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Posted on Tue, Feb 21, 2012 : 5:53 a.m.

Best way to quell a dog's bad behavior? Train yourself first

By Julia Levitt


"Miss Five Pounds" reviewing a recent blog post.

Julia Levitt |Contributor

A loyal reader to this blog asks about what happened to "Miss Five Pound Pomeranian." (This is a nick name — her real name is changed to protect the innocent). How was her annoying behavior stopped?

The causes for concern were-incessant barking — not only to a newcomer entering the home but if any house member moved too quickly. If a heavy object fell, this was cause to set off the barking machine. When any unfortunate person came in the house, the little five pounder would race around the person barking non-stop. Worse than that, after the person left, "Five Pounds" would run back to where the visitor was sitting still barking furiously!

This owner had her work cut out for her!

One thing that could be taken off the checklist is this: Five Pounds gets walked three miles a day! People have stopped me, dear readers, making comments such as, "That little dog is walking too fast," or, "That's s a lot of walking for such a little dog!" My silent response? "Bah!" Every dog must get adequate exercise — every dog!

Next on the checklist — not enough tools were being used to aid Five Pounds with her hysterical behavior.

A dog displaying this sort of behavior believes it is equal to the human. This an important point.

As loving and attentive dogs are to us, they have a pack mentality. Only one pack leader exists. It may not be the biggest dog but rather the most calm, cool dog. No dog argues with the pack leader.

In this situation a lot of non vebal "arguing" has been taking place. Witness Five Pounds being put on furniture. Remember that dog trainer Cheri Lucas says when a dog is at the same level as the human it gives the dog power.

So the next thing on the check list — no more furniture and no more sleeping on the bed! Yikes was this hard — for the human!

Guests —  this is a biggie. Whenever a guest comes in to the home, Five Pounds sits quietly on a loose leash next to human. No barking, no lunging, no nothin’!

Barking is as common to dogs as talking is to humans. You might say that barking is a way to communicate with other dogs and humans when we learn to perceive what the bark is telling us. What is so interesting about barking is the range of expression and the importance of what barking is trying to convey.

When Little Five Pounds barks at the door, she alerts me that some intruder is at the threshhold. The sound of the bark a frantic repeated bark is a signal. It is up to the human to stop the signal when it is unwanted.

Our loyal reader, LA, asked how I stopped the barking. This goes back to how animals communicate with each other. No, I did not stop Five Pounds barking by yelling.

As all of you who own dogs know, this is completely ineffective. I compare yelling — an excited angry behavior — as pouring oil on a flame. It does nothing to douse the flame, but just increases it.

Many people have said to me, "I want my dog to alert me if someone is at the door." The level of excitement created by a barking dog is high. A calm dog does not race to the door barking. It is very challenging to bring a dog’s excitement level down from a level 10 to a level one. If you cannot stop barking at any level of excitement — aggression, nervousness, fear — this is undesirable, disrespectful behavior.

Like most things with our dogs ask yourself these questions:

If my dog races to the door do I …

Run to the door shouting my dog's name repeatedly?

Open the door scolding and still reprimanding the dog?

Give up and let the visitor in, letting the situation play itself out, with the dog jumping excitedly on the guest?

Let the dog sniff the guest and, when the dog is done with its invasive behavior, hope the dog retreats?

If you answered yes to any one of these questions about your own behavior, you have a dog who makes decisions on who comes into to your home and when it is acceptable to stop the intruder — that how this excited dog sees what you and I call a visitor.

While we are at it, could your walk with your dog use some improvement? Does the same situation apply to your walk — the dragging, the barking, the growling and lunging at other dogs, cats, squirrels and people?

This is tough medicine. If you don’t believ me, try it. I would like to hear your results.

First start you check list:

Does my dog bark at visitors at the door?

Does my dog bark at anything that goes by the window?

Does my dog pull and lunge and bark at any passerby?

Lastly, does my dog sleep on the furniture or bed?

In a dog's mind, any of these behaviors signal to a dog who is at the top of the pack hierarchy. Disrespectful behaviors occur when no direct leadership occurs at home — the socialized dog’s pack. As we can see, disrespect takes on many forms. If a dog's behavior is undesirable — behavior you cannot control — this is disrespect.

Yes to one or many questions, and you have to go to back to Canine Boot Camp. I did! (Disclaimer : Every dog is a pack animal that is sensitive to the pack hierarchy. But also every dog is unique, with its own personality and history. Your dog may not be exactly like "Five Pounds," so there’s no "one size fits all" solution. However, please remember that your dog is, most assuredly, all dog.)

I would like to thank my faithful reader and contributor of comments to this blog for inspiring me to write this blog. It was her questions — asking what happened to Five Pounds and her human —  that inspired me to write the sequel. Thank you LA! And thanks to all of you readers who comment and read my blog — oh — Miss Five Pounds thanks you too!

Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training ( in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at or at 734-645-4707. Julia provides individual training for dogs and their owners, and also conducts dog training classes at Ann Arbor Animal Hospital.