Features December 2010 Issue

Does Your Dog Bark at the TV?

Five things to do when your dog barks at the TV.

Our Corgi, Lucy, barks at the television. Not only does she bark at dogs, she may also bark at horses, giraffes, cartoon hippopotami, and any other animal or ersatz animal, as well as menacing human figures. It’s at least a little annoying, if not irritating. Given her herding-dog Type-A control-freak personality she may always be somewhat prone to respond to television stimuli, but we’ve made a lot of progress using several of these tactics:

With just a few changes, you should be able to watch TV in peace with your dog.

1. Put your dog in a covered crate or in another room. If your dog’s TV triggers are specific and visual-only, just blocking his view of the television can keep him calm and allow you to watch Victoria Stillwell’s “It’s Me or the Dog” training show without interruption from your canine pal.

Note: If you watch a lot of Animal Planet and National Geographic and your dog alerts to lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) as well as other canines, this might be too much separation during a prime bonding time of the day.

2. Lower the volume. Simply lowering the volume to a level where you – and no doubt your dog – can still hear it but it’s not as overwhelming to him, can sometimes forestall a bark-fest. As long as you can keep the volume below your dog’s reaction threshold and still hear the television yourself, you can watch in peace.

3. Plug in your ears. If it’s mostly auditory stimuli that get your dog going, you can use headphones to listen to your favorite dog-arousing shows.

If you have a large family, you’ll have to be more electronically adept than me to figure out how to get everyone plugged in. If your dog is also visually aroused, just tuning out the sound won’t be enough.

4. Cover your dog’s eyes and ears. I’m not joking! If we’re watching a show and an animal comes on briefly that starts to set Lucy off, I can gently place my hand over her eyes until the offender is off-screen. She doesn’t object, and it keeps the peace.

Another option for more thorough ear covering is Mutt Muffs. Yes, these are ear muffs for dogs! They were originally designed to protect the hearing of dogs flying in small planes. They are available from safeandsoundpets.com; (443) 536-6287.

Doggles (sunglasses for dogs) can be used to help reduce your dog’s visual stimuli. Find a local retailer by checking doggles.com or calling (866) 364-4537.

5. Implement a behavior modification protocol. Television reactivity is a golden opportunity crying out for counter-conditioning and desensitization, to give your dog a new association with and response to the stimuli on your big screen. It’s a simple training procedure that still allows you to be a couch potato yourself!

Just arm yourself with a Tupperware container of high-value treats cut into pea-sized pieces and turn on your favorite dog program or doggie DVD. Try this first with the television set at normal volume, but be prepared to turn it down if necessary.

Sit on the sofa with your dog on leash at your feet, or on the cushion next to you, if that’s his normal hang-out spot. The instant he notices Dogzilla (or some other threatening on-screen entity) begin feeding him tidbits, one after the other, using the treat to draw his head toward you. Ideally, begin feeding before he has a chance to bark. If you miss that moment and he barks, feed him anyway. If he’s too aroused to eat your high value treats, decrease the intensity of stimulus by reducing volume or moving farther away from the television, or by using one of the tools in tactic #4.

After feeding a few treats, pause, let your dog look back at the screen, then feed him again. Continue doing this until the bark-inducing figure has left the screen. Then sit back and wait for the next opportunity. (Don’t forget to subtract calories from his dinner bowl roughly equivalent to the calories you feed during TV training.)

If you do this consistently, you’ll see your dog begin to glance at you for treats when a dog comes on the screen rather than going into arousal mode. When your dog consistently associates the dogs on TV with “Yay, treats!” you can gradually wean him off the high-value, high-rate delivery and move to an occasional bit of cookie to keep the association strong.

Pat Miller, CPDT-KA, CDBC, lives in Fairplay, Maryland, site of her Peaceable Paws training center.

