Bark, Bark, Bark!
by Barbara DeGroodt
Let’s get this straight—dogs bark! It is a perfectly normal function of being a dog. People talk and dogs bark. They bark to communicate greetings, warnings, alarm or distress, territorial boundaries, or play.
If barking is normal, why is it a problem? It is only a problem when the dog barks too long or at the wrong time.
Domestic dogs tend to bark more than their ancestor, the wolf, and some breeds have a greater tendency to bark than others. Many breeds were bred to bark, like hounds and terriers. However, most dogs can be trained to modify their natural inclination to bark.
A dog’s environment also has a great effect on his behavior. Dogs may develop the barking “habit” due to unintentional owner rewards or inappropriate punishment, long periods of isolation or confinement, boredom, old age, or lack of hearing.
We often inadvertently reward dogs for barking because we are concerned someone may complain, so we quickly tell the dog to be silent. Now the dog is getting the attention he wants (even though it is negative attention) and he thinks you are barking too.
Before you begin, make sure your dog is not barking out of boredom. If so, you need to provide more environmental enrichments for him. I'll only deal with alarm/distress barking in this article.
With all behavior, if you can put it on a cue and then teach the counter cue (on and off switch), you can begin to control it, only asking for barking when you want it and teaching a quiet command to silence it. Easier said than done!
To begin, you need to have the stimulus that causes the dog to bark, such as the doorbell. Have someone ring it once, and when the dog begins to bark, give the cue "speak" (or whatever you want to use). Now, when he isn't as highly stimulated, put a treat near his nose and draw it to your face; if he is focused on the treat and not barking, give your silent cue "quiet." Once quiet, have your friend ring the bell again and repeat the training session. You will need to do this several times before the association is made. With practice, your dog will know what you want when you say “speak,” and what you want when you say “quiet.” You can even teach a dog to whisper, but that is another lesson!
You may also want to take the excitement out of the doorbell ringing by having someone ring the bell and leave. You remain sitting as if nothing happened. After several repetitions, this too may give your dog the impression that the bell is nothing.
There are several devices that may be used for barking (some effective and some not), but I always suggest you check with your trainer for assistance in deciding which is best and most humane for your dog.
Good luck with this and, as always, ask for help if you get stuck.
Barbara De Groodt is the owner of From the Heart Animal Behavior Counseling and Dog Training in Salinas, CA and has been an animal behavior counselor for over 30 years. Barbara was one of the original founders of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, APDT (under the guidance of Dr. Ian Dunbar); she’s a professional member of International Association Canine Professionals and several behavior organizations, as well as a certified animal trainer. She is a regular speaker at Western Career College’s Animal Health department and lectures around the world to veterinary groups, law enforcement agencies, trainers and pet owners. From the Heart is located in Salinas, CA. Barb De Groodt can be contacted at (831) 783-0818. www.fromtheheart.info.