Barking: Patience & Perseverance Required

Mar 31, 2017 | 2,807 comments

Stop dog barking is one of the most troublesome behaviour problems for most dog owners and as a dog behaviourist, I am frequently asked to solve. The good news is, it is relatively easy to solve with a little patience.

Giving attention to a barking dog reinforces the habit. The dog then learns that if it barks it gets attention. Avoid accidental negative reinforcement. By giving the dog any attention even negative attention will be accepted gratefully by the dog, but wont help or solve the problem.

They bark for any number of reasons but if you jump to their demand barking, you are setting a precedent and inadvertently reinforcing their demands, whether it’s ‘let me in’ ‘let me out’ ‘come and play’ or just for attention. By giving in to their demands you are giving them permission to bark at any time and for any reason.

Shouting at a barking dog does not stop it barking. The dog possibly thinks you are joining in and will bark even more. Try distracting your dog if you cannot see what he is barking at, but don’t praise him for barking praise him when he stops. This technique will work under any circumstances providing you stick to positive reinforcement. No treats for barking but plenty of praise and treats for stopping.

Distress barking is associated with separation anxiety. Over excited dogs are also prone to excessive barking. Lack of mental stimulation or boredom can lead to default barking behaviour. Barking for a dog is normal but it’s the owner and neighbours that cannot tolerate it.

Some dogs bark when they are bored, there are toys and goods that are specifically made to relieve the boredom, they can be filled with food and put in the fridge to harden, these are then given to the dog and in theory it takes the dog time to get the food out and is tired when the task has been done and will sleep. Sleeping dogs do not bark. A good long walk or maybe an extra walk will tire your dog so it doesn’t stay awake long enough to bark for no reason.

If you know what triggers your dog’s barking try controlling the trigger. If it barks when someone walks past your house, close the curtains or blinds so that the dog cannot see out. If it barks when left outside, don’t leave it outside alone until you have the barking under control. If it barks at your neighbours dog, talk to your neighbour and arrange a time that your dog and theirs are not out at the same time.

All dogs bark, well 99% of them do, they whine and howl as well, it’s their way of communicating either with their owner or with other dogs. Incessant barking is not only annoying it will upset you, your neighbours and any other dog within the vicinity. Barking in the wild is a necessity as it allows the dog to communicate, inform and warn the rest of the pack and allows the pack to stay in touch, ignored by the rest of the pack at their peril.

Why does your dog bark? It barks for attention and to let you know something is not right.

If someone knocks at your door what do you do? Do you jump up and rush to the door? This stimulates your dog and it will bark loudly and excitedly. Do you grumble about being disturbed? Again your dog will pick up on this and bark. Try getting up slowly and not make a big thing of it. If the dog thinks its nothing exciting it will ignore the door bell or the knocker.

Once it has got into this habit every time someone knocks on your door it means you have to train the habit out of your dog. To do this get a friend or family member to go out and knock on the door. If your dog barks, don’t move, wait until it stops barking, get it to sit. Once it is quiet get it to stay. Now get your ‘assistant’ to knock again. If the dog barks again don’t move, turn away and ignore the dog totally. As soon as it is quiet praise and treat it. Keep this up – not necessarily all on one day- eventually you will find that your dog will no longer bark when someone knocks on the door. Patience and persistence are the keys. This has to be done every time someone knocks so it is advisable to get your ‘assistant’ to be there on a daily basis to help with the training. Also it might be an idea to get a sign made stating that you are training a dog and would they be patient.

A lot of owners teach their dogs to be excessive barkers by letting their dogs get their own way by barking and getting a reaction from their owners, whether it’s shouting at them, stopping what they are doing to go to the dog or just by giving the dog attention of any kind. Whatever it is the dog has won and you have doubled your problem. It can be hard to wait for your dog to stop barking but you need to do it. If you win every time the dog barks then you will have won the battle and the war.

If you are outside wait until the dog stops barking, the instant he stops call him to you and praise him. Timing is crucial. If he continues to bark ignore him, turn your back, don’t even look at him. If he stops turn and call him to you and praise him generously. (Treats do not have to be food although in my experience food works wonders). After a few times of this exercise your dog should begin to realise that he gets nice things and attention if he stops barking. You might have to do this for a while but the results will be worth it. Use the word quiet, said quietly not shouted, as a command once you have the dog’s full attention. If you want your dog to bark on command, e.g. you are alone and someone calls unexpectedly, teach your dog to ‘speak’ (bark). Some dogs are required to bark on command and are trained to do so.

If your dog barks in a low unexcited way it could be a warning so you should not ignore it, notice your dogs body language, is it alert, does it have a fixed look in its eyes? Check it out with your dog so that if there is no reason, you and your dog will see there is no need for barking. If you leave your dog and go to check it out by yourself your dog will bark even more and louder, so quietly and calmly and with your dog go and check in the direction the dog is looking. Don’t ignore this bark as he is doing what comes naturally, protecting you.

Dogs do not like to be ignored so will do anything to gain your attention, just be aware of giving them the wrong attention at the wrong time.

As with all dog training nothing is instant, it takes time, patience, perseverance, praise and love and kindness.  Do be prepared for it to get worse before it gets better just don’t give up.

Written by Patricia Walton.
Dip. Dog Obed.  Dip. Dog Psy.