Extinguishing alarm/alert barking when visitors arrive

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Extinguishing alarm/alert barking when visitors arrive

This is a discussion on Extinguishing alarm/alert barking when visitors arrive within the Dog Training and Behavior forums, part of the Keeping and Caring for Dogs category; I share (yes really!) an 18 month old neutered male Irish Setter x Standard Poodle with a neighbor. He spends the workday with me at ...

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Old 04-20-2019, 01:15 PM
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Extinguishing alarm/alert barking when visitors arrive

I share (yes really!) an 18 month old neutered male Irish Setter x Standard Poodle with a neighbor. He spends the workday with me at my house, as I telecommute. He often, but not always, barks when people knock on or open the door. As he lives in an apartment building and has a big, boisterous bark, we would like to minimize this behavior. I have some specific questions at the bottom.

To answer some of your questions...

Does he get enough exercise?
He is tireless, but we sure do try! At an absolute minimum, he gets 4-5 30-60 minute walks a day; first-thing, when I pick him up, at lunch time, when I drop him off, and last thing. He also has a friend over to play with 2 days a week, and plays for up to 2 hours a day with neighborhood dogs. He loves to play fetch, but it does wind him up, so I prefer to take him along while bike riding or horseback riding. We haven't been out on horseback much recently, but do bike quite often, maybe 2-3 times a week. He has a pretty great life, and our area has a lot of dog parks, though as he's matured he's less interested in making new friends.

Does he get enough mental stimulation?
He would appreciate more, as he loves to learn, but I do spend time working on various cues just about every day. His other owner is not inclined to do this recreationally. This week, for example, he learned to stick out his tongue mirroring me, and started to work on hiding his eyes with his paw as if in shame. He knows sit, wait, stay, down, down on your side, head down, roll over, sit pretty, wave, shake, spin (counter-clockwise), twirl (clockwise), back, bow, jump into the air like a lunatic (a favorite)... He also will target with his nose, one or both front paws, back paws. He can target either your hand or an indicated object.
We have also done a lot of "look at that" in the past 3-4 months.
More importantly, he does understand "speak" and "quiet" though he is sketchy on what quiet really means.

Is he well-socialized?
To be clear, this dog has met a LOT of people. He lives in a city and was a VERY outgoing and endearing puppy. From his earliest days, I engaged friendly strangers in games of red light-green light (sitting is the green light for people to approach, standing or jumping meant they had to stop or back away). With me, he gives a polite wag and a grin to people who catch his eye. Whether with strangers or old friends, he waits for my cue to go greet them, and does so appropriately so that he can get his butt scratches.
At about 9 months he started exhibiting concern about noises in the hallway (this was ignored), and growling at random (well, to me) people on night time walks. As the months went by, it progressed to looking out the window and growling/softly barking at just about everything, plus growling at distant children or anyone doing anything unusual.

This is mostly resolved, at least when he's at my house or out with me. Whenever he got fixated on someone outdoors and started growling, I cheerfully redirected him to his crate, where he got a cookie. Now, if he's looking out the window and sees something weird, he just stands up and goes to his crate, or looks at me for direction. Yay!
Likewise, I've taught him "look at that!" so that he'll (a) seek out and be prepared for something potentially exciting or alarming and (b) look right back to me for the next cue rather than getting fixated on something scary. It has worked a treat and is such a neat use of positive reinforcement.

What does he do when visitors come?
I was very careful when he was a puppy to ignore him until he sat, and once he had a bit more self-control, sat calmly. I would have preferred that everyone follow this routine, as I think he'd be a saner creature now, but I didn't have control of that and "I told you so!" isn't much consolation.
Up to 9 months or so, I could come and go from his apartment without him making a peep. He was calm and sweet as could be because I just didn't make a fuss about it either way. And I practiced.

However, as I alluded to, others did not do this. His owner did not do this. Two or three women in particular would encourage him to greater and greater hysteria, laughing when he urinated on himself. He was almost a year old the last time one of them made him pee himself. They don't think it's so cute anymore, and don't visit.

After about 9 months, when his carefree puppy days were over, he started to bark when people knocked on the door or came in. It started with just barking when it was someone unexpected, but it gradually got worse and worse until he even barked when I arrived - as I do every single morning.

So his other owner and I made a plan. We taught him the meaning of "place" and every morning, when I knocked, his owner would send him to his bed (in view of the door but not on top of it). I didn't come in until he was in place, and I didn't look at him or speak to him until he'd settled down a bit. It took months of patience and persistence, but it paid off. He's stopped barking when I arrive, and just goes right to his bed, eyes glowing and tail wagging furiously, to await his greeting.

