1 Aug 2011

Noodles vs Visitors

Although Noodles loves dogs, sadly he doesn't feel quite the same way about humans. We discovered this early on when my mother first came to visit. On her arrival Noodles barked incessantly and kept running towards her, then laying at her feet, almost touching her. No amount of distraction with treats or toys made the slightest difference. If shut in his crate or confined to another room he became even more hysterical, pacing and barking and I felt that this wasn't really the best solution as it wasn't actually addressing the problem itself. We took him out for a walk and then returned home. He was absolutely fine with her while we were out but the minute we got back inside the house he started again. I noticed that if we sat in silence, he did quieten down but the barking seemed to be triggered by her voice and any movement or gesture she made. He kept up this behaviour for hours, and eventually we had to sit in separate rooms, me with Noodles and her with the TV for company. Not a very successful first meeting.

Over the next few weeks other visitors tried and were all greeted with the same response. The one exception was T, owner of Molly the Irish Terrier. T came with us when we adopted Noodles and he has always been very fond of her. This gave me a small glimmer of hope as it proved he could like some people, not just J2 and myself.

We consulted two different behaviourists who were both helpful, giving us various strategies to try. These included:
  • Thoroughly wear him out before the visitor is due to arrive. Not always practical for the unexpected visitor.
  • Stuff a kong with his dinner (avoiding high protein food), freeze it and give it to him when the visitor arrives. This was partially successful but he still found time to bark between licks.
  • Remove him from the room using a houseline every time he barks. Wait a few minutes until he stops barking, reward, and then re-enter the room. Repeat as necessary. Not as easy as it sounds. In reality this means walking in and out of the room constantly and it almost becomes a kind of dance routine.
  • All visitors are asked to ignore him, no looking, touching, or talking to him. Easier said than done when he is right in your face barking at top volume.
  • Ask visitors to throw treats on the floor, still ignoring him. He still continued to bark between mouthfuls!
The second behaviourist actually visited with my mother since she seemed to be the person Noodles disliked the most. Within about 10 minutes she had him under control using a combination of treats, a firm voice and a houseline. She made it look so easy! Since then Noodles has reached an uneasy truce with my mother. Personally, I think he now tolerates her because she brings him sausages on every visit.

We discovered that when the doorbell rang, if we took him to the front door on a houseline to see the visitor, he seemed less agitated, although he did still bark. We only invited dog-experienced people to visit during this first phase of training and he was rewarded the minute he stopped barking, but timing was crucial here. Visitors were encouraged to throw treats on the floor for him, still not looking at him. The danger with this is that he stops barking at them as a visitor, but begins barking, demanding treats instead.

Some visitors tried disobeying the rules about ignoring him and giving him commands such as "sit", "down" in exchange for treats. This can work well, if the person is confident and has good timing with giving the reward.

We also found that we reached various plateaus where he was slowly getting better but couldn't seem to progress any further. Then we had to rethink and perhaps try something different. Our most recent change of strategy  involved borrowing his pal Molly the Irish Terrier for pre-arranged visitors. Molly loves most people (except postmen) so we were hoping she would have a positive influence on Noodles. On arrival, visitors are again asked to ignore Noodles (who still barks, but less manically) and make a big fuss of Molly. Noodles can't resist investigating and cautiously approaches the visitor, who continues to ignore him. At the moment we are only inviting people that we know Molly particularly likes to avoid any negative reactions. This has had the most immediate response as Noodles calms down much quicker and on our last attempt was able to lay down with Molly in our front room without barking. Obviously we cannot rely on Molly every time we have a visitor, but I think if we try this a few times he may eventually learn that visitors are not to be feared especially if they bring sausages. 

I have to say that this has been by far our greatest challenge with Noodles and we went through periods where it was just easier to discourage anyone from visiting at all, as it is such hard work, and the visitor has to be well prepared. It certainly doesn't make for a relaxing evening and it can be difficult to remain calm and focussed. It has been very rewarding to see his behaviour improve since our first few visitors but we still hope to progress further. My guess is that it will only happen with lots of patience and at his own pace.

11 comments:

  1. Wow J. That really sounds quite difficult. Princey (GSD) decided after a while that he didn't like people - increase in territorial stuff, but he was selective about it :D Otherwise, all our dogs have been pretty sociable, so can't imagine what it must be like for you. Well done for consulting the behavourist and persevering to help Noodles. Poor pup, he must have had a few issues in his life.

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  2. This is very interesting to me. We are having terrible trouble with Macy accepting our grandaughter. We thought that the more she saw her, the more used to her she would become, but she is 6 months old now and there really is no improvement. We try most of the things you have written about, and in the end usually have to resort to shutting her out of the room, and she either ends up barking constantly or frantically licking the door. Horrible situation.

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  3. Seeing that he is ok outside the house with strangers...what if they meet outside, go for a stroll and then come back into the house with you. Would that help? Wow, sounds like a tough situation....

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  4. Where is Victoria Stillwell when you need her! I know you and J2 have tons of patience when it comes to your furry kids -- but this does sound pretty challenging. Does Noodles' former owner have any clues as to what may have triggered this response?

    xxx Joan

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  5. Thanks for your comments :)

    Liz, I have sent you a message via Facebook. I hope you can resolve this issue with Macy, I know how difficult it can be. I would suggest you need to find the trigger that causes Macy to react in this way.

    Dani, we've tried the meeting outside strategy and it's fine as long as they don't interact with him in any way. But barking always starts on entering the house, even if they have managed to ignore him outside.

    Joan, we believe that Noodles lacked socialisation with people (and many other experiences) during the formative months and this has shaped his behaviour.

    I should point out that any visitor to the house that is accompanied by a dog is immediately accepted. When out on walks if someone tries to interact with him he's fine as long as they have a dog with them. If they do not, he barks and cowers. But more of this in a future blog post :)

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  6. This is quite the challenge, Noodles! We betcha that with time your peeps are going to win this battle! You are sure a cutie patootie!

    Love ya lots
    Maggie and Mitch

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  7. Poor Noodles - dogs equal good experiences and i am sad that he has so little trust of new humans. But I guess he thinks - if that dog trusts them than so can I. We are so happy he has a home that has the love and patience to help him.

    Licks
    Sally and paddy

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  8. I'm wondering if you had another dog there all of the time if Noodles would be fine. Maybe he is insecure without another dog near him since he used to be in the kennels with many dogs around him. I'm sure getting used to other humans is going to take time and patience.
    Wirey Hugs, Purrz & Licks,
    Katie, Ruby, Sylvester, Scuby, Hootie & Zeek

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  9. Wow, you are so wonderful and patient with Noodles. Lesser hoomans might not be able to work with him as you do. Bless you!
    Smooches from pooches,
    BabyRD & HOotie

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  10. Just found your blog on the DWB site!
    You have had a challenging time - I do sympathise, and so admire your patience. My wire-haired fox terrier Bertie is usually fine with visitors these days, but last month I had a friend to stay for 9 days who really doesn't like dogs at all and Bertie was an absolute monster with him and the visit became rather stressful as a result.
    I always tell visitors to ignore Bertie and not flap their arms around if he's bothering them, and this works in most (but apparently not all) cases.
    Good luck with helping Noodles, it sounds like he has found a fine home.
    Cheers, Gail.

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  11. Really rewarding for you he's making progress Jackie, you are such a star!

    Wiry love B + Eric xx

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