Dog attacks

A couple of days ago, Milo, the sweet collie pup in my last blog, and Annie’s great friend, was attacked by a bulldog at the end of his own driveway. Milo was on leash with his dad, having just played with some neighborhood kids in the snow–it was his first experience with snow, ever. Milo’s parents are attentive, careful, and have spent months training and socializing Milo: Milo was on a leash, under control.

Milo enjoying his first day of snow ever on a local trail.

The dog who attacked Milo was a large bulldog, also on leash. The problem was that the owner took out both of his big, powerful dogs on leash at the same time in the snow. The bulldogs pulled the man right up to Milo, and with no apparent warning or vocalization, one of them bit Milo hard on the shoulder and didn’t let go. Chaos ensued, and Milo sustained several deep puncture wounds, one requiring a drain.

Another unfortunate thing about this situation is that it was not the first time this dog had attacked and injured another dog, unprovoked. The owner knew his dog could potentially attack another dog, yet still allowed it to happen. As I said in my previous blog about denial and aggression in dogs, denial is a powerful thing.

Belle and her dad on a hike.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Two weeks ago, Belle, a friend’s 13 year old dog was attacked by two large, off-leash dogs while on a walk with her dad. Belle was on leash and under control. Her back leg was badly punctured and subsequently became infected. Thankfully, she is feeling better after a course of antibiotics. The dog’s owner denied the attack, but was cited for having his dogs off leash and given a $250.00 fine.

Another friend’s chihuahua was attacked at a local dog park a few years ago. After the dog’s owner assured my friend that the dog was safe, he grabbed Zina in his jaws and shook her. The dog was large, and caused Zina extensive abdominal damage. One of her legs was so badly injured it had to be amputated. The owner initially took responsibility but had no money. She was 26 and unemployed. Whatcom Humane Society issued a potentially dangerous dog designation and the owner became hostile. Sue paid the bill. $7,000.

In spite of the damage they can cause, I have a very soft place in my heart for reactive and aggressive dogs. 95% of the time, dogs are aggressive because they are afraid–offense is the best defense. For six years, as a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, I worked exclusively with dogs who had fear aggression. My goal was to help owners build their dogs’ confidence, thus reducing the dogs’ fear and reactivity, and to teach owners how to handle their dogs in a safe and responsible manner. I even spent four years writing the novel, “Finding Vera”, in an attempt to give people a sense of what life might be like from the perspective of these special-needs dogs.

But no matter how much you love these dogs, being responsible for dogs who have issues with aggression is absolutely essential. If you aren’t responsible, the unthinkable can and will happen…puppies, dogs, cats, children, and adults are all potential victims if they are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and only you can minimize the chance of the “wrong time” ever occurring.

If your dog injures another dog:

  • Do not take it lightly. Dogs are powerful creatures with a bite force of up to 400 lbs per square inch and they can bite up to 6 times per second. If they are not well socialized before the age of 12-16 weeks, they may never acquire the social skills to be comfortable around other dogs, and may not learn how to control their bite adequately.
  • The injured dog might need to spend hours in the emergency clinic, need anesthesia, sutures, IV’s or drains, take antibiotics, require major surgery, and need to be crated and/or in an elizabethan collar for days or weeks depending on the extent of the injuries. In the worst case scenario, the victim may lose limbs or die.
  • The vet bills could be outrageous, and if you are a responsible owner, you will pay them without question.
  • The injured dog might be fearful of other dogs for the rest of his life. It is not unusual for one episode of intense fear to be permanently imprinted in the dog’s brain. This fear will often turn into aggression in an attempt to keep other dogs away.
Milo plays with his friend, Sasha, before he was injured. With his strong social skills, it is hopeful that Milo will not become reactive to other dogs.
  • The owners of the injured dog will also be traumatized emotionally–if not for life, for a very long time. Their sense of trust in other dogs will wane, and they may keep their dog away from other dogs completely, contributing to behavior issues in a previously well-socialized dog.
  • You or the owner of the victim could be badly bitten breaking up the fight. This does not happen infrequently.
  • Your dog could also be injured if a fight ensues.
  • Depending on where you live, you could run into legal problems–your dog could be declared a “dangerous dog” and, among other things, be required to wear a muzzle when leaving the house.
  • The owners of the injured dog might sue. If a child is injured, the legal repercussions could be devastating.
  • There might be pressure to euthanize your dog— legal pressure, peer pressure from the owner of the injured dog, or from your own sense of guilt.
  • You will not view your dog in the same way again. The damage he caused will affect your relationship, if not forever, for quite some time.

