Q: I was wondering if you can tell my why our Sheltie barks when the microwave buzzer buzzes ?
— K.W. Ravenna
A: I don’t know your exact situation, but I could hazard a few guesses as to why your Sheltie is channeling Betty Crocker.
The first reason that comes to mind is the association of food and the microwave. If your Sheltie has made the connection that things like popcorn and hot dogs magically appear when the buzzer sounds, he or she may feel the need to announce that good things are on the way. Even if people food is never given, just the smell may be enough to elicit an excited response.
However, there are plenty of examples of dogs responding to a sound when food is not involved. The most common would likely be a doorbell or knocking. Again, most dogs associate the noise with something that is about to happen (i.e. visitors) and feel the need to alert the household.
Still another less common reason might be a compulsion. I have had clients whose dogs for one reason or another fixate on certain objects or sounds (the dishwasher, the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner). It can be difficult to determine what causes these obsessions initially, but often they can be attributed to being startled or fearful of the sound or object. For dogs, often the best defense is a strong offense, and barking at the sound or object is a way to tell it to stay away.
Lastly, it could be a matter of accidental training. Shelties are very smart dogs, and if the first time your pup barked at the microwave he or she received attention for it (even if it was simply “What are you barking at, silly?”), it could reinforce the behavior. Once you noticed the pattern, you could be inadvertently training your dog to bark at the microwave. If every time you use the microwave, you look to your pup because he or she “always” barks, they can quickly pick up on your body language. Dogs can be trained as hearing aides — alerting a hearing impaired person if there is a knock on the door, or the phone rings, or the fire alarm goes off. In that regard, they are exceptional at learning to pick up cues from their owners and the environment.
Hopefully one of these scenarios makes sense for your situation and answers the mystery of why your Sheltie converses with your microwave.
— Dr. Meg Geldorf
PetFix Northeast Ohio
Mobile spay and neuter clinic
Please send questions about your pet to Kathy Antoniotti at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your full name and address and a daytime phone number where you can be reached. I will forward your questions to the expert I think is best suited to answer your particular problem. Phoned-in messages will not be taken.