[place shocked gasp here]!) When the dog barked or even “harrumphed”, the owners sprayed a little compressed air sprayer immediately (to startle and interrupt the bark), said “quiet!” at regular volume but sternly, as they jumped up went briskly over to their dog and pulled up on the leash, keeping some tension on the leash and repeated “quiet!” again to punctuate the whole correction. I instructed the owners, when they went through this procedure, to look for attentive body language (meaning their dog’s focus switched from the people coming through the door back to the owner) and some submissive display like ‘head down’ and ‘looking away’. As soon as the owner saw that behavior, they were to let go of any tension on the leash, and went back to ignoring their dog.
We set this scenario up with “fake” clients a few times first. This “interruption and correction” procedure had to be repeated a couple of times in each of the first few trials of these ‘set ups’. That is to say, in the first several corrections, once the dog settled and the owner walked away from the dog, their dog let out a mitigated little bark towards the intruders again. As soon as that happened, the owner spun around, sprayed the air sprayer, said quiet, and punctuated the whole move with the tug up on the leash with a finishing “quiet!”
The Positive Feedback: After two or three “set ups” of the above described scenario, (giving feedback to the dogs, that barking when people came into the office just wasn’t cool), we began seeing attentive body language and a “checking in” with the owner when “fake clients” would come in (and in one case when real clients unexpectedly came in). The moment the owners saw the “recovery” in their dog’s nervous system (That is, unlocking visually from the clients with a general relaxation in the dog’s body, ground sniffing (as if to investigate), and ‘checking back in’ with the owner visually) they verbally marked the recovery body language with a marker word of praise – “good!” Then they (to use Skinner’s term) reinforced. With one dog it was a good slow 10 second rub down and praise, with the other dog we found that a short pet and then (once the dog was completely recovered) giving a Kong with a dab of peanut butter and with a couple pieces of kibble stuck inside was helpful to reinforce what we verbally marked and socially praised with petting. (NOTE: this giving of a chew toy or food is to reward complete recovery, and then occupy the dog, and shouldn’t be confused with the “distraction” technique)
It’s been about a week of this sort of work and the clients say that they are seeing “totally different dogs”. The office staff in each situation have said they’ve noticed “an unbelievable difference”.
THE NEXT STEPS
In office awareness
The progression of the this sort of scenario is to start catching the right behavior all the time and then beginning to relax the restriction of the “tie out” in favor of dragging the leash around the office and still maintaining some semi-restriction in the dog’s movement while at work.
Improvement of the basic training
In the basic work outside of the scenario, the clients are teaching their dogs functional obedience like a reliable: sit, down, “go to your bed”, and temporary boundaries ( that is, a command that creates an invisible boundary that your dog cannot cross but gives them the freedom to do what they want on the other side of that line). As the dogs become more functional in their practical obedience skill, the owners can begin to choose what sorts of commands they will use to manage their dog while in the office.
Progress to actually meeting people
In the next couple weeks, we will begin brining the dogs on leash up to the front door to be near the clients and coach them through recovery in closer proximity to the “triggers” that once caused the unwanted barking. If the owners want to, we’ll go through the process of re-doing the meeting ritual and have the dogs actually meet the clients politely.
As always, if you have a barking/potential aggression issue, get your dog assessed in person and be prudent in dealing with scenarios like that.
Hopefully, some of these ideas helps you with your situations.
Feel free to email or call into the Podcast call in line with questions or comments.
All the best,