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My Pet World: Training your dog to relax and not bark at guests

Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

Our one-year-old female Husky mix was adopted during the height of the pandemic and was not exposed to many people outside of our immediate family. For the last eight months, she has been barking incessantly at anyone who comes into our home, especially men. Her barking will stop while the visitor sits quietly, but once they speak or get up, the barking starts again.

Lately, she has backed away from the visitor, even going upstairs, while barking, indicating she is experiencing some anxiety. There have been times when one of us holds her near the visitor, and the barking will stop, but only while she's being held. I recognize that this is also a sign of anxiety.

We've tried having her meet new people at a neutral location, but the peace this provides ends once they enter our property. And, this is not always possible to do, especially with repair people. What can we do to help her feel secure around strangers and stop the barking?

— Lisa, East Meadow, New York

Dear Lisa,

 

You’re observant to notice your dog’s barking is anxiety-related. Backing away from visitors does signal that a dog is unsure of a situation. A young pup's lack of exposure to people can impact her comfort level around people later on.

The more you expose a puppy to people, the more comfortable she will be around people. But exposure at any age can help build more confidence in a dog. So please, continue taking her to neutral locations to meet your friends.

Next, begin basic obedience training. The more you train her, the more confidence she will gain, which can help an anxious dog. In addition to the regular basic obedience commands, teach her two additional skills. The first is to train her to relax. You do that by saying "relax" when your dog is clearly very relaxed, using a clicker or saying her marker word (i.e., bingo, awesome) to mark the correct behavior, and then giving her a treat.

Looking relaxed generally means they are laying on one hip. If a dog is simply down on all fours, they can easily pop up from this position, which means they aren’t in a relaxed state. Look for those relaxed states and reward your dog over and over for it. Then use that command around your company.

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