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Demanding Delinquent

Barking DogHi John,

I am an owner of a 1 year old black Labrador Retriever “Tyler”. He has been to obedience school and behaviourally has very few issues. He is friendly affectionate and a wonderful pet (he does jump up a lot but I am told he will grow out of this). The main problem that we have with him is his constant barking. The barking is aimed at both myself and my husband and it is almost constant. Being a puppy still he wants a lot of attention and always wants to play. We exercise him daily and play with him but it is never enough, the minute we sit down he begins to bark and does not stop. At times we have had to hide in our bedroom for peace (once out of his site he will generally stop barking). I was hoping you may be able to help.

– Patricia

Hi Patricia,

Youthful enthusiasm is one thing but Tyler’s being a goof, sort of canine class clown that makes it next to impossible for the other kids and the teacher to concentrate on important activities. The thing about the class clowns that I remember from my ancient schooling is that in what now seem to be the good old days they were a lot less clownish with some teachers then others. Now days, a lot are identified as having some degree of an attention deficit disorder. I’m sure in some instances that this is indeed the case but I suspect that the teachers that actually spend classroom time with these kids, granted a 5 mile head start over their moms and dads might suggest that in some cases there is more of a parenting disability then a child with a learning disability.

With just a short letter I don’t get a lot to work with, but I’ve seen this a million times and this should be a reasonably easy thing for you to get straightened around. You’re just going to need some help from someone that can help you understand how a dog sees the world, how it makes connections between right and wrong behaviours, and who is the teacher and who is the student. Tyler’s pushing to see what he can get away as far as attention getting strategies. I’ll bet he’s so frustrated now that sometimes he doesn’t care whether he gets good attention or bad attention. Some might saying he’s trying to establish dominance with his behaviour. I’m more inclined to say he’s crying out, “Lead me, Lead me!” All he needs is a teacher. The barking and the jumping for that matter are very likely just a symptom of a dog confused as to its relationship with its owners. It’s usually just attention getting behaviour.

Jumping on and barking at its mother would last all of a nano-second if she wanted it to stop but she knows how he works and how to help him to connect the dots. She wouldn’t give a thought as to whether she’s going to compromise his self esteem either, she’d just give him “the look.” At this point, the look won’t work for you. The look only works when the lookee knows the “looker” can back up “the look” with a consequence that has significance to the “lookee”.

If you can sneak out of your bedroom and get to a phone, see if you can locate a balanced approach trainer in your area to help you before he gets too much older. A balanced approach trainer can show you how to gage what it will take to be firm but still fair with him. They strike a balance between positive and negative without going too far in either direction. It does vary from dog to dog and scenario to scenario and a good trainer can help you strike the right balance. As well, he or she can show you how little seemingly insignificant things in the way that you and Tyler interact throughout the day, can effect his perspective. Even the differences between how you and your husband interact with him can make easier or harder.

One more thing, any suggestion that Tyler’s behaviour is solely a result of his being a puppy, which at one year of age, he’s not, is I’m sure well meaning but is selling him far short of it’s ability at achieving his potential. There are lots of service Labrador Retrievers well on their way to becoming working dogs much younger then he is.

– John Wade

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