In March we met with a local Bark Busters trainer to get assistance working with Samantha the Border Collie. Despite previously earning status as an AKC Star Puppy, as a three-year-old dog her obedience had been deteriorating and her demeanor around people she wasn’t familiar with was unacceptable. She would frequently refuse to come back inside the house after playing outside off leash, she would growl and bark at guests, and she was generally assuming a role of command both within our family and wherever she went.
Past dogs in my life were much more naturally submissive (for the most part) to their human caretakers, and we needed some help learning how to get Samantha under control.
Our Bark Busters trainer showed us that we had to take on the role of pack leader for Samantha, including responding to her not as we would respond to other people, but as a lead dog would respond to other dogs. We learned how to growl at Samantha, and, if that doesn’t get her attention, to growl and clap our hands simultaneously, or even to growl and throw to the ground a “Bark Busters pillow”, filled with metal bolts that clank together making a sound unpleasant to dogs’ ears. All of this is meant to simulate a dog pack leader growling and, if needed, snapping at other dogs, to deter unacceptable behavior and to signal that there’s no reason to get upset right now.
Of course, not every response should be negative. On the positive side, praising the dog for a successfully following commands and for behaving appropriately should be boisterously happy, as should calling for the dog to come. Other commands (sit, stay, etc.) should be given firmly and directly, neither too happy nor too dour.
We learned that we must enforce ourselves as the leaders of the family, even in seemingly minor things. We go through the door first. We go up and down the stairs first. We say when it’s time to play and when it’s not. On walks, stay in front, not behind. Over time, the dog will learn that its owners are in the lead, in charge, in control, and that she doesn’t have to be.
All of these things intertwine together to promote obedient behavior in the dog, and to diminish anxiety wrought by the dog feeling that she’s responsible for the household — a job that is really too big and overwhelming for her.
Putting what we’ve learned into practice, the results have been immediate and astonishing. Samantha’s behavior has improved many times over, going from being a dog that would only listen to us if it suited her mood, to a dog who seems eager to please, and truly apologetic if she lets us down. We’ve not brought her into contact with unfamiliar house guests yet, though her behavior around the Bark Busters trainer has gone from antagonistic to playful. We are hopeful to see similar changes around other visitors.
Shortly after we first started noticing issues with Samantha, I bought a Bark Busters book, which I wrote a mediocre review of on Amazon. I stand by that review of the book, because I found it confusing and poorly written. But, with the assistance of an in-person Bark Busters trainer, I have been extremely impressed with their methodology.