The Chronic Barker Or Howler

It's normal for your dog to bark a warning or greeting. It's abnormal for him to keep on barking long after the reason has ceased to exist. Yet many dogs do just this. In the chapter on raising a dog in the city, we gave some instructions on how to teach your dog not to bark after he's alerted you. Perhaps, despite your efforts, your dog still keeps up an abnormal barking after he should have stopped. Or, what is worse, he barks continuously when you are away from home (which you learn from angry neighbors when you come home).

If we apply the social psychologist's yardstick to the chronic barker, we have all four of the factors needed to produce abnormal behavior. The door and telephone bells, knocks on the door, loud voices in the hall and other noises are all over-excitement factors. Since the dog is confined in the house or apartment, he cannot escape. He can't or will not adapt to the sounds and noises, and he doubtless has a genetic susceptibility. The result of all of this is abnormal barking.

Or look at it this way. The dog hears a noise in the hall or the doorbell rings. It strikes the dog's ears the wrong way and overexcites him. He'd like to get at whatever is causing the noise, but he can't. So he does the next best thing, he barks. He can't get used to the noises, since they are infrequent or sporadic. And because his nervous system is on the minus side, he develops abnormal behavior and keeps barking long after the noise has stopped.

We should make it clear that you are not out to make your dog a barkless dog. You want him to bark an alert, even when you are not at home. But you want him to quiet down after his warning has been acknowledged or the cause of the warning has gone away.

As for therapy for the chronic barker, you will have to provide some form of escape. You can't very well stop people from coming to the door or noises in the hall. And unless you decide to move to the country, you can't take the dog out of the offending environment. But you can try to substitute some action that will take his mind off the noises.

In an actual case of this type, one owner found a novel solution to his barking dog problem. He was obliged to leave the apartment all day. While he was out, his dog barked whenever anyone walked past the apartment door. This was normal, since the dog was barking a warning. But he kept it up long after the person had moved on and no noise existed. Neighbors complained and the harassed dog owner tried all the standard remedies, without success. Faced with the possibility of having to give up his dog, he sought professional advice. The problem was discussed and a possible solution suggested. It was this: teach the dog to go fetch something from another room whenever he heard a noise. In a short time, the dog was trained to bark a warning, then go to the shelf, take a book and disappear into the room with his bed. Ridiculous? Maybe. But it solved the problem for this dog owner.

There is, however, a tale of how a dog owner contributed to his dog's abnormal behavior. This owner was more concerned about his dog getting enough exercise than in keeping the dog out of trouble. Dog and owner lived in a city apartment. The owner worked all day and became worried about his dog getting enough exercise. He hit upon what he thought was a brilliant idea to get the dog exercising while he, the owner, was at work. It was simple. He knew the dog barked and ran around the apartment whenever the telephone rang. So the owner merely rang his own number three or four times a day, thereby getting the dog to race around the apartment. The finale to this little tour-de-force is not difficult to imagine. Both dog and owner were evicted.

What about the dog that howls when you are not at home? He is definitely a problem. He howls because he is confined and lonely. You can try to cure him by teaching him to stay alone without making a noise. (See Chapter 7) Or, if this fails, have someone come in and take the dog out for a walk several times a day. There is a third possibility: give the dog some company by adding a kitten to the ménage. Another dog would be just the company he would want, but you might find yourself with a howling duet, instead of a solo!

The suburban dog that barks indiscriminately at friend and stranger is well on his way to becoming a problem. While a barking dog does not necessarily mean a biting dog, there's always the possibility that the barker will follow up his noise with a bite. Milkmen, mailmen, newsboys and utility servicemen are the frequent targets of the barker (and biter).

Barking at people who come into the yard or house, especially servicemen, usually starts from the dog's protective instinct. He barks a warning. But it can go beyond the mere warning for various reasons, among them being a fear of the mailman's bag, the clattering of the milk bottles, a rolled-up newspaper tossed onto the porch or into the yard by the newsboy, the uniforms of the servicemen and others. Regardless of the cause, you will have to take measures to break the dog of this overzealous barking. Later, he may take to biting and you will then have a more serious problem on your hands.

There is no single step in breaking the dog of the barking habit. Your main course of action is to make a "formal" introduction between the dog and servicemen. To do this, you will have to get the cooperation of the servicemen. When one of them arrives, ask him to stand still and not move his arms, bottles or bag. Have the dog on the leash and make him heel as you walk out to meet, the serviceman. Remind the man to stand still, speaking to him in friendly tones. The dog will probably bristle and bark. Cut him short with a stern reprimand. Then let him smell the man. Remember, it is with his nose that a dog identifies a person or object; he never will accept the mailman or anyone else unless he can satisfy his nose. Keep reassuring the dog (and maybe the man). Don't, under any circumstances, let the man hand you a letter or bottle of milk. The dog may misinterpret this as an attack on you. Just let the dog see that nobody is going to harm him or you. Later you can pick up the mail or bring in the milk. You'll have to go through more than one of these sessions, but it will be worth it. Once the dog gets used to the servicemen, he will accept them.

The matter of the newsboy flinging a rolled-up newspaper is somewhat different and requires special handling. First of all, there are two factors that cause the dog to get overexcited: the newsboy on his bicycle (the bicycle excites the dog), and the boy's act of throwing the newspaper (which the dog interprets as being thrown at him). This means that you have two hurdles to overcome; three, if the newsboy is a lad who takes great delight in throwing the paper and watching the dog go berserk. But overcome them you must, if you want to avoid having the dog turn into a biter.

You can try introducing the dog to the newsboy, but this involves risk. The newsboy is one person the dog would like to grab, since the boy makes a threatening gesture to the dog when he throws the newspaper. If he hits the dog, there is all the more reason for wanting to get at him. Your safest procedure is to have the boy park his bicycle away from the house (the bicycle is part of the problem) and put the newspaper into a special container outside the fence. You can also keep the dog indoors at the time when the newsboy makes his daily delivery. As a last resort, cancel your newspaper delivery and pick up the paper at the store.

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