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Dogs Bark for a Variety of Reasons

This is problematic when the barking becomes excessive or the owner cannot stop the dog from barking.

People expect dogs to bark, and nobody minds that they do when it is appropriate (such as, temporarily, when someone comes to the door); what all of us would like is that our dogs be still when we ask them to do so.

Much of the barking I see in my clients dogs arises from attention seeking behaviour. In agility class the dogs often bark at the handler because the dog is frustrated with the handler.

(The handler's cues are mistimed, usually late.) By the way, just for the record, I do not think this is okay. When we allow the dog to bark and "yell" at us, it is construed as reinforcement by the dog. The emotion that is currently being reinforced in this case is frustration towards the handler. I do not think that is the attitude that handlers would wish to reinforce. Even if the barking is, on one level, caused by us (our cues are late, we are not giving the dog the attention HE thinks he should be receiving) it is still not good for the relationship to foster the sort of "snotty" and demanding attitude that is inherent in this kind of barking. Dogs in this situation may also bark from a behaviour that began as a way to "bleed off" some stress, then it just becomes a habit. One of my "Sheltie" friends says the problem with even joyful barking in agility is this: "When the dog's mouth is open his ears are closed!"

Barking is an Indication of Arousal

A dog can keep himself in a chemically reactive state by continuing to bark. Let's face it, when dogs are calm and relaxed, they are not barking. Barking can cause other dogs in the area to become reactive as well, escalating the probability that defensive or redirected aggression will occur.

A dog who begins to approach another dog and is barking directly at the other dog is certainly indicating that this encounter may not be a peaceful one. If the second dog reciprocates with vocalization, the chances that this will be a peaceful encounter just took a very big nose-dive. Same goes for person approaches. If a dog is barking, she is not at peace. Quite the contrary, in fact, if the barking is involving an approacher (whether human or dog) the barking is most likely defensive or territorial in nature.

Your dog already does both silence & barking, you just don't have stimulus control provided by YOU. Both behaviours are currently on cue from the environment only, or from some internal stimulus from the dog herself.

Teaching Silence

Blessed Silence already exists, you just need to install a cue for it and then reinforce the heck out of it.

One of the biggest errors people make is that they wait for annoying barking to occur, then they try to stop it BEFORE training the dog about the cues or words that the person is going to use. This assumes that dogs speak our verbal language and inherently understand it. So, first, let us understand that dogs do not speak our verbal language, nor do they come with an understanding of it. Now you can stop behaving in a naive manner and start to be effective!

Opportunity Training

Like barking, quiet behaviour is also naturally occurring!

When your dog is already being quiet,go up to him and give a different, VERY OBVIOUS hand signal or a sudden verbal cue (like"Quiet!"). I use both. I tap the dog's head firmly with my fingers and follow that by a "Quiet" word. Then I have both at my disposal and can use one or the other as the situation dictates.

After you give your new cue for silence, immediately Mark It & Feed It. Do this several times.

Your dog will be puzzled at first, and will probably have absolutely no clue about what he is being reinforced for, but he will still eagerly eat the cookies you are handing out!

Once you have the training in place, wait until he barks at something. The quicker you are in interrupting the behaviour, the more successful you will be, especially at first. My latest acquisition, a mini-poodle breeder return, is one of the worst barkers I have ever had (and that from a veteran terrier owner.) Particularly when I first got her if I let her get into full cry it was truly a desperate struggle to put a lid on the barking. So interrupt after a half, one or two barks at the most if possible (don't let him really get going!) and give him his "Quiet" cue.

Initially, especially if your dog is kind of excited because he is barking at something in particular, you might have to use the head tap to surprise him out of barking.

Once you give the head tap, and he, in surprise, looks up at you and ceases barking for a second, you must very promptly Mark It & Feed It.

Step by Step

  1. It is best if you can get the dog faced AWAY FROM whatever he is barking at before you feed. A loud startle noise such as a wooden spoon hit against a pan works pretty well, too, as does two pans slapped together. I have also been successful with a magazine slapped against a table.
  2. Use the food as a lure to turn the dog away from the Object Of Interest and then deliver the treat to the dog
  3. At first, have several treats handy, because you will give a slow, steady constant feed for the silent behaviour, while continuing to repeat your cue, as long as the dog is quiet. This is so he can associate the new cue with his silent behaviour. 
  4. Repeat if required.
  5. Reinforce the quiet behaviour.

