Ask the Dog Guide: A Quieter Lab?

January 13th, 2009 by Dan

I live in an apartment with my Labrador mix and I was wondering if I could do anything about his barking. He gives a couple loud barks whenever he hears or senses anyone coming up to our door, which is a problem because my roommates study late and come home late. I’m worried that he’s disturbing our neighbors. What should I do?

Your Labrador Retriever mix thinks he’s doing a useful job by notifying you of a possible intruder’s approach. It’s unkind to punish a dog for such mild guarding behavior, because it’s a trait bred into dogs by humans over thousands of generations. However, there are two things you can do to keep your neighbors happy without unduly stressing your would-be watch dog.

Barking Lab

Barking Lab

Photo by inajeep.

The first is progressive desensitization. You’ll need a friend and a few hours during which you don’t think your neighbors would be disturbed by a little bit of barking. Have your friend walk up to and then away from your door while you feed your dog lots of treats so he ignores the noise. If your friend only makes it two steps before your dog tenses up and ignores the treats to look for the intruder, have the friend go back and forth two steps until he can make it to three without alarming your dog. Do this over and over, on different days and at different times, until your Lab mix thinks that someone coming up to the door means a great chance to get treats.

The second thing you can try is training an incompatible behavior. You’ll need your friend again, but instead of feeding the dog a constant stream of treats as your friend approaches, ask your dog for a different behavior. An easy one is “get your toy.”

With repetition and reinforcement, you can teach your dog to alert you to a potential intruder by bringing you his favorite toy, rather than by barking. Bringing a toy works particularly well for this purpose because it doesn’t just distract the dog; it also occupies his mouth, and barking would cause him to drop the toy.

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