6 Tips to Remedy a Nuisance Barker



We’ve all been there. Your neighbor’s dog barks relentlessly and there are no amount of hints you can drop to keep him quiet. Or possibly worse – your own dog seems to bark at nothing and you can’t figure out how to stop him. Either way, trying to remedy a nuisance barker can be frustrating. So, why do some dogs seem to bark constantly, at the slightest disturbance, or sometimes at what appears to be nothing at all?

In my observations, dogs who spend extended periods of time unattended in the yard are far more likely to be nuisance barkers than those who do not. It is also an observation of mine that dogs who are left unattended in the yard for extended periods do not receive adequate mental and physical exercise outside the home. A life confined to the home and yard, with little variety, activity or stimulation is boring and sometimes frustrating. I am not implying dogs left unattended in the yard are neglected. In fact, many of these dogs live otherwise comfortable and pleasant lives. But to a dog – an animal designed to travel – being imprisoned in the same space, day in and day out, can be like prison.

Imagine yourself in this position.

Your basic needs might be met (food, water, shelter, and perhaps even some entertainment), but you rarely (or never) get to leave your home, experience new things, or socialize with others of your own kind. You would go nuts! Over the years, your frustration would build and soon you would likely develop maladaptive habits and compulsions as your brain desperately tries to find stimulation, purpose, and satisfaction. Dogs are social predators (travelers). It is in every dog’s genetic code to be social with other dogs and to explore their world. Birds fly. Fish swim. Dogs walk.



Backyard barking can also be a result of a phenomenon called Barrier Reactivity. Barrier Reactivity occurs when a dog barks intensely at a fence (or other barrier) when a stimulant such as a person or another dog passes by. Barrier Reactivity can most easily be observed at an animal shelter. This is a place where many of the dogs will bark intensely at their kennel door when you pass, but once you meet the dog in person, he is a friendly wiggle monster eager to play ball.


Barrier Reactivity is a form of frustration based in the dog’s intense desire to access or drive away whatever it sees on the other side of the barrier. This behavior can be based in curiosity, pent up energy, fear, and territory – among many other reasons. It’s a disconnect of the mind and body – the dog’s body is in the confines of the yard, but its mind is outside the fence. Bottom line, Barrier Reactivity is a cocktail of pent up energy, frustration and habitual rehearsal.


Fear and insecurity can also play a role. Some dogs can feel confined or trapped within a fenced yard and “put on a show” to attempt to keep intruders away. Over time, this can develop into a near paranoia, where the dog is set off at the slightest disturbance. This can be the hardest type of Barrier Reactivity to remedy, as the dog can self-reinforce this behavior. That is, every time the perceived threat (i.e. the mailman) comes by, the dog barks, and the threat almost always leaves. In his mind, barking at the threat made it go away. So, what can you do about a nuisance barker?



Don’t leave your dog(s) in the yard while you’re at work.

If you leave your dog outside while you are gone because otherwise he might soil in the house, chew up the sofa, or get into other trouble, these are behavioral problems in themselves that may require the consult of a professional trainer. Leaving your dog outdoors to prevent destructive behaviors indoors is not a solution – you are simply transferring your dog’s behavior problems to a new location. Consider crate training your dog and ensure he gets a vigorous morning, midday, and evening walk. Provide ample enrichment toys to help entertain your dog while he is alone – stuffed and frozen Kong toys are a GREAT option.

Consider doggie daycare – even just a couple times a week.

Nowadays, it’s surprisingly affordable and available. Daycare can be a great way for your dog to socialize, get some exercise, and break up your work week. It also allows you to come home to a dog who is ready to relax for the evening.

If your dog continues to be a nuisance barker even when you are at home, supervision in the yard is a must.

For a time, you may have to accompany your dog outdoors on a leash. You must also be proactive about interrupting barking spells and barrier reactivity. Hint: shouting at him from the back door is not an option – think about how this really just mimics the behavior your dog is displaying. Instead, go to him, clap your hands, spray him with a squirt bottle, and/or escort him inside etc.



Avoid any “aggressive” action towards the dog on the other side of the fence.

