How To Get Your Dog to Stop Barking (Without Barking Back)

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S1: Sometimes I’m like, Oh, my God, you menace you 13 pounds of just madness. Leave the squirrel alone. It’s like on the other side of a window, it’s not going to come at you, you know?

S2: Welcome to how to. I’m Amanda Ripley in the past year and a half, 23 million U.S. households got bigger, messier and louder. And not because of a newborn. One in five families got a dog or a cat, helping to make a lonely trying time a little easier or on some days, a lot harder. My own family got a dog last year, and let’s just say it was challenging. Our guest this week can definitely sympathize.

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S1: I have a dog that I, I mean demands being talked about because she’s causing a lot of headache. I mean, she’s wonderful in so many ways, but oh man, raising her has kicked my ass.

S2: This is Simone. Yet she’s an inventor, popular YouTuber, and she’s wicked creative. You might have seen some of her viral videos. I know people call me the queen of shitty robots and that my track record isn’t terribly impressive so far, but I have an angle grinder and a welder, and I’m not afraid to use them. She built a Tesla truck, which she calls truck before Elon Musk did. She’s invented all sorts of wacky things, like a selfie booth for her dog to take photos on his own. So we’re talking about an exceptionally capable creative woman, and yet this tiny dog named scraps has brought her to her knees.

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S1: Scraps is two years old. She’s thirteen pounds fluffy. She kind of looks like a welding spark, and she was surrendered outside of a shelter with a shattered leg when she was three months. She got it amputated. I got her about a week after her amputation.

S2: Where did she get her name from, if I may ask.

S1: She’s a workshop dog because I’m a builder, and I just thought it would be really cute having a workshop dog needing scraps.

S2: Do you want to show us scraps as she camera ready? How she feeling

S1: scripts? Do you want to come here? Do you want to come sit on my lap and bump up against the mic and all the things you do? No, no. She’s like, She’s like, Yo dog, I’m good.

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S2: Simone has had dogs all her life and has diligently worked with multiple dog trainers. But even with her extensive knowledge base, she hasn’t been able to figure out a way to get scraps to stop barking.

S1: There you go. She has a lot of trust issues, not towards me. I, like immediately became her point of safety. But when I got her, she would bark at every person we crossed and she really doesn’t go well with kids and she’s slowly gotten better. But we still really struggle with having people over at the house. I mean, I tend to say that she has a bark for every occasion, she Amanda barks. She guard barks. She stranger. Danger barks. I mean, she she does it all.

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S2: On today’s show, we’re tackling all of your difficult dog questions from barking to bite. We know Simone is one of millions of people struggling right now, and it’s not just about how annoying it is when a dog’s barking really difficult dogs, which Simone also knows something about, can force wrenching decisions about what is safe and what is best for the dog and for other humans, which are not always the same. There’s so much to cover here that we’re actually going to spend two episodes on how to train your dog and how to train yourself with the help of a world renowned dog trainer who is surprisingly open about her own frustrations with her dogs. But there are things you can do to have a happier pet and be a happier person. Stay with us.

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S3: Oh, look at that little one. Oh my. Isn’t he cute?

S1: How house’s teething going?

S3: What a. Yes. Just starting. He’s three months old and about 25 pounds is kind of a big guy. Oh, wow.

S1: She’s just to narrate for four years is currently chewing on Denise his face.

S2: Yeah, but in a very loving way. Yeah, very.

S3: He’s very sweet.

S2: He’s a fur ball.

S3: He’s a furball. Yeah.

S2: This is Denise Fenzi. She’s a world class dog trainer who teaches thousands of students virtually every semester through her online academy.

S3: I was born into a dog family, so I’ve been in some form or another involved in dogs dog shows since I was 12 and I’m 52, so that gives me a whole lot of years in now. I’ve seen a lot over that time, huge changes in how dogs are trained. It’s so much kinder and gentler, now used to be really rough. I used to compete quite a bit, but now I’m much more interested in helping people find ways to develop their relationships with their dogs that work for all parties. So it’s not all about the dog. It’s not all about the person. It’s not all about society. It’s finding ways where we all give and take a little bit and end up in a better

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S1: space like a couple therapists for dog.

