Mind-numbing, head-throbbing, teeth-on-edge excessive dog barking.
Incessant barking affects not only you, but also your neighbors, and is a problem you need to get on top of FAST!
Let’s make no bones about it: a well-established barking habit is a difficult problem to stop. There is no magic wand, no quick fix, and it takes time, dedication, and patience to sort it. So right at the beginning be realistic about your expectations and don’t get disheartened if progress is slow. If you do everything advised and he still doesn’t stop – keep going – you could be on the cusp of a break through!
A dog who habitually barks in the backyard, takes more work than a puppy that has just learnt to yap when he sees his food bowl. This doesn’t mean that retraining the habitual barker can’t be done, but be prepared to work at it.
So let’s start with the small stuff – and puppies.
Many barking problems start small – as puppies! In his excitement when his food bowl appears, a puppy may yap. Joy of joys, the reward for yapping is a scrummy meal. In pup’s mind, yap = delicious food. You see where I’m heading…
The solution is to nip this in the bud. If he barks when the food bowl appears, immediately put the bowl away. Wait until he’s in another room before you get it out again. Likewise, if he gets super-excited during a game and starts to bark, immediately stop playing and only resume when he is quiet. If he continues to bark: game over.
By withdrawing the reward (be it getting his dinner ready or playing with a toy) once he realizes that barking gets him nowhere fast – he’ll give up.
With the incessantly barking dog life gets a bit more bothersome. Some dogs have a trigger, such as seeing other dogs or the postman, in which case de-sensitizing the dog is a great plan. The idea behind desensitization is to expose the dog to the trigger, but in a sufficiently diluted way (for example, the postman if way down the street) not to cause the bad behaviour. You then reward his lack of reaction, and continue to reward his silence as the postman gets closer.
But what you really want is to know is how to stop that barking, so let’s start with an overview of a four-point action plan.
Action Comments 1: Trigger happy: Remove the trigger factor For the dog that barks at the window, close the curtains or put him in another room. For the dog that barks when left alone in the yard, keep him out of the yard until retrained. 2: Cold shoulder: Ignore the barking Yelling rewards the dog with attention. When he barks – ignore him – But be aware, if you crack and yell after 30 minutes, next time he’ll bark for 40 minutes… 3: Take command: Teach him a ‘Quiet ‘ command Instructions for this later in the post 4: Mental stimulation: Ramp up his exercise and revamp training. This tires him physically and satisfies him mentally.
No one action succeeds in isolation, but work across the board and you will win.
Step 1: Trigger Happy
The trouble is, in many cases barking is its own reward. Thus, for the period of retraining you need to minimize his exposure to the things that make him bark. If he barks when alone in the yard, you’ll need to keep him company until he’s retrained.
Step 2: Cold Shoulder
You’re caught between a rock and a hard place. The dog barks and its human nature to yell at him to be quiet. However, this rewards his barking with lots of lovely attention – even if that attention is being shouted at. The advice to ignore the barking is based on the theory of ‘extinction’ where a dog eventually realises that behaviour that gets no reward is not worth his while to repeat.
Step 3: Take Command
Teach him to be silent. Perverse as it sounds, this starts with teaching him to bark! I know, I know, that’s thing you want, but bear with me.
Teaching to bark: Keep clicker and treats handy (a treat bag attached to your belt is great). When he starts to bark, give a command ‘Speak’, click and treat. [Hint: if he runs round the yard barking, keep him on a long line; close enough so he can smell the treat.]
Teaching silence: Here comes the clever bit – whilst he’s eating a treat he’s not barking. Reinforce this silence by executing a stop signal right in his face. Use a vigorous gesture like an open palm held in his face, and if it startles him a little so much the better. While he’s still surprised, say you cue word, ‘Quiet’, click and treat (to reward the silence.)
Let him start barking again, but give a cue ‘Speak’, then immediately click and reward.
While he’s eating, apply your ‘stop’ gesture, firmly say ‘Quiet’, click and reward.
The pattern goes something like this:
Barks >’Speak’, Click and treat > ‘Stop’ gesture (while he’s eating/ quiet)> ‘Quiet’ (while he’s eating or still surprised)> Click and reward.
It’s a bit of a mind bender, I know, but worth getting your head round it because it works.
Step 4: Mental Stimulation
Many dogs bark because they have excess energy in the tank. Upping his exercise and restarting basic training, gives him a real sense of purpose and helps him to bond afresh. In this new, fully satisfied world of his, he won’t feel the urge to bark…quite so much.
And finally…Don’t be downhearted if it takes a while, but stick to your four-point plan and eventually your dog will stop driving you barking mad.