How to STOP Nuisance Barking!
One of the complaints that I hear, frequently, while working with dog owners, is about nuisance barking. Not only can out of control barking be annoying, it can create issues between neighbors and result in complaints to animal control.
Barking can be a difficult behavior to change. Barking is a natural behavior with many different causes. Dogs bark because something is exciting, for attention, out of boredom, to make something scary go away, or simply because it feels good.
So what is a responsible pet parent supposed to do to prevent barking? Physical punishment doesn’t work for a lot of reasons. In order to effectively punish a behavior, you have to be there when it happens and have perfect timing, within a second or two. Dogs learn to avoid punishment but never have a chance to learn the behavior we prefer. The biggest problem with punishment is the damage it does to the relationship with your dog. Instead of building trust and a good working relationship, you are teaching your dog that you are scary and unpredictable. The more you use punishment, the more harsh it has to become to be effective.
Yelling at the dog doesn’t help very much either. If fact, most dogs seem to get louder and more demanding in response to verbal reprimands. Is it possible that they perceive our yelling as encouragement?
Management is a good choice and a necessity. By limiting your dogs access to the thing that causes him to bark, there is no reason for him to do so. A great trick for dogs that bark at activity on the street is to use waxed paper in the windows to prevent your dog from seeing passing dogs, bikes, etc. While it may not be the greatest look, it prevents your dog from practicing a behavior you don’t like. Remember, the more dogs get to practice a behavior, the better they get.
Can we actually teach a dog to stop barking? Yes, dogs are intelligent and can learn alternative behaviors, with some help and patience from their humans.
If the barking is for attention, a simple and effective method is to ignore him when he barks at you. You simply look away or leave the room when he starts to bark. You must refrain from that first impulse to tell him to be quiet, just ignore him. It works, but can take a while for your dog to get the message, especially if he has been doing this for a long time. Not to mention, every time you or someone else forgets and pays attention to him, the process just takes longer.
I live with a barker. In the past, I have been fairly successful by waiting for a break in the barking and rewarding the quiet. Eventually adding a hush cue. But, it really hasn’t been quite as good as I would have liked.
Of course the best way, is to actually put the bark on cue, then put quiet on cue. However, I have been reluctant to use any of the more common methods suggested to make my dog bark. Ringing the doorbell to cause the bark just didn’t appeal to me or my clients. Most of us have enough problems with doorbell barking without encouraging it.
While rereading Karen Pryor’s book, Reaching the Animal Mind, she sited an example of putting barking and quiet on cue, simultaneously. I am a big fan of using a clicker to capture and mark behaviors that I like, so this made total sense to me. Plus, my dogs are used to working with a clicker. It was a lightbulb moment.
How do you do this? How do you get over the fear of actually rewarding your dog for barking? Well, the fear will take care of itself when you hear the results and the how is fairly simple. You just need to “catch” your dog barking. No set up with the doorbell or frustrating him into barking.
Each dog will be different but this was my training scenario. Jude barks at dogs walking by my yard. Armed with some fairly good treats and a clicker, I waited quietly (close to him) until some poor, unsuspecting dog happened by. As soon as Jude barked, I clicked and fed him a treat. While he was munching on his treat, I clicked and fed him another treat (he was not barking, he was eating) for being quiet. I waited until he finishing his treat, then he barked again. I clicked and offered him a treat for barking. While he was chewing, I clicked and treated for the quiet. The next time he barked, I raise my hand, as if to give him a treat, so he doesn’t bark, anticipating the treat. Next, I ask him to bark. He seemed a little confused. After all, I’ve never asked him to bark before. But being a great barker, he happily complied, click and treat for barking.
Next, I click and treat for quiet (while he is eating). Then ask for the bark, click and treat when he barks. While he is chewing, I hold a finger up (my cue for quiet), click and treat for quiet. After 10 trials, I now have a pup that is waiting for my “cue” to bark.
Why does this work? He has learned what pays off and what does not. The only time barking pays, is when I ask him to do so. The best part, he has learned to control his own behavior.
I will continue to manage the environment to help with the barking, especially when I am not around. We are certainly not finishing with the training, but it is a good start.
Cindy Carter, CPDT-KA Mindful Manners Dog Training