Leash reactivity, stranger danger, and noise sensitivity/reactivity….these are the common requests I get for help from dog guardians.
But another common behavior issue that comes up is their dog also barks at things out the window. Often, the guardian handles it one of 2 ways:
- Accepts the behavior. Dogs will be dogs, after all. And maybe they kind of like having a “guard dog” alert them of people approaching.
- The guardian gets upset with their dog and responds by shouting “no!” or scolding the dog.
In both scenarios, the barking behavior likely continues the next time something appears outside the window.
While we, as humans, bred dogs to bark (1), it’s not ideal or healthy for your dog to appoint themselves to neighborhood watch all day long.
An adult dog should get between 12-14 hours of sleep a day (more for puppies and senior dogs). And if your dog is not getting enough restful REM sleep, this could be a contributing factor to reactive behavior. I for one am certainly not my best if I haven’t slept well the night before.
Let’s look at this scenario from your dog’s perspective.
A trigger like a person and/or dog walks by, maybe even walks up the sidewalk all the way to your front door. Your dog starts barking as soon as they see or hear the trigger and the barking likely intensifies the closer the trigger gets.
But then, the person/dog walks on by. Or the Amazon person drops off your package and leaves. And your dog thinks: “Success! I did it! I barked and the scary person/dog went away!”
While that is a bit of anthropomorphization, what does happen is your dog forms an association: Barks = trigger goes away. (Which is very likely exactly what your dog wanted.)
And in the scenario of shouting or scolding your dog, that association becomes a trigger appears = mom/dad gets upset and uses a loud, scary voice (all the more reason to get upset when a trigger walks by).
So what to do instead?
Management is always the first thing I recommend for situations like this. Management is simply alternating the environment so we reduce undesirable behavior. (And really help your dog get that restful sleep they need).
For window barkers, that can be closing the blinds or using window film. Window film has come a LONG way over the years! There are options that block your dog’s view but still let natural light in. They even make some that are static cling so you can remove and reapply them.
But we are finally coming into spring in the Northern Hemisphere. So closing all the blinds is probably the last thing you want to do now that the sun is shining and the days are getting longer.
So here are 5 easy steps to help your dog retire from neighborhood watch so everyone in the household can get more peace:
- Fill a sealable, air-tight container with some of your dog’s favorite treats (I recommend something really high-value and delicious to your dog). Place the container somewhere you can get to it easily.
- Charge your cue. Say your verbal cue (I use “thank you!”) and then feed your dog a treat. Practice this sequence in a low-distracting setting. Start with your dog relatively close to you and work up to saying your cue when when your dog is in another room or looking out the window without reacting. This foundational step helps you be more successful when more real-life triggers occur.
- Now that your dog has a positive association with your verbal cue, you can use this in real life. When your dog barks, remain calm. Grab your treat jar and go to your dog.
- Say your verbal cue. If your dog does not respond, put a treat near your dog’s nose and guide them away from the window. You can lead them into another room if necessary.
- Sprinkle those treats on the ground and calmly praise your dog. Keep feeding until your dog cares more about the food than what is going on outside the window.
The more consistent you are, the faster your dog will learn that stuff going on outside the window means good stuff from you!
“But wait a minute, Andrea. Aren’t I reinforcing my dog’s barking?”
Great question and I’m so glad you asked.
Remember, one of the ways dogs learn is by association. Give those 5 steps a solid 2-3 weeks of consistency and see if any progress is made.
Markers of progress can be that it becomes significantly easier to “interrupt” your dog’s barking, your dog recovers more quickly and barks once instead of multiple times.
Over time, what happens is the trigger (person/dog) becomes the cue to go find you. The Amazon person gets associated with yummy stuff coming from you.
For some dog-guardian teams, over time, the verbal cue (“thank you!”) is eventually not needed because the dog seeks out their guardian on their own.
Pretty cool, huh?
I’d love for you to try this out and let me know how it goes! You can comment below or post a video on social media and tag me in it.
Until next time,
P.S. I often say “The difference is in the details.” If you want more help with your dog’s reactive behavior so you can reduce barking, lunging, and snapping and get a more relaxed, calmer dog, email me!
Spots are now available for my signature Calm Canine Program.
The CCP is a 4-month online coaching program that shows guardians how to work WITH their dogs so you both can get less stress and more relaxation.
Reach out to start a conversation about your dog!
- Humans Guided Evolution of Dog Barks https://www.wired.com/2011/06/dog-bark-origins/
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