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Dutchess_III's avatar

Why am I surprised my dog actually made the connection?

Asked by Dutchess_III (43223points) April 24th, 2015

I always heard that you can’t teach on old dog new tricks, but I think I have done just that. I have a spaniel mix named Dutchess. She’s about 7 years old. As far as dogs go, she’s fine. I like her. Except when she gets to barking. When she gets to barking she’s just apeshit and it drives me insane. In fact, that was one of the first questions I asked here….how to stop my dog from barking.
She’ll be sitting at the front door, watching the world go by, then see something that sets her off and she’ll go nuts. The screaming in the house is unbearable so I’ll open the back door and she’ll fly around the back yard, screaming at the top of her lungs.
Then she’ll come back in and act like nothing happened.

About two weeks ago I laid down the law. When she goes off on her rant, she is not allowed back in the house for at least the next 30 minutes. The hardest part of this was my husband. She’ll sit at the back door and whine and bark and yelp and it is so tempting to give in and let her in just to shut her up. To me, it’s like giving in to a kid having a temper tantrum, and that is the worst thing you can do! I can ignore the behavior, but him, not so much. He gets all tense and angry.
Anyway, I finally convinced him to give this a try…and I’ll be danged if it isn’t working. She’ll sit at the back door, asking to come in, and I make a point of letting her know that I am flat ignoring her! Eventually she’ll just lay down, resigned. The barking fits have decreased from about 5 a day, down to 1 a day, and I am expecting even that to go away.

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15 Answers

josie's avatar

Perhaps because you imagine the dog is responding to the punishment for bad behaviour.

That would indeed be surprising.

Actually, what is happening is that the dog is responding to the reward (the door opens) for good behaviour (lying down and being quiet). Dogs respond well to positive re inforcement. They generally do not understand “punishment”.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Oh, I can understand her viewing the door opening as a reward, but it doesn’t explain why her barking fits have decreased so dramatically, which was my goal.

Uasal's avatar

Yep. Josie has the right of it. I’m trying my damnedest to teach my dog not to jump on visitors (he gets so stinking excited) but since he’s never actually been calm when people visit, I can’t actually reward him for doing so. Tough breaks.

Dutchess_III's avatar

So why is the bad behavior reducing so drastically? You can see her start to bark, then whine and almost clamp her jaw shut to stop herself. This is not something I am imagining.

longgone's avatar

You are surprised because it seems unlikely for Dutchess to have learned not to bark because of your actions. You’re right, it is quite unlikely. Here’s what seems more probable to me:

What does Dutchess do out in the yard? Dogs are masters of watching us. Does Dutchess spend a lot of her time observing you guys? Is she, by any chance, almost always either observing or barking? Dogs tend to block out everything but the “intruder” they are barking at.

If Dutchess is smart, she has understood that the damn door is suddenly less reliable. She’d like it to stay open, so she stays attentive – can’t stay attentive while barking crazily, and that might be your answer.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It starts with her sitting in front of the front door looking out. Any number of things can set her off, but one of the worst are these two ladies who walk a pair of white dogs past our house every day. When Dutchess sees them she just looses her mind and starts barking and whining. I open the door to the back yard and send her outside where she rushes over to the fence barking and barking like a fucking lunatic. This goes on for about a minute, then she stops and comes to the door to be let in.

She really wants to make us happy, and I have never figured out why she continues with the barking when it so obviously makes us unhappy.

As to smart..I don’t know. Sometimes she seems smart, other times not so much. Rick sometimes calls her Yupid.

snowberry's avatar

Experts here notwithstanding, I agree with you @Dutchess_III. Your dog did make the connection.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It sure seems like she did.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Since I started this Dutchess has taken to lying under the table with her head on my feet like, “Do you still love me?”

Just a moment ago she jumped up, barked once, then ran to the door (which is wide open,) then stopped, turned around and sat there looking at me. I told her she was a GOOD dog!

snowberry's avatar

@Dutchess_III I think animals are a whole lot smarter than scientists would like to think they are.

Pandora's avatar

Best thing to do is teach a dog to bark on command and teach them not to bark. Everytime they get a reward. Then when they are about to go batty, tell them bark and give a treat and tell them to stop and give them a treat. Then after a while they get more distracted with the idea of getting a treat.
It worked with my first dog. Although, he did have a hard time listening to my command when another dog walked by. Especially if they barked first. Then all bets was off.

longgone's avatar

Her lying on your feet is interesting. If she hasn’t done this before, she is very likely “guarding” you – it’s a way for her to relax while automatically being alerted once you move. Fits within the theme. How is Dutchess when left home alone?

For the record, I don’t think dogs lack the intelligence to make a similar connection. Not at all, actually. I’m looking for other approaches to explain this “phenomenom” because while dogs may think as well as humans do, they do think differently. It makes no sense for Dutchess to think barking will make you unhappy. She thinks she is doing her job, alerting you to a stranger’s presence.

Dutchess_III's avatar

What do you mean how is she when left home alone? I don’t know cuz I’m not there. I know that she sleeps on the couch even though she knows she’s not supposed to.

When she gets yelled at for barking every time she goes apeshit, I’m pretty sure she can tell that we don’t like it.

Anyway, she didn’t bark one time yesterday, and hasn’t today, either. It’s 2:30. Usually by now she’ll have had at least 2 “episodes.”

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