Basil is a 7 month old entire Finnish Spitz. Now Basil has developed some behaviours that are not always appropriate in our human world, one of which is barking a lot - towards the owners, at other dogs, passers by and basically anything that moves. He gets highly aroused you could say.
No doubt people would label him a 'naughty' dog but is that really fair? I see a dog that is highly evolved for a very specific job, he just doesn't know how to focus that natural ability as nobody has shown him.
In order to understand Basil we must look at his genetic breed traits and his breeds original purpose as a Sporting Dog.
The Finnish Spitz is an ancient breed of dog, the most popular breed in its native Finland, only officially recognised by the Finnish Kennel Club in 1920 after careful breeding over 30 years to bring it back to its purest form.
"In the field, its oddity is that, when it pinpoints a bird in a tree, it yodels at it until the hunter arrives. The yodelling, in reality, is very fast barking and there are claims that the Finnish Spitz can reach a speed of 160 barks per minute, hence its nickname of the Barking Bird Dog. It is also said to wave its tail slowly back and forth as it yodels, which has a strangely mesmeric effect on it's victim in the tree, as if the bird feels it is being confronted by a swaying serpent, and conveniently responds by remaining immobile on the branch as the hunter approaches to shoot it"
The most experienced dogs have one more trick up their repertoire
"they move around the tree in such a way that, as the mesmerised birds follows them with its transfixed gaze, the unfortunate victim has to turn its back on the approaching hunter, who can then get much closer before taking his shot"
Reference: Morris, Desmond. Dogs- The Ultimate Dictionary of Over 1000 Dog Breeds
So what can we deduce from this. Well barking in this breed is inherent, but it's more than that, it's very specific. When I watch Basil with my dogs he barks at them like he would a bird in a tree - persistently with an element of harassment. Their movement excites him and if they don't move he tries to use his bark to get them to move. You add a short lead to the scenario or any restraint and his frustration levels go through the roof and the behaviour escalates. To the untrained eye he looks ferocious.
So where do we start?
Well, right back at the beginning, with building interactive focus. He has focus it's just elsewhere at the moment. The answer is clear in my mind, he needs games that mimic his natural desires, so I can:
a) reward and encourage him
b) build a working relationship
c) alleviate some of his frustration
d) switch his excitement and barking on and off through effective management of the lure and additional rewards like praise and food.
Fur/feathers + height + movement = excitement and focus
So with a lure in a tree we had a go at getting him to indicate on it, firstly by waving it around to generate the movement and then hanging it just out of reach, needless to say he loved it! He naturally barked at it and showed great focus.
We can now shape the behaviour because we have something that truly holds his focus and makes him feel good. This is just the start, but with a step by step process this dogs intelligence will be an asset not a burden.
a) take his focus off dogs and people and concentrate it on to games he naturally enjoys
b) condition him to an alternative response when out in public using his highest motivator as a release reward for ignoring.
Sometimes you've got to just listen to what the dog has been saying all along!