Don’t Look Now! The Benefits of Window Film for the Household with Reactive Dogs

Light can come in but they can't see out!

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

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

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.

The Fix

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

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!)

Window Film World

Wallpaper for Windows

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.

Living with Reactive Dogs–Home Improvements

Resolving Window Reactivity–Part 2

The Proof

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!)

Link to the movie for email subscribers.

Here are more pics by some friends who also are very happy with window films. Click on any image for a bigger version.

Management

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?

Coming up:

Eileenanddogs on YouTube

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About eileenanddogs

Passionate amateur dog trainer, writer, and learning theory geek. Eileen Anderson on Google+
This entry was posted in Arousal, Dog training hints, Fear, Management, Reactivity and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to Don’t Look Now! The Benefits of Window Film for the Household with Reactive Dogs

  1. Yes! We did the window film for our dogs (the reactive one barks to get people to leave, the social butterfly barks to get them to stick around, so there’s an added bonus of barking reinforcing barking – awesome). It’s definitely made a big difference and barking in our living room has been reduced exponentially. Our reactive dog is sound sensitive so will still bark when he hears something, but then gets to the window and doesn’t see anything so he sort of has a “huh?” moment and forgets what he was so upset about. Meanwhile the moment he has to stop and think offers us an opportunity to reward the quiet behavior. It’s been wonderful.

    When we’re not home to monitor as easily though, we baby gate our dogs in our kitchen, which is in the back of our house, elevated off ground level, and doesn’t allow any access to anything other than the back windows which look out to our deck and trees. So this assures they won’t practice the behavior with innocent bypassers from the neighborhood. Call it an extra layer of management if you will. We don’t film the kitchen windows since visibility is greatly reduced naturally, and frankly someone climbed up on our deck while we weren’t home, they don’t belong there and we’d probably want them to get barked at!

    • faithtrustfosterpups, that is a very thoughtful system you have in place. I use baby gates extensively too, and put some thought into who goes where. “Hmmm, I’ll put Summer in the front room when I leave in the afternoon since the mail carrier has already come….”

      I too do want at least a bit of alarm barking if somebody does something weird close to the house. But I don’t think I have to worry about all barking going away anytime soon.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Robin J. says:

    I really like the entire Control Unleashed program by Leslie McDevitt for helping any dogs learn to relax. Leslie calls it “Attention Management.” It’s particularly good for reactive dogs.

    My dogs aren’t reactive, but Tulip is sound sensitive. Lots of alert barking. After a year of working with CU techniques, I am lying in bed and both the garbage trucks and the school bus have come by, and all she’s done is jump up on the bed a couple of times to ask for a treat in acknowledgement that we both heard those noises. (Leslie is big on dialogue with a reactive dog.) Huge improvement for us! Anyway, there are several CU books and DVDs and a very helpful discussion list.

    I recommend starting with the CU Puppy book, regardless of a dog’s age, because it’s the newest and a little easier to follow for those who haven’t taken Leslie’s classes. One of the things I love is that Leslie has a set of protocols for working with a dog who is SO food motivated that she goes instantly over threshhold as soon as she sees the treat bag. Only a few dogs have that issue, but it’s typical of Leslie to notice it and say, “your dog isn’t weird, she just needs help learning a new pattern. ”

    She talks a lot about “honouring the dog.” Your story of realising that what you thought was entertainment was in fact frightening is a perfect example. Congratulations on recognising the problem from the dogs’ perspective and finding such a great solution! And thank you for sharing it with us. 🙂

    • Thanks, Robin. I love Control Unleashed as well. I love that Leslie spends so much time in the puppy book making such a case for people not to put too much pressure on their pups. That can happen even with the best of intentions.

      One of the best things I did for Clara was conditioning her to think Summer’s barking was the greatest thing ever. One side effect is that she also now thinks Summer’s triggers are the best thing ever, as well. And even though I haven’t tried anything systematic with Summer herself since most of her triggers happen during weekdays when I am not home, the protocols I’ve done with Clara (presence of food) the rest of the time have helped Summer keep her wits about her better. Maybe sometime I’ll have the opportunity to be home for a good stretch and make some inroads with Summer’s sound reactions.