Regardless of WHY the dog is barking – shouting, glaring, or throwing things at the dog will likely only increase the barking. Avoid direct eye contact and facing the dog head on. Instead move about calmly and silently with your side to the fence, allowing the dog to investigate your scent. Only when the dog ceases barking should you move away from the fence. This may help teach the dog that you are not a threat, but also you will hold your ground and not be “scared” off by his barking.

Contact the owner and ask if you may toss treats over the fence.

If given permission to do so, toss the treats as far from the fence line as possible to encourage the dog to leave the fence and hopefully begin to create a positive association with you. Sometimes this method can backfire and actually reinforce the barking behavior, but more often than not, it does help. (Avoid this option if there are multiple dogs in the yard, as this could spark an unintended dog-fight).

Meet the dog.

Even if you’re not a dog person, or have been harboring resentment to the barking dog(s) for many months or years, inquire if you can meet the dog and perhaps tag along on some walks (this can also encourage the neighbor to provide more exercise for the dog).


Toby walking in neighborhood 

Remember, no matter what behavior problem you might be seeing from your dog, increasing daily mental and physical exercise is a great place to start. Nuisance barking is a challenging habit to break and will require dedication and perhaps some change in your daily routine. Consider consulting a professional to help – it is a worthy investment. Visit The International Association of Canine Professionals to find a highly qualified trainer or behaviorist near you.


If you are the neighbor of a nuisance barker, remember to keep your cool and avoid harboring a negative attitude – the neighbor might be just as frustrated with the problem as you are or they may be defensive about being approached. Ultimately, it is the dog owner’s responsibility to solve this problem. But as the neighbor, fostering a positive helpful attitude certainly can’t hurt!


Posted in Behavior, Dog Lifestyle, Training Tips

Ask Marianna: On-Leash Greetings

I crossed paths with my neighbor this morning while we were both walking our dogs. We spoke briefly, the dogs sniffed, and then my dog went around her dog and their leashes crossed. My neighbor’s dog got aggressive – she snarled, snapped, and mouthed at my dog. No one was hurt. I’m assuming that my neighbor’s dog felt threatened when my dog came into his space and their leashes intermingled. Is this the case?

So often I hear from students, friends, and family that their usually friendly and social dog has recently “gotten aggressive” or been “attacked” when meeting another dog on leash. These events, albeit brief, can be frightening or even traumatic to those involved – especially for the humans who often anticipate the possibility of it occurring again. These squabbles very rarely involve true [offensive] aggression, but rather a defensive response to feeling trapped or claustrophobic.


Aggression is a complex spectrum of behaviors that, for the most part, can be placed in two basic categories: Offensive Aggression is where the dog fully intends to do harm (usually based on the protection of environmental control, resources and/or territory) and Defensive Aggression is rooted in self preservation, where the dog feels it must defend itself and generally wants to avoid further conflict.


Leashes can undoubtedly produce defensive behaviors. When an animal (including humans) is feeling insecure or frightened, we have two ways to react – fight, or flight (runaway). Most animals want to avoid a fight whenever possible as injuries threaten survival – or in the very least are unpleasant and worth avoiding.


When we put dogs on leashes, we remove their option of flight – and they know it. Some dogs, who are naturally more relaxed and confident with themselves, may not have much of a problem. However, many dogs walk around on a leash with some level of anxiety (even if it is imperceptible). When meeting another dog, especially on a tight leash or if the leashes tangle, a panicked, defensive squabble can ensue. Usually these squabbles are very noisy and chaotic but serious injuries are uncommon.



“What can I do when my dog meets another dog on leash?”

Generally, I avoid allowing dogs to meet on-leash. Even with two dogs that are familiar with each other, the leash introduces a variable of defensiveness. It’s just not worth regularly putting your dog in a position where he feels the need to be defensive. It doesnt take much rehearsal for defensive behavior to become a preemptive ritual.


I prefer to keep moving while exchanging brief pleasantries in passing OR stand 8-10ft apart while we chat, asking the dogs to sit quietly at our sides. I also encourage all dog owners to take the time (under professional instruction) to teach their dog to be reliable under voice control OFF-leash. For many dogs, once they feel they have their “flight” (runaway) option available, they are much more comfortable meeting new dogs.