But we need a new plan for other visitors, and I'd appreciate your help in wording this in a way his other owner can understand. She's said and done a couple of things that took me aback. She gets really frustrated by his barking, and does not believe that he does this out of genuine alarm. She will shout at him and I once saw her put a rubber band around his muzzle. I was really shocked. She also remarked with surprise that I was sending him to his crate, as if it were punishment - I don't see it that way, I don't express it that way in the command, and the dog certainly doesn't see it that way. So I am not sure how she is using her crate at home.

I'm concerned that her frustration is making things worse, or preventing them from getting better. I've spoken to his breeder, and the dam alerts her owners to everything happening in the yard - if so much as a leaf falls!

So, if our goal is to reduce the pre-greeting barkathon, what should the plan be?
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Old 04-24-2019, 06:17 AM
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I don't know if this idea is workable, but off the top of my head, I'd try having visitors use their cell phone and call when they have arrived.

Then leash up the dog and take him out to meet the visitor in the parking lot or street or at the front door of the apartment building. Make an introduction outside and then everyone goes into the building together.

Once inside, proceed to your apartment door, have the visitor knock casually and then you all go in together.

If that is successful you could increase the complexity by meeting the next visitor at the street/outside, you all go into the building together, but the visitor waits at your apartment door while you and your dog go in. Close the door, unleash your dog, have him sit with a reward offered and have the visitor knock at about the same time you are rewarding your dog.

What do you folks think? Might something like this be successful?
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Old 04-24-2019, 11:31 AM
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I'm confused why it is unacceptable for the dog to bark when there is a knock on the door. The dog is doing, what they are meant to do, alerting you that there is someone. For me, the goal would be to train him to accept you telling him "Thank you" and then directing him to lay down on his bed calmly, letting him know that you are now in charge and he can go and relax!

Perhaps you can have something ready for him to occupy himself with while you are talking with the visitor at the door? He might even come to see that visitors are wonderful, because he gets something positive and rewarding.

A big concern for me is the pretty near opposite way he is being treated/trained in his 2 separate homes. It reminds me of children in shared custody situations with very different rules, which is confusing for a child and can cause problems in both families.
Your training and exercising the dog is enriching his quality of life, but his mistreatment in the other home can and probably will ruin everything! This is a bugger of a situation! Your neighbour needs to be made to understand that the dog will only learn to fear her, unless she starts treating the dog with dignity! There are much better ways to communicate to the dog what behaviours she wants from him, perhaps you could direct her to this forum with all these wonderful stickies, a treasure trove of information!!!
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Old 04-30-2019, 09:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Frank_Further View Post
I don't know if this idea is workable, but off the top of my head, I'd try having visitors use their cell phone and call when they have arrived.

Then leash up the dog and take him out to meet the visitor in the parking lot or street or at the front door of the apartment building. Make an introduction outside and then everyone goes into the building together.

Once inside, proceed to your apartment door, have the visitor knock casually and then you all go in together.

If that is successful you could increase the complexity by meeting the next visitor at the street/outside, you all go into the building together, but the visitor waits at your apartment door while you and your dog go in. Close the door, unleash your dog, have him sit with a reward offered and have the visitor knock at about the same time you are rewarding your dog.

What do you folks think? Might something like this be successful?
Thank you!! This is such a great idea. I love how it disconnects the excitement of greeting visitors from the alarm of them arriving at the front door. I really, really appreciate it.
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Old 04-30-2019, 10:28 AM
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I'm confused why it is unacceptable for the dog to bark when there is a knock on the door. The dog is doing, what they are meant to do, alerting you that there is someone.

Well, for one thing, his barking is out of alarm and I would prefer him not to be afraid. I agree that for the vast majority of our shared history, humans have prized dogs for barking and alerting them to changes in the environment. Now that humans live very different lives, and have doormen and security systems and doors that lock, dogs also live different lives and are prized for different things. His job is companion, not guard dog. Personally, I think that breeders should be selecting against the proclivity to bark as it is a common cause of animal relinquishment. But that's just me, and not really relevant as this dog's DNA is already set. My goal is to minimize his alarm and thus reduce his barking. Even one bark, which he will give before quietening sometimes, would be acceptable. So would a quiet bark. For the record, he can bark to his heart's content when he's playing with his friends.

For me, the goal would be to train him to accept you telling him "Thank you" and then directing him to lay down on his bed calmly, letting him know that you are now in charge and he can go and relax!