      Thanks again for commenting!

      • Joanne Yeck says:

        First, many thanks to Eileen for introducing me to window film. It and “top-down/bottom/up” shades now manage our barking problem. Squirrels and birds have disappeared with the additional help of white noise. Having read Robin’s comment, I would now define my 14-month-old puppy as “sound sensitive.” I’m eager to follow up with “Control Unleashed.” Thank you both!. Joanne

  3. I’ve actually done this in my home too ! Although we’ve gone the next step further and are working on desensitization and counter conditioning too. My living room has 3 windows all with couches under them, both of my dogs sleep on the backs of the couches which made for a great lookout point into the outside world. My girl, Shelby, is as reactive as they come, being born in a shelter and not adopted out til she was 3 made for a VERY under socialized, underexposed dog. When I first got her she would bark and lunge at ANY HUMAN on a walk and would stay in her amped up state for HOURS ! 5 years later we’ve worked on that and she can now be within a few feet of a random person on a walk without reacting. And even when I screw up and don’t follow protocol very well or we are surprised by someone coming around a corner and she reacts it takes her only a few seconds to regain composure. So knowing this, her reactivity to people,dogs, and bikes outside our windows was no surprise to me.
    I started by covering just enough of the window above she couch so she could sit upright and see nothing, she could easily stand up on the window and look over but has yet to bother with that. When I’m home and have the time to sit and look out the window with her, I will take the film down on one window (ours is the static cling one from home depot) and will have a piece of cardboard at the ready in case she gets overwhelmed. We will just sit and watch, every time she looks out the window and doesn’t bark she gets rewarded, obviously we’ve worked a lot on what her other options are besides barking and that was done long before we even considered taking the film down (working on basics like watch me and what not). If something does set her off, or if the entire track team decides its the opportune time to run by the house (she’s no where near ready to handle THAT much stuff outside the window at once) I will put the cardboard up quickly to either remove the “problem” or remove her from the “situation” to allow her to calm down. Currently we are down to 2 covered windows instead of the original 3, although when I’m not home we do cover all 3 to prevent her from practicing the behaviors. It’s not the perfect situation and I can tell you that could I easily spend more time working with her, I would, but we’ve come along way ! Luckily my boy NEVER picked up on any of her fear. We got him at 8 weeks and spend countless hours positively exposing him to the world WITHOUT his fearful sister. He’s is one social butterfly (people, dogs, other animals) and Shelby has built some confidence being around him and new people too ! For now we’ll continue to work on our window problem ! Love my project dog 🙂

    • Ashley, that is fantastic! I really hope people are reading these comments! So great that you have figured out the physics of window desensitization and counter conditioning. And are DOING it! Project dogs are great, aren’t they? Shelby is so lucky to have you. Thank you very much for describing what you are doing. Hope some people get inspired to take the next step, like you.

      • Ashley says:

        I bonded with Shelby instantly … While its nice that my husky Dexter loves everyone and trusts everyone and I do love him, I absolutely adore Shelby because of every single human on this earth she would choose me every time and that’s just so amazing. She trusts me with her life and trust me when I say that would have never happened had I been trained in ‘traditional’ training methods. She’s my soul dog and I don’t care what anyone else thinks ! Lol

        Love this blog and truely look forward to reading every new post ! Keep up the great work

  4. Helen Gruenhut says:

    I need this; however my windows, at front, are 57 inches wide. One window film cost five hundred
    sixty five dollars. This is way out of my budget. Guess I am going to do the decorating that goes with the rest of the house—-like brown wrapping paper.
    This film would have been 57 inches wide by 26 inches tall.

    • Robin J. says:

      At Decorative Films, the Sand Blast film in the Bathroom category, which I believe is what
      Eileen used, is $5/foot of length, with an extra $10 for the 60″ width. At 60″ wide by 36″ tall it would be $43 plus shipping. That would be less than 35 euros. That seems pretty typical for this type of product in a plain opaque.

