Do you have a barker?
This week’s dog training post from celebrity pet trainer Harrison Forbes addresses the lovable, but irritating, barking dog.
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Nothing can be as annoying as a barking dog.
On and on, you just want peace; for him to be quiet!
Why all the fuss?
It seems the more you get on him to stop, the more it escalates.
Excessive barking is one of the “big five” consistent dog owner problems often brought to a dog trainer. Let’s break it down and see if we can offer some solutions for relief from this ear busting, nerve frazzling behavior.
First, the “Why”
Barking is a lot like digging, it can be triggered and caused by different reasons, so first we have to find out what is making your dog go yap yap.
Dogs are naturally vocal. It is a major way they communicate so given our gap in species, it’s no wonder why we don’t always understand and they get frustrated with our lack of understanding.
The Reasons for Barking
Calling Out to Play
A “call out “or “greeting” bark is a dog saying, “Hey come over here and let’s play!”
This is usually a bark that comes with happy tail wagging, however many times this can devolve into aggressive barking along or behind a fence. This type of barking happens with a dog that is frustrated from constant calling out and its inability to be able to participate in the action going on the other side of the restraining fence or barrier.
This is a dog saying, “Something is not right” or “Watch out”. This type of barking usually comes with a a tail up, ears forward, very focused power bark with possible growling in between.
The Bored & Lonely Bark
This is a version of the “call to action” bark that is a, “Hey I’m here, is anyone out there? Come over!” This can be repetitive like a lost ship on the radio signal searching for another voice.
The Attention Seeking Bark
A dog can use this to say, “Hey I need to go outside” or “Quit watching the news and play with me!”
The Anxiety/Under Exercised Barker
This can be a dog running a pattern or pacing with a repetitive bark like a broken record over and over many times. This is a game or pastime the dog has invented to discharge extra energy or nervous anxiety.
Remedies for Barking
I will tell you upfront, some kinds of barking are very tough to stop, it may take lots of patience and trial and error.
Stop yelling! Usually yelling at the dog to shut up is you just barking back at the dog, and often stimulates the behavior into a loud bark-like conversation that the dog continues on and on.
Stop Rewarding Barking! The main reason most dogs continue or escalate barking when we are present or nearby is they have gotten some sort of payoff/ reward, like you are on the patio outside reading the paper and the dog starts barking at people walking by, making a racket and you say, “Hey stop! Come here,” and you give him a treat to try and distract him.
Now he thinks, “If I bark I get something!”
The key is to reward your dog when they are quiet, even for a five second gap, then the dog will associate quiet with rewards. Busy toys like puzzles or toys stuffed with treats make a dog focus quietly and really fatigue the dog mentally and physically. It will take the energy edge off.
Start Training! Begin training a “still” or “quiet” command. You can do this by telling the dog still or quiet and gently placing your fingers over the dogs muzzle and after maybe 7-10 seconds when they’re quiet, you give them a treat and they learned that being quiet from that command is a positive association. And good things happen when you are quiet!
Set Realistic Expectations! It’s also good to think about realistic expectations for your dog. If you have a very vocal breed like a schnauzer, it may be very difficult to make them stay quiet. Also, many trailing hounds like to bark and bay and call out to their friends. So it’s important to take into account the the breed or type of your dog and their propensity to bark. If you have a guarding breed like a German Shepherd or Rottweiler they may have a high suspicion level that garners a lot of warning barks or territorial barking. Lots of socialization can help with these dogs to not view every stranger as suspicious.
Use Gadgets! Many products are available on the market to help with barking, everything from citronella spray collars that spray your dog when they bark to electronic collars that give an electric shock when the dog barks. Personally I like to try all the training methods first before I rely on any type of gadget. After all, they are pieces of equipment that can possibly malfunction and the dog may suffer consequences. However when properly used I have seen some of these gadgets work wonders.
Be Smart! For a lot of barking dogs, you have to outsmart them and the situation. For instance, if your dog goes crazy in the afternoon barking outside when the school buses come by at 3 to let the kids out, maybe try and bring your dog in during that time so they’re not overstimulated and creating a pattern of loud barking behavior.
Also in the home if your dog barks excessively when friends and neighbors come over, try changing the routine and putting the dog up in a separate area when people come over, then slowly introducing the dog. Do not allow the dog to be the center of attention as this will encourage the dog to draw attention to himself with loud behavior.
As we have talked about in previous posts, ignoring a bad behavior can sometimes be your most powerful tool. I understand that is difficult with the dog is barking, especially if it’s bothering neighbors, however when you can ignore the barking and then reward when the dog is quiet, this can turn the ship around quickly.