S2: The latest trend and dog training philosophy is called positive reinforcement. Essentially, instead of using punishments to get rid of bad behaviors, you motivate the dog by rewarding good behavior. It’s certainly more humane. People aren’t hitting or otherwise punishing their dogs as often, but just like in parenting, where positive discipline is also very much in fashion. It may be unrealistic to do it 100 percent of the time.

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S3: I believe very much in both children and in dogs that the way to run our lives to the best of our ability with people we care about with dogs we care about is to emphasize what we want as opposed to what we don’t want. Yeah. Having said that, human beings have rights and I can tell you and I won’t say what I actually say because it’s really not appropriate. But when my dogs go running through their house, screaming their heads off, sometimes the thing I say is not too kind. And it is primarily designed to stop that behavior at that moment right now. I mean, I need

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S2: to know what you say.

S3: Can I say it?

S2: Yeah, yeah.

S3: You set the fuck up. Is what

S1: I say. Yeah.

S3: So the question then is how is my dog impacted by that statement? My dog stop. And they look at me and I say, very good. The reality is sometimes that doing something like, right now we’re having this conversation. If my dog goes running off, the positive things that I would like to do are not pragmatic. I’m working. And so sometimes in the same way, if one of my children wanders through right now, I am going to say I’m not going to be mean, but I’m going to say, you need to wait. I’m in the middle of an interview. And if they then try to ask me again, I’m is that you need to wait. So that’s not positive. But in a living situation where all the players have needs, I feel comfortable when my dog tries to take my food off my counter saying that is not going to happen. Like, I feel OK about that.

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S2: So positive reinforcement doesn’t mean putting yourself subordinate to the dog

S3: right now because I am an advocate for positive reinforcement training. Maybe I don’t talk about that as much because I am trying to convince people, please be kind to your dog. And I have seen and heard terrible things, and I want people to be kind. But over the last couple of years in particular, I’ve been making a point of talking more about this. What we’re talking about right now, that human beings can’t. It’s not the good ship lollipop every day. It cannot be. We all have rights. And your dog is going to be OK. If you tell them you need to stop that, it’s OK to do that.

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S1: You would have saved me so much. Therapy costs money by just hearing this, because positive reinforcement is what I feel is it clashes with reality sometimes of what you’re saying. Like, I need to work. She’s barking up a storm. And I’m like, Stop that. Like, stop that. And then I can get her attention and then I can throw her a treat. But sometimes I feel like I’m in a position where I cannot fully drop everything I’m doing and engage with her and reward her and redirect her behavior. And I’m like, How am I supposed to keep this up?

S3: To be honest with you, I don’t think there’s an individual on the planet who can pull off nonstop positive reinforcement every second of their lives. I just can’t imagine that. And it’s OK to put your needs and rights on the scale when you make your choices.

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S2: So here’s our first training tip. Positive reinforcement is a wonderful trend in the right direction, but it has an unintended consequence. Of setting up superhuman expectations. So then when you don’t meet them because none of us are superhuman. Give yourself a break.

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S1: Dog training is so much about trying to figure out what your dog is thinking about and what they’re feeling, and especially if your dog is barking because they’re scared at someone like scraps. We’ll put on a really tough show if somebody comes into the house, but I know she’s scared and she’s uncomfortable. And then I’m like thinking of if I would add some pain element into that mix and you’re like, That makes no sense. That just makes it so much worse because then person comes in through the gate and then I get shocks. You know, how is that ever going to? It might get her so scared that she backs off. But also, I know she’s a dog who’s like, she’s stubborn as hell. She’s tiny, but she’s not going to back down.

S3: You’re absolutely right. There’s a difference between a dog going for my food on my counter and a dog is barking out of fear. One is a desire. I like to do this, or when my dog barks at the squirrel out the window, it’s not fear. It’s excitement. It’s a predatory behavior. It’s fun. So when you use, let’s call it a mild punisher, a verbal punisher, for example, but no pain and no true fear that is different than when a dog is expressing distress and the distress can be anger, too. We don’t like to admit it, but anger is also not a choice. We’re sympathetic to fearful beings. We are not sympathetic to angry beings. But that actually makes no sense because neither one of those emotions is anyone’s choice.

