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Pork Chop Pop Pop

Updated: Feb 20

Sometimes dogs just bark. They get stressed and bark – it’s a reaction. You can punish it, or you can fix it by helping change the dog’s emotional response to the cause of the barking. I got a call that Pennie, a standard poodle, was shy, fearful, not good with people, and would bark and growl at people. She would refuse to walk on the leash, and would not let guests into the house. Her humans, Colleen and Mike, had rescued her from a shelter very recently, and they wanted to fix these problems. They wanted her to become a happy, confident companion.

We worked for a couple weeks on foundation behaviors and focus exercises, sending her to settle on a mat, polite walking skills, pattern games, and polite greetings. But the anxiety was still there, and Colleen told me that Pennie would bark and growl at her father when he came over. Just a knock on the door would set her off barking, and the barking and growling would continue after he came in – whenever he would move. So Colleen arranged for her father to come over halfway through the next session. 

I arrived with a high-value reinforcer (cut up pork chops), and we practiced with me knocking on the door, entering, saying hi to Pennie and tossing a treat over head so she could chase it, and then exiting. I repeated this again and again and again, until Pennie started looking forward to the knock on the door. You could almost see the smile on her face as she waited for the knock.

Then I knocked, said hi to Pennie, tossed a treat over her head, and walked over and sat on the sofa. When she approached and looked at me, I tossed a treat over her head, and as she chased it, I got up and walked out the door. (Did you know that treats are as much fun to chase as they are to eat?!?) 

I repeated that exercise about a dozen more times – knocking, coming in and calling Pennie by name, tossing a treat so she could chase it, going to the sofa and sitting down, tossing the treat when she approached, and walking back out the door. This might sound boring, but it certainly wasn’t for Pennie. She was having a blast.

Then Pop Pop arrived… 

I met him out front and had him walk in behind me as I knocked and entered. Pennie looked at me and then looked at Pop Pop. When she looked at him, I tossed a treat over her head and we walked out. We did this 5 times, and then I had Pop Pop toss the pork chop treat when she looked at him. We walked out.

We did this 5 times, with us entering, Pop Pop tossing the treats and both of us leaving. Then we walked in together, Pennie looked at Pop Pop, he tossed the treat, and we walked over to the sofa and sat down. Pennie walked over to Pop Pop, like “What are you doing here?” but he tossed a treat over her head for her to chase and we got up and walked out. We did this several times. 

Then Pop Pop left by himself, and I stayed on the sofa. He knocked, and Pennie went to the door. Pop Pop walked in, said hi to Pennie, tossed a treat over her head and came over to sit on the sofa. She approached and he tossed a treat and walked out. Pop Pop was definitely getting his steps in for the day! He repeated that three times. 

Then he knocked. Pennie ran to the door, excited to see him. He walked in, tossed her a treat and walked over and sat down on the sofa. Each time she approached him, he would toss a treat. The humans talked. Pennie and Pop Pop continued to play the game. Then I told Pop Pop he could give her a treat, and then toss one, and they did that for a while. She felt very comfortable taking a treat from his hand. Her tail was wagging and she appeared to be smiling. I wrote up the homework, the other humans talked, and Pennie started to relax.

Instead of punishing the barking and growling, I wanted to change Pennie’s emotional reaction to hearing a knock on the door, and seeing new people come into the house. She’s allowed to bark and alert, but she doesn’t feel the stressful need to continue barking and growling whenever people she doesn’t know well come in or even move.

The treats helped make the game fun, and they can be faded out when she is comfortable greeting guests. I wanted Pennie to look forward to having company. I wanted her to be a happy member of the family. 

Pennie can’t wait to see her Pop Pop again.

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