Are all small dogs naturally yippy, or is the owner to blame?

Dear Joan: In a recent column you mentioned that your dog, Bailey, would be sent into fits of barking by the ringing of the doorbell. I have a couple of questions.

Do small dogs tend to bark more often when the doorbell rings than larger dogs? Can’t you train your dog not to bark when the doorbell rings?

I have a friend and close neighbor whose yappy little dog goes crazy when anyone rings the doorbell. I’ve discussed this with her and she said she likes the fact the dog barks as it alerts her to the fact that someone is on the porch. Well, wouldn’t a ringing doorbell do the same thing?

Personally, I find it highly offensive when I call on someone and their dog, large or small, starts barking at me. To put it mildly, it’s rude and highly upsetting. I take it to be a slap in the face. Am I the only one? Perhaps I am more sensitive because I’m not a dog fan.

Is this a matter of breed or training? Two of my daughters have dogs that never bark when I ring the bell, but my neighbor’s dog just won’t shut up.

I imagine closer to New Year’s you will write a column on how to keep your dog calm when fireworks go off. This I can completely understand as the boom, boom is unexpected and greatly upsets the animal. But a doorbell?

—Jeanine Fetterly, Oakland

Dear Jeanine: You raise an interesting question. Are small dogs just normally more yappy than large ones? That’s certainly the stereotype, and in many cases, it’s true. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Researchers have learned that there is no inherent reason for small dogs to yap. In other words, it’s not in their genetics to do so. Like most things related to unwanted or bad behaviors, the responsibility lies with the owners.

Dog behaviorists list three things that tend to produce a barking dog —lack of obedience training, lack of shared activities with their owners and the use of punishment.

Dogs, no matter their size, are less likely to get overly excited by the doorbell, encountering other dogs or meeting strangers if they have had obedience or agility training.

People who have barking dogs tend to not be consistent with the training, stopping the behavior at some times and ignoring it at others. Small dog owners seem to be worse at this than those who have larger dogs, perhaps because bigger dogs are more threatening to others and so their owners work harder at controlling them.

Likewise, dog parents that spend time engaged in play such as fetch, tug-of-war or jogging with their dogs have quieter pets. Smaller dogs tend to miss out on some of these shared activities because of their size.

As for punishments, scolding or yelling at a dog to stop barking is ineffective, as is any form of physical punishment, such as grabbing the dog or jerking on the leash. All it does is make the dog more nervous or excitable.

So yes, any dog can be trained not to bark at doorbells. It requires a lot of work and consistency.

I’m guilty of being lax in training my dog, so he barks. However, you shouldn’t take it personally.

Joan Morris/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

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