Do remember to reinforce the quiet behaviour.

Helping Your Dog Into a Quieter State

If dog is alarmed at the startle noise and behaves in frightened manner. Do not validate the frightened behaviour. DO encourage him to come over near you, then ask for a Sit, say "Quiet" again, and reinforce it. Soon your dog will understand that, if he complies, the air horn does not sound.

The verbal "Quiet" (or what generally comes out of my mouth, "Shut It!") and the tap on the head is meant to startle the dog out of his barking frenzy, into a quieter state. It is not a punishment. It is meant to get the dog out of a reactive state, and to manufacture Quiet Behaviour, so you can use Positive Reinforcement.

Again, be sure to be serious and CALM when using these startle techniques, not angry or punitive. As with other exercises, it is prerequisite that the target behaviour be practiced in a controlled setting first. Only after the dog has at least some fluency in the behaviour is it appropriate to Challenge the dog by raising criteria and placing the dog in situations with increasing difficulty (those that typically elicit barking).

If a situation comes up that the dog would normally be barking his fool head off, and the dog barks a couple of times then is silent, Jackpot! Or if the dog is silent in a context in which he is normally barking, again, heavily reinforce the absence of barking. It is important that First Correct efforts are generously reinforced. Notice the really good decisions your dog makes!

Barking AT the Window At Innocent and Distant Passer's By

You can try your "Quiet!" cue and call the dog off the window, and then have her lie down for a short time (10 seconds to 60 seconds). Give her a cookie following the quiet, lying down behaviour. If you cannot call the dog off the window, you will have be more irritating, and use a bigger signal to "get through" the dog's currently adrenalized state.

Get between the dog and the window and walk towards her, slowly and carefully (don't step on tender toes!) until the dog is quiet. Then you can just return to daily life.

The first couple or, perhaps, several times you do this, as soon as you leave, the dog will rush back to the window in a barking frenzy. Repeat until the dog stops barking and you can call her away from the window and do the lie down and reward after the lie down period. Yes, the first times, whatever the dog is barking at is long gone, and that is why you were finally successful.

However, after 5 or 10 repetitions, the dog will be easier and easier to interrupt. You must be persistent and consistent if you want to modify this behaviour, because barking at the window is, as far as the dog is concerned, requisite territorial behaviour.

It will take some real "I am going to succeed and you will do it my way," attitude on your part to change your dog's mind about this matter. In this manner, you will, over a week or two, gain control over the dog's behaviour. You will no longer reinforce barking behaviour, nor cue for it unless you want to practice quiet behaviour. Instead you will continue to reinforce the quiet behaviour and never, ever reinforce the barking behaviour.

This is an extremely effective way to manufacture a dog who is quiet on cue and who offers quiet behaviour voluntarily.

Brenda Aloff's Articles (aka "Uncommon Knowledge"):

  • Yap-Yap-Yap ... "QUIET!" +

    Dogs Bark for a Variety of Reasons

    This is problematic when the barking becomes excessive or the owner cannot stop the dog from barking.

    People expect dogs to bark, and nobody minds that they do when it is appropriate (such as, temporarily, when someone comes to the door); what all of us would like is that our dogs be still when we ask them to do so.

    Much of the barking I see in my clients dogs arises from attention seeking behaviour. In agility class the dogs often bark at the handler because the dog is frustrated with the handler.

    Read More
  • Should I Approach? +

    (this article is adapted from material I wrote for a Search and Rescue team. They asked for tips for reading dogs during evaluations.  This is also good advice if you are thinking of approaching or petting a dog.)

    Friendly DogWhen you tell people your dog is friendly, it is best if you have words to describe "friendly". "Friendly" means different things to different people. If everyone uses the same definition, misunderstandings are minimized.

