Controlling Excessive Barking

Humans have been selecting for barking in dogs for millennia. This behavior is deeply ingrained in the dog, and is generally not a problem for pet owners unless it becomes “excessive.”

Alert barking at the doorbell: Since alert barking is generally very self-reinforcing, your best bet is to train an alternative, incompatible behavior. The owner needs to acknowledge the source of the alert and then ask the dog to sit quietly and to wait in a certain spot until the guest enters the house and greets the dog. The dog has to be quiet to be greeted. Guests who immediately look at the dog and pet him are reinforcing his barking. This polite door greeting is taught in stages with the dog given something to distract him after he has alerted on a guest at the door. The dog has to go to a designated spot and get a treat or his favorite toy as a reward for being quiet. This is practiced with the dog on the leash so the owner can keep control of the dog.

Invitation to play: Some dogs bark to say, “Hey, I want to meet/play with you NOW, NOW, NOW!” (Puppy barking frequently falls in this category). These barks are generally high pitched, and are often accompanied by wagging “propeller tails,” loose/wiggly body language, play bows and jumping. When you are in public, ask those who would like to interact with your dog to wait for calm, quiet behavior before greeting to avoid reinforcing the behavior. Have your dog do a “sit” or “down” for a few seconds to redirect his energy before anyone who wants to greet the dog begins petting the dog. Most dogs prefer long strokes down their backs and sides to being patted on the top of the head. These long strokes also calm the dog.

Barking at Other Dogs: If your dog strains at the leash when you pass other dogs and barks non-stop at the dog, you are probably pulling the leash taut and transferring your tension, stress and fear down the leash to the dog. Train your dog to look at you with the “watch me” command to distract him as you approach another dog. Use treats or a favorite toy to distract your dog as the other dog passes.

Barking when left alone: Separation anxiety causes many dogs to bark for hours when they are left alone. This drives your neighbors insane and is very stressful for your dog. Try a program of gradually increasing the time away from the house and make sure to leave the dog with some mentally stimulating activity like a Kong filled with treats. You can also buy a device called a Bark Off® which emits an ultrasonic sound when there are high-pitched barks that last longer than 10 seconds. The dog is startled by the sound (which humans can’t hear), and it breaks the bark pattern.

Enjoy a well mannered dog that is welcome anywhere. Invest in training to transform your dog into the best friend you have always wanted.

Call Jean Cary, Service Dog Tutor, for an evaluation and a customized training program for your dog. (650) 593-9622

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