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Failure, tears, and peace and quiet

January 25, 2011

When I asked about our barking problem, some of you had really good suggestions.  As I mentioned yesterday, we’re trying to keep things positive, to click for good behaviors.  The main theme of the suggestions was to click for quiet.  Daph already knows a “speak” command, so we’ve been working on “Speak” *click*, then give her a treat, and before she can do much else, I say, “Quiet,” *click*, and treat again.  Repeat.

I do not know exactly how a dog’s mind works, but somehow it seems important to do “Speak” and “Quiet” in the same session, yes?

me, training Daph

The other thing we realized after some discussion and reading your very helpful comments was that we do, in fact, want her to bark when a stranger comes to the door.  We want her to bark to tell us that someone is there, to scare away scary intruders, and because that’s what dogs do – but only to a point.  Essentially, it’s okay for her to bark until we say, “Okay, thanks, we got it from here.”

How do we do that?  Well, we click for the bark, and then we treat.  And hopefully she’s then all, Yay, you have treats, we’re working, this is great, and she redirects and focuses on me.  How does it work?  Um, it works okay.  If by okay, you mean Not Very Well.

Here’s the thing: I know it will work with time and consistency.  But in the meantime, there are just times when we need her not to bark.  And so we did it: we put the citronella collar on her.  Let me tell you, folks, the wife and I were far more upset about this than the dog was.  There were apologies, there were tears, there were more apologies and more tears.  But you know what else there was?  Quiet.

Yes, I love a quiet dog just a wee bit more than I love that same dog when she is not quiet.

When she barked, we clicked and treated, and then we put the collar on.  And then when she barked, she got sprayed with a citrus-scented spray under the chin.  And whoa, did it startle her.  Here’s where the tears came in.  You guys, it is heartbreaking to see your dog tuck her tail and try to run away from something that scared her that you inflicted on her. But also, we want to keep living here.  Ugh, the guilt – it’s clearly still an issue.  She barked one more time after that, got sprayed again, and was silent.

I think we’ve put it on her twice since Saturday in situations when kids were running around outside the house (neighbors, after all, are allowed to play outside their own houses) and another time when we’d already essentially told her, “Thanks, we’ve got it from here.”  She gets sprayed once and stops barking.

I hate the collar.  I haven’t figured out exactly what it’s teaching her, or if it’s helping or hurting her learning.  But what it is doing is helping her bark less, and hopefully keeping our landlord happier, and keeping us living here/not worrying about moving.  It’s back to the tough balance of being a good owner to our dog and a good member of our little society.

I still don’t think this is a tool to use on its own; we don’t leave it on her when we’re not around (I would hate for her crate to smell like citronella and stop being a safe space for her).  I think it’s a BandAid as we try to help her understand better through positive reinforcement.  But in the meantime, it’s working.

Anyone want to weigh in on this?  Any personal experiences?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. January 25, 2011 9:46 am

    It’s really wonderful to know that there are people like you both who are being BOTH responsible pet owners AND neighbors. It’s not an either or and you’re living proof of it. I commend you for your efforts. Keep at it, you’ll figure it out. Then you’ll teach the rest of us 😉

    • January 25, 2011 4:05 pm

      Thanks, Nellie! Hopefully I can figure out all the right answers without torturing my poor dog (or wife) too much. Sometimes I wish I could just explain it all to her… alas, it’s gotta be done through trial and error, or mostly trial and reward!

  2. Kristine permalink
    January 25, 2011 9:48 am

    It’s a really tough call to make for sure. If we didn’t have such awesome neighbours, I am sure we would have been kicked out for all of Shiva’s separation anxiety issues. But our neighbours understood and we got through it. And for that I will always be thankful to them and their little dog who barks incessantly at exactly seven am every single day.

    • January 25, 2011 4:06 pm

      Haha, that’s great. Since first using the collar on Saturday, we haven’t had to use it much at all, so hopefully she’s just getting it. It’s such a hard balance between dog people and non-dog people.

  3. January 25, 2011 12:40 pm

    Like you said, I think it is perfectly fine to use as a Band Aid. We also tried it, but it left our house smelling like citronella, and empty canister and a dog barking her head off 🙂 clearly, she didn’t mind. It just took time. She doesn’t bark anymore unless she hears something/someone at the door that freaks her out, which is rarely. You are doing a great job! Daphne is so cute….I just want to eat those ears! 🙂

    • January 25, 2011 4:07 pm

      Thanks for your positive feedback! This makes me feel a little better 🙂

  4. your wife permalink
    January 25, 2011 3:58 pm

    love: i’m actually a bit teared up on this one, remembering how confused daph seemed when she got sprayed in the face…and by her trying to run away from it. poor thing – and why are we so freaking compassionate? damn us, and our love for our furry beasts. ❤

    • January 25, 2011 4:07 pm

      Aww sorry 😦 I know, we’re such softies. Harden up, us!

    • January 25, 2011 4:08 pm

      Uh, I mean toughen up? Is that more appropriate?

  5. January 25, 2011 6:51 pm

    My 2 cents: I think that it is absolutely acceptable to use the citronella collar in this fashion. While it might not necessarily be teaching Daphne anything that she can use, YOU are teaching her the skills that she will be using in the long term. If the collar provides you a little bit of quiet and helps to smooth things out with your landlord and neighbors, then I think that you are making responsible decisions.

    In my opinion, when it comes down to it you need to do the best that you can within your means. If this means using a product you might not otherwise use if you were not in this exact situation- then that is just the way it is. Bottom line? If it keeps a dog in a happy, healthy home, and provides you with the sanity to continue to train Daphne correctly, then you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it. You are making necessary decisions to best accommodate ALL involved parties.

    Easier said that done though, right? Just keep reminding yourself that you have the right intentions- the execution is just a little different than you would like.

    • January 26, 2011 7:19 pm

      Thanks so much for this comment… it really does make me feel better!

      And this is so true: “If it keeps a dog in a happy, healthy home, and provides you with the sanity to continue to train Daphne correctly, then you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it. You are making necessary decisions to best accommodate ALL involved parties.”

      I’ll just have to keep repeating it to myself over and over again.

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