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Canine Behavior/dog barking at the tv


Hi jody
Hope you are getting on well with your studies and having a good summer.

Another question for you!  How would you address a dog barking at the TV particularly at other dogs barking on the television. When dogs bark at the sound of a dog barking on the tv this is a perfectly natural form of communication.  For the benefit of other users I have not set this question to private.

Thank you for the question and the well wishes. :-)

I'm amused with this question because I actually have to deal with this issue with one of my own dogs as well. He's a little terrier mix and needs to announce, and try to scare away, all 4-legged animals he sees on TV - whether live action, still (photo or paused TV), cartoon, statue, or even silhouette. If it looks like a mammal, my littler terrier gets up in arms over it.

It used to be that he'd leap off the couch and charge the TV, barking and growling and moving his tongue around like he was possessed. You could not interrupt him at all.

Now, more often than not, if he takes notice, he stays put but growls quietly. Only about 5% of the time does he charge the TV and that is continuing to reduce in frequency. And he's even managed to watch some animals on TV and not react at all.

The ideal thing here is to teach the dog that they don't have to watch it. If it upsets them, they do not need to engage with it... So, how do we do this? I used a combination of Counter Conditioning, a little BAT work and some easy management. I have been lax about it and not ever really sat down specifically to do this work. I've just done it as animals appear on TV and so there has been minimal consistency on my part regarding the training, and yet we are easily 80%-85% improved over where he started and he continues to improve.

Counter Conditioning: Each and every time there is an animal on TV hand or toss a few small bites of something super tasty - that the dog ONLY gets when there is an animal on TV (in your case, it seems to be specifically dogs, but you could include other mammals to create a consistency effect for this dog).

This sounds contrary as it might seem that you're rewarding the dog for barking and acting out. But, if that were the case, then the dog would begin to bark and react even more. Instead, what we are doing is creating a Paired Association - the animal on TV reliably predicts Manna from Heaven. It doesn't matter what the dog is doing. He could be charging the TV and throwing a fit, sitting still but staring hard and growling, he could even be engaged with a toy or sleeping. But every single time an animal appears on TV, no matter what your dog is doing or how he's reacting (so long as he's in the room), tasty food appears. And if the animal is on screen for any length of time, then you will continue to produce this awesome goodness until the animal is gone.

Over time (depending on the dog that might be a couple days or several months), the dog will start to see the animal on the screen as a cue that awesome food is about to appear. Instead of reacting negatively, the dog will look around, or to you, for the food prize. When that happens, we know we've established a connection for the dog - animals on TV reliably predict something good.

Now the dog is no longer reacting out of fear or agitation or whatever was triggering the barking. Now they're excited to see the animal because it means something good. Like when children hear the ice cream truck from down the street - they get all excited and run to their parent to get money... At that point, you will want to do at least a dozen more exposures where every single time he sees the animal on TV, he gets something awesome.

After that, you can start to randomize how/when you give the tasty treat so that maybe it's, on average, every 3rd time he sees a dog on TV or every 7th time. By making it random, it means that sometimes he'll get a tasty treat two consecutive times when he sees an animal on TV or it might mean that he just gets praise for making good behavior choices for 8 or 10 or 12 times in a row without getting actual food, and still other times it might be every other time the animal is on TV. But over the course of, say, a week, the dog got a tasty goody about every 3rd (or maybe you decided on every 7th) time. By keeping it random like that, the dog never knows which time will result in the tasty treat. This is a good thing as it will increase his efforts to look for that rather than react to the dog.

The cool thing about Counter Conditioning is that we are not changing overt behavior. We are changing internal emotional states. Right now the dog sees a dog on TV and says, "Oh NO!!!!!" The process of counter conditioning helps the dog change his emotional response to "Oh YES!!!" And when we successfully help him change to the positive emotional response, his need to bark goes away. :-)

BAT work: Behavior Adjustment Training. This is a protocol that empowers the dog to make choices about whether or not to engage. We do this with the TV by setting the dog up further from the TV so there's less social pressure. If he reacts only to the barking of a dog, then start with the sound on Mute so that he can practice with just the sight of the dog. If the movement is too much, then start with a still image on the TV screen. With the dog on a long leash (10 feet / 3 meters), allow him to venture into the space just until he notices the dog on screen. Slow him to a gentle stop at the point where he sees the animal on screen and give him 2-3 seconds to take in the sight. If he chooses to look away or move away, praise him with a quiet, but happy tone of voice. If he is relaxed in body (not leaning or pulling toward the screen, not stiff or rigid and not fixated in his stare) and wants to take a step or two closer after a couple seconds, you can allow him to do that - but do not let him charge the screen.

If the dog is overly concerned - if his body is stiff and rigid or he's leaning/pulling toward the screen or he's vocalizing, then he is over threshold for this situation and he needs your help to escape. Move him away with a cheerful, "Let's go this way". Get him out of sight of the screen. Distract him with a scent-enriched environment. This might be tossing some treats around or hiding them or hiding favorite toys and letting him sniff around to find them. Using his nose is actually a very soothing activity for dogs and helps relax his mind. After he's had a few minutes to recover from the over-threshold moment, you can do another exposure, but this time be sure that you've made it less arousing. This might mean stopping the dog while he's further away, or lowering the volume if there was sound or dimming the picture so it's not as high in contrast or switching from an image of a real animal to a statue or a cartoon, etc.

As the dog demonstrates the ability to remain calm and relaxed and he's choosing to look and then look or move away, you can allow him to get closer until he's actually as close to the screen as he can get. Then, start again at a distance, but increase the stimulus (e.g. if it was a still image, then let it play so now there's movement; if there was no sound, put it on, but at the lowest volume that the dog can hear) and begin the process again.

During this process, you are likely to see great leaps forward in progress and then some stalls or even set-backs. This can happen if we get excited and increase the stimulus too much in a single step. Or it can be that the dog is having a good or bad day. But with practice, the trend will be toward the positive.

Management: Blocking the dog's view of the TV is a great and often super easy thing to do, especially if you're not prepared to do either counter conditioning or BAT work. In my case, I just gently lay my hands over my dog's eyes so he can't see the TV. The second his view is blocked, he quiets. Sometimes I will let him look again once he's quiet, but if he begins to growl, I cover his eyes again.

I also talk sweetly to him. I tell him that it's OK and that the pictures on the TV aren't real... I will also do a version of "BAT with Help" if I'm not close enough to cover his eyes. I will call my dog's name or make other noises to get him to look away from the screen and toward me for even just a second. When he does, I praise him. I am working on helping him understand that he doesn't need to defend against the animal on TV and that the animal on TV will go away, even if he doesn't yell at them (much like the UPS delivery people...)

With our management, about 80% of the time I no longer need to cover his eyes. I can just gently touch him on his hip or side and he'll look at me instead of the TV and then I can engage him and praise him for choosing to not stare/react at the TV. And, if I happen to have something handy that he can eat, I might offer him a bite for being willing/able to disengage from the TV.

This combination is working really well for me. Where he used to charge the TV - even out of a deep sleep - and act possessed until the animal was off screen for at least 2 minutes, now, most of the time he doesn't even leave the couch and doesn't escalate to more than a low growl. And just yesterday, now that we're in a new home, my TV is no longer mounted above a fire place. It's at a level the dog can access. So, when he saw an elephant on screen last night, he did bark and go to the TV, but he only barked once. Then he got up on his hind paws (he's a little dog) and sniffed the screen. When it was clear there was no animal smell coming from the visual, he quieted down and returned to the sofa.

I hope this helps. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance in this issue.

Los Angeles Behavior Specialist (well, now Worcester, MA)  

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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