How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people
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Thread: How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people

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    How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people

    Is there some technique to teach a dog to not react to unexpected noises, people, cars, etc?

    We have 2 malinois puppies (6 months old) that are on the calm side of things (compared to other malinois we have seen). We live in a rural area, our closest neighbours are 100 meters from us and sometimes their kids scream, or their car passes in front of our yard, or our puppies hear something we don't... when this happens they start barking like the world is ending and run to the fence. Usually it lasts only a few seconds, they do not bark indefinitely. If it lasts longer I go out of the house, call them and most of the times they stop barking.

    The only time they completely ignore me is when they see the neighbours' cow... but that is another story.

    It's not that they are bored, or don't get enough exercise. We go about 2-3 hours EVERY day to some near field where they run and run until they are exhausted. They both play together, with us, and with the neighbour's border collie puppy, EVERY day.

    Maybe we are wrong, but we figured out what is happening is that what triggers them is something unexpected.

    Can you recommend us some way to train them no to react to unexpected events? Is that even possible?
    Last edited by pier; 03-30-2013 at 11:07 AM.

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    Senior Member BernerMax's Avatar
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    Re: How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people

    Quote Originally Posted by pier View Post
    Is there some technique to teach a dog to not react to unexpected noises, people, cars, etc?

    We have 2 malinois puppies (6 months old) that are on the calm side of things (compared to other malinois we have seen). We live in a rural area, our closest neighbours are 100 meters from us and sometimes their kids scream, or their car passes in front of our yard, or our puppies hear something we don't... when this happens they start barking like the world is ending and run to the fence. Usually it lasts only a few seconds, they do not bark indefinitely. If it lasts longer I go out of the house, call them and most of the times they stop barking.

    The only time they completely ignore me is when they see the neighbours' cow... but that is another story.

    It's not that they are bored, or don't get enough exercise. We go about 2-3 hours EVERY day to some near field where they run and run until they are exhausted. They both play together, with us, and with the neighbour's border collie puppy, EVERY day.

    Maybe we are wrong, but we figured out what is happening is that what triggers them is something unexpected.

    Can you recommend us some way to train them no to react to unexpected events? Is that even possible?
    We are struggling with the same thing-- we have a giant schnauzer and an adolescent male berner--

    I think its more than just being startled/ reactive--- its their protective, guarding instinct coming into play-- and we have dogs that were bred to guard/ be watch dogs....
    its more of a fence barking issue...
    There was alot of advice given out on my Nuetering post (we finallly had our boy neuterd)--I have not solved it either (alot of the oadvice was around not having your dogs outside unsupervised, or being there to correct everytime, which was not practical for us d/t needing our dogs to watch over/ protect our free range chickens and outdoor cats)-- explore the forum,,,, sorry could not be more helpful....

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    Senior Member PatriciafromCO's Avatar
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    Re: How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people

    same here... with a new pup... I praise them for alerting about something going on around us. I've always asked my guys to show me and see if they will go and I will follow them, or if they take off out of the house barking I go with them and stand there looking if I can't see what they barking at .. But I always believe them , believe that they hear , heard something... and I praise them.. but at some point alert is no longer necessary when nothing happens that is a threat, or never was a threat just a noise... or something that is ok that happens around our area all the time and we don't need to bother with it.. Just at some point you show the what to do next after the alert.. and that is let it go and lets go back to the house as the event is over... no big deal.. And that is what they learn how to manage the alerts... alert, go see, let it go, it's done...
    Last edited by PatriciafromCO; 03-30-2013 at 12:13 PM.

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    Re: How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people

    Quote Originally Posted by PatriciafromCO View Post
    Just at some point you show the what to do next after the alert.. and that is let it go and lets go back to the house as the event is over... no big deal.. And that is what they learn how to manage the alerts... alert, go see, let it go, it's done...
    So, your opinion is that in the long run they will learn what needs and doesn't need to be alerted?

    Sometimes, instead of just calling them, I do what you do to see if there's anything and praise them for their good job. And in 3 months nothing has changed...

    Do you think this will pass after neutering them or when they grow older?
    Last edited by pier; 03-30-2013 at 12:19 PM.

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    Senior Member BernerMax's Avatar
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    Re: How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people

    Quote Originally Posted by pier View Post
    So, your opinion is that in the long run they will learn what needs and doesn't need to be alerted?

    Sometimes, instead of just calling them, I do what you do to see if there's anything and praise them for their good job. And in 3 months nothing has changed...

    Do you think this will pass after nurturing them or when they grow older?
    Whats the gender, are they fixed (intact males I was told wont grow "out of " this)....