We've done this. Could you explain - for my neighbor - why communicating displeasure isn't necessary or helpful in this situation?

Perhaps you can have something ready for him to occupy himself with while you are talking with the visitor at the door? He might even come to see that visitors are wonderful, because he gets something positive and rewarding.

Already done. And he DOES think visitors are wonderful, he's just surprised sometimes. Assuming that I'm reading him right - and forgive me for putting human words to his dog thoughts - his reaction is something like this...

*knock knock*
"What the heck?? Hey! Were you expecting company? HEY! Who the heck is calling at this time of night!? Definitely not expected!! Who is it?? Oh...it's you! Hi!"


Your training and exercising the dog is enriching his quality of life, but his mistreatment in the other home can and probably will ruin everything! This is a bugger of a situation! Your neighbour needs to be made to understand that the dog will only learn to fear her, unless she starts treating the dog with dignity! There are much better ways to communicate to the dog what behaviours she wants from him, perhaps you could direct her to this forum with all these wonderful stickies, a treasure trove of information!!!
Thank you for the reminder to review the stickies. I'll check them out them right now. In the meantime, I would appreciate any additional input - from you or anyone else - about how to help my neighbor reframe her thinking. I doubt I'll persuade her that the dog isn't doing this to annoy her by accusing her of mistreating him, whether or not I think that's the case. How would you explain this to a friend without getting their back up? She finds me overly-clinical, so when I explained that barking in dogs has its roots in barking in wolves, which is ONLY used for alarm, she was not persuaded that there was an element of fear in his behavior.
Let me reframe my own request.

If a dog barks at humans, other dogs, etc., is the training prescription any different based on whether the dog is afraid vs. excited? If not, why not?
Why does calmly cuing a dog to "place", "crate", etc. in this situation help? Is it a punishment? Does it have to be a punishment to help?


Thanks. It's helpful even just to talk this out.
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Old 05-01-2019, 06:46 AM
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If a dog is fearful, (you said he barks out of alarm and you want him to not be alarmed) then we need to build up his confidence.
I think most dogs bark because that is what their instinct tells them to, it feels right to them, plus it is a rewarding activity for them, it makes them happy! (barking releases endorphins into their brains)

Years ago I saw a video where a dog was taught to bark on command, so he could be taught to be quiet on command. I can't remember who the trainer was, but lately I have been watching a lot of Zak George videos (among others) that have helped me. He does have a video on how to teach a dog to bark and stop barking. I like Zak's methods because they are positive, and keeps the dog happy. The dog wants to learn to get the yummy treat! The dog will want to do the behavior you are teaching because it is so rewarding! I would recommend for you and your neighbour to watch them, or from other trainers that use positive methods.

My comment on your question, to help your neighbour: Why is communicating displeasure unhelpful or unnessary in your situation?
Well, you could say "No" which is a way of communicating displeasure. I try to use that word as little as possible and am being mindful to rather re-direct and praise/reward that new behavior instead.
For example:
My puppy is chewing on the gyprock of an unfinished wall (he likes to tear the paper off). It tells me, my puppy is bored, he wants my attention. Even though I am standing at the sink doing dishes I will stop what I am doing and take a toy which I flop around to make it interesting and make some happy sounds. Puppy comes running to play with the toy. I "yes, good boy" in a happy voice and continue to play with him and the toy for a bit more. The reward I am giving is my attention and me playing with him. Hopefully this will get the puppy to play with his toys instead. If after a few minutes my puppy were to go back to the wall to work on the paper, then he obviously has way too much energy to keep himself entertained with the toy. He either needs to play a good game of fetch and tug of war, a run in the back yard or a walk in the neighbourhood. It is my job to set him up to succeed in being a good puppy.
If I were to shout "No" in a loud or even mean voice, using my body threateningly to shoo him away, that would only make him scared of me and this will not be helpful in building the relationship I want to have with him. He won't learn a thing about what I expect him to do! The only time I would shout "No" would be if it is necessary to startle him enough to stop him from doing something that would hurt him!

Sending your dog to his bed/place is only a punishment if you make it a punishment. Shouting and threatening will make the association negative, especially if the negative method happens/continues while the dog is on the bed.
Dogs usually love their beds, they love to be comfy and happy! Laying on his bed while chewing on a treat, or getting praised for being on the bed makes it positive. So if you redirect and teach with positive methods the bed will have a positive meaning to the dog, it won't be punishment.

Last edited by Littlefox; 05-01-2019 at 06:50 AM.
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