S2: So you’re saying be aware of the context and a bark is not a bark is not a bark, right? Depends on the what kind of market is.

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S3: If it’s angry, barking or fearful barking, the dog is not choosing it. The bark is the result of the emotion. The dog can’t do better. So I’m just going to try to get the dog out of that situation or frankly, feed them, because if they’re eating, they’re usually quiet. And I know that confuses people. They say, Well, but aren’t you reinforcing the behavior? You can only reinforce behavior. You cannot reinforce emotions. So if a child is crying or afraid and you feed them, you do not increase the crying or fear because you did something nice. That’s because it’s emotion driven. If something is emotion driven, you don’t need to worry about reinforcing it. It’s not even possible.

S2: So we’re getting tactical here, which is which is great. What are some things that both of you have found to be useful in managing inappropriate barking?

S3: The ideal is that you see it coming, so you’re walking along and you notice your dog looks at another dog and you notice the dog’s ears went up. At that point, you already know what’s going to happen if you continue on this train. So your job is to say, Look, let’s go this way, get distance. You want to get distance from the other dog, get away, get so

S2: preemptive preemptive strike

S3: or tell the dog what you want. I want you to heal. I want you to look at my face. Be very clear and directive about what you need to see at that moment. That gives the dog something to do as opposed to what not to do, which is don’t make trouble with the other dog somehow.

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S2: Is that is that possible? Do you find you’re able to do that? What percentage of the time was grabs?

S1: The way I think of it is twofold. It’s one preventing freak out. But also how quickly does she recover from a freak out because they do happen? So with her, if we went to the dog part now we’ve gotten to a point where she will bark at somebody. I’m able to redirect her and be like, Let’s do this instead. Let’s play. Let’s work on some tricks. Let’s sniff this. But whatever you want to do, and she’s recovered a lot quicker, and then she likes to look at that person and maybe bark twice, and then she’ll be like, OK, where’s my cookie mate ready to engage with you? But then the other thing I don’t know I would love to compare notes with you, Denise is the demand barking that she’s so good at like there is a toy under the couch and or there is something that she wants up on the counter. And there I feel like the strategy is more. Just ignore them and teach them that that’s not going to like, you’re not going, I’m not going to get it for you just because you bark. With that said, I almost always given she’s a terrorist, but I will happily negotiate with her because she has the shrillness bark. And I’m like, Yeah, OK, I’ll crawl under the dusty couch and get that one ball. Even though you have 15 other balls, I’m going to get that one ball for you. So you stop barking.

S3: OK, so that would be an example where I would suggest that maybe you have more rights than you’re giving yourself credit for. So I give the dog one warning. When they start barking, I say that’s enough. And if they keep barking, I say, Did you want to take a nap? And I will go and pick them up and put them in their crate for a minute. So I just that is a punishment. However, that would drive me crazy having a dog demand bark all the time. Sometimes, frankly, I don’t care. I’ll just get it for them. I’ll say, What do you want? But once I’ve said, that’s enough, it really does kind of have to be enough. Now the length of the time in the crate can be one minute. It doesn’t have to be hours. It just needs to be enough that the dog recognizes you did hear the barking. By the way, I loved your strategies at the dog park. I think those are great. Everything you said was. Just great. That’s exactly what I’d like to see. And it sounds like you’re making progress, so that’s all really good.

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S1: I mean, the funny thing was scraps is like because she’s she’s very good at hacking the system, and sometimes she puts her toys in compromising positions like very deliberately. And it’s like, Oh my God, the toy is in the corner and I can’t get it. I’m like scraps. I saw you pick it up and put it there and then start barking at me

S2: for the all the dog owners out there trying to figure this out. When do you know if you need a crate or not?

S3: You need it when you say, Gee, I sure wish I had a way to put my dog away when you

S2: can’t manage your life.

