Canine Behavior/Behavior

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Question
Hello, my apartment is on the first floor of the house i rent with my landlords above us. The floors and walls are poorly insulated from being an old house and they have heavy feet and slam doors etc.....we often here thumps and banging sounds from them walking around which makes my dog bark every time....this has been going on for months now and we tell him "no", "stop it" and "its okay" assuming he would get use to it by now and realize it is nothing bad but since he cant see and dont know where the sound is coming from is why he barks....is there anything me and my fiancee can do to stop him from reacting to the sounds?

Answer
Thank you for your question. This is a common problem for dog owners, especially when they move to a new space (to an apartment from a house, or to a lower floor when they used to live above). Dogs are vigilant about telling us when something out of the ordinary is occurring. For your dog, those noises (in the beginning) could have been a pending intruder and so he told you about it - also his barks let that possible intruder know they are not welcome.

For most dogs, those noises soon become background as the dog learns they are irrelevant to his direct life - those noises never mean someone is coming into his space. In your case, your efforts to quiet him by telling him "no" or "stop it" have served as unintentional punishers. I'm sure you weren't intending to punish him, but the scolding worked as a punisher and so he made an association that the noises from above predict that he gets in trouble. And so the problem has continued or possibly gotten worse because now the barking has taken on a new meaning. It's no longer just "Hey! There's a possible intruder!" Now, it is "Hey, go away, I don't want to get in trouble!" and this warning by your dog is followed by a scold "Stop it. No.", which reinforces for your dog that those noises predict trouble for him...

Occasionally telling him "it's okay" in an effort to reassure him didn't help because it's effectively been a mixed signal being only some of the time, while the rest of the time he gets scolded.

So, here's the fastest way to help him feel better. It may take several weeks since he's had several months to practice barking at those noises. Or he may surprise you and you'll see a real difference in just several days.

Instead of telling him "no" or "stop it" or "quiet," every time there's a noise from above, toss him a treat. Since you said this happens frequently, you'll need to reduce his regular ration of food to accommodate the extra goodies. We don't want to create a quiet obese dog... we just want him to learn that those noises from above predict good things and so aren't so scary after all.

So, keep his favorite treats in a dish near by, but out of his reach. You may need to have several dishes in strategic locations (near the computer, near the couch where you watch TV, in the bedroom, etc). Every time there's a thump or bang from above, toss a treat to him. For the first few days, you may even toss 2 or 3 treats each time (they don't have to be big, just a small bite). Then after a few days, you can back off to a single tasty bite every time there's a thump. As you reach for the treat to toss, tell him something like "noises" or "monsters" (in a silly voice, not a scary voice), or "neighbors" or whatever word you like. Just a single word, and be consistent so that both you and your fiancee say the same word, with the same cheerful tone to it.

So the whole scenario will play out like this:
Noise from above
"Monsters!!!" (while you reach for a few tasty treats)
Toss treats
Dog eats treats.

A minute later, more noises from above
"Monsters!!!" (while you reach for a few tasty treats)
Toss treats
Dog eats treats.

You can also use a command such as "Find it!" in a cheerful voice. I use this command every time there's something on the floor that my dogs are allowed to eat. Sort of the opposite of "leave it" and it tells my dogs to search the floor because there's a goody waiting for them. If you haven't already introduced that command, just use it in place of "Monsters" here and within a day or two, he'll know that it means there's food on the floor for him.

Make sure you toss the food where he can see it.

This process will make a paired association for your dog that the noises from above reliably predict a bite of his favorite treat. Within a couple weeks you should see a dramatic reduction in his barking, and instead he'll hear the noise and either look at you or come running to you if he's in another room, looking for the treat. That when you know you've got him! At that point, you can start to incorporate other things he loves - such as tug, fetch, belly rubs, sweet talk, etc, and then you can rotate so that food is only presented about 30% of the time when there's noise, but on other occasions it's one of the 6-10 other things on his list of favorite activities. And it doesn't have to be long. It can be just 10-30 seconds of love/play/praise just to reinforce that the noise from above still means good things for him.

In the beginning, you'll do his favorite treat 100% of the time for every bump, thump and bang from above. This may mean that half his daily calories are coming outside his regular meal times. If he really likes his kibble, then use his kibble for the bulk of these tossed tidbits, but also include a few special bonus bites of a favorite treat.

Once he's stopped barking and is clearly looking to you for reinforcement instead of barking, then you can start to present other things in place of food for many of the noises, still throwing food in a few times per day. This will actually improve his new response for you. And before you know it, he'll be happy and excited every time they make noise upstairs.

If you find that he ends up giving excited, playful barks - that's actually good because we've clearly taught him that the noises mean something different. Now, you can tone it down by giving quiet praise and cuddles, rather than high-energy tug/wrestle/fetch if that's getting him too excited.

I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.

Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist
http://GoodDog-DogTraining.com

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, CPDT- KA, APDT

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IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 5 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at http://CashewsCorner.wordpress.com/ If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.

Experience

I have been professionally modifying behavior and training obedience for 7 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I have just changed the name of my business. It is no longer Good Dog! Dog Training. The new name is Nutz About Mutz!. If you see previous questions with the Good Dog! website information, that is my response.

Organizations
I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications
http://NutzAboutMutz.com ; http://CashewsCorner.wordpress.com ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

Education/Credentials
I have a graduate education in animal behavior and learning. (While I completed my coursework and did the requisite research, I did not defend a dissertation. I am qualified, but not certified and so technically not a doctor. This is commonly referred to as Ph.D.-ABD which means All But Dissertation.) My educational focus was with non-human primates, but my personal interest is with domestic dogs and their relationships with humans and other animals. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences.

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