How do you get a puppy not to bark while you are preparing her food? Okay, I’ll wait for some of you to stop rolling on the floor laughing at me. And then I will wait for those of you who are wondering what I am talking about because your puppies are perfect angels.
My puppy, Frida, was not an angel when I was preparing food for her, along with Sadie the dog and Lorraine the cat. I would put her in her X-pen in the kitchen, and she would bark from the moment I got the food bowls out until I told her to sit so I could put hers on the floor. It was loud and obnoxious, and made early mornings quite unpleasant.
I had been great at problem solving with Frida regarding everything else but this one was hard. Thinking things through before coffee and oatmeal was not my forte. I tried ignoring it. “Ignore the behavior you don’t want and reward what you do want.” Nope. I tried saying, “uh-oh,” and walking out of the room every time she barked. I spent a lot of time walking in and out of the kitchen during that period, with limited results. When I was especially bleary-eyed I tried yelling, “quiet!.” I felt momentarily better but it scared her. Not a kind thing to do to a dog of any age.
Finally, I tried asking for help and talked to several other trainers. One said to hold Frida’s nose down and tell her, “quiet,” whenever she barked. This was supposed to mimic what an older dog would do to a puppy when it misbehaved. Another said to teach her an alternate behavior, like ‘sit’, so she had something acceptable to do. I visualized doing either one while also trying to get a meal ready. Both seemed complicated and time consuming. I couldn’t help but feel there was something missing from how all of us were thinking about the problem.
What was missing was Frida. Why was she barking? I sat down and thought about it from her point of view instead of my own. She was the equivalent of a small child and she was hungry. She had little impulse control because she was not developmentally at a stage when she could control herself very well. Her way of expressing her frustration was to bark. How could I make things less frustrating for her?
The next morning, I did not put Frida in the X-pen right away. Instead, I let her be loose in the kitchen with the other two animals. When I opened the pantry to scoop out food, I got hers first. When she started barking, I went over and scratched her on the shoulder. She quieted down and came over to look in the pantry. I let her sniff the bag. I got her food ready, put it in the X-pen, and she went in and started eating.
We have had lovely quiet meal preparation time ever since.
We had a problem in our relationship, Frida and I. We had competing needs and I was looking at the issue only as, “How do I make her stop barking?” If I had kept looking at the problem this way, I might have spent lots of time and energy finding a way to make Frida do what I wanted her to do. Instead, by taking her needs in to account, I met my own as well.
We think of the ‘Dance of Relationship’ as only being between human beings. We serve ourselves and our canine friends so much more richly if we remember we dance with them too.