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Canine Behavior/Irrational dog screeching


Hello, we have a 5 year old Pom that we have raised since puppyhood. Starting 3-4 years ago she started to become fearful of "flying objects" like toys, pillows, even treats that are tossed to her. She will screech and scream at virtually any moving object. It has gotten so bad that she will no longer take treats from a hand and she will only allow us to pet her back. She screeches at blades of grass and virtually any moving object. My husband is ready to give her away as she is terrified of our 1 year old son (who happens to LOVE her and is very gentle with her). I have thought that she is perhaps extremely farsighted but there is no way to test this. Our other Pom (12 years) has no similar anxieties and does very well with our son. We have tried to reward her when she is calm but she just starts screeching again the next day for no apparent reason. I am at a loss. She is a lovable dog who loves to cuddle (as long as nobody moves) but I don't know how much more dog screaming I can take. Please help if you can.

Thank you for your question.

I believe it is possible to test whether a dog is far sighted or near sighted, but it requires a visit to a veterinary ophthalmologist.

Have you ever discussed the behavior with your vet? There may be some other medical issue/condition that is causing her to react to sudden movements near her. So if you haven't yet discussed this issue with your vet, I strongly encourage you to do so.

Many nervous dogs react with sudden environmental change (SEC). Frequently we'll see dogs who will bark upon the arrival of a new person, settle while the person is seated, but start barking again the moment that person shifts position or (god forbid!) get's up from where they're sitting. Assuming there are no health or medical issues affecting your dog's behavior, it sounds like you're dealing with a dog who is very environmentally sensitive and particularly sensitive to SECs.

The idea of rewarding her when she's calm is a great approach to handling this problem, but you must be consistent and rather systematical in how you do this in order to actually effect a change in her response.

Let's look at this from her perspective. Your dog sees something move suddenly near her ('near' may be 10 or 20 feet away, or it may be less than 1 foot away. it may also vary with the type of object). In her mind, there is a flight/fight response. "Is this thing going to kill me?!?! Get away!!!!" This is a survival response on her part. Barking is what we call a distance-increasing signal and when she reacts like this toward the sudden movement, what she's saying is that she needs more space in order to feel safe and secure.

So, our goal is not "get her to stop barking." Our goal needs to be "help her feel safe enough that she no longer needs to demand more space." When we frame the goal in a way that's beneficial to the dog, and addresses the dog's underlying motivation for barking in the first place, two things happen. First, we instantly become more patient because we are seeing the issue from her place of fear/concern (rather than our own place of annoyance at the barking). Second, we set ourselves and the dog up for success because we're no longer trying to suppress a behavior; rather we're trying to change the visceral emotional response.

There's a great book that may help you with this process. It's called Behavior Adjustment Training: BAT for Fear, Frustration and Aggression by Grisha Stewart. She uses a protocol of keeping the dog "under threshold" (that point where she's compelled to explode in barking/reacting) and teaching her that she can choose alternative, "softer" cut-off signals such as turning her head away from the trigger, looking to her person, sniffing the ground, etc. and still get her needs met.

Grisha refers to the real-world need (in this case, more space between her and the trigger object) the functional reward. Right now, barking generally is successful for her or she wouldn't continue to do it. So, your dog barks and she effectively gets more space between her and the scary thing (either it goes away, stops moving, or she moves further away). The BAT protocol teaches your dog that she can choose other normal canine cut-off behaviors and still get that increased space or stop the movement. Once dogs see that a different behavior choice works to get the same functional reward, they will generally choose the softer behavior because it's less "expensive" - it takes far less energy to look at her person or sniff the ground than it does to bark her head off.

If you aren't sure how to go about this training with the triggers that set your dog off, or if you're unsure how to get the timing correct and the distance sufficient to avoid letting the dog explode, then I encourage you to enlist the assistance of a local professional who is either familiar with BAT or is willing to read the book and open to doing that protocol with you. There are some variations, and a good professional will utilize the philosophy of the protocol while being creative and flexible enough to adjust as necessary for your dog and her specific triggers. This protocol is highly effective for many, many different dogs with many, many different triggers. The book generally talks about fear of strangers or other dogs, but the sudden environmental change is part of that, and you can do this with leaves fluttering (or blades of grass), or anything else that makes your dog nervous, so long as you start off with enough distance, and minimal enough movement that the dog NOTICES the trigger, but is not sucked into the need to respond to it. That is the key... if she's far enough removed that she's not compelled to respond offensively, then she is able (and likely) to choose one of those softer cut-off signals instead, at which point you praise that choice and provide the FUNCTIONAL reward (increased distance or the thing stops moving....).

Good luck. I hope this is helpful to you. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.

Jody, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


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 8 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 and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at 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.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

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 ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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