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Canine Behavior/Nocturnal barking

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Question
We acquired Bear, a rescue chocolate Labrador, six months ago as a companion for our recently bereaved, 10 year-old, blind PBGV.  Bear is thought to be seven.  The two dogs get on pretty well.  For the first five months, we thought Bear must never have learned to bark, but over the last few weeks he has begun barking in the night.  It's not every night and it's not often that he starts up again once one of us has come down to him.  He does have some kind of skin problem, the source of which is still to be determined by our vet (we suspect it will prove to be some allergic reaction; Tati, the PBGV, is atopic and has to be medicated regularly).  He scratches a lot, rolls in the rough grass in our field and vocalises quite often (not barks, though) when scratching.  We've tried a talk-station radio on low all night; a low light all night; coming down and comforting him; coming down and scolding him; coming down and letting him out (but he never seems to require that solution).  He's not barking at sounds outside because Tati would be much more likely to do so and he keeps shtum when Bear barks.  If it is separation anxiety, it's hard to know how to combat it overnight.  The dogs are not allowed upstairs and both of them have always seemed to accept that easily and happily.  But obviously we can't go on with this problem because it is disrupting our lives.  Please advise.  Thanks so much for your time.

Answer
First: your PBGV is blind and not very likely to comprehend (cognitively) the cause of Bear's barking.  Barking is communication:

http://www.dogwise.com/ItemDetails.cfm?ID=DTB989

It is an alarm.  The Lab is not a "watch" dog but it is a hunting dog.  Rolling in the rough grass may be an indication that this hunting breed is acquiring the scent of the "prey" and it may also be the reason he has a skin rash.  Skin rashes are not all that complicated in a dog (microscopic examination) unless they are: allergic reaction to food or substance (such as treatment of your lawn) or emotional (just as in humans: eczema).  

I do not think this is separation anxiety, I think it might be scent related or even hearing related.  If your PBGV is blind, his hearing might also be impaired.  It's quite possible you have an "unwanted visitor" on your property (in the UK, I have no idea what that might be but I must say I know Foxes are ubiquitous pests and also carry various skin disorders and fleas).

"Going down" to calm him is rewarding him.  Actually his barking is INTENDED TO GET YOUR ATTENTION (as higher ranking in social hierarchy).  Normally, when a human responds to barking, and gives the "shush" or "it's okay" signal and then retreats, a dog will stop barking unless there is a persistent "threat" that the Humans don't acknowledge.  

Bear is reacting to something real, and something that is affecting his health.  If your veterinarian is unable to determine (with various tests) what that is, find another one.  Meanwhile, this problem will not "disrupt" your lives if you can extinguish it but first you must find cause and second, you must STOP RESPONDING by going downstairs.  This is not a simple situation.  The dog has visible physical results (from stress or some contact allergy) and is doing his "job" (because his pack mate is, and he knows it, seriously dysfunctional due to blindness).

You might want to find a veterinary behaviorist.  I can point you to two of the top animal behaviorists in your country who might be able to counsel you and give you the names of veterinary behaviorists.  Bear is not the problem and his late night barking CAN be extinguished, but we must first IDENTIFY the original problem:

http://www.johnrogerson.com/consultation.html
http://www.coape.org/pfn/index.html

Don't give up on this dog, he's a darn good dog to have accepted a pack-mate like your PBGV.  This can be fixed.

Canine Behavior

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.

Expertise

I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.

Experience

30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for ThePetChannel.com for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, K9Shrinks@egroups.com. Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Organizations
Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Publications
Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Education/Credentials
Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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