Corrie, my 6-year-old Australian Shepherd, is a wonderful dog in all respects, except that she has started barking at odd times: when my husband gets up from his chair, when he makes funny sounds or when she hears him coming down the stairs.
It’s only one sharp bark, no more. My husband said she doesn’t do this when I’m not home, so he thinks she’s “protecting me” or is jealous when he and I are talking or together. I’ve tried everything, from putting her out of the room to scolding or even ignoring her. Nothing has curbed this behavior. Any thoughts as to why she does this and how I can stop it? She and I do a lot of activities together (agility, classes, etc.) so she’s definitely “my dog,” but this is something that just popped up about a year or so ago.
– Faith, San Diego
What I’d recommend you do first is fire Corrie from her self-elected resource guarding job. She’s had a year for this behavior to become ingrained, so please be patient and start off on a program of counterconditioning her responses to your husband’s perceived threats.
It’s wonderful that you enjoy so many fun activities with Corrie, and that certainly should stay the same. Do, however, have your husband be in charge of feeding her the majority of her meals and any treats, and have him start training her in a small capacity at first (tricks are great for this: ringing a bell, rolling over, etc.). Be sure his voice and mannerisms are steady and quiet when training and interacting with her. A raised voice will deteriorate their relationship, and with as much training as you’ve done with Corrie, you know the value of training in a calm manner (other than praising and celebrating the progress in learning).
Ask your husband to toss her a stuffed Kong (read my “How to Stuff A Kong” handout) just as he’s about to get up. We want her to start to look forward to him getting up, and if he’s already started to get up and Corrie barks, you’ll actually be training her to do so if your husband tosses the Kong to her after she’s barked. Have your husband sit on the Kong so he doesn’t have to get up to reach for it.
Once Corrie’s starting to show anticipation rather than anxiousness when your husband’s about to get up (or any other quick movement, movement toward you or unusual sound), have him start to work with Corrie on the command “Sit,” with your husband kneeling down or sitting on the floor to be less intimidating. If she responds, yay! He should then have a play session with her. Now he can ask her to sit throughout the day, reinforcing his positive relationship with her and changing her mind about how she feels about him.
I can’t stress enough how important it is for your husband to display patience, calmness and keep his voice playful rather than stern. The more opportunities your husband has to toss Kongs to and play with Corrie, the better. To facilitate this new relationship, when you get home (whether or not Corrie has been with you), simply disengage from her for at least half an hour so your husband has a chance to start working with her, and she’ll soon see that you’re pretty boring when you get home, so her attention will go more and more to your husband during that time.
Of course, Corrie will always be “your dog,” but let’s help her be much more positively involved with your husband so he can benefit from a great relationship with her, too.
If you need further assistance, please call a trainer in your area. I suggest visiting APDT.COM, where you can find trainers in your area. Call at least three or four before making a decision on who to work with. I’d love to hear about Corrie’s progress!