What can you do?

  • Get help from a professional dog trainer with experience in aggression training. Be sure to find someone who has a positive approach to working with your dog, and who does not use punishment-style techniques. Training that uses punishment and harsh corrections will only aggravate your dog’s behavior and irreversibly damage your relationship with him.
  • Keep your dog at distance from other dogs where he feels safe–that means if your dog stiffens, barks or lunges, you are too close. For some dogs, this can be 100 yards or more.
  • Do not take your dog off leash or to places where other dogs may run loose.
  • Do not take your dog to the dog park to “socialize him”.
  • If your dog has bitten another dog before, do not allow him to approach strange dogs, even if he acts like he wants to. Your dog might be interested in approaching, but once too close, fear takes over and he will lunge, bark, or bite (remember, 95% of aggression in dogs is fear based).
  • Only walk one dog at a time. It is impossible to control two or more dogs at once–even if they are small.
  • There is never a safe time to take chances. Once you let down your guard, bad things happen.
  • Always wear sturdy footwear. It is easy to trip, slip, or fall when things go south. Even in summer, wear protective footwear. Dogs’ toenails can be brutal on your sandaled feet.
  • Carry an air horn to keep off-leash dogs away from your dog if they approach. Desensitize your dog to the airhorn.

Update on Milo

Milo has a break from his Elizabethan collar and chews on his favorite chew toy.

Four days after the incident, Milo has his drain out. Although he needs to be kept quiet for another week or so, he is returning to normal. He was excited to see other dogs at the vet when he went in for his recheck.

The owners of the bulldogs were very remorseful and paid the vet bills in full. I am hoping they don’t stop there, and will get the help they need for their dog.

My next blog will discuss steps you can take to protect your well-socialized dog.

Photos courtesy of Laurie Potter, Sue Schmidt, and Debby Ayers.

Should I get a second dog?

For most of the past thirty years we have lived with two or three dogs. There have been periods when we only had one, usually when we were in transition after we’d lost a treasured companion. However, after we lost two of our three dogs only weeks apart, we were forced to keep Vera, our wonderful German shepherd, as an only dog for seven years, because of her issues with aggression with other dogs.

Having one dog came with a blessing.

Having only one dog came with a blessing. For the first time, we were the center of our dog’s world. We could spend as much quality time with her as we liked, and as a dog trainer, I could work with her daily on new skills. We played together and trained twice a day, every day. Both my husband and I bonded with her in a way that we hadn’t been able to when we had multiple dogs.

That said, our dogs have always been the center of our lives. One of our favorite forms of entertainment was to watch our girls play in our living room, and observe their interactions and communication as they made their way through our lives. When we walked them together, they would cavort together, engaging in a way that only familiar dogs can.

But once we got Vera, our special needs rescue GSD, it was much more complicated. We had to monitor the three girls constantly for signs of stress or conflict. The thing was, they really loved each other, and yet fights, bad ones, still broke out due to misunderstandings–only rarely, but enough to keep us stressed and on our toes 24/7. Because of those fights, and because of the daily stress, we opted to keep Vera as an only dog once her sisters died, for the rest of her life–well, almost, until we adopted Annie. For six years she prowled her kingdom as the queen bee. And we all loved it. Finally, Vera didn’t need to be on guard regarding the canine politics of her two beloved sisters, and she was able to relax–not every dog benefits from, nor do they want to live with other dogs.

