Dogs who become overly territorial and bark at loud noises or passers-by can be a headache for their owners — but it's a problem easily dealt with, as Ben Randall explains.
Dogs — like most animals, not least humans — can be very territorial creatures. Most of the time there’s nothing wrong with that, but if it brings with it overly protective or nervous behaviour, it’s something we need to help them with. That’s the issue faced by this week’s reader:
We need your help! Every time someone walks past our house on the street, our dog starts barking furiously — especially if they have a dog, but it happens regardless. It’s so disruptive that we’ve taken to keeping the blinds shut in the front room, which is a terrible shame because one of the key things that attracted us to the place was the view of the trees.
It’s not just people walking past who create the reaction: every loud noise she hears sets her off, from car doors being shut down the road or the neighbours doing some DIY. She barks for about three four minutes after the noise has stopped — and she’ll do the same when greeting guests, as she gets very excited. We have tried treating her, tried distractions, tried telling her, tried giving her a favourite toy, but nothing works. Please, please help us to get our dog to bark for the right reasons, and not at every bang, knock or person walking past! — AP via email
Thanks for writing to us — as you’ve said elsewhere in your long letter to me via firstname.lastname@example.org, you suspect quite rightly that this is territorial behaviour. I’ve been training dogs for decades while honing my BG (Beggarbush) techniques, and it’s something that is all too common.
I’m sorry to say that in my experience it means she’s not as happy as she should be; she’s on edge all the time because she feels she has to be in protection mode. What you want is for her to be relaxed and calm, and above all trusting you so completely that she knows she doesn’t have to worry about the noises, the passers-by or anything else. Here’s how to get her to that state.
How to stop your dog barking at passers-by or loud noises
1. Understand the problem and stop the barking with ‘leave’
Your dog has become territorial not just within her environment, but all around it: she’s thinking that it’s her house, her door, her front driveway, her stretch of pavement out the front, and indeed her road — and it’s got her in protection mode. Anyone coming in she’ll either want to deter from coming in, or check thoroughly before granting admittance.
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The first thing you need to do, though, is to be able to get her to stop what she’s doing — in this case, barking — by practising the ‘leave’ command, several times a day, particularly around mealtimes. After that you can move on to the main solution: the ‘in’ command, which I’ll explain next.
2. Practice the ‘in’ command until she has total trust in you
When your dog sees or hears something, instead of reacting by barking we want her to go and sit quietly in her bed and trust you, the owner, to deal with it. The ‘in’ command is the way to do this: I use it to teach my dogs to go in to their bed, or their crate, or the back of the car – and it can also be used to ask them to go to in or out of a room, or come in from the garden and go back in to the house. Start off by using the command to get them in to their bed, and work up from there.
I’ll begin by showing the dog a piece of kibble in my hand, then point to the bed and say ‘in!’ I’ll always use my arm to point the direction of where I want them to go.
If the dog doesn’t react I’ll being lure him or her with food, leading them towards the goal of their bed. Pause if need be, to make sure they’re keeping poised and calm – sometimes it helps to briefly go and do something else, or go out and come back in again – before walking back calmly and reward the dog.
3. Practise, practise, practise
You can and must practise this multiple times throughout the day: every time you do, it’ll make the command stronger and more positive, meaning that it’ll still work once you get to the situation when you really need it. Get your partner or a friend to create distractions while you practice; with your dog, that might well mean walking back and forth past the house, or moving the bins around to make some noise; and they can also knock on the door or ring the bell so you can practise the in command while going for a simulated chat on the front doorstep.
The point is that as you practise, your dog will start to trust you more and more, knowing that no danger and that you’re taking control of the situation. As you do this you’ll find your dog is far less anxious and stressed. It’s not magic; they’ve simply built a stronger bond and deepened their trust in you.
4. Keep going: even the most difficult dogs will learn
I recently had a client with a terrier and a pointer who’d run and bark at the gate every time the postman came in. It got to the point where the poor postman had no choice but to leave the post at the gate, meaning that any parcels and letters were left out in the elements — not good if it’s raining.
But they taught this exact process: every time they heard the gate open, or a car door, the two dogs ran straight to their beds in the utility room. There, they’d wait patiently for the postman or other visitor to either leave or settle in; my clients were able to then walk in to the utility room where they kept a tin of treats. The tin was opened, and the dogs were rewarded for their calm behaviour.
It’s no exaggeration to say that training the ‘in’ command like this, something which is on the face of it so simple, has transformed the lives of both the dogs and their owners on a daily basis.
For more detailed advice about Ben Randall’s positive, reward-based and proven BG training methods, one-to-one training sessions, residential training or five-star dog-boarding at his BGHQ in Herefordshire, telephone 01531 670960 or visit www.ledburylodgekennels.co.uk. For a free seven-day trial of the Gundog app, which costs £24.99 a month or £249.99 a year, visit www.gundog.app/trial
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