      Were you pricing one of the fancy patterns? Amazon in the UK carries a number of similar products, including Purlfrost, all in the lower price range if you just look at the plain frosted. The patterns can get expensive though.

    • I hope some of the other replies were helpful, Helen. Maybe you can work something out.

  5. Emma Judson says:

    Are you sure you have priced that up right, I realise I am working in UK prices, but here that would be about £26 from the company I used!

    For UK folk, I used Purlfrost on this house and I am fairly sure I used them for the previous property as well.

  6. La Trenda says:

    I don’t use window films but I’m all for it. I have plantation shutters.
    I also use air purifiers as white noise (I was using box fans but I have two dogs with dust allergies)
    I also play Through a Dog’s Ear music
    And I also have treats at the ready for noise above and beyond the air purifier.

    And I used to the same as you. I had a bed by the window. I know better now

  7. Heather Edgar says:

    @Helen,
    I did the big bay window in my house (in the photos with the red aussie) the big window is 63″ wide and the two smaller are about 24″ wide.I went 24″ in height since one of the dogs lies on the sofa. I used the window film from Home Depo (in Canada) and it cost me somewhere between $40 and $60. I have forgotten the exact amount but things are generally more expensive here than in the USA.

    Heather

  8. More dog owners should take advantage of sound management techniques. Great article, very helpful, and I plan to recommend it, and your blog, to my clients.

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  12. Jessica says:

    I’m really glad to see that your window film experience was a good one. It can be tricky, but it certainly helps in situations where you know you want privacy, but don’t want to replace the whole window. Plus, while I knew it was a useful product for many situations, it never even occurred to me before this that film could be so helpful for this common dog owner issue. Thanks for sharing!

    • I hope it can be helpful for some folks. I was many years behind; I had dealt with some of the old fashioned, one way shiny stuff years ago. It was very hard to handle and looked tacky besides! I was glad some friends told me to check into it again.

  13. Thank you for all this research and such good illustrations, too!

  14. Yes, I see that you are affiliated with a company (in the Philippines? Indonesia?) that makes the film. Your product can help some dog owners!

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  16. Michelle says:

    I have two dogs, one who is very reactive and another that follows his lead. They both weigh about 100 pounds each. Recently I have had new neighbors move in that are always outside in front with their dog. My dogs have gone crazy trying to get to them, so much that they set off my burglar alarm while I was at work. 5 days ago I installed window film on the lower portion of my window. I have not had 1 bark since! I can see the neighbors outside through the top of the window but my dogs have no idea. The window film has saved my windows, blinds and window sills, no more worry of false alarms when I am gone. It has saved my sanity and my dogs are now relaxed. Best idea ever!

  17. Kristin says:

    I am so happy I found your blog! We have a “project dog” (for 3 months now) who’s issues just keep growing – after reading your blog, I see how the “success” of barking at the window was leading to new issues and making it impossible for him to have any true “down time.” We put up the static cling window film last night and finally enjoyed a night of him relaxing on his bed with a chew toy. We had the same experience as another commenter where he heard a noise, started barking, ran to the window, got confused and then seemed to just forget what he was so upset about – then he laid down and relaxed! I can’t believe what an easy solution this was!!!!

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  24. Francine says:

    So glad I found this post! I thought my dogs would enjoy having a job to do (barking at everything they see) while I’m out. But it was causing stress for the dogs and everyone else, as it has become their full time hobby. I’m planning to get some window film today, along with some puzzle toys to keep them entertained when they’re alone. Thanks so much for this post!

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Thanks, Francine. I think many of us feel like letting our dogs see out is enriching, and we feel guilty for preventing that. I used to. But not afterI saw how much calmer everybody was after the window film. Good luck with yours! Good on you for the toys, too.

