Rescue dog: Exercising dominance for the sake of good manners

Rescue dog Albie begins learning better barking decorum as Dad experiments with different tactics and technique.

Courtesy of Peter Zheutlin
Despite looking relaxed, Albie is ever alert and watchful over his house and family.

For the first six weeks or so that our rescue dog Albie was with us, he greeted every stranger like a long lost friend. He wagged his tail. His eyes brightened. He nuzzled their laps and lifted his paw to encourage them to keep paying attention. Outdoors, it’s still the same, but of late, at home, there’s been a little bit of ruff stuff. Whenever someone comes into the house, even people he’s met before, he starts to bark.

It’s not hard to discern why. Every dog owner we know, and every book we’ve consulted, says Albie is doing what comes naturally: he’s defending us and his home. But while we appreciate the concern and the effort, we’re trying to nip this in the bud lest our home become an uncomfortable place for people we’ve been welcoming there for the past 24 years.

There’s nothing quite as pathetic as a dog who knows he’s displeased the people he loves and is attached to, and I hate making him feel that way, but the advice we’ve been getting is to firmly admonish him when he barks, assert control (that Dog Whisperer guy, Cesar Millan, makes it sound like some kind of telepathic messaging in which you virtually will your dog into submission), and then, according to the famed Monks of New Skete, authors of several books on raising dogs, you basically pretend they don’t exist for half an hour (the dog, that is, not your guests, though I’m tempted to try that with certain people who won’t be named here).

I was feeling pretty proud of myself the other night because it seemed I was making some headway. My son’s friend came over and Albie started in. Since asserting control is key, I first demonstrated my authority by telling my wife, who was saying “Albie, no!” to step aside. Well not in those words exactly, but I stepped forward as if there were a new sheriff in town, and since Albie seems to have attached himself primarily to me, I figured I’d have more influence.

Now, this would be much funnier if I was, Ralph Kramden-style, ultimately shown to be a bloviating fool. But, in fact, as soon as I said a very firm “no,” looked Albie square in those beautiful brown eyes of his, and pointed down at the floor, he slinked under the coffee table, his favorite refuge. And we didn’t hear a peep from him for the rest of the evening, even when the friend’s Dad came into the house to retrieve his son.

Time will tell if this strategy works long term, but if it does, my question for Cesar and the Monks is how you teach them to tell friend from foe. At the beginning, before Albie barked at anyone, my wife, Judy, was saying, “but I want him to bark at strangers.”

Now she’s very upset that he’s barking at our friends.

I’m thinking of making up a few dozen flash cards with pictures of the good guys and a few stereotypical bad guys and having Albie memorize them. If I’m successful I’m going to impose my psychic will and have Cesar Millan step aside.

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