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Feb 21, 2013 by pippalou
Posted in category: Dogs
One of the quietest breeds I've ever had is the Australian Cattle Dog, aka Heeler.   A primary goal in the development of the breed was to produce a herding dog who worked without barking.

ReadyReady to Ride
My Heeler/German Shepherd mix, Scout, generally follows the book.  She rarely barks.  But put her in the car, and all bets are off.

As soon as her paws hit the seat, she starts belting out her own special noise with great intensity.  She sounds like a hungry monkey who's spotted a bunch of bananas that's just out of reach.

It's not barking.  It's more like an overly loud whine, rhythmical, done at panting speed, and she can get quite loud enough to be injurious to the ears.  Mine, not hers.

This has been going on for years, and I have tried myriad ways of shutting her up, with no success at all.  Until now.

In doing some research about Heelers a few days ago, I came across a suggestion to use a mother-dog tactic for curbing unwanted behavior.  And believe me, Scout's car vocals are definitely unwanted.

A mother dog has no hesitation about letting her little pups know when they're misbehaving.  She's not mean or hurtful, just consistently firm.  She disciplines the puppies in various ways, such as grabbing them by the scruff of the neck and shaking them or briefly clamping down on their muzzles.

You'veYou've gone too far this time, Ma!
Grabbing hold of the dog's muzzle to rebuke bad behavior is something I've used in puppy training, but have since forgotten.

My next chance in the car, when Scout started her canine operatic solo, I turned around and grabbed her muzzle.  No words, no explanation.  She knew why I did it.  After I did the same thing a couple of more times, she stopped.

Miraculous! My eyes were round with wonder as I held my breath, hoping the peace and quiet would last.  And it actually did.

I know, I know, it's only one time, and I'm sure it will take more than just one ride to cure Scout, but at least I finally got a start in a problem I've been fighting for the last 10 years.

And don't tell me an old dog can't learn or change, because I know they can.

My next target is Pippa, my Red Heeler.  Pippa's still young (two years), and when she gets over-excited, she leaps at me and nips at my arm.  If I'm wearing short sleeves, this can be painful!  With long sleeves, it can ruin a shirt or jacket.  It's instinctive behavior - part of what these dogs do to herd cattle - but she needs to learn not to do it to me!

Again, I've tried all the standard ways of curbing this behavior, but nothing has worked yet.  Next time, I'm going to pull the mother-dog act.  I have little doubt that it will do the trick.

So how do you do it?   Firmly take hold of the dog's muzzle, look him straight in the eye, and maybe growl a little if you think it will help.  Don't hold it long - maybe a couple of seconds at most.  They won't like it, but it doesn't hurt them.  It just lets them know that YOU are the Boss.

And don't be surprised at that wondering look in their eyes... Are you my mother?

Update Feb 23, 2013:  I used this method on Pippa to get her to stop her leaping and biting behavior, and after a couple of repetitions, she got the idea.  It's hard for her not to do that when I run, since, as I said above, it's instinctive.  I see her getting ready to leap up, and then she remembers she's not supposed to do that.  So, it's working!

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