Friday, June 24, 2011

Dog Manners: the barking edition

Hey, you know what really bugs me?

Walking down a street and having no fewer than six dogs bark uncontrollably the entire time I'm on their stretch of sidewalk.

Do you know who I blame for this?

The owners.

I continue walking down that street, despite my annoyance, because I'm using those horrible animals to train Elka to behave calmly and look to me for guidance, regardless of the situation.  I talk her through as we walk by, and I assure you I keep my language clean, but what I say is not complimentary to those dog owners.
Imagine, if you will, every time you walked past people sitting on a porch, they would jump around and scream at the top of their lungs, obviously directing this at you.  This is kind of what barking dogs are like.  Different barks mean different things, and the kind of barks that we seem to hear are a mixed bag, but along similar lines.  There's the "this is my territory" bark, which varies in duration if the owners are home.  If the dog is home alone, he doesn't stop until we're almost a block away.  This kind of barking is self rewarding for the dog, because he feels that he has assessed a threat and then driven it off.

There's the "OH MY GOD SOMETHING'S OUT THERE NO REALLY NO REALLY NO REALLY", which is I think the most prevalent, and most often heard from smaller dogs.  They will do this regardless of owner presence, also until we're sufficiently away.  This kind of barking is also self rewarding, and seems to be the least corrected.  This kind of barking also whips the dogs in the next couple houses into a frenzy, because Oh my God.  There's something out there. 

The barking I feel sorry to hear has kind of a different tone.  That one is more like "Hey, guys! I'm here! I'm alone and not busy and ready to walk or play! Guys! .....Guys?"
On our walks, I already click Elka for attention.  She can look at things, she can sniff things, but when she chooses to pay attention to me, it's click and treat.  This has laid a good foundation for paying attention to me if there is a sudden noise or situation that Elka is unsure of.  So, we start to walk past a house, a dog starts furiously barking.  Elka will startle, and look, and then look at me.  I click, give her a treat, and say "On by."  I haven't stopped walking as this has occurred, and by saying On By, that indicates to Elka to walk on by.  She can look if she wants, but she must keep walking with me; no stopping, going back, darting forward, or posturing of any sort.  If she stops, I will iterate "No, leave it." When she catches up to Heel, it's click and treat.
Today, I'm happy to report, we were walking with a beautiful loose leash, and a German Shepherd (also on leash) across the street exploded into barking.  Elka stiffened up a bit, looked at him, and looked at me, and that was it.  We kept walking with no further glances or reaction, while the German Shepherd's owner struggled to control his dog and continue down the sidewalk on his side of the road.  Obviously, I don't know that guy's story, or his dog's.  The dog could be overprotect, dog reactive, terrified to be in the world, any number of things.  And to his owner's credit, he didn't react poorly, or with harsh physical correction.  Really, other than having kept a car between his dog's view and Elka as we approached, he didn't seem to know what else to do.  Blocking line of sight, though, was a very good start.

Maybe I'm spoiled because Elka doesn't bark, and I have the easier job of teaching her how to behave when others are barking.  I know that barking is "fixable", and like anything else, consistency is key.  Yelling at your dog if she's barking really only reinforces the bark; you're barking too.  It's hard not to exclaim "hey!" (or worse) as a correction for something like that, but it's up to the human to figure out how to make things work.  

And it's up to the human to realize that a barking dog really really bothers other humans and and may freak their dogs out, which can make situations generally unsafe.

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