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    Re: How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people

    Quote Originally Posted by BernerMax View Post
    Whats the gender, are they fixed (intact males I was told wont grow "out of " this)....
    Both males, still not neutered. We will neuter them in a few weeks.

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    Senior Member BernerMax's Avatar
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    Re: How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people

    Quote Originally Posted by pier View Post
    Both males, still not neutered. We will neuter them in a few weeks.
    Yep the neuter (much as I struggled with this concept) should help with some of the Amped up territorial aspect, but you will still need to work with them outside-- like PatriciafromCO said....

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    Senior Member PatriciafromCO's Avatar
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    Re: How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people

    I don't alter any of my dogs so I personally don't see it makes a difference in this area of behavior. For me dogs learn by doing, in the beginning of learning I am always walking through the process of what I want them to learn right beside them.. Things like the trash man.

    Beginning training is , loud desil truck can hear it coming up the road for miles, the dogs kick their heads up makes me take note to listen and yes it's the trash man.. Dogs all jumping around as the truck gets to our property and I go outside with them to the back yard gate to watch what the trash man does at the front of the property. It's ok that they watching and barking, and pacing the back yard gate ( I find that normal for the first exposures) I just stand quietly with them.. Trash man does his thing "waves" I wave back" drives off and out of sight, and I verbal gather the dogs to come back inside the house where it's over and we go back to do something else.. Perfect training tool because Trash man comes once a month...

    I go out every time with them and shorten it.. To where the trash man comes, we go outside and as soon as I walk out to look and see the trash man... I say OH it's the trash man ok,, and gather all the dogs and we go inside before the trash man is done and has left.. They still alert hearing the truck, and they may even go outside to look, bark once or twice, and may sit and watch quietly the whole event, but they come back in on their own.. NO big deal... for the event.

    High power dogs like Mals live for thrilling moments, so understand what your working with, they are also highly detail intelligent breed to be able to learn the difference. of work and no work situations. It's good to alert, and it's ok to let it go.

    I go out with them every time in the beginning because it makes it quicker to learn only one way of handling it.

    They are able to transfer it to unusal events like the neighbors buried their truck in my ditch. so there was a vehicle parked at my gate and the truck in the ditch. With people walking back and forth trying to dig out the truck and free it.. I came out with the dogs and said yes I see it good... I stood with the dogs calm and quietly as they barked and paced over the new sight.. but after awhile nothing happened.. (no one came rushing up the driveway to attack us lol ) so the dogs would pause from the bark, pacing and when they stood or sat to watch quietly.. I then said good.. When they saw someone move from one vehicle to the other and they bark and paced I said nothing .. when they paused again because (nothing happened to threaten us) I said good.. Stay'd there with them just quietly watching until they all drove off and said ok all done, and we all went back into the house.. They learn by doing on how to handle situations.. main thing with me... is it's good to alert but at some point and time it's not a threat to us and we can let it go..

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    Re: How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people

    I agree with acknowledging that you hear them and then asking them to be quiet. I think one alert bark is nice; I like having watchdogs.

    When I first moved here, my dogs weren't used to living in an apartment and would bark whenever someone walked by in the hall, or when they heard my neighbors putting their keys in their doors. I'd call the dogs to me, tell them it was fine, and pat them. Pretty soon, Casper was ignoring most hall sounds, and Crystal had learned to "woof" quietly once, then run straight to me to make sure I'd heard her. I think that dogs just get used to the everyday sounds as they age and hear more of them. I'm sure mine would still bark if someone screamed in the hall or a dog barked out there, or whatever.

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    Re: How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people

    the alert is nice (in my opinion) as long as its not protracted barking.
    one thing you can try is Simply waiting for the times when they bark for just a few seconds then are quiet you mark/click the silence and jack pot the treats. if they keep barking no jackpot. they are an intelligent so they will easily learn that the sooner they silence after the "alert" barks the sooner they get payed for it. and once they catch on to bark then silence for the alert you can start to reward only the shorter barks untill you get it weaned down to just a bark or two.

    they are very high energy dogs so this may take a while. some people put a command word in that lets the dog know they are aware. the dogs tend to settle quicker when they think you see/hear it too (not all) just don't yell it at them or they will think you are barking too. I have never trained a word onto the shorter barks to get them to settle out of it but I know other people do.

    my sharpei bark like mad when things outside the window happen or accross the street. I used the knotted towel trick to stop the bark and reward the silence. now they just bark a bit most times and dont bother going nuts. (unless my wife pulls into the driveway then all bets are off)

    also with a little more age on them they may acclimate to the "normal" environmental sounds and not trigger alert mode as often. especially if you are paying them for silence.
    Last edited by sharpei; 03-30-2013 at 11:38 PM.
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    Senior Member sharpei's Avatar
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    Re: How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people

    Quote Originally Posted by BernerMax View Post
    Whats the gender, are they fixed (intact males I was told wont grow "out of " this)....
    dont know if that has any effect on it at all. My two boys had to be trained out of it and they were both neutered early on..
    my dogs: Otis, shar pei. Malcom, Shar Pei. Peach (rescue) Shar Pei.
    through patience, diligence, and love all things can be achieved.

