Who trained whom?
We adopted a young chihuahua a year ago. He’s adorable, affectionate and a champion barker, barking at anything on our walks: trash cans, balloons on mailboxes, trees moving in the wind. The loudest barks with simultaneous tail wagging reserved for every dog we’d encounter.
I tried many approaches, practicing each for weeks at a time: ignoring him, crouching down to say a firm “No!”, picking him up, making sure I’m acting alpha. Forget it. Nothing worked. A dog trainer suggested using positive reinforcement but there was no positive behavior to reinforce.
Walks, at least for me, were not fun. My misbehaving boy just wouldn’t quiet down. People stayed away so conversations with neighbors became impossible. And forget even considering doggie play dates.
Then I decided to change the way I experienced his behavior. Instead of thinking I’d failed as a pet parent, I chose to see barking as a sign of his insecurity. I saw his barking behavior like a blowfish inflating to defend himself against perceived predators and maybe also attempting to protect me.
Barking then became my cue to gently reassure him that all was safe and well as we’d walk quickly away. Unbelievably, he responded to this approach and his barking is now less frequent and less intense. Occasionally he ignores other dogs and gets a ton of praise.
Now when we’re out walking and the barking starts, instead of feeling frustrated by trying to change him, empathizing has transformed walks into a calmer experience for everyone.
Enjoying the quiet,