“But what do I do when someone lets their dog come up to mine without permission?”

If you live in a dogtopia, like Boulder, Colorado (my home), On-Leash Greetings are often unavoidable. When two dogs meet on-leash, the handlers should work hard to keep the leashes high off the ground, loose and separate. This may mean a relaxed and calculated “dance” around the dogs as they move about to sniff each other.


If ANY stiffness or stillness is observed (this may be immediate), the handlers should promptly drop the leashes and slowly back away from the dogs to allow them to diffuse the situation on the their own terms while feeling they have the space to move away from each other if needed. If the stiffness/stillness lingers, try cheerfully calling them away from each other and move on with your walk. If a squabble develops, your first action should be to remain calm – do not yell, scream or try to intervene. Most defensive squabbles will resolve themselves quickly if the humans stay out of them.

In conclusion:

Don’t forget to do your part and demonstrate good etiquette. Never allow your dog to drag you to another dog, especially if the other dog is unfamiliar. You never know where that dog and owner might be coming from (perhaps that dog is recovering from surgery or has a history of aggression). If you encounter another dog walker, lead by example and give them space. You can simply cross the street and keep moving or pull off to the side and ask your dog to wait patiently.


Be prepared to be assertive if those approaching you are not practicing good etiquette – it is always OK to ask someone not to approach. If your dog does end up meeting another on leash, remember to keep the leashes loose (and perhaps drop them if necessary), holding them high off the ground, allowing the dogs to feel they have the space to move away from each other if needed. Following these basics guidelines of On-Leash Greetings will enhance the confidence of you and your pup to tackle most any public interaction.


Posted in Ask Marianna, Behavior, Training Tips

Social Pressure: Understanding Your Dog’s Personal Bubble



Social pressure is a term used to describe the use of the natural space around you and all living things. Think of your personal bubble and how it interacts with those around you. Every individual (human and canine) has a different sized bubble and it changes depending on who is attempting to enter it.

When considering humans, it is appropriate for your family members and close friends to come inside your bubble and make contact with you. It is not appropriate for a stranger to do so – in fact, most would consider it weird or even frightening. Social pressure can be used to show respect – that is, not applying pressure by giving an unfamiliar person space when you interact with them. It can also be used to intimidate by invading an unfamiliar person’s space against their will.


Dogs use Social Pressure with each other too. Confident and/or social dogs have smaller bubbles and happily invite friends (and sometimes strangers) inside. Shy and/or wary dogs may have a very large bubble – sometimes keeping others quite a distance away. A shy dog will give off unique and sometimes subtle signals to let the others know what he is and is not comfortable with. If the other dogs have been well socialized, they will gladly respect that request. A well-adjusted dog will only use as much Social Pressure as is necessary to get the message across. However, dogs who often have their signals ignored sometimes develop preemptive defensiveness towards those who approach. Their more subtle signals have been repeatedly blown off and as a result, they have discovered that growling, lunging or even biting is the only way to get the message across.

When you meet a new dog, just as when meeting a new person – be respectful and observant of his personal bubble – watch his body language closely.

Do not assume a dog will be comfortable with you immediately approaching and touching him. Is he choosing to keep his distance and not approach you? Respect those signals and leave him be – no talk, no eye contact and no touch. If it’s a dog you will be spending a lot of time around, his bubble should decrease over time as he learns you will respect his request to give him space.



On the other hand, what do you do when you meet a dog who doesn’t respect YOUR personal bubble? We all know the dog – the one who comes bounding across the yard, leaps up on you and maybe even knocks you over backwards. It doesn’t have to be a large dog – a Chihuahua that does this is just as inappropriate as the Golden Retriever.


You can use your bubble and social pressure to give him signals right away that it is NOT ok for him to invade your bubble without your permission. How would you…or rather, should you, react if a [friendly] dog is running towards you? You should put your arms out to the side, (low at first, raising them at as needed), make yourself look bigger, stand your ground and possibly begin slowly and deliberately moving towards the dog. By making yourself big and using overt body language, you are increasing the size of your bubble, and by moving forward, you are applying social pressure. Pretend your bubble is a force field – your energy must be firm and confident to match. Tell the dog with your body language to STOP. As soon as you see the dog yielding to your social pressure, release it!

