Ask the Trainer: Barking
The Problem: My dog is very well behaved for the most part, but I can not break her of barking in my back yard when she goes out to play- she loves to run to the fence and bark. I've tried time outs, the squirt bottle, distracting her, etc and nothing sticks! -Molly Wallace
If I was doing a private consultation with you, I would have many more questions to ask. Because dogs bark for many different reasons, I would also want to observe the dog, the environment and the triggers. “Explaining” how to alleviate problem barking can be challenging as it is typically better done through demonstration based on what the dog’s triggers are as well as determining what the dog deems to be more valuable than barking. Also, correct timing of rewards is of the essence. I will do my best to explain steps you can take to extinguish the barking, based on the information given.
A good starting point is to understand that barking can be a very rewarding pastime for dogs. Behavior that is rewarded is repeated and because barking works for her on some level, she continues to engage in this behavior. Also understand that dogs are creatures of habit and this is a habit she has become very well versed in.
To extinguish an undesired behavior, it is essential that you are consistent and patient. Be committed to the plan, be patient in the progress you make and be consistent in your practice. Look for progress each day, but don’t expect that the barking will cease overnight.
Based on your submission, it sounds as if she is barking at things she sees on the other side of the fence. This can mean she doesn’t have enough socialization with these things so she feels a need to bark at them to make them go away. If she is barking at a person or dog walking past the fence, in her mind, she has made them go away. The person was going to keep walking anyway, however she doesn’t know that…..what she knows is she barked and the ‘intruder’ went away. “Success!” in her mind, and the barking was reinforced as well, because it worked. Another reason could be that she is so aroused by these things that they excite her enough to bark, and it’s just plain fun for her. (We have to remember that barking is a way that dogs communicate) Managing her environment so she doesn’t have access to the things that cause her to bark can be very beneficial. Also, increase her exercise. Lengthier and extra walks will help with the socialization she may lack and stimulation of the big exciting world beyond the fence. Additionally, more exercise will expend energy that she will otherwise release by barking. There is truth to the old adage that “A tired dog is a good dog”.
If all she wants to do when outside is run the fence and bark, she needs a new activity and cannot be allowed to run the fence and bark. Dogs get better by rehearsing behaviors, so this may mean that in the beginning, she is not let outside in the fenced in area to practice that activity. One of the ways we extinguish undesired behaviors with our dogs, is by not allowing it to happen. Play fetch with her, teach a new trick, take her on field trips, enroll in a class, give her an interactive puzzle to play with, play find it, play hide and seek, etc. You may even check into a dog walker or doggie daycare to help expend energy and socialize.
Also, to keep her from rehearsing the barking when she is out in the fenced area, she must be supervised so you can redirect her and reward for not barking. You can attach a drag line on her to help redirect and guide her away from the fence. The drag line is used as a tool to help you redirect her, not to be used as a tool to administer a collar correction for the barking. Administering collar corrections can be dangerous to your dog. You and your dog are far better off if you consistently reward for the correct/desired behavior than correcting for the incorrect/undesired behavior.
Find the threshold in which she is able to remain quiet. It may be 10 feet away from the fence or it may be back in the house. Whichever it is, start there and slowly decrease the distance as you work your way back to the fence. Take it at her pace, not at the pace in which you think she should be progressing. The biggest mistake I see people make with their dogs is moving to quickly, therefore setting the dog up to fail. Train from a success (so you can reward) point of view, not a fail (so you can correct) point of view.
From Madeline Clark Gabriel on Training from a Success Point: Every dog’s got one! It doesn’t matter how “bad” your dog’s behavior is — well-done reinforcement-based training empowers you to “claim” the good responses and shape them into a new habit. Whenever you start from what your dog CAN do, you’re in a good position to build the behavior you want. Somehow, dog training has narrowed in the public perception to only being about trying to make the dog stop once he’s already doing what we don’t like.
As you are working on extinguishing the barking via management and increased exercise, you will also want to teach her the “Quiet” command. Start by encouraging her to bark. As she is barking, hold a treat in front of her nose. She will stop barking to sniff the treat. Say “Quiet” as she is not barking and release the treat into her mouth. Practice this exercise over and over again increasing 1 second of being quiet at a time. She will get better at complying with the Quiet command, but won’t be able to immediately comply with your Quiet command when engaged in running and barking along the fence. She will need to work up to that level of distraction. Once she understands the Quiet command around little to no distraction, take your practice outside, and slowly decrease your distance to the fence. (You may still be using the dragline at this point)
Your goal is to teach her that being quiet is more rewarding than barking. If you are still having issues and need a more hands on and demonstration approach, I recommend hiring a reward-based professional trainer to help you at home.
Kristie Allen, CPDT
The Learning Canine, LLC