General Question

dammitjanetfromvegas's avatar

Will our dogs always bark at imaginary intruders?

Asked by dammitjanetfromvegas (4593points) May 16th, 2016

Can you train a dog to not bark whenever a door opens or whenever someone walks up and down the stairs?

If you can, is it too late for us? Our dogs are 8 years old.

I’m startled at least 15 times a day because our dogs bark whenever they hear a door open or whenever one of our children walk downstairs. They also start barking when I walk upstairs. It’s so hard to enjoy a peaceful moment in our home. They weren’t as bad when we lived in a smaller house.

Can we teach these old dogs a new trick?

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20 Answers

kritiper's avatar

Get a collar that punishes them for barking.

Judi's avatar

Molly finally got it when she went deaf and blind. There might be a way but I never figured it out!

dammitjanetfromvegas's avatar

I was telling my husband today that if I checked the front door every time they barked I’d get nothing done at home.

I almost missed a visitor the other day because I didn’t leave the kitchen to check the door.

Soubresaut's avatar

Victoria Stilwell on training a dog to be calm around doors—the video will be more directly relevant (the text focuses more on door dashing), and it’s lovely to watch her interact with the dog. It will take some patience, and some time, but it’s otherwise a pain free method (both for you and your dog!). The technique should be exactly the same for when people walk upstairs.

Soubresaut's avatar

Please don’t use a shock collar… at the very least, studies have shown e-collars are no more effective than other training techniques (and if you have training techniques no more effective than each other, why not use the least negative option?) At worst, some studies have suggested the e-collars may increase the dog’s stress… Also, teaching them not to react to the opening of doors and the footsteps of people walking upstairs is specific. An e-collar simply zaps them whenever they bark, regardless the circumstance—which means if your dogs ever bark to convey important information (maybe “I need to go outside”) the e-collar will punish that as well.

Unofficial_Member's avatar

Use traditional method. Spray their face with water whenever they bark (won’t always work, and definetely not on water-loving dogs). Not doing anything while they’re barking will mean that you condone their action so at least scold them whenever you find them bark excessively or inappropriately.

I’m sure something must have provoked their barking (like strangers coming in to your house or loud door-slamming, etc) and they’re just doing their natural instinct, barking. So don’t be so quick to judge them (Unless they do it for every single normal day-to-day door-opening and stair-climbing activities in your house).

Cruiser's avatar

The Humane Society has some great tips.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I truly believe that a lot of problems with dogs and their owners are rooted in the fact that dogs aren’t allowed spend enough time outside being dogs and thus develop neurotic behaviours within the home. This is hinted at briefly in the text on the page with the Victoria Stillwell training video cited above by @Soubresaut,

The problems are often due to dogs being kept in environments unsuitable to them by well-meaning masters, such as urban environments, apartments or condominiums, and even some suburbs. Our love for dogs can sometimes overwhelm our good sense as to a proper dog-friendly environment.

It is also due to careless, selfish, lazy, or merely status-seeking masters. Some dog owners wonder why their dogs are aggressive and destructive of property after being locked in a one cubic meter wire cage eight to ten hours a day in the living room while the owner is at work. These people have no understanding that a dog is a sensitive, intelligent animal much like a human toddler.

I just watched the Victoria Stillwell video and agree with her methods of training the dog out of acting upon this neurotic behaviour. She uses passive, kind methods with positive re-enforcement. It takes patience and time to do this, but it is the responsibility of the humane master to have patience with their dogs. The reward is a truely unconditional love and loyalty not found in any other animal on earth, not even other fellow humans. This should always be prized, protected and cared for, as it is an incredible gift.

Conversely, anyone using electric dog collars should be forced to wear them for a week by an angry spouse. But my first choice is that they should be beaten with a baseball bat.

ucme's avatar

Dogs, like some peope, are always complaining & looking for attention, most of the time they get it all wrong & back to front…bless

longgone's avatar

It depends on how important this is to you. Yes, you can teach dogs to be absolutely quiet, and yes, you can do this with older dogs. However, if it’s supposed to work in a reasonable timeframe, your best bet would be making silence highly rewarding. Do your dogs like food? Do they bark during dinnertime? If they don’t, there’s your answer: Make sounds the predictor of dinnertime. Feed them for being quiet. Measure out their food in the morning, then dole it out for silence throughout the day. If you can’t be actively training, frozen Kongs automatically train dogs to be quiet – can’t bark while chewing your Kong.

