All About Marie

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Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at www.blogtalkradio.com/petplace; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 18 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of one baby boy, and pet parent of three cats, two dogs, and a cockatoo.

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Dog Barks While Its People Are Away

Dear  Marie:
Our four year old German Shepherd has always been a barker and I’ve never really worried too much about it; however, we recently moved from a relatively rural area to a very high density condo complex and now her barking is a problem.  I’ve been receiving very unfriendly, anonymous notes from neighbors who are apparently quite upset about the noise.   They are threatening legal action against us and want us to get rid of her.  I don’t want to be a bad neighbor; but I certainly don’t want to get rid of my dog either.  What should I do?

Rachel, Mission Viejo

Dear Rachel:
It is unfortunate that your neighbors are being so “un-neighborly.”  The least they can do is talk to you, in person, and try to work things out together.  They can advise you when the barking is occurring and also if it is coincident with any other activities going on in the neighborhood, i.e., when the gardeners are working, or perhaps when loose cats are close by.  Any bit of information can help you in training your dog not to bark.  But since your neighbors lack these interpersonal skills, it is up to you to try to resolve the problem because if your dog disturbs the peace of the neighborhood, you may find yourself in court for violations of state and local laws. 

To understand why your dog barks, you must first understand the nature of dogs in general.  When man domesticated the wolf, some 12,000 years ago, he trapped this amazing canine in a permanent juvenile state—mentally.  Generally, only wolf puppies bark. (Adult wolves do make different sounds, like howling, but these are very complex in comparison to the "pay-attention-to-me" type barking of pups.)   Barking  behavior in wolf pups is indeed necessary to get the attention of the busy adults in the pack and allows for nurturing and interaction from and with mature members and caregivers.  As the pups become adults themselves, they move away from this tendency.  Since domestic dogs are essentially perennial puppies, at least on an emotional level, they bark for the same reasons wolf puppies bark.

Many dog owners choose to keep their pets outside.  For a dog, this is very difficult to deal with.  They do not understand why they must be separated from their pack, which is you and your family.  It is somewhat like a permanent state of punishment.  The emotional tie between a dog and her family is incredibly strong, so you can imagine why a dog will cry if left out of doors for extended periods of time.  Frequently, the easiest way to deal with a barking dog problem is to just allow your dog inside with you! 

Going to work, or out to dinner and a show may also give your dog a feeling of intense loss and may bring about barking.  One way of countering this problem is to teach your pet that you always come back home and  that coming and going is really no big deal.

To conquer this problem, you will need a good block of time, preferably a weekend, to practice leaving and returning.  When you begin this exercise, leave from the same door you use when you go to work or other destination associated with long away periods. (You will need to take your car so that your dog knows this is the “real thing.”)  Do not make a big production about leaving.  Do not give your dog any treats or lots of extra pats and “good-byes.”  (You can fill up an interactive toy with kibble and peanut butter and hide it somewhere so that you dog has something to do while you are away.) When you are ready to go, just leave without fanfare, and come back in about five minutes.  When you return, you must not make a big deal about that either.  After some time has passed, lea
ve again.  This time, stay out for ten minutes.  Continue this pattern of coming and going throughout the weekend, proceeding by increasing your time away from home.  By the end of the weekend, your dog will understand that leaving is just a routine thing and long away periods are not so bad.  He will know that you will eventually come back!

With some dogs, it may be necessary to repeat this exercise from time to time.  However, with proper follow-through, your dog will become a model canine citizen and your neighbors’ next correspondence may be a thank you note and an invitation to a back yard barbecue!

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