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Canine Behavior/Excessive barking

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Question
Hello,
I have a 10 month old Australian Shepherd and whenever we let him in our backyard he runs to the side of the fence where it is attached to the neighbors and barks. The people who used to live there had dogs but new people have moved in and even though there are no dogs he still goes back there and barks. He does it every time. I am just wondering if there is any way to get him to stop doing this. The only way I have been able to is to put him on the leash and hold him on the opposite side of the yard but I would like to let him out on his own. Any ideas? Thank you so much.

Answer
Train another behavior.  The Aussie is a herding breed; fence running is not an unusual problem.  Chances are, truthfully, this behavior will self extinguish over time when there is no "response" (the dogs on the other side were responding, even by their presence). Of course, the dog can also experience response perseverance: his behavior has been rewarded consistently enough to short circuit the fact that it is no longer being rewarded. But if you really want to stop it, you have to teach the dog "and now for something entirely different."

I suggest a diversionary tactic that works exactly like a clicker but is more audible: a police whistle.  Buy several; put them on strings (or whatever) and hang them on nails randomly through the house (one, of course, by the door to the yard).  The whistle must be introduced INDOORS when the dog IS IN MOTION (walking) and must be used at the LOWEST FREQUENCY at first because we do NOT want to startle the dog.

Scenario: dog is walking across room; blow whistle at lowest volume, dog WILL react; scoot down to his level, have a "party" so he understands you are happy and comes toward you; when he gets TO YOU, blow whistle again (at lowest volume) and pop HIGH VALUE FOOD REWARD (hot dog bit, string cheese bit) into his mouth, tell him what a good dog he is, walk away.  He may follow you, just be pleasant and let him go about his business.  What we want here is to create a bridge between his behavior (movement), the sound of the whistle (the bridge) and what happens when he COMES TO YOU UPON HEARING IT.  This does NOT reinforce the movement but rather the response to the stimulus (the whistle.)  YOU MUST NOT use the same movement (walking across the living room, for example) over and over as he might acquire a superstitious behavior (think that walking across the living room floor causes the whistle).  Repeat randomly (two to three times a day) INSIDE.  As the dog becomes accustomed to the sound, you can increase the volume of the whistle to normal volume.

After a few days of randomly doing this throughout your house, take the dog outside on long leash (long training leash) NOT in the back yard, but rather in a place where he is not likely to encounter things that excite him (empty parking lot after library closes, for example).  Let him familiarize himself with this environment, go to the end of the leash casually, blow the whistle, if he does NOT come to you immediately (interrupt himself and turn to you), take it back inside your home for a few more days (go back to kindergarten).  He SHOULD have acquired a conditioned response to the sound of the whistle: he anticipates going to YOU for a high value food reward.

NEVER set the dog up to fail.  If he's visibly excited over something else, he may not respond and then you must go back to kindergarten (start over).  It takes approximately (depending on the dog) 30 to 50 repetitions to get a conditioned response.  INDOORS, then outdoors, use this whistle only when you're certain he will not be distracted.  (In other words, if another dog is approaching and it's early in his conditioning, the whistle may fail.)  Continue to (twice daily) use it indoors (you can begin to do this from another room once you SEE the dog IS responding appropriately).  When you KNOW the dog has done something NEW (the first time he comes running from another room to the sound of the whistle), jackpot the reward (fistful of high value food reward).

This will take time and consistency on your part.  Under NO circumstances is anyone else in your household allowed to use this whistle.  Under NO circumstances should the dog be allowed to run that fence while in training (you do not want his unwanted behavior reinforced).  After a couple of weeks (or perhaps even sooner, you will know it when it happens), your dog will be ready for on leash walks where you stop, back away from him, whistle, reward his recall.  You can then begin to develop a control for his prey drive (that's what fence running is) by rolling a large ball around the back yard for him to chase (while on long training leash) and interrupting with whistle (for jackpot reward).  Slowly withdraw food reward for normal circumstances (but never extinguish it completely) and reward ONLY attention and recall with distractions (such as your large ball: soccer ball, rubber ball sold for toddlers, etc.)  Always make a big deal of his response when he leaves the article (ball) for the recall: have a party and food reward.  For this breed, all this training should take a very short time if you do it right.  You will also be shaping a TOTALLY SECURE RECALL.  Now you are ready to let him out of the back door by himself.  After two to three weeks of this training, he may not return to the fence at all, in which case you can use the whistle with the ball in the yard for a couple of minutes every day as a "game" to reinforce the whistle recall.  BUT, should he return to the fence (keep a close eye on him) INTERRUPT before HE GETS THERE with the whistle and jackpot his return to you.  Never allow a successful fence run.

This ought to do it, humanely, AND with the added plus of a solid recall, every time.  

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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