Barking at Guests
With your dog being a mix of two breeds that are prone to barking naturally, you’ll need to be very patient with her while boosting her confidence, which is the underlying issue here. There are three main things you need to work on with her simultaneously: Build her confidence, get a different conditioned response to someone at the door, and teach her to bark on command. Any behavior that’s annoying to you should be put on command to make it clear to her that there are times to display the behavior (when you ask for it), and times not to (when she starts barking, and you say, in this case, “Quiet”). The best time to have her bark is for fun, as a trick to add to her repertoire. Let’s go over how to do all of this in a way that’s effective, and fun for both of you!
Building her Confidence
The very best way to build her confidence is through training her using positive reinforcement. Her confidence will come from being praised and rewarded for learning, and for responding to you in a way that pleases you. The more you teach her, the more opportunities she has to respond to you in a way she knows will please you, and not in a way that brings punishment (who knows what her life was like before you came along). The commands mentioned here are where you should start, but you’ll have such a good time teaching (and enjoying the results of) these that you won’t want to stop there. The more training, the more confident your dog will be.
Here you’ll be teaching a number of things that build confidence and address the barking issue at the same time. Please read the Go To Bed — Door Greeting Etiquette handout. This exercise teaches her that it’s not her job to bark at the door or at anyone when they enter the house. A big reason for her barking right now is that she’s “resource guarding.” That means that she’s trying to protect all that provides her safety/food/shelter/enjoyment; it could be her toys, food, favorite spot on the bed or, in this case, you! She doesn’t want anything to interfere with your attention to her. It’s not jealousy, but a basic need to keep things status quo. Be patient. She’ll pick up on your attitude and sense any level of frustration, which will interfere with building her confidence.
Also, the method you described to discipline her, using your fingers to emulate the mother dog’s teeth, won’t be effective with her because you’re telling her to stop doing something without giving her an alternative behavior, and the method itself is too strong a response for her. It will cause her more stress than what she’s already feeling with the perceived interlopers at the door. Her need to bark right now is very strong and she needs to know that the alternate thing to do will not only please you, but give her the exact opposite of what she now thinks will happen when someone’s at the door. Also print out the How To Stuff A Kong handout to get more ideas on goodies for her new best friend – the Kong!
Attention Training and Exercise
It’s all about eye contact! You can’t train a dog who’s not looking at you, so while you’re teaching the “Go to bed” command, take some breaks and work on attention training. Please refer to “Shush, Schnauzers!” to learn how to teach attention on a walk. Start the exercise indoors first then take it outside as described in this post. No matter how small a dog is, they need a minimum of a half hour of exercise daily (if healthy). I can’t stress this enough — no amount of training will replace needed, daily exercise. So teach attention and give her the exercise she needs! Be sure to always walk her with a harness; small dogs have small tracheas, which can be very easily damaged by the pressure of a regular buckle collar when walking.
Bark on Command
What?! Teach a dog to bark? Absolutely! It’s fun and yet another command to build her confidence. Just refer to my answer to “Meet the Barkers” to read how to teach this command.
Your biggest challenge will be to remember that it’s much easier to teach a dog to behave by training alternative behaviors than by issuing punishment. Training your girl will create a bond between you that simply can’t be there if she’s not very clear on what you want. Punishment may (temporarily) get rid of a behavior but it does nothing to increase confidence, nor does it teach what’s preferred. You won’t benefit from the same strong foundation of training that using positive reinforcement and motivational techniques creates.