Alert barking when at home

by Kat
(Oakland, CA, USA)

Alert barking when neighbors walk past by a door.

Alert barking when neighbors walk past by a door.

Hi!

My dog Xavi, whom we adopted only a little under two weeks ago has been alert barking at home. He is a 5 year old supposed collie mix and apart from the alert barking, is one of the sweetest, calmest, well-behaved dogs I've ever encountered. The barking began after a few days, we're assuming because it took him that long to get comfortable and settled in. Our apartment is on the first floor with 4 apartments above us and a driveway next to our kitchen which we've been keeping him in while our two cats learn how to get acquainted with him. When at home he is limited to the kitchen with a small toddler gate separating the kitchen from the rest of the apartment. The kitchen is quite large and he has enough room in there to run around and play with his ball. The issue is that the apartment's back door is in the kitchen, and the door leads to the main entranceway for the apartments upstairs. There's a pretty good amount of foot traffic, plus the driveway next to the kitchen window.

He initially barked at cars coming up the driveway but that stopped eventually. The big thing for him is when people are passing through the entryway that is next to the kitchen/back door. He will bark continuously if not approached, even when the person seems to have passed the entryway, gone up the stairs, and have already entered their apartment. We have tried acknowledging him and calmly asking him to stop, but this does close to nothing. We have also tried moving him to another room but that does close to nothing as well as I'm assuming his hearing is just that good that distance from the door will not stop him. Acknowledging him helps stop it to a certain extent, only in that he will only bark maybe 20 times as opposed to what feels like a million. We've started using a stern "No" which seems to be the most effective, in that it will reduce his barking to a sporadic 12-15 barks or so. The real issue however is that one of our upstairs neighbors leaves late at night (around midnight) and comes back early morning (around 5am) and so we're unsure if we should be getting up to stop him at night, or if he will take that as the perfect way to get us out of bed. We've had to get up and tell him "No" when he alerts us at these odd hours because as I previously stated, if left alone, it could be forever before he stops on his own.

I'd greatly appreciate any suggestions you might have!

Thanks!

-Kat

Answer


Hi Kat!

Congratulations on your newest family member! Since your barking problem doesn't seem to get better and the barking is in the middle of the night (where I agree it would not be good to get up) I would suggest a more involved approach.

We don't really know what is going on inside Xavi's head when he hears people outside the door and barks, but we can imagine he feels threatened and needs to warn the person not to come near his home. The idea would be to:

  • Try to change the feeling of threat to one of happyness instead.

  • Teach him an alternative behavior to barking.


The exercise is easy to do, although it will require the collaboration of friends and lots of practice. If you can get your neighbors to help out, even better. Here is what to do:

  1. Get a clicker and some yummy treats, cut them very small (half the size of your pinky's fingernail.

  2. Charge the clicker. This may take a couple of days.

  3. Ask a friend or neighbor to help you out. He needs to walk past outside the door at random intervals.

  4. As soon as you hear your neighbor walk past outside click and treat. It doesn't matter if your dog is barking at first, ideally he will become quiet as soon as he starts getting the food. Your goal is to try to click and treat before your dog starts barking. In the beginning this will be pretty impossible, but after many repetitions you may notice your dog starts looking at you when he hears a person come by instead of barking, that's when you click and treat.

  5. Repeat many times and practice this with 3 to 5 different people.

  6. Now your dog should be looking at you expecting the click and treat when someone walks by. The next step is to teach him an incompatible behavior. For barking, it is always useful to teach him to grab something with his mouth, like a toy. Ask your friend or neighbor to do the same thing (walk past the door at random intervals). Instead of click and treat, ask your dog to go find a toy laying around. Then click and either play with him or give him a treat. The first few times you may need to say "Get your toy!" and show him where it is and entice him to pick it up. Practice this until he hears a person come by and goes to get a toy even before you ask him to. The idea is to teach your dog to get a toy when he hears a person outside, hopefully, eventually he may grab a toy and start chewing instead of barking…we are simply planting a seed here.


Like I said, this is more involved training and may take a few weeks before you start seeing any changes. Be patient and clear to your dog. You can practice each exercise 10-20 repetitions 2-3 times per day or as much as you can with the help you can get.

Hope this helps!

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