The queen bee!

Now we are at another crossroads. We have Annie, a 22 month old, playful collie girl, and we recently pet-sat a 7 month old blue-merle collie pup, Milo. They adore each other. They wrestle, they play, they chase. They don’t resource guard or get snarky with each other. Annie has endless patience with Milo’s annoying puppiness. We take photo after photo of our girl having the time of her life. How can we not get another dog?

Things to consider:

  • Make a list of pros and cons taking into account your lifestyle, the cost of a dog, the space you have and your commitment to having another dog in your life.
  • Pros:
  • If dogs are well suited to one another, they can form deep bonds that last their lifetimes.
  • Their love for one another can help with the guilt of going to work or leaving on vacation, because they always have their companion with them. It may alleviate separation anxiety when you leave.
  • They can exercise each other when they are young.
  • They can teach each other good habits (and bad).
  • They can be great entertainment for you.
  • You see the whole of your dog for who they are in a way that you can’t when you have only one dog. And certainly, the dogs experience life in a way they can’t as an only child.
  • Cons:
  • Dogs are expensive. Vet bills are expensive. Insurance is expensive. Everything is doubled with a second dog.
  • A second (or third) dog is a huge time commitment. Yes, they might entertain each other, but they also need to be taught good manners and groomed regularly depending on their coat. And then there’s teeth brushing…
  • Both dogs need regular exercise, which is fine if you can walk them together. But what if you can’t? What if one of them lunges and barks at everything, and the other joins in just for fun? Or learns the bad behavior too? Or they insist on playing together and you get hopelessly tangled in leashes as I did with Annie and Milo? What if you can’t take them to the dog park because they don’t like other dogs, or they guard sticks or balls or other dogs’ toys and you need to remove all toys from your floor.
  • Dogs don’t tend to exercise themselves, especially once they are adults, and if they don’t get the exercise they need, they gain weight, become stressed and possibly unmanageable.

Annie had to be under control at all times with Vera.

  • A second dog might not get along well with your first dog, or may only just tolerate him, so that you need to keep them separated part of the time, and exercise and play with them separately. Annie (our collie pup), had to be under control at all times with 14 year old Vera so she wouldn’t accidentally offend or injure Vera who might have bitten the puppy in defense. It was a lot of work!
  • A second dog may not help with separation anxiety.
  • It seems like dogs learn each other’s bad habits, not always the good things.
  • There might be more barking.
  • Transporting them can be expensive–can two crates fit in your current car?
  • Getting litter-mates will often lead to the puppies bonding to each other rather than to you–unless you put an exceptional amount of work into training, exercising, and playing with them separately. Even getting a second unrelated puppy or dog can lead to this phenomenon. Tessie, our collie, was 8 months old when we got Lola at 8 weeks. It took us a year to realize that Lola had only bonded with Tess–she really didn’t care much about us at all. It took a concerted effort on our part to turn this around.

In conclusion, the choice is a personal preference.

It does help, however, to be aware of what you are getting into before adding another dog to your family–to make a conscious decision based on thoughtful consideration rather than a spur-of-the-moment emotional one.

My next blog will talk about how to choose a second dog if you decide to get one, and ways to maintain a high quality of life for an only dog. For now, Don and I are going to stick with our one and only collie-girl, Annie.


She looks just like my last dog, but she doesn’t retrieve…

When we acquire a new dog, whether it’s a rescued mixed-breed beauty, or a carefully chosen pure-bred pup, we humans have the tendency to compare our dogs to those we’ve had in the past. And the more similar they look, the more likely it is that we uphold our expectations of similar behaviors.

