In many homes, a common response to a dog’s bark is screaming, “no, stop, quiet, no, no“. Indulge me for a moment and say those words out loud.
It sounds like barking, doesn’t it? It sure sounds that way to your dog as well; which can make the behavior worse. Even negative attention can reinforce an unwanted yapping episode at the door. If your dog’s is caused by stress, you can inadvertently express concern by tone of your voice. No one wants their dog to think they are worried about family ringing the door bell.
So, what to do? If your dog has specific triggers that cause barking such as the doorbell or knocking; train a new behavior. With technology, it is super easy to record neighbors walking up and down the stairs or a barking dog outside the window and play it over and over again at a low volume. The key when you do this is to keep the volume so low you can barely hear it. Play the sound and guide your dog to go to bed or ”down/stay” and reward for that behavior, as long as your dog remains quiet. Do this a few times a day when you are not expecting guests. When your dog understands the expectation, turn the volume up a little louder. Then, play the volume and walk in and out of your home. It really does not take much time daily to practice this new behavior but will pay off in frustration and embarrassment for years to come.
Let’s say your dog likes to bark to tell you he or she wants to play, go out or while you are preparing food. You must cease reinforcing the behavior immediately if it is not acceptable in your home at other times of day. Dogs need consistency, if you toss a toy for your barking dog then get angry when your dog barks while you are on the phone, it creates confusion. Ignoring is a great option but you have to be 100% consistent, which can be troublesome in urban environments when neighbors are apt to complain. One easy way to re-train this is to take away what your dog wants for barking. If your dog barks for attention; turn your head, walk out of the room or hold a magazine up in front of your face so your dog learns he or she loses you for barking. The instant he or she is quiet, you give verbal praise. Toys and food go away in a closet for an instant when your dog barks and when your dog is quiet, they come back out. Never yell while doing this or say bad dog as it can muddy the message. You have to be quick, the instant your dog quiets, give praise. You can also avoid demand barking by giving your dog fun activities to wear him or her out, just do so for quiet behavior.
If your dog likes to bark at the window and has access to it all day, you must take that away until he or she learns to be quiet. I know it is a nice luxury to look out the window while you are at work. However, if he or she barks and people walk away, the behavior is reinforced as she thinks she did her job in scaring them away. There can be an element of protection here so be sure to work on leadership exercises daily with your dog so she understands you will protect her and she does not have to worry about protecting herself.
Additionally, five times a day (when you do not need it) train your dog to run away from the window and lay down. Simply cue “away” and cheerily guide your dog away with your hand or a treat and prompt him or her down. The only word you should use is ”away”. If you commit to doing this five times a day and your dog gets good at it, have a friend walk past the window and cue ”away”. It is important to practice this in set-up training sessions so your dog understands the meaning so he or she can succeed in a few weeks when you actually need it!
If your dog’s barking is while he or she is alone, you could be dealing with some Separation Anxiety and I recommend recording it to confirm. Once you do so, consider working with a trainer and/or your veterinarian to help ease your dog’s home alone stress.
Dogs like to bark and many love to hear themselves bark. Do not play the barking game with your dog, train your dog to be quiet in the environments you expect him or her to be quiet. It does not take a lot of time and it is much less frustrating than screaming quiet and continually reinforcing the exact opposite behavior you want.
Photo courtesy of Rhonda Holcomb