Ask Tom, the dogcharmer: Nina

Exerting her territoriality.

Eliene Santos' dog Nina has a territorial instinct to rival the best guard dogs. —Courtesy Eliene Santos

Dear Dogcharmer,

Why does my dog bark so much when people get close to the door? Even when she is with me in the car, she barks at anyone who gets close.

Thank you,

Nina’s Mom

Dear Nina’s Mom,

Nina’s barking is a matter of territoriality, and territoriality is one of the key reasons man and dog bonded thousands of years ago. It should actually be a comfort to know that when you’re home, nobody can ever sneak into your house undetected. Nina will always warn you! It’s territorial instinct, and her hearing is far superior to ours — so superior that if I was on a “high probability” search, meaning that the missing person my search dog and I were looking for was very possibly still alive, I used to blow a whistle and then observe my dog. If my dog cocked her ears and looked in a specific direction, perhaps the missing person heard the whistle and responded. I couldn’t hear the person, but the dog could!

Territoriality can present itself as the maniacal dog smashing itself into the car window, trying to get to the gas station attendant for approaching the car. Or it can be the Lab with loving eyes and tail that brings you a toy at the door after a couple of barks to let the owners know somebody entered their territory. Yet this super-friendly dog would probably be quite aggressive if someone were trying to climb through a window in the middle of the night. It’s why you’re unlikely to enter a fenced yard with a German shepherd behind the gate.

So Nina’s doing what just about all dogs do; she’s just doing it too much. Nina needs to learn to cooperate with you when you say “Quiet!” I don’t mean to shut down her barking when there’s someone at the door, but rather modify it through redirection. Visitor arrives, Nina barks to inform, and you thank her for the warning with some praise. Then you call out to the visitor, “Be right there, hold on a minute.” If Nina still barks, she needs to be told, “Quiet,” or “Enough.”

Then you tell Nina to go to her spot and lure her away from the door with a treat, and have her sit and stay. Then you open the door to greet the guest, followed by releasing Nina from her spot to come and say hello by sitting and getting a second treat. It’s what I call the “door turmoil routine,” and a helluva lot easier for me to write about than do. As for more civil behavior in the car, it’s not a matter of punishing her for barking, but rather having taught her to be a well-mannered girl before getting in the car. Here on the Vineyard, like no other place I know of, is where people approach my car to ask if they can give my dog a treat. I say, “You got another friend, Paula,” and roll down the window, to her joy. Nina will be a lot more fun to be with after a couple of lessons with a pro.

Good luck.

The Dogcharmer

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