S1: The most difficult one has been the stranger danger barking. Or that’s the most bark. Yeah, the demand barking is the day to day. Like, Oh my god, just shut up that one.

S3: The stranger danger one. Because that is emotionally driven. That is definite place where you can just throw food on the ground or just hand over tons of cookies or anything because food does calm the nerves. Just like people, you know, we eat comfort food. It works for dogs, too. It helps soothe.

S2: Here’s a few more training tips. First, if your dog is barking out of anger or fear, move the dog away from the scene or give the dog a treat bonanza. Those emotions are involuntary, so punishment makes no sense. Second, crates are OK, and if you use the crate correctly, it can be a space of their own where the dog knows it’ll get treats and you know you can live your life with, as Denise puts it, basic human rights.

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S1: Can I also say like, I feel like if you have problems with the dog barking, the first question you should always ask is like, Has my dog’s needs been met? Have I given them enough stimulation and have they slept well, eating well? All of that? We can’t expect them to behave perfectly if we haven’t met their needs.

S3: Absolutely. So many behavior problems are solved just by looking at the dog’s needs and just a quick tip for people to know. One of the easiest ways to stop barking in the house is to put window film on windows that face out on problem areas. So, for example, I have a feral cat that does live here, comes up to get fed every night at five o’clock and just mayhem would result. I got some. I went over to Home Depot. It’s like 30 bucks. You put this kind of film. It doesn’t even look that bad, you know, on the lower part of the window. Instant solution. No effort. It was amazing.

S2: Can you still get light in and they just can’t see out frost?

S1: It’s like a bathroom window.

S3: It’s exactly what it is. And these things do have a self perpetuating nature, and it causes the dog then to just sort of live in a heightened state of arousal in my house. You want to stop that. That becomes a habit. So like, for example, if you always played ball with your dog in your house, just know that you are teaching your dog to be wound up in your house. That’s maybe something you don’t want to do. So maybe you want to do your ball playing outside or even training time. How much training do you want to do in your house? If it is going to cause your dog every time you stand up to go, Oh, now, now are we going to work? So little things like that are actually worth thinking about.

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S2: Here’s another tip. If your dog is barking because of a desire, not an uncontrollable emotion. Change the environment if your dog likes to bark at birds, cover the windows if your dog likes to play ball. Play ball outside only. Just like with humans, dogs do better when they aren’t surrounded by temptations. Our next tip is pretty counterintuitive teach your dog to bark on command.

S1: How do you do that? I ask her bark. And she really bark. Yes, good job. That’s too horrible. Yes. Good job. She’s in good form now. Teaching your dog to bark on command is a good tool in like preventing barking as well because it becomes just one of other behaviors. And sometimes it’s like fun to ask her to bark. But then she knows that when I’m not asking for it, that’s not what I want.

S2: When we come back, we’re going to bust the myth that your dog absolutely needs to be walked three or four times a day. Then we’ll tackle some of the really gnarly problems for dogs like children or aggression.

S4: Stay with us.

S2: If you rely on how to the best way to support this show is by joining Slate Plus Slate’s membership program, signing up for Slate Plus helps us help all the people you hear on our podcast. Every week is only $1 for the first month, and members will never hear another ad on our podcast or any other Slate podcast. You’ll also get free and total access to Slate’s website. Plus, you’ll be supporting our important work, so I hope you’ll join if you can. Again, it’s just $1 for your first month to sign up now. Go to Slate dot com slash how to. Plus, again, that Slate.com slash how to. Plus thanks. We’re back with Simone and Denise Fenzi, and whether you have a puppy who needs to be socialized or a dog like scraps who is super wary of new people, bringing them into public spaces is a big step. So you want to make sure you do it right.

