By Jessica Ring, Unleashed Joy Trainer
Bark! Bark! Bark! I want! I want! I want!
You likely know what we’re talking about. You start to prepare your fuzzy little companion’s dinner, and he starts barking in anticipation like he just cannot wait another second to gorge himself silly. Or there you are in a good manners dog training class, feeling embarrassed about your very friendly pup’s excited barking whenever he catches a glimpse of the puppy across the room. I’m sure you can think of many other similar situations.
Here are some steps to take in order to teach your dog that being polite (and quiet) really pays off.
Step 1 Identify and anticipate situations in which he is likely to bark. We’ll use the example of dinner preparation.
Step 2 What would you like him to do instead of bark? Perhaps you would like him to simply be calm and quiet. While preparing his dinner, reinforce him for being quiet. Give him treats periodically, frequently at first. Then begin to gradually space them out over time. If he does happen to bark, you have learned that the expectation was a little too high and you’ll want to make it easier for him – deliver treats more frequently for a bit longer before spacing them out or make smaller increases in the time between treats.
Here’s a blog post that explains how to work on reinforcing calm and quiet behavior (scroll down to the bottom half for detailed steps).
Step 3 If he does bark, ignore him. Pay no attention to him. Avoid looking at him, avoid talking to him, avoid scolding him. Turn your back and walk away or simply go about your business as if he isn’t there. Stop preparing dinner and do something else for a few moments (read a magazine, watch TV, fold some laundry…) before returning to the dinner prep and reinforcement for quiet. Eventually, you will only be delivering a few treats (or maybe none at all) during dinner prep!
Step 4 Remember, when he is behaving calmly and quietly, be sure to reinforce consistently and frequently. (We humans have a bad habit of ignoring our dogs when they are behaving nicely, but paying a lot of attention to them when they are doing something we do not like.)
We do not recommend using an aversive technique (such as squirting with water or citronella spray, shake can, loud noise, yelling, or worse). It is unnecessary and there is a large potential for fallout, meaning it can create unintended negative associations. Using the example of squirting water or citronella, here are some things that could happen.
The dog could associate you with bad things. This could cause him to become fearful of you, backing away, growling, or, on the extreme end of things, biting to to keep you and the spray away.
If the barking is directed at other dogs, the dog, who used to be excited and happy when encountering other dogs, could instead become what is called “reactive” and feel extremely uncomfortable around other dogs. While we cannot really tell exactly what a dog is thinking, it might help to consider the following scenario.
Hey, there’s a dog, I wanna play, I wanna play. (Bad thing happens, such as getting sprayed with citronella.)
Hey, there’s a dog, something bad is going to happen. (Bad thing happens, such as getting sprayed with citronella.)
Hey, there’s a dog, something bad is going to happen, go away, go away. I don’t like other dogs. Something bad always happens.
There are countless other potential behavioral and emotional issues that could come about, which is why we do not recommend aversive methods. We know that the potential is very real, not only because of scientific studies on the topic, but also because we have seen it first-hand when we are called to help fix the issues that were caused using aversive methods. These issues are almost always significantly worse and harder to resolve than the initial issues (barking, in this case).
In addition, because the dog is being exposed to the citronella frequently, he could become desensitized to it, to the point where it is no longer effective. In that case, he has developed what is called a punishment callous and has acclimated to the citronella. It no longer has an impact on his barking behavior. This often happens with these types of “quick fixes,” and, unfortunately, it causes many people to escalate the intensity of the aversive, making it even more likely to create negative fallout and even worse behavioral and emotional issues.
Demand barking, while frustrating and annoying, is often one of the simpler issues to resolve, particularly when addressed early on. It does take a lot of consistency and patience. (And sometimes fresh-baked cookies for the neighbors!)