The Dogcharmer: Rosalie

When barking can be embarrassing.

Rosalie. — Courtesy Petra Lent

Hello Dogcharmer,

Rosalie rides in the wayback in our Forester, behind a grill. Whenever we stop for gas and the blameless gas station attendant fills up our car, Rosalie threatens him with imminent dismemberment. She can’t get to him, but it’s driving us insane, and it’s quite embarrassing, actually. How do we discourage this behavior, given that we’re in the front seat. (Yelling does not seem to do the trick.)

Petra

Dear Petra,

If you can just manage to hear the words of somebody talking to you from a distance of 25 yards, Rosalie can hear them just as clearly at a distance of 100 yards. That’s right! A dog’s hearing is far more acute than a human’s. Generally, our four-legged companions can hear most sounds at a distance four times greater than two-leggeds. And as I’ve often said to a whole lot of dog owners, “Who’s the better teacher in a classroom, the one talking or the one yelling?”

At this point, Rosalie is probably habituated and conditioned to aggressing at the hapless gas attendant. Plus, your yelling exacerbates the chaos, and undoubtedly adds to the intensity of Rosalie’s territorial response, not to mention she feels vindicated and successful every time you drive away, with the gas attendant disappearing. If Rosalie could talk, “Once again, I saved the territory [car] from imminent invasion!”

If a window can’t be opened from her location in the back, she needs to come forward to where she can receive “real meat” treats through a window. Prearrange, nobody from the station approaches the car, as a family member gets out and goes to the window nearest the pump and gives Rosalie the treat through the three-inch opening of the window. You can start with the driver getting out and giving tiny hot dog treats while pumping gas. If necessary, practice fetching the attendant with the two of you happily talking while approaching the car; you administer the treats while he pumps. If Rosalie gets crazed upon entering the station before anyone approaches, take her out on a leash, GO TO MEET the attendant (don’t have him come to you), the three of you go to the car, and he pumps while Rosalie earns her treats with her civility. If the attendant’s willing to give the treats, even better. Progress to Rosalie’s on a leash, standing with trunk or back door open, earning treats by being civil. Next step, treats through the window, ideally from the attendant. Petra, it is critical that you are patient and success builds upon success. If she aggresses, you need to go back to where she was successful and build from there. If you can’t get to first base with this positive approach, and negative reinforcement needs to be administered, please send me that question, and we’ll discuss, “Rosalie, be quiet!”

Be patient, and good luck,

The Dogcharmer

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