Releasing social pressure is just as important as applying it.

Social pressure can be applied in varying degrees of intensity. It depends on what message you need to convey. As a rule, use as little as is necessary to convey your message. Is your dog a little bit too excited when you get home from work? Try to stop him with your bubble before he even gets to you. Remember – as soon as the dog slows down and yields to the pressure, release it (back off)! If he has already invaded your bubble, confidently walk right through him. Push him away with your bubble and your body. Be persistent – if your dog has been practicing this inappropriate behavior for a long time, it may take a while for him to get the message. Every time he invades your bubble without your permission, respond consistently – push him out of it – with your bubble and body, not your hands. Only invite him back in when he is calm and respectful of your space.


You can also use Social Pressure (or rather, Social Release in this instance) to invite a timid dog close to you. Your bubble is “widest” and “strongest” if you are facing the dog straight on. Turn your side to the dog, and squat low. This will make your bubble smaller (releasing pressure) and communicate to the dog that you are giving him permission to approach if he chooses. DO NOT invade his bubble – carefully pay attention to the distance in which he is the least uncomfortable. If you shrink your bubble, and give him the space he is requesting, he may very well choose to come closer to you.



Social Pressure can be used to enforce boundaries and thresholds – for instance, not allowing your dog in the kitchen while you are cooking. Use your bubble and its Social Pressure to push your dog back across the threshold. Think of it kind of like soccer – “dribble” your dog back across the threshold, being ready to block him if he tries to slip past you. Repeat every time he tries to cross. As soon as he begins to yield to your social pressure, back off and release it! Remember, it’s about pressure and release – as soon as you see signs of your dog yielding to the social pressure, release it!


**I do not recommend using social pressure with a dog who has a known bite history, or a dog that appears to have aggressive intentions. Consult a professional before attempting to use Social Pressure.


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Posted in Behavior, Dog Lifestyle, Training Tips

All Dogs are Individuals

All dogs, “pure” breed or mixed breed, are individuals. One cannot effectively predict a dog’s behavior based on appearance or known ancestry. Any dog, even a pure bred dog with a closed gene pool, is capable of being friendly, social, fearful, or aggressive. Scroll through the rest of AFF’s awesome graphic on the topic.


Posted in Breed

Are Automatic Behaviors Really “Better”?

autositI have run across some trainers in my time, that feel “good” trainers/handlers should teach their dogs automatic behaviors, because “effective training shouldn’t need reminding”. I don’t entirely disagree, and in general, I like the idea of automatic behaviors – that is, your dog sitting automatically when you stop or sitting and waiting to pass through a doorway (versus being asked to sit and wait) – the environment/situation is the cue for the dog.
But, is it a good idea for the everyday dog handler to let the environment/situation take responsibility for guiding your dog? I’m not so sure. I think most professional trainers and handlers can handle that habitual routine, but I have found the majority of my students (that is, your everyday dog owners) benefit from asking the dog to sit each time– it reminds human that there is a behavior their dog needs to perform and they need to be ready to enforce it. It helps them, as handlers, remain more consistent.

For example, the door routine: We pass through loads of thresholds every day, most of them we don’t even think about. I have watched many a student teach their dog’s spectacular door routines, to be performed automatically. They look great for a while, until the student begins to forget about it, and passes through doorways without giving their dog the time to perform it. On the contrary, students who I have had avoid teaching an automatic door routine, and consciously take the time to ask their dog to sit and wait at every doorway, consistently perform better door routines OVER TIME. Why? Because the human has to consciously remember to perform the door routine, which makes them a more consistent handler over all.

So that being said, is it really such a bad idea to just ask your dog to sit and wait? Some trainers think you haven’t really trained your dog if you have to ask every time – like it’s some sort of a badge of pride – “Good trainers shouldn’t have to ask their dog every time.” And this might be the case in the Obedience Ring, but honestly, even if you have habit of asking every time, your dog knows the drill and would likely perform it automatically anyways if you forgot – the command is really for the human.

Posted in Training Tips