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    Senior Member KBLover's Avatar
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    Re: How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people

    Wally is a Coton, so probably not in the "watchdog" category (to appease the you don't have breed X so you don't know what you're talking about), but what I do for him is use a word that has him "turn off the alarm" and then get praise+good reward for doing his job. I don't want any specific amount of barks (suppose I don't hear the first one right away - I might not be near him, etc), so I just worked on the "okay, I hear you and I'm looking into it" signal to him. He's still alert (especially when it's the door bell), but he's quiet.

    For him, I also teach what to alert to. That's why he learned to bark when he hears the doorbell (I can't hear it in the basement, but his ears can pick it up), the kitchen timer, tea kettle, etc. I created the sound, gave him his "speak" cue, then mark/reward the behavior. So he'll alert for those sounds. Other sounds, he's listening closely and watching, and then usually if he feels like he should 'say something' about it, it's usually a lowish growl and a kinda tail swish or he's like a statue, squared up and "pointing" his triangle head at something like a mouse cursor. Then I follow his gaze and can give him guidance on what we're doing (going in a different direction, etc). Everyday sounds, he habituated to and doesn't even lift his head. But if he hears my computer chair creak...yeah...so it's just a matter of what sounds are important to him to notice. Some you can teach, others are habituation, imo.

    One thing I did do, especially earlier when he was fearful was just ignore it completely. He responds, but I don't do anything. I can "feel" him looking at me, but I keep doing whatever like "meh, no big deal" and he learned that I gave no reaction, so it must not be anything to be concerned about.
    Last edited by KBLover; 03-31-2013 at 10:51 AM.

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    Re: How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people

    Some good advice here. Neutering probably isn't going to make a difference. Malinois love to guard, alert, and make a huge deal of relatively nothing.
    Give them something to do. Mals need a job, mindwork, as much as they need physical exercise. 3 hours of running is great, but still not enough. Obedience training, search games, herding, agility, anything to work their minds will help. Even though they are young, and can't do some of the physical aspects like jumping, you can definitely set up things for them to do. Teach directionals. Advanced obedience.

    Be sure to spend individual time with each pup. Take turns training, then train together. Replace the barking behavior (if you don't want it) with something acceptable, like come to you to alert. Acknowledge it and move on. Mals tend to be OCD anyway, and two young ones feeding off each others excitement will escalate.

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    Senior Member Emily1188's Avatar
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    Re: How to desensitize to unexpected noises and people

    Quote Originally Posted by juliemule View Post
    Some good advice here. Neutering probably isn't going to make a difference. Malinois love to guard, alert, and make a huge deal of relatively nothing.
    Give them something to do. Mals need a job, mindwork, as much as they need physical exercise. 3 hours of running is great, but still not enough. Obedience training, search games, herding, agility, anything to work their minds will help. Even though they are young, and can't do some of the physical aspects like jumping, you can definitely set up things for them to do. Teach directionals. Advanced obedience.

    Be sure to spend individual time with each pup. Take turns training, then train together. Replace the barking behavior (if you don't want it) with something acceptable, like come to you to alert. Acknowledge it and move on. Mals tend to be OCD anyway, and two young ones feeding off each others excitement will escalate.
    Yeah... just... this, lol.

    3 hours of running is great and it's fun, but it's not a structured job and frankly it sounds like with all the freedom, these two have found their own "game" and are feeding off each other with their alert behavior. Malinois need a lot of guidance to help them learn to use their powers for good instead of evil. Like juliemule said, they obsess easily and this isn't something you want them to fixate on. They're teenagers and there's two of them - you have your work cut out for you. Are they littermates?

    Start looking at how much structure/direction you're giving them, and start some mentally taxing work - obedience and agility are great, so is something like nosework/scent detection. Work them one at a time. Regarding the alert barking, decide how, exactly, you would like them to react in these situations and start teaching them to behave that way. You may need to limit their free running if they do not respond when they are off leash.

    I highly doubt neutering will help. Surgery =/= behavior modification.

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