Light can come in but they can’t see out!
Do you have a reactive dog, or one who simply barks too much at things he sees out the window? And do you also care about how your house looks and value natural light ?
There is something you can do about it. Here’s my story, complete with a video of before and after behavior from the dogs.
The Barking Platform
I have a raised area on one end of my den that creates a nook by the window. I have had a day bed there as long as I’ve lived in the house. The day bed has always been a favorite dog hangout, with the added bonus that it lets them look them out the window.
Summer and Cricket barking at a pedestrian
Here is a picture from 2008, actually a still from a video of Cricket and Summer barking frantically at a pedestrian on my street. You can see the clip in the movie below.
The frantic barking (and pounding on the window panes by Summer) was a problem, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I felt like their ability to see out was valuable and a form of enrichment for when I wasn’t there. At least they could watch the world go by, I thought.
What I didn’t know was this:
- A lot of their barking was from fear, especially on Summer’s part. She didn’t like seeing dogs, cats, mail carriers, pedestrians, or bicycles. They made her nervous. She was barking to get them to go away.
- In Summer’s mind, it worked. Every creature, person, or machine that has ever been in front of my house has eventually left. A great percentage of those times, she was barking. Ergo, the barking got reinforced. That is clear because the barking has increased in frequency and intensity. Summer has since expanded her horizons to also bark at delivery trucks, the mail truck, and even pickups.
- Practice makes perfect. If my dog’s default response to seeing another dog through the window is frenzied barking, snarling, lunging, and banging on the window (as you can see in the movie), those habits could very well express when she sees dogs in person. Aggressive behaviors are being reinforced.
- I was unknowingly putting my smaller dog Cricket in danger. You can also see from the video that both dogs are quite frenzied. Although she never did in that situation, Summer could easily have redirected aggression onto Cricket. I was just lucky that it didn’t happen.
I didn’t know any of this then. But as I learned more about dog training and dog behavior, I realized that providing the dogs a barking platform was not ideal. As I became more aware of the detrimental affects, I managed the situation, not leaving them in that area unattended.
Then in 2011 came Clara, bringing the household up to four dogs. By that time I was keeping Summer and Cricket permanently separated. I also kept Summer and Clara separated during Clara’s young puppyhood. And I kept Clara and Cricket generally separated as Clara got older. With this complex a situation, I had to use my whole house, and I couldn’t supervise all dogs at all times. And I knew one thing: I didn’t want Clara learning the “barking on the platform” routine. I worked proactively with classical conditioning to prevent her picking up Summer’s barking habits in general. See: “The Barking Recall” and “Classical Conditioning: Creating a Positive Response to Barking.” I also knew I needed to do something about the window.
(Interestingly, Zani has remained uninterested in that activity and has not developed reactive habits. Yay, Zani!)
The terrible era of the bed against the wall
But I knew Clara would soak it right up. And the stakes are so high with her being feral. I didn’t want to do anything to feed reactive or aggressive behaviors, especially since I am working constantly to instill the opposite with her. So when she started getting old enough to be interested, I stripped the bed and propped part of it against the wall and part in front of the window. I don’t have many photos since it was unsightly and depressing, but here is one.
Then Marge Rogers told me about window film. She had used a company called Decorative Films when she needed absolute privacy for a shower window. When she found out how completely effective it was in preventing visibility (even at night with shower light on), she thought of the possible applications for dogs. I took a look at the company’s website and was really impressed, but didn’t do anything for a while. Then a FaceBook friend (Hi Kim C!) posted about how easy it was, so I took the plunge. But instead of buying online, I decided to just get some window film at Home Depot.
That didn’t work out well for me, although it does for plenty of other people. I’m moderately handy, but I couldn’t get the stuff to stick right and it was a real mess. I asked Marge to grill her husband about the kind they got and some details about installation, and I decided to order some online. Cool thing: Decorative Films will send you up to five free samples! There are a lot of really beautiful ones, but I wanted to go for the most blocking possible, plus it’s a front window, so I got a really plain one. The name of the film I got is Clear Sand Blast.
Detail of window film showing my little flaws
Another cool thing about the company is that you can buy the film in different widths. I got a skinny roll–12 inches wide–since I had multiple small panes to do. That was enormously helpful. I think the whole project took 4-5 hours (I cut 24 panes, even though I ended up installing only 18 of them). That includes washing the window panes and cleaning the frames.
And although it would have been easier with two people, I was able to apply the film by myself. The instructions and the tool kit you can buy for $2.99 are great. You can see from the closeup that I didn’t do a perfect job–there are some wee gaps between the film and the frame, and a few bubbles in the corners, but it looks good enough for me and gets the job done.
I decided to leave off the top row of panes because the dogs couldn’t see anything up that high, but I could see the trees and sky that way. I have the pre-cut pieces if I ever change my mind. I can also remove the existing film easily. It is well secured, but it comes off easily and doesn’t leave anything gummy.
By the way, I am not affiliated with Decorative Films. Just a very, very happy customer.
Other Options and Resources
Emma Judson recommends Purlfrost for the UK folks.
And here are two other online companies I found in a casual search. They both feature film that stays in place by static cling, with no adhesive. But I have no experience with that. (And I suspect it might not have worked in Marge’s shower!)
Also keep in mind that you can get similar products at Home Depot and Lowe’s in the U.S.
Finally, Tena Parker of Success Just Clicks, who provided one of the photos below, has two nice posts on window film and other ideas for helping reactive dogs in the home. Here they are.
My poor deprived dogs can’t see anything out the window anymore. (That’s a still from the “before” part that you see in the video embed!)
Here are more pics by some friends who also are very happy with window films. Click on any image for a bigger version.
Putting up window film doesn’t “cure” reactivity or aggression. It is management. But it prevents the dogs from practicing behaviors you don’t want, and getting themselves all worked up many times a day. Not to mention relieving the humans from a lot of barking! Even if you have a training plan regarding barking and reactivity, you will need to include management such as this to prevent practice of the behaviors.
Anybody have more tips for creating a lower stress environment for an anxious or reactive dog?
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