Is your dog barking too frequently?
We all have different tolerances for our dogs natural instinct to bark. Some of us may want our dog to bark when we hear the door to alert anyone of a dog present, for others this may be a nuisance... Perhaps you have a dog that barks when they play, that barks when they want something or barks when they see something outside like birds in the garden.
When barking is regular and persistent this can be a real headache... quite literally. In order to know how we can fix this we must first consider the causes.
What Causes Excessive Barking?
- Excitement/ Boredom - This is a means of attention seeking; perhaps your dog is excited to see you but you are busy typing out that one final email from work on your phone; how do they distract you from your task at hand? By making a racket! This is exactly the same for boredom, they want some attention from you and being vocal they have found achieves your attention (even if it is negative!) so if a method works why would they not continue with it?
- Territorial - Perhaps your dog barks at the door when they hear a knock, or 'protects your back garden from fiendish birds'. This barking arises from a need to protect their space from people or animals who they feel should not be there. If your dog is barking territorially, you may also have other issues such as fear/aggression shown towards your guests - after all everything in them is telling them that there is an intruder in their home! However, sometimes their territorial nature is only shown through barking, and that is the issue we are looking to solve today.
- Fear - A bark can be a warning; if a dog is scared, they have the same natural instincts as people; flight or fight. A warning bark could be a signal of their instinct to fight; sometimes this could even escalate into a physical reaction.
- Lack of Hearing - Senior dogs may develop a barking habit when they lose their hearing ability. If barking is a recent development in your dog you should get this checked. Essentially, a lack of hearing leaves a dog feeling disorientated and so inclined to bark.
How do We Fix The Problem?
This problem is a particularly hard one to fix since it goes against all of our natural instincts. When our dog is barking and we are trying to watch the television, or to work we want to shout;
"STOP IT BUSTER!!"
However, the problem with this reaction is we are actually reinforcing the negative behaviour; you are essentially joining in the shouting party and your dog learns that by barking they get a response from you; which is probably exactly what they are looking for.
A great way to fix the problem (believe it or not!) is actually to teach your dog to bark. Crazy right?! Well, the idea behind this solution is that if you can teach your dog to bark on cue you can also teach them that the absence of barking is 'Quiet'.
What we need to do is find a way to make our dogs bark and reward this by using our cue word 'bark'; then in the gaps between we must mark the silence with 'quiet' so that our dogs begin to understand the difference and how to respond when you ask one or the other of them.
What triggers your dogs barking? Perhaps it is a knock at the door; in this case we can sit close to a wall and knock on the wall; when your dog barks, mark this somehow (clickers are great tools for this), then give him a little treat. Do this a couple of times, then begin to include your cue 'bark'; you want to try to say this between the knock and your dog barking so that he knows the correct way to respond to the cue word is with barking.
We then want to mark the silence between barks, a clever way to do this and avoid the mishap of a bark and associating this action with 'quiet' is to say 'quiet' while he is still enjoying his treat from his recent bark. The idea is to say 'quiet', click, then treat again.
To change any problem behaviour takes time and patience, we cannot expect to have one training session and problem gone! We need to really commit to our training regime practising this regularly, at least twice or three times per day. So do this when you have time and are calm enough to tolerate mistakes as shouting at your dog could undo all of your good work!
The GR Team