Canine Behavior/Barking

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Question
Hello, some background information for my dog: I have a Jack Russell mix who is about 3 years old. She was found by a friend as a stray when she was between 4-6 weeks old. She was unwell at the time and as a vet nurse I took her to work with me and had her treated, eventually taking her on as my own. During this time that she was unwell (2-3 weeks after we found her) she missed out on her key socialization as her illness required her to be isolated in the hospital. After she recovered and we had her home for a while we noticed her behavioural issues starting and she was diagnosed by a behaviorist with fear aggression. Since then I have worked with her for the last 3 years and she has improved, while she is still fearful of most things in life she does not show as much aggression (while she has never bitten anyone, I am not naive as to say she never will, I do believe that if she felt extremely threatened and was not able to escape then she would). She generally just needs 10-15 minutues to adjust to meeting someone new, and then whilst she is still cautious she can become quite friendly. I hope this is enough information on her.

My question is: Whilst she does not bark all day (she is kept inside and taken outside frequently throughout the day) there are periods that she will bark -seemingly at nothing although she may hear something that we don't. But mostly she just gives one low "gruff" noise repeatedly or frequent growls when she hears something outside. I understand that this is just her being cautious and fearful of the noises outside but I was wondering if you had any advice on how to manage this? I have previously been advised to distract her with a task such as sitting or laying down or "going to bed" however she continues to bark and grown even whilst doing these things. And trying to distract her with toys (when she eventually is quiet) does not seem to work for long. Do you have any other suggestions for me? I am happy to provide more information if needed

Answer
Ok before I can offer a suggestion, I need to know:

Who is your behaviorist, what are his/her credentials?
What methods has your behaviorist taught you to counter condition the dog?
What method of training are you using (clicker, food reward, "attention", etc.)


Distracting a dog that is in fight/flight ("But mostly she just gives one low "gruff" noise repeatedly or frequent growls when she hears something outside") is impossible.  You cannot "ask" for a trained behavior if she is truly in fight/flight, you can only redirect and you must be cautious about this: offering a treat (toy or food) is rewarding the fear.  I'm not altogether convinced this dog is responding to fear because I can't see anything from here AND ALL DOGS BARK.  The fact that she muffles her response tells me she is under "control" (many dogs just go "wild" for no apparent reason to us).  It is NORMAL for dogs to vocalize (mine does it many times a day, always with a "muffled" woof because she has learned I am not happy with loud voices lol).  IF a dog HAS A REASON (a dog barking outside, a person at your door or passing your door), you cannot and should not do anything to stop this behavior because the dog is doing her job: communicating her perceived threat TO YOU.  Let's say my dog goes to my front door (she only does this now - since I've moved out of my large house into an apartment - when someone lingers in front of my door - UPS guy, etc. - or passes) and signals me.  I ALWAYS respond by ignoring HER, opening the door a crack, and then telling her to "stop".  This allows her to SEE for herself that I AM checking it out and I AM communicating "nothing to worry about."

The JRT and its first generation hybrid is a tough little dog intended to go to ground after prey MUCH LARGER.  IF something interferes with the genetic wiring and the resultant puppy becomes fearful, then what was intended as courage becomes potential fear aggression.  By age three to five, if your dog is at risk of active dog to human aggression, you will begin to see it (beginning with growling, progressing to teeth baring, approach, snap, then total withdrawal).  You don't report any of this.  You might want to challenge your dog's bite inhibition by using the following video:

http://www.dogstardaily.com/training/teaching-bite-inhibition

Now let me point out to you that if YOU...."while she has never bitten anyone, I am not naive as to say she never will, I do believe that if she felt extremely threatened and was not able to escape then she would" would behave in exactly the same manner.  You're not about to take a hammer to a neighbor knocking on your door to borrow sugar, but you are certainly capable of fighting to the death for your own life or the life of a loved one.  So is your dog, so is every dog.  The more heavily socialized and FRIENDLY any dog is, the better protection in the event that the dog perceives (through your pheromones and body language) that you are under serious threat and will act upon it with no fault in the dog's temperament.  I would like to encourage you to use positive reinforcement and never discipline or punishment and to SET ASIDE your fear that she will "act out" inappropriately because, to me, it seems unlikely.

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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