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S3: So the puppy that’s here now is about 14 weeks of age, so he’s sort of in his prime socialization time. So I realized that there’s a tennis court next to me that’s attached to a preschool. And I thought, Oh, I’m going to go in there. I can take him off leash and we can play a little ball because he plays ball. And what I realized is it was a great way to introduce him to children because the children couldn’t get to him because they’re in their preschool, but he could see them through the mesh and they’re riding their bikes. And then they were making little parades. They were doing kid things, you know, like preschoolers. And so he’s observing all of this bizarreness. But it’s a big space because tennis courts are large. So he was he could choose, he could go in that direction or away. And what I realized is I felt so calm because there was no way one of those kids was going to come zooming over and scare us. And so we did that for three days. And so now I feel comfortable that if somebody comes up, I feel OK about it.

S2: You know, it’s interesting that the through line for most of this advice is strategically taking control of the environment instead of trying to control the dog, but do it step by step by giving yourself small wins. You both are building confidence and trust. The other important element for a happy dog, just like a happy human, is physical and mental exercise,

S3: as Simone said, you’re meeting the dog’s needs, but exercise doesn’t have to be a walk either. People also have this weird thing that dogs have to be what dogs do not have to be walk. Some dogs hate going for walks. Right now, I’m going to give you permission to stop walking your dog. Your dog does not like to go for walks. Oh, stop walking your dog. This is because no reason to do it. Some dogs don’t like to walk. They don’t let the world scares them. It overwhelms them. It’s miserable.

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S1: I think though, like for me, scraps and I like when we walk, it’s one of the times where we really like we got it going, like we got a good flow. We’re both enjoying it. She is great off leash. Her recall is on point. She will do like a 180 turn and just be like, Yeah, I’m getting a treat. Wow, that’s awesome.

S2: So it’s really up to you and your dog. But if you don’t do walks, your dog still does need exercise and stimulation, so Denise has some fun tricks for doing that without ever leaving home.

S3: Take the entire meal and throw it in your backyard. Let the dog go. Find it for one hour. Your dog will go around picking out

S2: like a scavenger hunt, like you put it all over the yard.

S3: I don’t. I’m not even that systematic. It just gets around. So I start thinking in terms of enrichment, what silly games are. People will take kibble and they’ll roll it up in a towel. So you roll the towel, you sprinkle kibble, you roll the tally, sprinkle kibble. And when you’re done, then you decorate the towel and you give that to the dog. Things like that get the dog using their brain. Those are fantastic substitutes for walking. The dog does not need to walk. The question is, are you doing interesting things for your dog? Because our dogs live as little prisoners? I mean, if you really think about it, their lives are pretty restricted. When I was a kid, we literally people just let their dogs run the neighborhood, right? There’s no doubt in my mind that before they got killed, hit by a car, whatever, they had pretty good life. They went out in the morning and they did stuff right. They they had self-directed situations. We don’t do that anymore. And so now we have to provide entertainment for them.

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S1: I think that’s always the thing of like. So we’ve been doing a lot of nose work, but I mean to say we go to obedience class. She spends the majority of the class just training going to bed and laying in bed, and she’s so tired from it afterwards because she has just exhaustion and she has to be in this environment with a lot of smells and she’s like, exhausted from thinking.

S3: I’m so glad you mentioned nose work. I love nose work. If anybody is just curious about something you can do with your dog, you can do it in your house. If you really get into it, you can go to competitions.

S2: Can you? Can you define nose work for the lameness?

S3: Work is when the dog learns to find a specific scent, so like birch oil or something. And at first you make it really easy. So the dog finds it and they get cookies, and then you start making it harder and harder. So you start hiding these little Q-tips around your house or your yard or on your car. It’s like a drug dog, but it’s for civilians. How’s that for dogs? Using their nose is a very soothing thing. It actually helps them calm. But it also makes their brain tired, so it’s fantastic for bad weather activity in your house.

S2: You can also do what Denise calls a sniff fari. Instead of forcing your dog to march in lockstep with you on a walk, let your dog’s nose be your compass.

S3: You take them out. You see, where do you want to go? And the dog can pick, and it’s actually fascinating. I remember the first time I did this with my old dog. I took her out and she went one direction, and then she backtracked. And I remember mentally thinking, No, no, we’re going this way. We’ve already been there. And it was interesting for me to observe my own preconceived notions about the fact that walks are linear, like we’ve already been there. So now we have to go this way. But why? That makes no sense at all. Why shouldn’t we backtrack? And so as much as possible when I take out like a puppy to socialize them like the one I have here now as much as possible, I let it be dog directed because the walk is for the dog.

