You are not alone. When the timing or the intensity makes us feel uncomfortable that we find ourselves frustrated. We don’t know how to make it stop. We struggle with how to help our Best Friend find comfort. It simply makes us feel helpless.
Barking may be heard by your Best Friend if he is concerned or delighted, if he is feeling sorrow or anger, or just excited. Barking is not just reserved for warding off someone. If you listen to your Dog’s barking patterns, you likely have a good sense of the emotion behind their barking and its variety of meanings. The emotions are where we find the starting point to move your Dog into a more comfortable state of being.
When humans go through change, any change, we are hardwired to resist it. Our brain’s ‘fight or flight’ regions light up, and we react. It may also be true that Dogs share our dislike for change. Dog’s see a change, their feelings intensify and turn into barking. Consider for a moment a dog quietly sleeping when she hears the mailperson at the door changing her peace. A neighbor’s new cat slowly walks along the top of the fence changing the sanctuary of her backyard. Her quiet snooze time shattered with the ring of the doorbell. The same regions of the Dog’s brain alight with a ‘fight or flight’ response, resisting the change and reacting by barking madly.
A change curve, developed originally by John Adam’s shows humans move through change in several stages before they can integrate something new into their lives. If your Best Friend experiences change the same way, then the constant, year-over-year barking at the doorbell would be a sign they are stuck on the left side of the curve. They are unable to find their way through the change curve to find the doorbell as a positive change. Our job as caregivers is to provide a transition plan and patient guidance to help them integrate the doorbell ringing as a good and normal thing and allow them to achieve a higher sense of well-being.
(Image is taken from The Change Leaders Roadmap, by Jossey-Bass)
Your plan must move your Dog through these stages:
Vocalization in my dogs, Bacall and Bogey have been a source of discomfort for both Martin and I. We are working on a transition plan to help them move through the change curve in regards to new people and new noises. Our dogs, Bogey and Bacall, are approximately two and four years old respectively, and likely have been barking at noises for this amount of time. If you look at the Change Curve diagram, the element of Time on the X-axis is a critical factor in creating and sticking to a transition plan as there are no quick fixes. We have managed our expectations knowing it will take more than a week to move them through the curve to acceptance and confidence.
Here are a few of the things extracted from our transition plan:
1. We acknowledge the barking on the outset
2. We provide signals to help calm them to know it was okay
3. We ensure stress relief from time to time throughout the day
4. We praise their curiosity when we see it shine through
It is a work in progress but already we are seeing advances in their confidence. We have to undo several years, but eventually, with consistency, perseverance, and an understanding of what it takes to integrate such a change, we will see success.
Final thought: All dogs want to move from discomfort to comfort if they only knew how to do it. It is up to us as caregivers to help guide them gently into being happy and confident.
Please let me know if you have any questions about your dog’s barking, and how we might help develop a new way for your dog to interact with your world.
'Sparky' Smith is a Canine Behaviorist and Practioner, educated through the International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour, earning her ISCP.DIP.CANINE.PRAC.