As humans, visual cues are what drive us, so when we lose a dog we adore, we are drawn to dogs that look similar. In case my readers haven’t noticed, Don and I are drawn to collies and goldens…and since Vera, German shepherds. But not just any German shepherd–German shepherds with a straight (not sloped) back and a fine, plush coat. And were we to find and have the stamina to adopt such a dog, we would want her to be just like V–except, of course, without the anxiety and aggression. My collies have to be long coated (in spite of the grooming issue) and sable. And the goldens…broad-headed, pale gold, and heavy-boned as Lola was, OR light weight, airborne, and burnished red as was Sascha.

Once, an older gentleman at the shelter where I volunteer asked me if we had any black dogs with one pale blue eye and a white tip on his tail. He wanted a dog just like his last one–he had been the best dog the man had ever known and he wanted one just like him. It’s hard to remember that although dogs of the same breed share certain traits, just because a dog looks like a dog we’ve known in the past, the new dog will most likely be very different in temperament. Even clones have different personalities and temperaments from each other. The gentleman looking for the black dog would have been much better off looking for a dog with a temperament like his last dog, not one with the same unique physical features.

Every puppy within a litter will be very different. Even clones will have different markings and temperaments.

But visual cues are powerful to us. Don and I ache for a shepherd even though we know the risk of reactivity. Shepherds are strong, cautious, intelligent, high-energy dogs prone to anxiety–more than we want to deal with at this point in our lives.

Don teaches Vera how to play the guitar. You can see why we would do almost anything to live with another Vera–without the aggression and anxiety. It takes firm resolve to stick to our decision.

We adopted Annie based on her delightful temperament, her amazing ability to learn and apply concepts (being a trainer I love to work with my dogs just for fun), and her outgoing, social temperament (oh, and by the way, she’s a rough collie). It is only by sheer willpower and remembering Vera’s difficulties that we are not looking for a German-shepherd mix to rescue.

Tips to help you accept a new dog for who he is:

  • Remind yourself that your new dog will likely be quite different from your last dog, no matter how similar they appear. He is his own person, and even though he may look very much like your last dog, he must be treated as an individual.
  • Do not expect certain behaviors to define your dog. It is easy to resent a new dog because he doesn’t have the right traits. e.g. a lab who doesn’t like to swim, a golden RETRIEVER who doesn’t like to retrieve. e.g. Our first golden, Sascha, wouldn’t be caught dead without a ball in her mouth. Our second golden, Lola, didn’t like to retrieve at all. Go figure! It drove me crazy at first. Poor Lola!
  • If you haven’t chosen your next dog yet, remember to look for traits that you like in your dog. For instance, Tessie, our last collie, was more like a golden retriever, than our golden, Lola, in some ways. Tessie loved to swim and retrieve whereas Lola was completely indifferent to those sports.
  • Don’t automatically expect the same types of behaviors and trust from your second dog. E.g. Sascha, our first golden, could be trusted to carry her own leash in a responsible manner no matter where we were (we didn’t allow her to carry it on busy streets, but I’m sure she would have been fine). We weren’t great trainers. It was just who Sascha was. In spite of being a good trainer now, after thirty years of experience, I have never had another dog who I could trust in this way. I have seen people expect their new dog to walk off leash in busy areas because their last dog could do it. But attempting this without months or maybe even years of training specific skills on a daily basis, most dogs will never have the attention, discipline, or skills to do this safely. The fallout can be lethal for the dog and traumatic for passing drivers.
  • Allow your second dog to be themselves–to play their own games, find their own favorite places, and seek their own level of socialization. Every dog is an individual.

Is My Dog sick?

There are many veterinarian-authored articles that articulate the precise symptoms to watch for to decide whether or not your dog is ill. In this blog, however, I’m going to talk about the more subtle signs to watch for in your dog.  It’s not always easy to tell if your dog is just tired or really not feeling well–if you should jump to attention and rush to the emergency vet, or let time pass and observe him.  These are some things I’ve learned after 35 years of living with dogs. 

