Little Freddie is 9 years old. He lives with his elderly mum in a retirement village.
They have quite a few neighbours in proximity and the village is regularly serviced by gardeners. Freddie’s frequent barking triggered by noises and activities around the house has become an issue to his mum and their neighbours.
How do I stop my dog from barking:
Freddie’s mum had tried so many things to stop his barking, including telling him off, an anti-barking collar, and an ultrasonic collar. Freddie’s regular veterinarian also prescribed anti-anxiety medication to help manage the issue. Unfortunately, none of these approaches worked and Freddie’s mum was getting frustrated and had given up on using all the tools she had tried.
When I visited them, I conducted a thorough environmental, physical, and mental health assessment. It appeared to me that although Freddie was reactive to noises around him, the fundamental problem was a breakdown in communication between him and his mum.
Using devices that create discomfort, pain or fear can be very damaging to the human-animal bond. In behaviour vet terminology, we classify these tools as “positive punishment”. Throughout the literature on the psychology of positive punishment, there are many side effects and complications associated with using it. Often, positive punishment will create a “startle” effect to begin with, and as such people feel they see an improvement. Over time however, the problem often becomes worse, and the pet may become more reactive.
The solution I recommended for Freddie did not involve using the anti-barking collar, or any kind of yelling. Fundamentally, my aim was to build better communication within the relationship, so that Freddie could be redirected to perform a different behaviour instead of barking. I chose not to use medication as part of his treatment, as I felt his behaviour would improve without it. I designed a behaviour modification plan that involved practicing techniques to improve communication and encourage calm behaviour.
Six weeks later I visited Freddie again. He barked a little bit when my car pulled into the driveway. When I entered the house, he quickly recognised me and was very calm. He had retained all the skills I taught him during the first visit and was so keen to show them off! His mum was very happy with this outcome.
I have mentioned in another blog post that not all pets that see a behaviour vet get put on medications. We assess many areas that affect a pet’s behaviour and have many different tools to resolve behaviour problems. Freddie’s story also helps us to debunk the “old dogs can’t learn new tricks” myth. An animal would not be compatible with survival if they could not adapt to their environment! It is very important for pet owners to pay attention to good behaviours and reinforce them regardless of their pet’s age.