  25. Rita Fleckenstein says:

    Thank you so much for the window film idea. We put it across two triple width windows in our living area where our Beagles would bark at everything that moved in the neighborhood. It is now quite peaceful! We only put it about 8 inches tall as that is high enough that the dogs cannot see above it. I purchased it at Lowe’s in a roll that was $30. and have some left over. This was a cheap fix for us. Peace and quiet is priceless.

  26. Ambar J. says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for this post!

    I have two boxers, 7 and 6, who have always lived in a home where the sidewalk and neighbors were pretty far away from any of the windows in the home. I just recently moved into a townhouse, and the sidewalk it about 2-3 feet from the front window. I had never seen my boys react so badly to people walking past the window, it looked as if they were going to go straight through it at any moment. This tip worked like a CHARM! I was able to get some of the film from Home Depot and install it all within 30 minutes.

    I have yet to see them just and slam against the windows. This was brilliant!

    I can’t thank you enough for posting this and sharing your experience. It has finally given me peace of mind when I leave the house and no longer have to wonder if today is the day the glass will break!

    Best,
    Ambar J.

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  28. Zora_DB says:

    Is everyone seeing this as a permanent solution?

    I have a picture window in my sitting room, which is where I spend all my time, as I work at home. It’s got a low sill, so to prevent my Charley-dog seeing out and guarding against cats, postmen etc., I have had to cover more than half the height of the window. And it’s 3m across. The window is the main reason I bought the flat, as it has a lovely view out over trees and grass. Without the view I am feeling claustrophobic and increasingly miserable. But I’m told it’s essential to cover it to stop Charley barking, though he doesn’t bark at the window much (he runs downstairs to bark at the front door, where he can’t see out.)

    Has anyone tried removing the film again once the dogs have broken the habit?

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      Zora, I’m so sorry! For me it was a permanent solution. I think with some dogs if you are working on desensitization and counterconditioning you could work toward taking it down. It sounds like you may already know about that, but just in case, this site has great information about the process: http://careforreactivedogs.com .

      If anybody has a success story for Zora, please share!

  29. Amarand says:

    What a fantastic article! Nice to see so many happy people using this method of management for reactive dogs! I’ve owned two Shih Tzus in the past who rarely barked or made any noise. Lost my eldest, rescued a new two-year old – which is pretty much a puppy – and she’s super reactive. We have a beautiful backyard, and the dogs sometimes sit on the back of the couch and enjoy the sun, and sometimes they sit to the side, or behind, the couch. Before, we had the entire windows covered with blinds, but we would lift the blinds during the day for the view and to let in more light. This worked great, for awhile. Eventually, she figured out that if we closed the blinds, she could just slide them to the side, see the birds/squirrels/chipmunks/bunnies and start barking and barking until she was let out. She would eventually get bored – or start digging in the garden – and it got to the point where I had to “deal with her” multiple times per hour. Very annoying.

    Tonight, went to watch a movie, and she started in with her routine only a few minutes in. Enough was enough.

    We got out the window film that we’d purchased that day, installed it on the lower-24″ of the three windows, and lo and behold: peace and quiet. It’s incredible! I can still raise the blinds during the day, but if she gets annoying and rambunctious, I can lower them, while still giving everyone light.

    I do worry a little about the noise sensitivity, but I also know that birds are constantly chattering in the backyard, and I’m feeling like that’s not The Trigger for her. I think hers was more visual.

    Time will tell, but I think we have a winner. Thank you!

    • Eileen Anderson says:

      That’s wonderful! I’m so glad to hear your success story. I love how nice window film has become. Attractive and easy to work with. My windows are paned, so it took a while, but so worth it!

      • Amarand says:

        We have the muntins (isn’t muntin a cool word?) in between the two panes of glass, so the glass itself is smooth. Makes for installation super easy!

        Today is day-one, and it was wonderful because there was only one or two times she reacted: one was a noise-related issue (the lawn guy is super loud!), and the other was her looking out from the top of the couch. It’s nice being able to “turn off” the stimulus, especially when I want to watch movies or something, and not have to deal with a crazy barking dog. 🙂

        Next: working on positive training!

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