Sunday, August 17, 2008

Barking at the door: Who's training whom?

As I've said over and over, kuvasz are guard dogs. Which means they will bark ferociously at the door if they hear someone approaching, right? Well, sort of. They are also really, really smart, as I was reminded recently:

Our apartment door is right next to the elevator, and we have a laundry room down the hall. On weekends, especially Saturday mornings, there is a fair bit of activity as people come to our floor to do their laundry. Lately, the building has been painting the fire stairs next to the elevator, too, so there has been a lot of activity and noise outside our apartment. Biggie almost never barks otherwise (after we worked out his separation anxiety, the subject of another training post), but when he barks at the door he is LOUD. The neighbors love it! Typically when he barked at the door, we'd make our corrective noise, a loud nasal "EH!" and go up to the door and pull him away, and praise him when he stopped.

A few weeks ago, we noticed that sometimes he'd run up to the door, bark loudly, turn and look at us, and continue to bark. If we went, "EH!" he would just ignore us. So we would grab his collar, sometimes put him in the other room so he couldn't physically get to the door, and listen. It seemed oddly quiet. What was going on? Was Biggie getting more aggressive and territorial?

Not quite. Biggie was training us.

The key was that he would turn to look for our reaction while he was barking at the door. This also usually happened later at night, when P-Daddy and I were working at the dining room table. Biggie was bored, and wanted to play, and any attention was better than no attention at all.

But this behavior presented a new problem, namely, how to untrain (or redirect) that behavior while staying on good terms with our neighbors? Obviously, ignoring that behavior was what we should do, but we couldn't very well let him bark incessantly while our neighbors were trying to sleep, not to mention it was driving us nuts too. 

The solution? Yesterday morning when Biggie ran to bark at the door, I got up calmly and went into the bathroom and shut the door. The barking stopped immediately and he walked over to the bathroom to wait for me to come out. When I did, I gave him some praise and petting for being quiet and calm. 

The best part of this training solution is that it doesn't punish alarm or guard barking - if there really is something outside, he will continue to bark.* But if he's doing it purely for attention, it completely removes the attention source without any emotion. We did this yesterday maybe 4 or 5 times, and Biggie's figured it out already - the barking at the door has decreased dramatically, and even his alert barking has calmed down considerably. Instead of ferocious, non-stop, "I'm gonna tear your head off" barking, he growls and gives a few low barks. If the noise in the hall doesn't escalate, he stops. 

After he's done a quiet alert bark, I reward attention to me by calling Biggie over, having him sit or down by my chair, and rewarding with a treat. And if he comes over to "offer" good behavior by lying next to my chair on his own, he gets intermittent and random praise and treats. 

*If there is a continuing noise in the hall, I will go to Biggie and have him sit, down, stay, and practice some hand targets with good treats while the noise is going on. It redirects his attention and creates a new association: non-threatening noise in the hall = treats for listening to Momma. Yesterday afternoon two neighbors who don't particularly like Biggie had a conversation just outside our door, and Biggie and I sat quietly and eavesdropped on the whole thing. Congratulations, Biggie, maybe they won't vote you out of the building after all!


babyphat523 said...

What a smart boy Biggie is! Sometimes they like to test the silly humans. :) xo

Huck said...

Cool post, Bigs. I just did a post on barking too! Tell your Momma she's one smart Kuvasz Mom! Way to go.

Lenny said...

Hey Biggie!
Congratulations - you won an award in the Pawlimpics today!
Your friend, Lenny

Lindsay said...

Wow, you had a great idea! I wonder if I can use that with Ace. He doesn't bark much, but he does that annoying crying when he wants to be by me or wants attention. Ignoring him doesn't help, but maybe if I just went in another room and shut the door! Ha.

Anyway, I was searching for some dog photos in Google images and saw some of your pics of Biggie. He's famous.

Anonymous said...

Wow he sounds really clever, was interesting to read though as my dog - Morph barks at the door like that too. I may need to try your technique!!

Georgeous said...

Oh Biggie, you are getting such a biggie, that picture with Mumma is wonderful!
My Mumma said, you have a big head and that means a big clever brain (not all big heads get the clever brain you have tho), she said to tell your Mumma, that, one of her Rotties only ever barked when there was something to bark about and considering I think you live in down town NY, there may be something to bark about outside your front door. So you make sure you get it right big man and alert them to only the 'worry'.
Love George

River said...

That sounds so smart. I'm not sure it would work with us--most of the time, my mom screams FOOD! and we will forget about the woodchuck or cow outside the window. She doesn't have enough energy to get up and go to the bathroom each time....

love & wags,

Saint Lover said...

Biggie you crack me up. You got your momma totally wrapped around you paw! You had her going too, but she's on to you now. ;)

Pacco de Mongrel said...

hey..we dogs are smart as usual.... humans are incompetence

Kess And Her Mama said...

An excellent training technique. As always, just needs positive reinforcement for good behaviour. Neat!

Mango said...

Biggie - You are super smart. You had your mom fooled for a while, but she is even more clever than you.


Petey said...

Hey Biggie!

We need to meet up at the Chelsea Dog run one of these days because I keep running into a kuvasz at night (he was very impressed that we know what kind of dog he is!) and I bark my head off. Like I'm Cujo or something. Which only gets Bear going and he's bigger and older than me so that could mean trouble if this kuvasz decides to kick some Cairn butt!

I'm really getting excited about our Vegas trip!

Your pal,