Dogcharmer: Barking Bessie

This pup may mix up herding and meeting new visitors.

Illustration by Kate Feiffer

Dear Dogcharmer, 

When we have visitors over, Bessie, our Aussie, barks incessantly, and follows them barking if they move about. She’s not aggressive, but nonetheless her constant barking makes it virtually impossible to have company over. We’ve tried a bunch of stuff, to no avail. Dogcharmer, any suggestions will be appreciated. 

Bill and Jean

Dear Bill and Jean,

Your Bessie is the second Aussie with this issue that I’ve encountered in the past few months. Sounds to me like her strong herding instincts are a bit confused, and mingling with her territorial instincts, with a dash of fear or insecurity added to the recipe. You haven’t told me what the “bunch of stuff” you tried was, but my guess is it was all negative. Try going positive. 

Meet your guests with Bessie outside the house, off the property. It can be as simple as across the street, with Bessie on leash as you greet the friends. Make it an enthusiastic greeting as you hand the visitors special treats for them to give to Bessie when she sits for them, when asked. After a minute of that, all walk home together, letting the guests walk in the house in front of Bessie. Even better if the guest is holding the leash bringing Bessie into the house, and then having her sit for that special treat. 

Once settled in the house, this is the time, and the only time, when guests are over that she gets the hollow marrow bones to play with. One has a piece of meat wedged in the middle, one a piece of cheese, and the third has some non-xylitol peanut butter smeared in the middle of the bone. She should work unsuccessfully at extracting the meat and cheese. When the guests leave, so do the special toys. Let me know how it goes. 

Dogcharmer Tom 

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