Tips for understanding your dog

Dogs communicate with their bodies. The tension and lines in their faces, the position of their ears and the wrinkles on their brows communicate only part of how they are feeling. The arc of their backs, the position of their tails,  and their level of energy, whether panting and pacing, leaping and barking, or curling into a lethargic ball all give us clues. Sometimes dogs who don’t feel well will cling to us, sometimes they will keep their distance and refuse to be touched. Every dog is different, and that makes it difficult to decipher their signals until you know your dog well. 

Lola would curl into a ball and sleep when she was in discomfort or didn’t feel well. Since she was a couch potato at home, this was easy to miss.
  • Get into the habit of observing your dog carefully. Your dog is constantly communicating with you, the other pets in your house and the world around him.
  • Get a good book on canine body language such as Brenda Aloff’s “Canine Body Language” to help you interpret his normal signs of communication.  
  • Watch for changes in energy patterns…is your dog panting and pacing more than usual? Is he suddenly more energetic or frantic– more outgoing or crazy than normal? Is he sleeping more than usual? Not as interested in being near you? Is he clinging to you?  Is his back arched? These behaviors paired with a decrease in appetite, diarrhea stool or blood in the stool, vomiting, limping etc, could tip you off that he is experiencing more than just an isolated symptom, and that your dog is feeling ill or is in pain.  In other words, you should contact your vet ASAP.  
  • An arched back along with panting and pacing could be associated with abdominal pain, and a call or trip to the emergency vet is definitely advised as this could be very serious. 
  • Lola would shut down when she wasn’t feeling well, but Vera would pant and pace, or leap and spin and bark, unable to settle. Her behavior could be mistaken for a sudden surge of playfulness, where in actual fact, paired with a decreased appetite, we would finally figure out that she was in pain.
Annie did not want to be touched one minute, and the next minute would be asking for attention when she was feeling ill earlier this week. Here she is moving away from me as I try to play with her.
  • Annie, who recently had blood in her stool, let us know how dreadful she felt by avoiding physical contact one moment, then appearing by my side and asking for reassurance the next. She refused breakfast and treats, but then ate a small amount in the afternoon. Rather than settling for a nap after her snack, she became frantic to get outside and walked quickly ahead of me at the end of the leash, her head down, the sides of her mouth pulled back in stress, tail tucked, and was not at all interested in the smells that usually capture her interest.  At that point, we took her to the vet.  
  • Lip licking, yawning, and turning away from you are other signs of stress and though dogs use these signals constantly to negotiate space, they can be used more frequently in conjunction with other body language if they are not feeling well. 
  • Looking directly at your hand, and tensing or flinching or moving away when you touch certain parts of their bodies–legs, paws, back or abdomen, could alert you that the area is painful.
  • Take some time to get to know your vet before you actually need to visit him/her. Having a trusting relationship with your vet is as important as trusting your own doctor. 
  • Have emergency phone numbers in your phone. Animal Poison Control hotline has poison expert veterinarians available online 24/7, and the Pet Poison Helpline offers help 24/7 to both vets and owners at 800-213-6680.

“Finding Vera”–The perfect Christmas Gift !

“Finding Vera is the best dog-related novel I’ve ever read, and I also learned more from it than any other.” lsgraham

Finding Vera might be the perfect gift for your dog-loving friends and family! Written by a certified dog trainer and based on true events, it is filled with sadness, joy, and laughter. At its heart, Finding Vera is a love story that combines a fast-paced novel with canine behavior, body language, and the heartache and fulfillment that comes from living with a special needs German shepherd. 

Finding Vera is available at Village Books in Fairhaven, Bellingham, and on Amazon.

Experienced and inexperienced dog guardians alike will be impressed by the writer’s depth of knowledge and understanding of dogs’ relationships with other dogs and with humans. It’s a deeply felt and emotionally compelling story based on the author’s life with three very different dogs. Even though it’s obvious the author was more experienced than most dog lovers and dog trainers when she adopted Vera, she articulately conveys how much she learned from the drama-filled years she had with these three amazing beings.”

