Most people have experienced a dog growling or barking when they think something is outside. What I’ve experienced is that they are usually right, there is something out there. It could be just a person walking by or in my Durango neighborhood it could be a bear. Either way, to the dog it’s real and it’s upsetting or alarming to them.
This happened to me recently when I was visiting my Mom in Santa Fe. We were all in bed and we (we is me and my 2 dogs) heard a neighbor dog barking. My dogs didn’t make a peep, but noticed. Then Mick started growling. I petted him and said to relax. But then I realized that he was on alert and upset about something outside. It could have been a coyote or it could have been a neighbor walking on the road. So I closed the window and I thanked Mick for letting me know something was out there. I acknowledged him and the work he had done. Next, the dogs relaxed and went back to bed. I told them “good dogs” in a soothing voice and petted them calmly.
Now, if my beloved Minnie (a JRT) was still with us, the scene would have been totally different. Minnie reacted to everything in life. So here’s how it would have gone and how to mitigate the situation. When the neighbor dog barked, Minnie would have barked loudly, making me jump out of my skin. This would have gotten the other 2 dogs all riled up too. I would have asked Minnie to quiet, but that would not have worked. Then I would have closed the window, but Minnie I’m sure would have continued to bark and growl. So here’s what I would have done. Get out of the comfy bed, invite the dogs with me, and go to the kitchen to the cookie jar. Have the dogs do some behaviors like “sit, down, spin, shake”. Deliver treats. Do it again. Now we have distracted all of the dogs from the scary thing outside and we can go back to bed, quietly.
In most situations, if you just tell the dog to be quiet or even yell at the dog, it’s not going to fix the situation and it might send a message that whatever out there is really scary. It usually just suppresses the emotion in the dog; it doesn’t help them work through it.
Getting up and having the dogs do things for you, delivering treats distracts them and rewards good behavior.
Now, you can have a dog that will work you and bark once and then look at you for a treat. If you feel this is happening, you can ignore the barking. You can walk away yourself and go into the bathroom. You can give the dog a time out in another room or a crate. Time outs are not “punishments”, they are 1-2 minutes to chill out and say to the dog, the behavior that you are offering me is not going to work. When you escort your dog to a time out area, it should be emotionless – no anger, no words, just be calm. Next, let them out and try doing a few fun behaviors for a treat. Sit, down, spin, shake = treat. Now you have rewarded good behavior.
Remember, reward the behaviors you like, you’ll get more of them! Instead of correcting, try redirecting and then reinforce.