontational. They are very small. Everything comes in from above....I'd get defensive too, in fact I do, as I'm short. I hate when people get right into my space. If you look at the blog I did on perspectives, link below, that will give you an idea of how intimidating it must be for a dachshund.  The video on the blog alone should be enough to give you an idea: https://www.perfectlypolitedachshunds.com/post/honey-i-shrunk-the-dachshund.  If they are anxious about another dog, confidence will come from lots of positive experiences, and that’s positive from their perspective not ours. Being thrust into a head on “conversation” when you are worried isn’t going to create a positive experience.


9)        Be patient and consistent.  Don’t give up after 5 minutes, keep repeating things.  So many people do a couple of sessions and give up. How often have they practiced barking? Can you even compete with what you've been doing?  If it keeps going wrong, stop and reassess. Don't keep swapping techniques, or trainers for that matter....if its not working, its nearly almost always user error (sorry). Think about it. Are you setting yourself and them up for failure? Why? Think about your job, if you try and do something, and keep getting it wrong, do you keep doing the same thing? Do you stop and try a different avenue? Do you go and ask someone to help you or explain to you how to do it? Then you practice that bit until you feel confident before moving to the next step? It’s the same with computer games, driving, gardening, sewing, blah blah blah.  You don’t start with the hardest level, you start easy and learn how to navigate things first before you progress.  Learning is the same in any species! Your training is like a seed starting to grow, you won't see the shoots until it's set down roots. More on that here: https://www.perfectlypolitedachshunds.com/post/spring-is-here-the-season-of-new-beginnings-its-the-perfect-time-to-help-them-with-their-behaviour

10)    Remember you need to give them (and yourselves) time together.  Our lives are so busy. You may be out at work all day, come home, cook dinner, walk them quickly then maybe sit down and watch tv.  That walk time is precious to them.  Remember lockdown, how frustrating that 1 hour of freedom was? That one hour is often all they get, if that.  I’m not trying to guilt trip you, we are all guilty of forgetting that they need more, just like us.  You may well just want to have some quiet time after work, but for many dogs, the whole day is quiet time, and you coming home is the highlight of their day. Make sure they get enough physical and mental stimulation, interactive time with you, not just chews and puzzles. (Quiet time is also important too obviously, so they learn how to relax when you are present). Fun training, enriching walks, scentwork activities, play, cuddle time, they cherish it.  Enjoy them. Trust me, even if they live long and happy lives, the time goes by in a flash and soon enough, if you are blessed, you’ll be staring into the face of a greying face, with clouding eyes wondering where the time went. 



Actually lets make that 11….

11)   Have you actually taught them what you do want? From scratch? Really? Ok....I believe you....but often people don’t, so if you haven’t, or you didn't 'finish' the job, turn it around, teach them – like a baby puppy – what you actually do want, and give them an incentive to want to do this.  From scratch means without all the distractions and challenges, with lots of incentive.  This blog on pulling will give you a good idea of where to start and what to consider: https://www.perfectlypolitedachshunds.com/post/stop-pulling


I hope this blog helps you reassess your approach to helping your dogs reactivity issue and goes a way to helping you all enjoy your lives together. By linking to the other various blogs, I hope I've managed to cover far more than 10....no 11 top tips. Depending on where your interests lie. Its not everything, but it will hopefully help you work on the all important foundations to get you there. Try to remember, without making changes, nothing will change. Commit to those changes and keep going. It does get easier, but I do understand how hard it can be. Be kind to yourselves, and them.

 

We cover all this and far more on the courses I run, if you want to work on things with support from me in the future, the 6 week online Reactivity (Stop Barking Courses) are always listed here: https://www.perfectlypolitedachshunds.com/book-here

 

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