“I laughed, I cried…I felt strong emotions throughout the entire book. I’m recommending it to everyone who loves dogs, to those who would simply like to know more about them, and especially to folks who have ever struggled with a dog whose challenges changed their entire world. People with reactive dogs, in particular, will find invaluable support and insight within these pages. But regardless of your background or experience, it’s a riveting story you won’t be able to put down.”

Aged to perfection: our wonderful senior dogs!

Helping our older dogs through their senior years is one of the greatest joys we can experience in dog parenting.  It’s important to remember that dogs aren’t concerned about their age. We are.  They experience the process of aging without judgement or despair. However, because we can anticipate the complications of aging, we can monitor their health and activities and help them age in the best way possible.

Tips for senior dogs

Don teaches Vera to play the guitar.
  • Every dog ages at their own rate depending on breed and size.  But regular exercise, while ensuring that they maintain a healthy weight helps to keep them fit and happy.
  • Senior dogs should be evaluated by the vet twice a year–or any time you notice a change in behavior or new symptoms. Many conditions that dogs experience in their later years are completely treatable or manageable, but the earlier a symptom is evaluated, the more likely that treatment will be successful. It’s important to keep in mind that the passage of time is different for us than it is for dogs, and that a month in a dog’s life is a significant amount of time.
  • Holistic vets can also help to keep older dogs with chronic conditions comfortable by using herbs and supplements that Western vets are unfamiliar with.
  • Pet insurance can be priceless when caring for your older dog.  It’s best to get pet insurance when your dog is younger, because preexisting conditions are not covered by pet insurance. There are many amazing diagnostics and treatments available for dogs now, but they can cost thousands.

Exercise

Vera walking at Bayview Cemetery
  • Daily exercise is important to maintain muscle strength both to support joints, and to keep joints lubricated and flexible.  However, exercise tolerance can change quickly.  In general, shorter, more frequent walks or hikes are better for older dogs than long hikes. Long walks on pavement may may bother arthritic joints.  Watch for things such as lagging behind you, limping, and pain and stiffness after a walk.  Adjust their activity accordingly and take your long hikes alone if you have to.  Forcing dogs to exercise beyond their comfort level will cause more harm than good, but avoiding exercise altogether is just as bad.
  • Swimming in a heated pool is a great way to exercise painful, arthritic joints and stretch and strengthen muscles all year round. The benefits will stay with your dog for days after the swim. We swam Tessie and Lola every other week for two years at Lap of Luxury in Lynden, and it made a huge difference to both of them. The benefit of one 30 minute swim would last for up to ten days.
  • Massage and gentle stretches can help to increase blood supply and maintain range of motion.

Comfort

  • Older dogs have more difficulty managing their temperature, so be careful not to leave them out in the heat or cold for long. Vera always wanted to lie outside on the icy deck, even when she was 13 years old and very thin. We’d set the timer for 10 minutes, then bring her inside to warm up.  She’d always ask to go out again.
  • Be sure your dog has a thick bed that doesn’t “bottom out” so he can be comfortable at night.  If a dog’s appetite diminishes, he can, as Vera did, get very thin.  We got Vera a new, beautiful bed when she was 12 years old, but the newness of it made her so anxious that she crawled on top of us in the night and tried to climb the wall behind our bed.  I had to send it back. Oh well!
  • Get ramps that allow your dog easy access to the furniture and the car. With the help of your vet, consider equipment such as wheelchairs for your dog or rear-end supports to help him up and down the stairs.
  • If your dog has difficulty climbing the stairs to bed, consider sleeping downstairs with him.
  • Watch for signs of pain when you groom or stroke your dog.  Increased panting, licking or yawning, or looking at your hand when you touch certain areas, can be indicators of discomfort. Discuss with your vet or holistic vet.
  • If your dog’s appetite dulls, definitely have your dog assessed by the vet.  Vera had cancer toward the end of her life, and her appetite was very fickle. I offered her a different food with each meal. The fridge was crowded with treats for her.  I would feed her sometimes from one of our pottery bowls or plates, sometimes from my hand, sometimes from a spoon.  I would try several different treats offered in several different ways, eventually up to six times a day to get her to eat just a little.  Until her last couple of days, I was almost always successful.

