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Monday, May 5, 2008

Dog on the Phone

My dog is really well behaved, except many times whenthe phone rings or I make a call she gets upset. Can offer any tips on how to get her to not act up whenI am on the phone?

Thank You,

Kylee Ann in Wisconsin

Kylee Ann,
First, let's realize where this VERY common problem comes from. Usually, when we're on the phone, the dog can sense immediately that our primary attention is no longer on them. At that point, they strive to get it back. They bark, whine, paw, or otherwise pester us while we're trying to carry on an intelligent conversation with the human on the other end of the phone line. To make them stop barking, or to keep them quietly appeased, we reach down to pet them. We frantically scratch their ears, rub their necks and stroke their tummies. When we take our hands away, they start pestering again, so we immediately go back to scratching them. Soon they learn that it's great fun to manipulate us when we are at our weakest: on the phone, with attention fragmented.

In our efforts to be polite adults, we're hesitant to say to the caller, "Hold on, I have to yell at my dog." So we say nothing. Consequently, the next time you have that phone in your hand and start talking to someone other than your dog, the same thing will happen again.

Here's something you can try. CALL YOURSELF with your cell phone. Let the dog hear the ring, let him see you sit down and "chat" as you normally would. Make conversation with that imaginary person on the phone. As soon as your dog starts to THINK about acting up, correct him! Tell him sternly, "Quiet!" or "Aghh!" or "Leave it!"...something to let him know you're onto him, and you're no longer afraid to correct him. If that's not enough, pick up his drag leash (which he should be wearing for this, by the way, along with his training collar), and give it a pop downward as you say your corrective word.

Your dog was not expecting you to correct him for bad behavior in this situation. He will be amazed when you do, and the problem will go away. If it persists or comes back, go back to using the drag leash around the house so you CAN correct him at the right moment. Remember the drag leash is nothing more than a "handle" you can pick up to stop or redirect a behavior.

Another tip: sometimes when we're on the phone talking to a "stranger," we are making eye contact with our dog. He's looking back, wondering, "What is she saying to me??? What am I supposed to do? Why does she have that funny look on her face? She never uses that tone of voice with me! What's going on?" Eye contact in this context is enough to totally confuse and sometimes freak out a dog...thus, the barking and whining starts. Now this truly IS an "upset" dog. Try to avoid looking directly at your dog when you're on the phone.

Teach your dog an alternative behavior when you get "on the phone." Fake some calls, as suggested above, and place your dog in a down-stay within an arm's reach. During your "conversation," correct the dog from getting up. And by all means, PRAISE the dog while he is staying down. You might even have some treats handy for this training endeavor. Feed a few treats at random to the dog WHILE HE IS DOWN, and correct him when he gets up. It's positive and negative training, and the two will complement each other. Eventually, you can wean him off the treats.

I hope one of these tips works for your dog, Kylee!

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