Solving Problem Behaviors: Barking
The triggers of barking problems are varied, but no matter what the motive is that initiates the dog to bark, one thing to remember is that it is simply a very strong innate behavior. Just like people feel the need to talk; dogs bark. Therefore, the behavior is not always easy to extinguish. Often times barking appears to be attention seeking. Sometimes barking can be a display of frustration, territorial possessiveness, or simply over-stimulation of environment.
So why is it that some dogs bark excessively and others do not? There could be many factors that increase this behavior but the one element that is certain, is the dog has in some way received a history of rewards. Passive or active rewards reinforce behavior whether the behavior is good or bad. A dog would not bark excessively if it were not getting some form of reward for the behavior. Even dogs sharing a common fence who appear to be agitated at each other running the fence and barking excessively are getting a significant release of endorphins, thus rewarding the barking behavior.
Because barking is hereditary it is highly probable for dogs to become excessive barkers unless they are given proper training, exercise, and attention.
The number one question I get from people is, “How do I get my dog to stop barking?” I would love to have a simple answer but unfortunately it is not that easy. Dogs bark for different reasons and the ‘fix’ has to be tailored to the dog for the best results. For that reason I am going to give you advice on training your dog NOT to bark from the moment you get your dog. Most of these training tips could also be applied to dogs that are already problem barkers. Although, you will have to make adjustments to fit your dog’s intrinsic behavior.
When you first get a puppy or new dog every sound they make in your presence is looked at by most people as the dog is communicating with you. They are, but that communication can become excessive if you reward it by giving the dog attention when he makes a sound. Dogs are masters at communicating with physical expressions as well, so barking should never be encouraged unless you put barking on cue and stimulus control (the barking behavior should only occur when cued). I often see people thinking it is cute when their puppy barks at another dog while walking on a leash. Try to remember that what is cute as a puppy will not be so cute as the dog matures. Train the behavior you wan to see from the very beginning so the inappropriate behavior never becomes a problem.
Now you know not to reward a behavior you do not want repeated. Let’s talk about rewarding what you do want. I recommend always being aware of the types of behavior you want to see and taking the time to reward it. Such as a quiet dog laying at your feet should be rewarded with soothing affection. If you see someone coming to your door grab the treats and start feeding your dog for remaining quiet before, during, and after the door bell rings. Remember prevention is key in all aspects of good behavior training. If you are out on a walk, and you see a dog coming towards you, get your dogs attention with treats or a toy before your dog starts to bark at another dog. Establish good behavior rewarding before the bad behavior of excessive barking gets the dogs endorphins going!
Barking is very self rewarding to a dog so we have to be creative with our training and set the stage so we can train to our advantage. Such as, staging a friend to come over and ring the bell, or possibly a friend walking towards you with their dog. You know when they are approaching so you can be ready with your treats or a toy. You might think about counter conditioning (train an incompatible behavior). Train your dog to go to a kennel or bed when they hear the door bell and wait for their treat to come to them. This is quite easy to do. Just feed treats on the dogs bed when the door bell rings. If you do this enough, instead of the dog giving an alarming bark they will run to their bed in anticipation of some yummy treats. This takes a lot of repetition but it is time well spent.
You can also train your dog to move behind you while walking if they see another dog coming. If your dog already aggresses at dogs while on a walk this can be difficult in the beginning but if done correctly it works like magic. You begin by turning into your dog when you see another dog coming towards you. If your dog stays calm feed him or play. If he aggresses at the other dog, walk towards your dog with firmness until your dog gives up his space and stops trying to go around you. At that point stop moving towards your dog and reward for correct calm behavior. Repeat this every time your dog aggresses. Do not let one time slip by or you will have to start over. Typically in about 30 days your dog will begin to look for you to protect him from the approaching dog by placing himself slightly behind you. Walking calmly will mean more walks so take charge now.
If you have a neighbor dog who runs the fence and barks you can be sure your dog will follow suit if you do not use forethought and prevent the fence running. You may have to put up a secondary fence to assist with preventing your dog from becoming a habitual fence aggressor. Setting up a barrier in this scenario will be a small inconvenience versus a lifetime of behavior problems. Fence aggression will transfer to other unpleasant behavior issues. Such as; leash aggression and kennel aggression. If your dog is already a fence aggressor then setting up a barrier will not be enough initially. You will have to physically go outside with your dog so you can reward for good behavior. If you do not set up a history of rewards for the behavior you want (No barking) the bad behavior will never go away because your dog will simply self reward.
Along with training an incompatible behavior, establishing preventative measures and using redirection, do not forget that your dog needs mental and physical stimulation every day to eliminate boredom. Often times dogs bark simply because they are bored. This is the easiest form of barking to fix. It’s simple, just make time every morning and every evening to train and play with your dog. You won’t regret it and your dog will truly become your best friend.