Ask Not for Whom the Dog Barks

We finally did it. Well, Stacy finally did it. He got a bark collar for Ripley (this is where I engage in a mental conversation about the name of the device, or rather, how most people refer to it). We’ve had the little blonde bundle of fur for a year, so it’s been a long time coming.

We waited so long to do it for several reasons. If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you know that we got Ripley as a rescue. That means that we know nothing about his social history. Given some of his behaviors, I think it’s fair to assume that he spent at least some time living on the street.

Before I unintentionally paint the picture that Ripley is a fuzzy hot mess, let me assure you that he is actually, overall, a really good dog. He is friendly, and generally obedient, and, most importantly for us, he is great with our kids — and that last one is a particularly tall order. But ever since we’ve gotten him, he’s been a barker.

Now I’m not the Dog Whisperer, but there are several reasons a dog might bark. First of all, it’s their job: barking to alert you to the presence of others in their territory. A dog might bark to greet familiar people, or to make a request. Yes, to make a request. Stop by our house at 6:00 a.m. or 6:00 p.m., and you will witness Beans reminding us that it’s chow time.

Ripley, though, is a little special. He barks forallofthereasons, and then some. We’ve spent the last year being perplexed and perturbed by his barkiness, trying to figure out what his triggers are, and why. Because the downside of a dog being overly barky is that people think they need to be afraid of him. And people are, many times, initially afraid of Ripley. That’s not good for us, it’s not good for the person in question, and mostly, it’s not good for him.

It’s not good that people get the wrong impression of him. It’s not good that they may not be able to look past his bark to notice that his teeth are not bared, his hackles are not up, and his tail is wagging. In addition to being slightly territorial, Ripley is aggressively friendly. It’s not good that the only way he has to say, “Hi! Hi! Hi!” is the same way that he says, “You’re too close to my turf!”

We have spent a year using other behavior reinforcement techniques to try to curb the frequency and magnitude of Ripley’s barkery. And, to some extent, those techniques have been successful. But there are only so many times you can be lounging on the couch with a sleeping dog who suddenly barks at the top of his lungs, and then tears off outside, bork-bork-borking all the way to the bounds of the yard. So, the bark collar.

Neither of us believe in corrections that harm the animal. I was initially surprised when Stacy told me that he bought the bark collar for Ripley. I was out of the state at the time, and even though he had mentioned it in the past, I wasn’t expecting the announcement. The collar that Ripley sports does not shock him in any way. Instead, it emits a high-pitched sound, akin to a dog whistle, that Ripley can hear, but that we can’t. The idea, as you can imagine, is that the sound is unpleasant, and once Ripley makes the connection that he is controlling the noise that is making his ears bleed, he will stop barking as often, thereby making our ears bleed less.

Today is Day Four of Ripley’s new necklace. It does seem, qualitatively, that he is barking less often, and for shorter spans of time. We noticed that it goes off when he is making “acceptable” noises, such as during play time. We decided to take the collar off of Ripley during play time, so that he can have regular play without getting corrected for it. One side effect we didn’t predict is that Beans can also hear the collar’s corrections. As a result, both of the dogs seem more docile.

Our goal is to continue to increase Ripley’s comfort with our pack and in our home, decreasing his anxiety and his need to bark unreasonably. I also think more time socializing with other dogs, which he loves, will help release some of that nervous energy. For now, I am pleased with the progress he is making with the bark collar. I feel like it is the right choice for us all right now. Hopefully, he won’t need to use it very long, and we can take it off for good.

Have you had a behavior challenge with a pet? How did you solve it?

3 thoughts on “Ask Not for Whom the Dog Barks

  1. Loved your post. That said, you know I am an animal lover. I know many people who are. However, I do not know of anyone who wants or can tolerate “any” dog that constantly barks. When we just had our one little girl, it was easy to train her to whisper and she’s not a yapper anyway. But I will admit, it is more challenging to control barking when someone comes to the door now that there are three of them. I know it is their job and I like being alerted…but then I am done 🙂 It seems to take them a few minutes to calm down…then all is okay.
    Although I am not familiar with Ripley’s barking, I wish you luck in getting the problem resolved. He sure is a cutie and I love the photos you’ve posted.

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    1. And you did a great job of teaching Ripley to whisper, Kim! He still remembers that, and will do it if we tell him to. I think he has a little bit of anxiety. Because we don’t know what his background is, I think that’s understandable, and we try to give him some slack for that. And I also truly believe that he is aggressively friendly — he wants to talk to anyone and everyone he sees. He is excellent with all other dogs when they are up close and personal, and he’s great with our kids. His biggest problem seems to be when somebody approaches the house or when somebody is walking by our property in the back. Like you said, that’s normal, but we also want him to listen to us when we call him off.
      Thank you for sharing your experience, and for reading!

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      1. I had to chuckle when you commented on me teaching him to whisper. I had forgotten that. I thought he was, overall, pretty good. But yes, we all want them to behave and pay attention when we ask them to. I know our little girl can be a bit stubborn (in the nature of a Pekingese). But she knows I mean business when I firmly tell her to “stay”. That is one she seems to have down pat. Well, honestly, with the exception of the rain on the skylights in the family room…totally terrifies her and she tucks her tail and just looks for a place to hide. There is no telling her anything at that point! Bless her little heart. I have tried everything I can think of to help her not be afraid of it. 😦

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