I inherited an eight year old Chihuahua/Poodle mix. She has energy. She likes everyone. She gets so excited when she sees other dogs that she yaps uncontrollably. How can I train her to eliminate this behavior? ~Sally
This is a common behavior issue that many dog owners face. While there are many people who want a dog who will bark, there are also those who don’t want them to. Barking is like so many dog behaviors, in that there is a time and a place for it to be appropriate and times for dogs to not bark. When a dog starts to bark to the point of them losing control, it’s become an inappropriate action.
To answer this question, first we need to look at some of the reasons why the dogs may react this way. All dogs have what is called a threshold when it comes to stimuli. The threshold basically is the distance the dog needs to be from stimuli to not react. Some dogs can go over threshold when they see another dog at the other end of the block, while others are calm right up until a parade and marching band goes by. Every dog’s threshold is unique, as are the stimuli that push the dog over threshold.
When a dog is pushed over threshold, they typically have three basic reactions. First reaction is to run away or flight. The second one is to try to fight it off, and the third is to freeze in hopes of becoming invisible against the scary thing. Each dog has different stimuli that will set them off. Some react to fireworks, while others go bonkers at the sight of a rabbit. It sounds like the little dog above is stimulated by other dogs.
Your first step with this problem is to figure out how close the dog can get to another dog before starting to bark and yap. In the beginning, it may be fairly far away, like across the park or a few blocks away. This will not be a problem that goes away quickly and will take lots of dedication from all members of the family. What we are looking for from the dog is a counter emotional response. Right now, her emotional response to seeing another dog is to bark uncontrollably, but we would like for her to sit and wait for the other dog to approach.
Your second step is to set up a successful interaction. Find a friend or dog trainer with a calm and collected dog. Have them hang out in a certain spot, and maybe walk around. This is where being in a park is a good thing, as they can go back and forth. Keep your dog far enough away that she does not go over threshold. It is ok if she notices the other dog. In fact, we want her to, without her barking!
You will need your dog on a leash and collar. No reason to have her on a chain collar. A flat buckle or harness are all you need. When your dog notices the other dog but does not bark, start treating her. You can use whatever kind of treats are very high value for her. Some dogs can be distracted with kibble, but most will need something better, like soft dog treats, small bites of cheese or chicken. As long as she is quiet, keep treating. Right now, the only criteria you have is quiet.
As your dog starts to look at you and not at the other dog, move her forward a bit. If she starts to bark, move back to where she was not barking. Always move her closer to the other dog during training times. The goal here is to set her up for success and not to test her limits. You can keep moving her forward and treat her for calm, quiet, desirable behavior. As she gets to where she can be closer to another dog, you can have your friend bring their dog closer and allow the other dog to sniff yours, as you treat. She is learning that being calm means good things are happening and that she still gets to meet other dogs. The only criteria to ask of your dog is that she is quiet. She doesn’t need to make eye contact or sit. Later, you can add these behaviors in when quiet becomes a default behavior for her.
If she is calm as another dog approaches, she can even be allowed to go off leash and play with the other dog, assuming this is rewarding for her. If not, treats are plenty. It sounds like she wants to meet other dogs, but many small dogs will bark at other dogs as a defensive tactic. They actually do know how small and vulnerable they are, but they try to intimidate other dogs to stay away.
Before you get her to this point, it is up to the handler to set her up for success. Are there times of day lots of other people and dogs are walking? Walk at a different time or take a different route. Does she sit in the window and yap? Crate her and don’t allow her to look out the window until she can handle it. Some people even have had great success with putting filmy plastic over their windows so their dogs can’t see out as well. Finally, she may have learned this behavior out of boredom. A tired dog is a better dog, so lots of walks, training sessions and puzzle toys to help her use her mind. Dogs really do want to please, most just need to be shown how to and that there is value in doing as they are asked.