I agree with @Espiritus_Corvus on the necessity of proper exercise, especially in (sub)urban environments, though I’m less extreme about this. My dogs live in the apartment, they don’t have access to a yard. Because they need to be dogs, however, we go on long walks in the woods every day. As a result, when we’re home, they spend most of their time asleep.

Victoria’s video is good. I like this one even better, because it seems more detailed to me:

As others have mentioned, anti-bark collars are cruel.

rojo's avatar

Just because YOU cannot see them doesn’t mean they are imaginary.

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kritiper's avatar

Use a squirt bottle to zap them when they bark if you don’t like collars.

Soubresaut's avatar

Since there are now two votes for squirt bottles I thought I’d throw an against-squirt bottle vote into the mix (though others can probably offer a more eloquent response!).... It’s maybe not as physically painful as a shock collar (though if it gets into the eyes or nose or ears, more unpleasant than it otherwise would be) but it still seems unnecessarily punitive. Simply harassing a dog (or anyone) with various unpleasant experiences until they stop a certain behavior doesn’t seem terribly humane. It doesn’t offer the dog something constructive to do instead. Positive training techniques do offer the alternative. It doesn’t help to build a relationship of trust between dog and human (or in this case, since @dammitjanetfromvegas has had a relationship with these dogs for years, continue the relationship). It shows the dog “if you do something I don’t like, I harm/harass you,” and so even if it does successfully quell a certain behavior, it does so by establishing more of an antagonistic dynamic than anything. I can get someone to stop doing a specific behavior many ways, if that’s all I’m worried about. But each technique has effects beyond the individual behavior. Dogs are intelligent, compassionate creatures. Why use electricity and water when communication and patience work so well?

dammitjanetfromvegas's avatar

@Espiritus Is correct about physical activity. When our dogs were younger and my husband worked on a ranch he was able to take them with him to work and they ran and ran. Later when we moved to a farm they were also allowed to roam and play. Now that we moved to town they don’t quite get the physical activity they need. They are blue heeler/black lab mix.

I’ve made one change that has immediately helped. Now when I walk upstairs, instead of cringing because I know the dogs will bark I whistle for them to follow me. They happily follow and I don’t need to worry that they’ll wake up my husband or give me a headache.

kritiper's avatar

@Soubresaut These dogs are 8 years old and set in their ways. It would seem that “communication and patience” haven’t worked. So desperate times call for desperate measures!

longgone's avatar

@Soubresaut Excellent answer.

Soubresaut's avatar

@kritiper they aren’t set in their ways—as the OP explained from the start, and reiterated, this is a new behavior they’ve developed in a new environment/situation. However, even imagining different dogs who had been barking like this from puppyhood doesn’t change the fact that the ‘old dogs can’t learn new tricks’ adage simply isn’t true. And even if they are more stuck in their ways than a puppy still figuring out how to engage with the world—it would seem that from a psychological perspective, providing a dog positive incentives which encourage and establish a new behavior, rather than simply, suddenly punishing them for the behavior they’ve known and practiced for x years, would be a more stable and effective approach. It allows the dogs to develop new habits instead of simply cowering from the older ones.

@longgone—aw thanks. I agree with your and @Espiritus_Corvus‘s approaches

@dammitjanetfromvegas—glad you found a way to get some immediate quiet! :)

kritiper's avatar

@Soubresaut If there was one thing my old German shepherd taught me, it was “If at first you don’t succeed, trial and error, trial and error again.” If one thing won’t work, try another method. Try smacking them or your leg with a rolled up newspaper to scare them with the paper’s loud report/sound. The hit, if used, will startle them but without harm.

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