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Spraying water to stop barking rarely works--it's punishment.

Q I have a 5-year-old Pomeranian mix named Toby. He is a rescue. I adopted him when he was about 2. He had been dumped on the street by a previous owner.

At first, he was very well-behaved and almost never barked inside my one-bedroom apartment. Over time, however, since I live on the third floor and he can see out the window, he barks at every passing dog, cat and person. He also will bark almost non-stop if he feels being ignored because I am on the phone or working on the computer.

Otherwise, he's a wonderful little guy and very affectionate. He just seems to have anxiety issues, since whenever I leave the apartment to go to work or I get in the shower, he goes bonkers with barking and even growling to get me to stay with him.

A dog trainer suggested I use plain water in a spray bottle to stop this behavior by saying "quiet" and then spraying him in the face with the water. What do you think of this method?

A Toby is lucky that you were willing to adopt him and put up with his vocalizations. Your primary question was: What do you think of spraying him with water when he barks. The short answer is not much.

My more informative response is that punishment is rarely the answer to behavior problems. Punishment has to be consistent every time he barks. It has to be timely within a second or two of the initiation of barking, and it has to be adversive enough to decrease the frequency of the behavior.

Unless you want to take a few weeks off attending to Toby every minute and squirting him each time he reacts to that cat, dog or person, water treatment will probably not be effective. Furthermore, Toby is a smart little dog--he chose you as an owner--and will learn that if you are in another room or taking a shower, he can bark with impunity.

Finally, punishment will not improve the dog-human bond. If you must punish him, you could try a time out. If he barks, lead him to the bathroom for five minutes by himself. He should be wearing a harness with a dragging lead so you don't have to pick him up. The reason is that being picked up is probably a reward for him.

I am not sure how a tiny dog can see dogs, cats and people from a third floor apartment unless you have floor to ceiling windows. You should be able to remove the stimulus, the sight of those creatures, by closing draperies, moving the couch or even putting translucent sticky panels on the windows.

I think Toby actually has two barking problems. Hs reaction to cats, dogs and people is probably a frustration bark because he would like to meet those people and animals.

He may have friendly, territorial or predatory interest in those species. You can listen to the barks to tell the difference. The aggressive barks will be noisier--with more frequencies and changes in frequency.

His response to your departure is something different. You are correct. He wants you to stay. Dogs like Toby who have been rehomed are very likely to have separation anxiety. They seem to be afraid that they will be abandoned again.

You are lucky in that you are only an hour away from Athens, where the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine offers a Behavior Medicine Service, where you can get excellent treatment,

Meanwhile, you can help Toby realize he won't be abandoned. Teach him to sit and stay. Begin with a few seconds of stay and gradually build up the time before you say OK and give him a treat.

When he can stay for a minute, begin to move farther away from him while he stays. Then have him stay while you leave the room. You are simply teaching him that inhibiting himself is rewarded and that just because you are out of sight he has not been abandoned.

Enjoy your loquacious little fellow!

Katherine A. Houpt, VMD, Ph.D., here with her West Highland White Terrier, Yuki, provided the answer on this page. Dr. Houpt is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and emeritus professor at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

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Title Annotation:ASK THE EXPERTS
Author:Houpt, Katherine A.
Publication:Dog Watch
Date:Feb 1, 2017
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