Comments (7)

comforting to see the post about Heelers' reaction to TV. This one is 2 yrs old and barks and charges the TV at all things remotely animal but also H&R Block ads and open expanses of grass and water. She obviously comprehends what she sees. The barking is beyond acceptable and her person is not here to experience it. I think she just took exception to a ref's call on thew Super Bowl. I have her on leash and had taken her to the park to try and exhaust her pre-game. don't like screaming at her to stop.

Posted by: not my dog | February 2, 2014 6:05 PM    Report this comment

my Tootsie (toy poodle) watches tv selectively, much like these other stories....except for when dog shows are on....oh my....she watches 'her competition' with a very very intense eye, and doesn't bark as much as she comments on each competitor. and if she REALLY has something to say, she runs behind the tv, looking for the other dog. I actually find her interest in and interactions with the tv very interesting. my other dog is totally oblivious...

Posted by: GAYLE GOLD | August 1, 2012 9:04 AM    Report this comment

One of my dogs will also growl at the "bad guys" on TV or anyone else that is not acting or playing nice! She is also the enforcer of rules in the house and will also separate the cats and/or puppy if any fighting erupts!

Posted by: CINDY T | December 27, 2010 6:25 PM    Report this comment

I too would like to stop the barking everytime the door bell rings as well as everytime someone walks down the side walk (live on a busy street) and they both go balistic when they see other dogs very imbarrasing) I never had this problem with my 3 yr shih tzu then I adopted a 8 week shih tzu which is now 1 1/2 yrs old and now the 3 year old is doing it. Some of my friends see nothing wrong they tell me isnt that whats what dogs are suppose to do is alert you I am confused

Posted by: ms_uaj_1999 | December 19, 2010 3:43 PM    Report this comment

My 2.5 year old Labradoodle and 8 year old Brussels Griffon both watch tv. The biggest problem is the Labradoodle, she not only watches but wants to interact with whatever animal is on the tv. During baseball or football, she tries to catch the ball. She leaps at the tv and gets up on the stand pushing the flatscreen into the wall. We have tried a shock collar, but that doesn't work and I don't like it. There was a commercial during the summer with a rooster and she recognized the first note of the jingle and where ever she is in the house, she is at the tv within seconds. I am thinking someone could hire her for commercials, she loves bells and kids too. Any advise?

Posted by: Judy J | December 16, 2010 4:06 PM    Report this comment

I have 2 Blue Heelers (sisters) who are nearly 4. I can't believe I actually ordered Animal Planet and Nat'l Geographic with them in mind. One because I love the Dog Whisperer and also love anything to do with animals (hate all the other channels!) When Cesar Milan or Animal Cops is on they go nuts. They pick up instantly on any dog with food aggression and rush from their beds beside me towards the TV. Luckily it's a large flat screen positioned halfway up the wall at the far end of my living room - or they'd go through the screen! haha They can be extremely loud and I miss half the dialogue so it gets annoying to say the least. All training goes out the window as they get totally caught up in the moment. They also hate when dogs are caught on catch-poles and are squirming at the end of them. Can't say I blame them there. No amount of me telling them "it's OK - it's OK" in a calm voice - they really are affected - one more so than the other and she'll go on and on about any poor dogs being unjustly treated (in her eyes I'm sure). As Heelers can be strong willed and inclined to put on weight if you don't watch their diets, I'm not about to shove multiple treats down them, however small. I've even tried it with the sound off - but it's still the same reaction! Surely there has to be a better way?

Posted by: janscott | December 15, 2010 5:54 PM    Report this comment

One of my Shih Tzu also barks and/or vocalizes at dogs and horses on TV. If there are several dogs, he'll sit in front of the TV and watch it while mumbling to himself. Also, both of my Shih Tzu (they are brothers) will bark and run to the door if there is a knocking or door-bell sound on TV. If we say, "It's just TV," they will stop. My boyfriend and I are amused rather than annoyed at this. It's really quite comical!

Posted by: SHARYN G | December 8, 2010 1:09 PM    Report this comment

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