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Canine Behavior/My terrier Willa- Barks at my husband


I rescued this 3 year old terrier mix.  Her story was that she came from a hoarding situation.  She was afraid of any and everything when I first got her April 28th.  She has come so far in her submissiveness...but she still barks at my husband anytime he enters the room i'm in.  Otherwise, she gets along fine.  It's frustrating for my husband who wants to bond with her.  She takes treats from him and comes to him when he calls her...!? I'm very confused by this. Any advice?


Next:  Your Willa hasn't been in your home for even three months and so far, according to your report, she has come a long way.  Now: in puppy mill situations, normally it is a man who "cares" for the dogs so it is not at all unusual for such a dog to be fearful, overly submissive and wary of men.

Barking is a communication: dogs bark as an alarm; they bark in a group because another dog is barking; they bark as a warning; the bark to get attention.  Let's assume Willa learned to bark because her barking is associated with whatever little "care" she received (food and water).  Starting with this educated guess, here is what you do.  THE MOMENT your husband enters the room and Willa begins to bark, YOU remove yourself rapidly and put a closed door between you and Willa.  Count to ten.  She will most likely have followed you and be sitting on the other side of the door.  If she is still barking, even if she is now barking at the door behind which you are standing, wait until she stops.  You can encourage her to stop with what I call "And now for something completely different":  sing, hoot, laugh, and she will stop; her cognition will engage.  Open the door.  Ask for "sit" (trained ONLY with positive reinforcement), then verbally reward her.  As you pass your husband with Willa at your heels (I imagine), he should then CASUALLY drop a high value food reward the MOMENT she passes him or goes to him: no eye contact, no commands, just a bit of chicken hot dog or string cheese.  Go on as normal.  This is called counter conditioning.  It will take approximately ten to thirty repetitions to extinguish her acquired response and exchange it for this: when your husband enters the room (having now associated this and HER BARKING with your removal behind a closed door), she should go to him anticipating a treat.  When this happens, he should ask for "sit" and then give her the treat.

PLEASE REPORT BACK (most people I ask never do) when, or if, you have seen a difference in this behavior.  Never scold, never address her directly and say "NO"; simply follow the directions given (even though you may actually have to go into a closet LOL) no matter how inconvenient.  Willa will learn YOU leave; Willa will learn that only NOT barking causes your re-entry (and command for "sit"), Willa will learn that your husband is the source of HIGH VALUE treat after her conditioned response (or even fight/flight response, can't see anything from here) has been addressed.  If I were a dog in distress, your home would be the one I would choose.  :)

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


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.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, 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.

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

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

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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