    First of all, Friendly Dogs are not shy dogs and they are not pushy dogs. Dogs who are super active and/or try to take up your space upon greeting are not friendly, they are either anxious or pushy; sometimes a combination of both. It's the anxiety that makes them pushy...

    Instead of "friendly" perhaps thinking of the word "neutral" is more helpful.

    Read More
  • Is Your Dog Bored? +

    rr-is-your-dog-bored-1-200x334pxHow many times have you felt your dog was "bored" with training? I hear this, especially from my performance people.

    This always brings me to a dead stop. Why? Because I have NEVER felt that my dogs were bored with training. This does not mean that they were perfect by any stretch of the imagination! My dogs make many errors and often lack judgement. To me, this is just part of training.

    Why Do People Feel Their Dog is Bored?

    I have queried the students who bring me this statement and this is what I have gleaned from the information they have given to me:

    Read More
  • My Animals, My Teachers +

    Some of My Dogs

    At home I currently have a Smooth Fox Terrier, Zasu and a Mini-Poodle rescue, Trixie. I should be thinking about a new puppy coming up, but after years of too many dogs (no matter how much I adored each and every rescue dog, it was still too darn many), I find myself not wanting to "share" this relationship with any other dog. So I have some mental homework to do on this subject!

    Zasu is my delight and joy and she makes me laugh every day with her hilarious antics. She reminds me that being too serious is just a ridiculous proposition. She is a hoot to do agility with because of her small size my old, rickety body can keep up with her better. She heels beautifully, retrieves like a champ and she knows lots of useless, extremely cute tricks.

    Trixie, the Poodle is a superb example of the cobbler's children going barefoot! She is very uninhibited. ; ) She came into my life when I was struggling, really struggling, with the demise of my Border Collie. Trixie has a really interesting and bossy personality which makes me happy! She loves to cuddle. Zasu taught her to resource guard, so she learns fast. I knew it would work out between her and Zasu, when the first day Trixie was at the house, she and Zasu were playing tug. Zasu can be a nasty and dangerous little resource guarder, so, typical of herself, she worked her way up on the tug toy until she was nearly lip to lip with Trixie, the innocent poodle who thought they were just having fun. Then Zasu froze. Trixie looked a little puzzled by this interesting behaviour, and then mimicked it by freezing also. "Oh boy," I thought, "This may not go well." I was just getting ready to intervene before we had a death, when Trixie handled it perfectly by herself. She toppled over onto her side in submission. However, she did not let go of the toy. Zasu growled. Trixie laid quietly, with a grip on that toy. Zasu growled again. Trixie remained calm. Zasu started to look a little disgruntled. Then she said, "What am I even doing here? Why am I growling? How did we get here?" and walked away. By now I was giggling rather hysterically in relief. Trixie picked up the toy, offered it to Zasu to play and they have gotten on famously ever since.

    Breanna was my first Smooth Fox Terrier. She introduced me to the terrier way of thinking immediately. She was like living with an jolly serial killer. I learned incredible things from her and will forever be grateful. Bree never, ever told me no - she did everything I ever wanted to try. She worked in Obedience, got her AKC CD title and was trained through Utility. We were just starting to show Open, and she got into a fight with my German Shepherd bitch. This did not end well, and her

    Read More
  • What's Your Mental Picture? +

    Do you have a clear mental picture of the exercise you are doing? And how about the mechanical skill set? What do YOU need to have on board to teach the dog the exercise? How about the dog's reflexes? Will that affect the work? What is timing? How can you use contrast and compare?

    Enjoy this podcast where Brenda Aloff discusses these questions.

    Read More
  • Teaching Responsibility to Your Dog +

    Have you ever thought about how teaching a dog a cue could be dangerous? When I say that to my students, they often exclaim “What could you possibly mean by that?”

    This is a conversation I had with my friend, Barb. So, imagine you are with us - Barb and I have been working her lovely Shepherd all day, and are now taking a break to go get dinner! Yay! Barb lives near a great Barbeque Place - The Ozona Pig. Yum.

    We have had lots of impulse control issues with Shadow, she is a very drivey AND strong-willed young dog, so we have worked a lot on creating control while still maintaining all her bubbly personality that we love. So, join our conversation...

    Read More
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