Friday, December 16, 2011
Before You Adopt A Great Pyrenees: Night Barking
No one wants "a barker". That loosely describes what owners interpret as dogs that bark without relent, and whose training to diminish barking seems a daunting and impossible feat. Like with any dog ownership, we must do our research on breed traits that are specifically bred into that dog breed. There are dog breeds not inclined to bark, and while that doesn't mean they won't, shop there first if you are unsure you can tackle this topic of barking.
Great Pyrenees are PRONE TO NIGHT BARKING. The list of reasons why owners surrender their Great Pyrenees is short—the dog escaping, the dog barking, or the cost to feed and care (which is not unique to the breed). It's important to distinguish 'unwanted behavior' from 'unnatural behavior'. Unnatural behavior is alarming, and knowing it is such is by understanding your breed. For a Pyr to dig at the corner of your living room floor relentlessly in search of ‘something’ is not natural for this dog. It may, however, be natural for a terrier breed that was bred to find vermin. Pyrenees guard livestock, period. When are our furry sheep at most threat? Dusk, early dawn, and during the night. These are the hours when their farmers are sleeping, and predators lurk. It is natural behavior.
Barking tends to escalate due to the improper response on the part of the owner. Frustrated owners yell "stop it!", which of course is discouraged in pretty much everything I have read on how to modify unwanted barking. They're already freaked out by something, and now they're really freaked out! You are barking too, they think, so of course they will continue. Of course, other times mimicking barking can be recommended for corrections. I give my dog a quick, deep, calm "hey!" when he tries to chase my kitty. I am alpha, and he responds positively to my 'bark'. (I must point out that this scenario is with our Bullmastiff, who is young and still learning about the kitties. My Pyrs are true to their breed standard, and amazing with my cats!)
I do think it's wise, when adopting a Pyr into a more city-like environment, to really put thought into the stimuli they will see through your windows at night. I have recommended to people in the past whose Pyrs were barking too much to consider eliminating their visual stimuli. I haven't had much feedback on the results. My one Great Pyrenees will hardly make a peep all day long. Garbage men, mailmen, people on the sidewalk…it all changes at night. I am thankful for him. What I have experienced is that when he is dead set that something is upsetting him, he won't relent with the barking until I have taken certain actions. A few barks, I don't even get out of bed. I don't say anything to him. If I get up, and I look outside to see a strange person, I praise him for doing his job. "Thank you, good boy. It's okay, I see him. It's fine, let's go back to bed." Sounds nuts, but I swear this works! He wants me safe, and he wants to be sure he woke me to see what has him so concerned. Admittedly, nights with bad storms cause him to bark at non-persons…trees, etc. I have to just let him bark a bit. Those things just scare him, and if he realizes that I'm not scared, he gets it.
The thing is, I'm not going to get him to change. He is a Great Pyrenees, and he is prone to night barking. Like all breed characteristics, this must be heavily weighed before adopting one of these angelic dogs. I always say how I don't think I'd suggest a Pyr for someone anticipating a newborn. I think I would lose my mind if I just finally got the baby to sleep and the dog started barking. But it's not to say all people anticipating growing their family should avoid this breed, because they are amazing family dogs and great with children. Perhaps you have a way to ensure the barking won't be 'in the ear' of your new baby. My night barking Pyr is just over 2, and he has severe heart disease. If he is still alive if the day comes I have a baby, I will be so happy about that that I don't think I'll mind if he wakes the little human…but that is unfortunately not his reality.
When I adopted my other Pyr, I did so in part because she doesn't ever bark. Loving and wanting her was easy, but I had to force myself to consider my "10 year plan". I'm not sure if I'll ever have kids, but if I do, she will be no challenge. This is not to say that she won't START barking one day. I have to anticipate change. Perhaps a new baby in the house would cause her to be more on guard! I can't relinquish my angel when that day comes. My obligation was to understand her breed first, before I allowed her into my life. Don't adopt a dog because of "how they are now". They grow old, get sick, you move, everything can change. The commitment to your dog is larger, and it takes a lot of thought. How many parents consider the cost of college before growing their family? Consider the cost of a trainer if your dog develops undesired traits.
So you have a Great Pyrenees, and the "seeing what he sees to calm him" isn't working…what next? I cannot advise getting a trainer or behaviorist enough. Often times the benefit isn't what the dog will learn, but what we will…about ourselves, our body language, etc. The majority of things I read suggest ignoring undesired barking. This must indeed be the hardest method for owners to use, but we must try. Often negative 'cause and effect' methods are used. You bark, I squirt you with water. I guess I just personally hate this if the barking is natural. My dog really is doing his job, and I hate the idea of sending him this message that he's doing something wrong.
We have all known the 'crazy' barker though. They bark all day long, at everything. The general school of thought is perhaps there are other issues. Is he healthy? Is he exercised... and is it enough? Is there another dog barking in the neighborhood that you can't hear, but he can? There are so many avenues to explore before losing patience and considering giving him away.
Before engaging in selecting a new dog, it doesn't stop at breed research. There are many traits that dogs may come with, and some may grow or diminish with training, environment, or even age. I think we must accept the possibility for all undesired behaviors, and have an action plan in place for the "what ifs". If you are unable or unwilling to make training a lifetime commitment, pass on adopting a dog. Often novice dog owners treat dogs like cars…"it ran fine when I bought it". They are living, breathing, thinking, and deeply feeling animals, of which some may be more sensitive than others. With human children, we'd find a way to cope with any new event that arose, be it behavior or health. Let not the mechanism of working with your dog be that born from frustration, rather from the deep love you have for them.
As I've written many times over, I am not a dog trainer or a behaviorist. Seek a trained professional for all aspects regarding your pet's well being. If you've had success implementing training to diminish barking, please email us. We'd love to share your experiences with others.
by Shannon Murphy