A Dog’s Eye View: Taming the noise factor
May 23, 2013
Willa came with a strong set of vocal cords and a keen desire to use them. Ever since she was a puppy, she has used her voice to express any and every emotion, be it a want of attention or to get a reaction. Some dogs are naturally quieter, hardly making any noise and using their bodies to describe a feeling, need or desire. My Zoey was like that. Others, like our Willa, "speak."
Although admittedly still a puppy full of curiosity, enthusiasm and energy that exceeds the boundaries of her little body, Willa has very little patience for our slow-moving (in her eyes) human world, and she doesn't hesitate to let us know. It's not that she barks all the time. In fact, mostly what she produces is kind of a low-pitched mumble like someone muttering under her breath. You can almost hear her saying, "Come on … really? You want me to do what before I get my dinner? Sit? That's sooooo boring." The bark comes at the end, when her patience is shot, and she simply cannot wait any more or she surely will perish.
This kind of vocalizing isn't unusual, especially for puppies. After all, noises fly constantly around them with humans who speak to communicate everything they need, think or feel. But when the vocalizing becomes an inappropriate attempt to garner unsolicited attention, it becomes something that needs to be worked on by teaching the appropriate alternative behaviors to get the desired results, such as being quiet and still while the dog's meal is prepared.
We, as Willa's parents, initially caved in, thinking her mumbling or excited barking was cute and puppy like. But after we caught on and became more accustomed to her signals that indicated a real need (like the need for a potty break) we started working on helping her understand a quieter and more appealing way of getting what she wanted. We began by simply trying to ignore it, sometimes getting up and physically removing our presence. Although this helped, we also needed to show her what we did want, rather than just what we didn't. We needed to reward that preferred behavior, which was to remain relatively calm and quiet. In other words, we helped her understand that the best way to ask for something was to be still and silent.
As she has gotten older, she has begun to tune in better to our methods and our guidelines. Her attention seeking, which is a normal and necessary behavior for communicating actual needs, has become more fine tuned and sensitive, less pushy and demanding. She still vocalizes a lot, but that is who she is. Our job is to help her understand when it's OK and when it's time to dial it down a notch or two.
Lisa Mason is an experienced dog training instructor with the Total Teamwork Training group. Her specialties include new puppy owner education and management.