The Irritation Known as Barking
One of the most frequent and biggest complaints that I hear from most of my readers is that incessant barking has become a problem in their home.
First I want to say this is a reiteration of past articles and information. I know it is time consuming and slightly tedious to scroll back through all of the articles and information we have posted here and that is why I have decided to rewrite about one of the most common problems. However, I would encourage you to do a search in the left hand corner of this page if you still have questions about barking cessation.
First it is always important, in my opinion to figure out what is going on in our dog’s minds when they are showing a naughty behavior or a behavior we want to correct. Dogs bark for many reasons, but mostly it is inherent. Dogs bark to warn each other about impending trouble and to communicate with each other, sometimes over several miles of distance.
Our pets come with the same basic hard wiring that wolves and wild dogs have. Their instincts tell them if in doubt; bark. They may not be living outside worried about getting eaten by another animal, but they still see perceived danger. The problem is their “perceived” danger may be something as silly as a leaf falling outside, or a rearrangement of items in their environment. Some dogs are more sensitive to noticing change and vocalizing about it, and some dogs have even been bred to alert bark.
What to Do?
First, try your hardest to figure out the motivation behind the barking. Is your dog bored? Is he nervous? Is he communicating with other dogs in your neighborhood? Or, does he just like the sound of his own voice? Is he genetically prone to barking?
Determining the cause of the problem can help you assess your chances of success, setbacks, and failures for things tried in the past. For example, it is much easier to eliminate social barking amongst dogs in the neighborhood, by simply not allowing your dog as much access to being outside if he is going to bark, than it is to cure the barking of a dog that is genetically predisposed and bred to bark or one that is barking because he is scared.
Training a dog to be quiet can be very, very difficult and it takes patience, diligence, kindness and understanding, but it is possible even for the most hardened barkers!
My favorite method is a combination of distraction, with a loss of privileges and positive reinforcement. Confusing right? Not really!
When my dogs bark the first thing I want to do is to distract them, simply to get them to stop the annoying behavior of barking. I can use a noise, or a hand gesture, or I can even run through the house or yard simply to break their concentration and get them thinking “Oh my gosh, what is mom doing”?
The next thing involved is removing them from the situation and not allowing them back into that situation, which is sometimes a loss of privilege. If my dog is outside barking, I personally have a 2 bark rule, you can bark twice to tell me something is going on, but then you must be quiet. So after 2 barks, I would go outside and distract my dog, once distracted I would bring my dog inside, which might be considered, by him, a loss of privilege. However it is going to be nearly impossible for me to change the circumstances in the same distracting environment!
Next and most important is that I give him something else to do so that I can positively reward him for good behavior. Dogs can’t multitask well, thankfully that is one area we humans are superior, at least on good days. Dogs have trouble doing more than one thing at a time, so if I can continue the distraction and then give a command I know my dog can achieve I become more successful at keeping the barking stopped.
For example, I bring my dog inside but I see he still wants to go outside and bark; recognize that barking is FUN for your dog! So instead of letting him out I keep him distracted while I ask for a simple behavior or a chain of behaviors that I can reward. Sit, down, shake whatever the behavior it becomes more difficult for my dog to bark and continue the behavior chain. I personally like doggy pushups, where I am giving the command to sit, and down, and then sit and down again for a set period of time, these are good mental distractions!
The other thing that is useful is to put barking on command and in your control! You think you would never want to encourage your dog to bark, however with encouragement comes the ability to encourage quiet behavior as well and put that on command.
Teaching Your Dog Speak and Quiet
Lesson 1: is to get food or a toy, secure your dog to a tree and encourage him to bark (if he doesn’t already speak on command). This adds a bit of frustration on his part and is more conducive to his barking. When he barks click and reward, as you have continued success you may begin adding a hand signal and/or a voice command.
Lesson2: is to continue encouraging your dog to speak, only on command, throughout the day for rewards. If he speaks out of turn or demand barks at you simply ignore him!
Lesson 3: revolves around teaching your dog “Quiet”. Now you are going to ask your dog to speak, click and reward and as he excitedly speaks again you are going to distract him, with a verbal noise “AHHH” or a physical cue such as waving your hands or stomping your foot. The moment your dog becomes distracted by your behavior and is quiet you are going to click and reward. Repeat this process until you can begin using the verbal cue “Quiet” with greater success.
Finally practice your commands for speak and quiet throughout the day varying which ones you reinforce. Remember to reinforce an already quiet dog as often as possible. We don’t want him to think he has to bark first to receive a reward for being quiet. Catch him being quiet, give him the command and reward!
Now you can ask for the speak command less and less and reward the quiet command more often, but when he does bark you can easily give him the command he knows and loves to be quiet. Always reinforce with a great treat, and if the distraction that got him to bark originally is still present give him other commands and behaviors that he can be successful with and you can reward, without his barking.
Remember, this takes common sense, this is not going to work if you leave your dog out in your yard unattended all day and he is allowed to continue the behavior. You must learn to control his environment to some degree and set him up for success; i.e. if staring out the front door window is his trigger for barking, shut the door or get blinds or something to obstruct his view. Set him up for success to the best of your ability and be consistent don’t accept barking one minute and not another!
Barking cessation can be a difficult process, but if you approach it with a positive attitude and fun while giving him a reason to listen to you, you will both be successful in the end!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.