Transitions – Managing Barking
Updated: Nov 1, 2020
When pups transition into new homes the first few nights can be challenging for them. This is often when reactive barking is learned because the pups don’t yet feel safe. If you ignore worried, frenzied, repetitive barking it may become a habit for the pup and he will be scared longer than if you go out and interrupt this process. A shorter fear memory is preferable. If you scold the pup for repetitive barking you add to his fear and make the situation worse. When you go back in the house he is likely to bark more than he did before because now he is both fearful and confused. And, taking a dog's voice away is a really bad idea because it doesn't also change how the dogs feels, just permission to let you know about it.
If I have pups in a new situation that are doing frenzied barking I know I have asked too much too soon. I go out (yes, in the middle of the night) and put them in a smaller area. This lessens their perceived responsibility. I may need an even smaller area, or smaller…. whatever the pups need. That may even be a stall for the night. The pups may have been fine in the larger area all day and come nightfall they aren’t. That is because the predator pressure has changed.
If I do go out I don’t “save the day” and rescue the pups, and it’s their perception that counts so read the body language of your dogs. You don’t want them to feel they are safe because you are there because you won’t always be there. You do want them to know that you trust them – that they’ve got this – even if it’s not quite true yet. Sometimes I bluff!
Body language is the primary way dogs communicate so remember to be cognizant of your own as you go to the pups. If you storm out there in frustration, or coo and comfort, you are giving huge information to the pups. Make sure what they are learning is what you meant to say.
When I do out to support pups in the night I stand tall, am relaxed, and my body movements are slow and sure. I may not even speak to the dogs other that a quick “hi there what’s up.” I’ll often put a hand on a shoulder and look the pup in the eye, and then I go off to investigate; this is an invitation for the pups to come along.
If, in this short walk, the pups relax and head out in front of me this may be all I needed to do. If the pups stay worried, or worry again as I turn to leave, I know that I need to change their environment for the night. In the light of day I’ll offer them this larger area again and see if they are ready for it.
Modifications like this usually aren't necessary for more than a day or two as the pups settle in and gain confidence but they do really matter.
Every training decision made with regard to your LGD should have as it’s goal to build the confidence the dog has in himself, not in you. You are a partner, certainly, but you should seldom be the port in the storm. If you support your pups this way they have a much better chance of maturing into steady, calm working dogs.