Vera wouldn’t eat from her regular bowl, but when placed on one of our dinner dishes, she cleaned the plate!

  • Watch for signs of medication side effects such as dizziness, irritability, drowsiness or fatigue, anxiety, panting and pacing, even with medications your dog might have tolerated in the past.  Tessie, our collie in Finding Vera, had a terrible time with tramadol and neurontin the last couple of months of her life, whereas she’d done very well with them for a couple of years before that.
  • Piddle Pads or water-proof beds can help with incontinence. 

Enrichment

  • Be motivated to give your dog mental enrichment and focused exercise daily. This keeps them mentally sharp and keeps their muscles limber and strong. It makes their lives worth living.  If you’ve read “Finding Vera“, you know how limited Vera’s life was because of her anxiety which manifested as aggression.  However, I was able to make up for her limitations right up until the day she died, by teaching her tricks and new skills, doing Nose Work, and allowing her choices within the scope of her limitations. Our play sessions were the highlight of her day.
  • ACTIVITIES TO MENTALLY STIMULATE YOUR DOG:
  • Buy a good book on dog tricks and learn them with your dog using lots of enthusiasm and easily digestible treats. Keep in mind that high-fat foods/ treats can predispose older dogs to pancreatitis (both Vera and Tess had pancreatitis at different times, and it’s a painful and potentially lethal illness).
  • Obstacles: stepping through a ladder laid flat, circling around cones, chairs or table legs, navigating tunnels, targeting and  triggering target buttons, placing front paws up on a low platform, etc. Use your imagination! As your dogs age, their tricks may need to be modified.


Annie and V 10_24_17
Annie and Vera shortly after 6 month old Annie was introduced to our home (Vera 13 years).

Adding a new puppy or dog to your household is always a choice that will certainly provide enrichment for your older dog, but your senior dog must be protected.  Don’t depend on your older dog to correct your puppy.  You can use ex-pens, baby gates, crates and tethering to accomplish this if you need to.  Remember, older dogs  may be grumpy and short-tempered so it’s in the best interest of the puppy or new dog in the household as well as your senior dog to keep them separated unless they are being carefully supervised–at least until they are very comfortable together and there is no friction in their relationship. We had to be extremely careful bringing Annie home to Vera.  To find out how we did it, sign up for my newsletter.

Help! My dog barks at everything!

In my last post, “My dog is driving me crazy!” I talked a little about barking, what might cause dogs to bark, and things you could do to stop them. In this post, I’m going to focus on dogs who bark inside the house.

Ceddie barks to encourage play in the house. Courtesy of Motoko Lewis

Turid Rugaas lists six different types of bark that are recognized, in her book “Barking, the Sound of a Language“: excitement, warning, fear, guarding, frustration, and learned, also known as demand barking. I would like to add that dogs and their people can share a very quiet personalized communication system of polite barking or soft “woofs” if you take the time to listen and respond to your dog’s polite requests.  If these requests are ignored, frustration may escalate into a full-blown barking frenzy. For instance, Annie will “woof” if she needs help finishing her kong, getting a cookie out from under the fridge, or needs one of us to let her inside from the deck or to take her outside to do her business.  Her “woof” always means something specific and important, so we pay attention and it has never escalated into a full-fledged bark.

Remember, first of all, that dogs communicate through body language AND barking. Therefore, if our dog is barking, we need to take the time to figure out why they are barking and what they are trying to communicate.  As with humans, dogs can get frustrated when we don’t respond, and bark louder. Gadgets such as the citronella bark collar (according to studies cited by John Bradshaw in “Dog Sense”), only work for a period of about a week.  Dogs quickly become habituated to the odor, and revert back to their old barking pattern if nothing else changes. They may also become habituated to shock bark collars and endure a higher and higher level of harmful shocks as their owners desperately try to quiet them.

