Having a dog who barks or jumps up while you're chatting to someone can be infuriating. Ben Randall explains what's going on and how to solve the problem.
As regular readers will know, as well as working on my Beggarbush dog training my family and I also run a boarding kennel in Herefordshire. And very often, when people turn up with their dogs, a problem makes itself clear: as the owners are filling in paperwork and talking to us about their dogs, the dogs themselves are jumping up or barking to try and get their attention.
It’s a problem that is shared by this week’s reader to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org:
How do I stop my dog from barking at people whenever I’m talking to them? I know she does it for attention, but I cannot have a conversation with anyone whilst she is barking all the time — D.C., via email
When I see this in person, more often than not I’ll see them struggle to push the dogs back on to the ground or quieten them down. And after that, when they finally managed it, they give the dog a treat.
At this point I usually turn to my clients and point out that they’ve just trained their dog that if they bark or jump up and down you’ll turn all your attention on them and then give them a treat. Do you think you’re helping him learn?
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‘Gosh Ben,’ they’ll tend to reply, ‘well, that what I was taught at the obedience classes.’
Unfortunately, this is an issue that tends to have deep roots in the relationship between you and your dog. Some dog trainers might suggest a sticking plaster-remedy which might help once or twice, but you’ll get much better results if you go back a few stages and rectify the problem at source. By going back and changing different behaviours, you’ll reap all sorts of benefits. Here’s how to go about it.
1. Understand the problem
The root cause of this is a problem of incorrect training. The dog most definitely doesn’t have mutual respect for you and your space; and she almost doesn’t trust you enough to leave you alone in this environment while remaining relaxed and calm. She’s barking and getting boisterous and over-excited — potentially dominant — around you and other people, and it’s this that we’re going to change.
2. Go back to the start by instilling patience
I’d like you to focus on getting your dog to sit calmly, especially at meal times, while other members of the family come and go. Reward the dog with its food for this continued good behaviour. And once your dog is happy to sit calmly for its food — or a reward — from you, we need to start introducing other people. Ask a friend or family member to come around and help you practice this simple thing of staying calm; repetition is key.
3. Make sure your dog knows the leave command
I’d also like you to start working hard on the leave command — which I covered in depth in this article — and then call on a friend or family member to help you practice. Ask them to come round, and if you open door and the dog barks it’s time to step in to action.
Get your friend to step back a moment while you give the leave and sit commands. Put a reward on the floor or in your hand, then invite your friend in and get him or her to walk past the dog. If training has been on point, the dog should understand that calm, relaxed behaviour will get a reward at the end. If it’s a bit wobbly, ask your friend to keep coming in and out until this behaviour is sorted.
4. Get your dog to trust you and stay calm when other people are around
What I like to teach – and this is something I looked at in my piece about stopping a dog barking at the door — is that when someone comes in to my home, I want the dog to trust me, and trust the commands I’m giving. The key commands is ‘in’, delivered with an arm signal to their bed. Pop a reward on the floor (some kibble or a bone or chew) and greet your friends and guests, and ask them to come in and ignore the dog. The dog should wait patiently while you put the kettle on or get some drinks; and then finally you give the dog its reward.
If during this the dog then decides to jump and bark, a firm ‘leave’ command and an ‘in’ while pointing back to the bed is all that should be required.
5. Move the training outside — but don’t stop to chat with people yet
Remember, you’ve worked hard before this point comes, so you know you by now things are all good and you’re ready to test it outside, ideally in the high street of your local village or town. As you’re approaching somebody you need to watch your dog’s mindset; if it goes from calm/relaxed to more frantic, simply give the leave command, showing the reward, and asking the dog to walk to heel as you go past the people.
This can be practised with plenty of repetition up and down the street. I don’t want you stopping and talking to people yet until she’s happy to walk past in a calm relaxed state, focusing on you. As you go past the people and distractions, the odd reward will come from you.
The dog will now have much better trust and respect for you — and you her. As the trust grows you’ll be less tense, and your dog will pick up on that and be less tense too. That’ll help hugely with both of your mindsets.
6. Stop for a chat
Now your dog is calm in all these situations, you can stop and chat. When you come up to someone, ask the dog to sit at first, showing a small reward, and begin talking to your friend. Your dog should think, ‘I can sit calmly, relax, trust my mum, and when we walk on I’ll get a reward.’
You can deliver on this consistently with kibble, or calm praise, or a combination of both. And you’ll finally be able to enjoy an uninterrupted chat with your friends once more.
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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