Tom Shelby, who has trained dogs and their owners on Martha’s Vineyard and in New York City, answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the Dogfather counsels the owners of a pair of calamitous canines.
We have two dogs at home — a 7-year-old rescue mutt (herding breed) and a year-and-half-old rescue. The older one was abused when he was younger, and one of his triggers is people walking through the door — especially men. He barks and usually stops if it is someone he knows in his very tight inner circle. Well, now our puppy has been copying this learned behavior. I’ve turned into the crazy dog lady holding the barking dogs when people cross the threshold. I’ve tried shaking the can of pennies — but nothing seems to deter them. Help!
Hi Lady Holding the Barking Dogs,
One of the key reasons that man and dog bonded thousands of years ago is for the precise reason that is such a hassle to you. Territoriality! Dog’s hearing and scenting being what it is makes it virtually impossible for somebody to enter a home undetected if there’s a dog in the house. That coupled with territorial aggression is why you hear barking whenever you ring the bell of a house with a dog in it.
While all dogs will alert their owners that somebody’s on the property or at the door, their follow-up response can vary widely. While the Golden Retriever’s likely response is “Hi, great to see you, wanna throw a ball and play?” or “Here’s the fridge, wanna share something?” the Doberman’s response might be, “You ain’t crossing the threshold without higher-up clearance!”
The basics of my dog training almost always include a “door turmoil routine,” a routine at the door to eliminate the turmoil of aggression or crotch sniffing or jumping, barking, or whatever nuisance behavior the dog presents.
And that lesson is usually one of the last lessons, because it requires redirecting a hardwired instinctual behavior, which isn’t easy. Before the door routine can be established, the dog needs to be pretty efficient at the basics — coming, lying down, not jumping, respecting the word quiet, and most important, using self-control by STAYING, when told.
Shaking a can of pennies without a prior foundation of obedience will probably exacerbate the barking by agitating the dogs further. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever used a shake can for a door routine.
You might try having the dogs out of sight outside when visitors arrive, and then when the guests are seated at a table, let the dogs in. If that’s not feasible, have the dogs in another room, once again meeting the guests after they are seated at a table. You only mentioned barking in your question. If you think the barking may lead to biting, you need to call a pro for help.
More often than not, having visitors already in the house before the dogs meet them eliminates a great deal of the aggressive territorial response. Your best bet: Call in a pro to help you get them under control.
Good luck, and keep those questions coming.