Whether you live in an apartment or share a fence with a neighbor, dog barking or other aggressive behaviors toward people and other dogs in your neighborhood are a nuisance and a potential liability. So rather than being “that” neighbor, what can you do to modify your dog’s behavior and become the neighbor everyone wants?
First of all, management is key. Try not to set your dog up for failure (and risk someone getting hurt) by putting him in a position where he barks all day or reacts negatively toward someone who comes into your home. If your home association allows, make sure you have a sturdy, tall privacy fence that hands and paws cannot get through.
The electric shock can be traumatizing to dogs, and some become fearful of going outside at all after they’ve experienced even just one shock. This could result in a plethora of other behavior problems developing both inside and outside your home. Some dogs also ignore the shock and run right through an electric fence when they see another dog, person or small animal they want to get to on the other side. This is especially dangerous if your dog has already shown reactivity in response to any of these triggers. Read the small print! Electric fences are not classed as a viable containment system, and you will be liable if your dog goes through the fence and injures someone.
A growl is among a whole host of warning and stress signals dogs give us when they are uncomfortable. A growling dog is actually showing restraint and is warning rather than biting. If you punish your dog for growling, there’s a strong chance he’ll skip the warning next time and go straight to a nip or a bite.
Watch for subtle stress signals your dog gives off, such as yawning, a quick flick of the tongue or hard staring at a person or other dog. Get your dog out of the situation before anything escalates.
Don’t leave your dog unattended in the yard, regardless of whether he has shown reactivity or discomfort around your neighbors. Boredom can contribute to unwanted barking, fence running and other kinds of frustrative behavior.
Teach your dog a reliable recall, so you can call him at all times. To teach a reliable recall, reward your dog each and every time he comes to you, and never punish him when he takes longer to return than you would like.
There are also training techniques to improve your dog’s relationship with the neighbors.
If you have a good relationship with your neighbors, ask them over for dinner. When they come in the house, have them ignore your dog — no petting or talking and limited eye contact. Have them drop treats on the ground. If your dog shows signs of being comfortable, limited interactions can begin on his terms. If your dog shows any signs of being wary or uncomfortable, give him the option of removing himself from the situation.
If you don’t know your neighbors well, ask them to not pet or talk to your dog through the fence. You might need to add a second layer of fencing depending on your dog’s individual needs.
If you live in an apartment, it’s especially important to set your dog up for success and avoid situations that might make him uncomfortable. (Like skipping the elevator and opting for the stairs instead.)
If your dog has a bite history, consult a qualified trainer in your area. A good place to start is at positively.com/trainers.
The first step is to determine the root cause of the dog barking. Is your dog barking because he’s bored, fearful, startled or overexcited?
Pay attention when your dog barks. Is it the strong, confident pitch of a protective or alert bark, or is it an ongoing, higher-pitched demand bark?
Consider whether your dog receives enough physical and mental stimulation. Being left outside all day is no replacement for proper aerobic exercise (like a walk, jog or game of fetch) or mental stimulation (an interactive toy, game or training session). In many cases, increasing exercise causes a significant decrease in barking.
If your dog barks constantly at things he sees out the window, make some changes to the setup of your home. This may mean blocking your dog’s access to certain windows and doors or setting up a baby gate or two to limit your dog to certain rooms of the house.
Steer clear of punishment and tools that promise to “cure” your dog’s barking, like citronella collars, bark collars, shock collars and other anti-barking devices. They will not get to the root of what is causing the barking and can be quite traumatizing for many dogs.
Thumbnail: Photography by 1905hkn/istock.
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Victor Stilwell is a world-renowned dog trainer, TV personality, author and public speaker best known as the star of the international hit TV series It’s Me or the Dog, through which she reaches audiences in more than 100 countries. Appearing frequently in the worldwide media, she is widely recognized as a leader in the field of animal behavior, is the editor-in-chief of positively.com and the CEO of Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Training — the world’s premier global network of positive reinforcement dog trainers. Connect with her on Facebook at Victoria Stillwell and on Twitter at @VictoriaS.