Examples and training tips of how to handle routine barking inside the house:

  •  If your dog hears a dog barking down the road and responds in kind, you can acknowledge his barking with a “thank you!” (for alerting you) and “done” (for “you’re finished now”). 
  •  Distract him from the sound with a toy or a treat, but have him do a trick or two before you give it to him, otherwise he may think you are rewarding his barking.
  •  If he listens to the sound quietly, however, reward him with several treats one at a time while he listens, praising him for being quiet.  If he goes right back to barking, calmly put him in his crate, close the windows, turn on music, or move him to a different room where the sound is softer for ten minutes maximum to help him to calm down and allow his adrenalin levels to return to normal.   This is not a punishment.
  •  If your dog sees a deer, cat, dog or human through the window and barks:
  •  You could look at the individual with him, thank him for telling you about it, then lead him away with a treat placed in front of his nose.
  •  Ask him for a sit, down, or trick then reward him. If he wants to watch the individual, try to catch him BEFORE he barks, and treat him again and again while he is QUIET.
  •  Keep the blinds closed unless you are working with him.
  •  Shouting at our dogs to be quiet only adds fuel to their frenzy and proves to them that there is something worth barking at, since their person is joining in too.
  •  Ignoring them for doing their job of alerting us to a potential threat is disrespectful.
  •  Remain calm, firm, and unfrazzled.
Annie watches a deer with interest after Don reinforces her with several treats and praises her for being quiet.

Fear barking

There are also dogs who bark at sounds because they are afraid. Dogs’ ears are remarkably sensitive, and they can hear high frequencies that even those of us with the most acute hearing aren’t aware of. For an anxious dog, the world of technology inside the house and the ambient sound of traffic, construction, air traffic etc. from outside can be overwhelming. The more your dog is triggered by these noises, the more likely he’ll be to bark at things that scare him. Dogs who alert fearfully to all these sounds can drive us to distraction.

Training Tips for fear barking

Ceddie and Motoko work on their dance routine. This gives Ceddie mental stimulation, exercise, increases strength, balance, and coordination and increases his bond with Motoko. Photo courtesy of Eric Lewis.
  • Be sure your dog gets plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.
  • Analyze your environment for sounds that may bother him: the sound of the radio or television, the alert sounds of your smart phone, the beeps or noise of the dishwasher, dryer, or washing machine. Think about your heat pump and furnace fan, your computers, your iPad etc.  Think about how you can modify these sounds for him.
  • Have a safe place for him to retreat to–a cozy crate or quiet room where he can feel safe.
  • Monitor the sound of human voices in your home.  Keep children quiet while inside, and watch how your dog responds when you get into animated conversations with your partner. You may have to moderate your tone of voice while your dog builds confidence.
  • Play calming, classical music, or “Through a Dog’s Ear” to help to mask upsetting sounds and relax your dog.
  • Consider use of a ThunderShirt. Studies and surveys have shown it to be effective in decreasing anxiety in dogs when applied correctly.
  • Find a trainer who can help you to work with your dog, and to identify the triggers. A trainer can help to formulate a plan to desensitize him to the things that scare him.
  • Visit a veterinarian or holistic vet who can evaluate your dog for medication, or point you in the direction of calming supplements. Vera, our reactive German shepherd, was scared to death of garbage trucks on Friday mornings, and when her fear generalized to every morning of the week, only a combination of Prozac and Adaptil (a pheromone collar) helped to relieve her anxiety. 
  • If your dog is afraid of fireworks check out Victoria Stilwell’s post on fireworks.

Special thanks to Ceddie, Annie, Motoko and Don for being such wonderful models.  Ceddie is a true clown and actor. I considered him “almost unadoptable” as “Banjo” when working with him at WHS, but my friends, Motoko and Eric, have turned him into a delightful, clever, happy, dapper almost-gentleman.