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S1: I think this is something that’s so nice with positive reinforcement as well, because the old school of thought is very much like, No, you can’t have your dog walk in front of you because you’re the pack leader and like, it has this like, there’s so many ways that you need to be like your dog. It’s not a relationship like it’s them just following you and always taking your command. And it’s like, I really enjoy the back and forth so much and like trying to like the language goes both ways, like training your dog. It’s both them understanding your language, but also you learning about their language. And it’s a back and forth and an exchange in a way that’s really fun.

S2: OK, so this is the kind of bonding with your pet we all want, and hopefully you’ve come away from this with a few more tricks or at least treats up your sleeve. But what happens if your dog gets aggressive and can’t be safely handled in public? What should you do when you’ve tried literally everything? Simone has a story like that. And it’s still painful for her to talk about, so

S1: yeah, when I was 20, I got a America Suffer Shire puppy with my ex. And so like a fancy people. And we were very, very engaged dog owners like we took every puppy class we really like had a blast raising this dog. But I remember when he was seven months, one of my friends came over to the apartment and he barked at her, which is fine, not ideal, but he wouldn’t stop barking at her. And I was like, OK, seven months is like a common fear period. Puppies go through fear periods. Usually they get out of it. But what was different with him was that he just didn’t get out of it. He just slowly got worse and worse. And, you know, we went to every dog trainer. We went to the breeder. We went to psychologists who misuse therapists to physical therapy. But. He just slowly got worse, and it’s one of the toughest situations I’ve ever been in because, you know, a dog is always like their needs are going to run your life. But what’s different is when a dog’s problem behaviors run your life. And like every time I knew somebody was going to come over, I would get a pit in my stomach. And yeah, he would like just jump up on random people on the subway and bark. And he was a big dog. And it got to the point where I was like, He’s he’s a danger, like he’s going to hurt somebody. And he jumped up and grabbed the sleeve of a guy who was just passing by, and that was the first time that he’d actually like, beat down. And that was. When? Yeah, we decided that we couldn’t it wasn’t safe to have him. He was going to hurt somebody and that’s, you know, when you have big, powerful dogs, it comes with such a big responsibility and it’s. It’s a it’s a situation I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, you know, because you try. Yeah.

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S3: Oh man, what a story. I have heard that story so many times in so many versions, thousands of times, and my heart goes out to you in the most sincere way. I’ve been through a similar thing. I would say I have PTSD as a result.

S2: I know this is hard to talk about Simone and I really appreciate your sharing it. And I actually think that until we talk about this stuff more, it’s just going to be taboo and stigmatized. And it’s not good for anyone, right? Yes, we all feel I had a dog during the pandemic. Didn’t work out for months. Very, very difficult. And I still feel bad about it and I still feel very. I walk down the street. Same thing when I see other dogs, I don’t make eye contact because we had got all this training about like, you know, how to deal with aggressive dogs. And the thing is, you’re right, nobody talks about this. It’s all kind of like underground. And I don’t think that serves the animals. I don’t think that serves families. So I just want to express my gratitude for sharing it because I think that’s like the one thing we absolutely must do.

S3: I think the fact that there are three of us having this conversation and all three of us have had some version of this difficult situation, says a lot.

S2: And there’s still a lot more to say. Next week, we’re going to go deep on the things we don’t talk about enough when we talk about pets, fear, aggression and what you can do for your dog and yourself when nothing else works. You won’t want to miss it. Do you have a problem, dog or just a problem that needs solving? Send us a note at how to at Slate.com or leave us a voicemail at six four six four nine five four zero zero one. How TOS executive producer is Derek John Rosemary, Belson, produces the show. Our theme music is by Hana’s Brown, remixed by Merritt Jacob, our technical director. Special thanks to Kevin Bendis and Amber Smith. Charles Duhigg created the show. I’m Amanda Ripley. Thanks for listening.