Bark Bark Bark
Characteristics of a Barker
Studies have been done to try to determine which dogs are more likely to be barkers. Although there was no difference in the percentage of excessive barkers between males and females, there was a breed difference. Hounds, Terriers, and some herding breeds tend to bark more. That is not surprising, since this is one of the characteristics for which they were bred. Excessive barking can occur in purebred dogs as well as mixed breeds.
Reasons for Barking
Many excessively barking dogs do so out of boredom, loneliness, and frustration. Other dogs bark out of fear or defense of their property. Being located near a busy sidewalk or other stimulus will cause many dogs to bark a lot. And, as discusses previously, some breeds have been bred to be vocal, so it can be difficult to eliminate an inherited trait.
Barking is a perfectly natural canine behavior and is one of the most difficult to modify, as it is a self-reinforcing activity for many dogs.
How to Reduce or Eliminate Barking
Walk and train daily! A physically and mentally exercised dog simply does not bark as much.
“But my dogs have a big back yard to run in all day.”
This does not take the place of putting a leash on your dog and going for a walk. Typically, any activity your dog does in the yard is unfocused, often destructive and a nuisance (barking) which they are rehearsing daily and being self-rewarded for. They tend to become hyper-vigilant to every sight and sound when unsupervised, which can lead to excessive barking in other scenarios.
Walking at your side challenges and fulfills many of the natural canine instincts. It is mentally challenging as they learn to defer to you and exhibit attention, focus and self-control. They’re exposed to new sights, smells and stimuli, which is great for continued socialization and confidence building (two of the biggest reasons for excessive barking).
The walk is structured, and gives a sense of calm to your dog if done consistently. If you only manage 1-2 walks a week of course your pal will be overly stimulated, hyper-motivated and act as if he’s a maniac, on walks and at home. If you’re avoiding walks with your dog because of his leash manners or reactivity to other people or animals, then those are the behaviors that need addressed.
Mental activity such as daily short training sessions for foundation manners uses 25% of the body’s energy. Think how tired you are after a busy day at work. Even if you’ve been sitting all day, brain work is draining. Remember, a tired dog is a quiet dog.
Give them back a job other than barking at every sound and leaf that blows across the yard. Put the food bowl away, and let them work for their calories. (See Get Rid of the Food Bowl for a Better Behaved dog).
Other helpful techniques:
- Train a “quiet” command. Say “quiet” or “enough” wait for 1 second of silence and reward. Lengthen the duration of silence slowly and always praise your dog’s efforts.
- It’s easier to modify the environment than the dog. If he’s yapping at passerby’s or delivery people, then it becomes a cycle of bark/reward. Here comes the mailman…”Woof, woof, woof!”, And there he goes. HA! Showed him. The dog is reinforced time and time again as people walk by the house. This can set the stage for hyper-vigilance as we discussed earlier. Close the curtains or confine him to another part of the house. Problem solved.
“He starts barking as soon as I get on the phone!”
* “Woof woof”, you look at them, maybe say something to them. The very nature of barking gets your attention, even if it’s just a look, you’ve reinforced that behavior. The dog has learned to bark in variety of situations, many of them inappropriate, to get something it desires. Remember to acknowledge and praise them when they’re quiet and ignore them when they are barking for attention. If they’ve been successful with the bark/reward game for any length of time than it will take longer. Actually it will get worse before it gets better. They will go through something called an extinction burst. Because barking has been successful in the past, but suddenly doesn’t work anymore…they will bark louder and longer to achieve their goal. Knowing this should give you the wherewithal to endure and ignore! If a behavior isn’t reinforced it will extinguish.
* Yelling may reinforce your dogs barking as well. It tends to add to the excitement or anxiety of the already intense situation, and make it worse. If you need to interrupt the noise try dropping a can of pennies on the floor or smacking a counter top, then immediately redirect him to another activity.
* Train an incompatible behavior. My Cavalier King Charles Spaniel barks when people drive into the driveway. I’m teaching him to go to the porch, sit and wait until I’ve given a release cue. It gives him something to think about and tends to diffuse the vocalizations. Inside he is to go to a certain spot in the entry and sit. It’s a process, so be patient and consistent.
* I always recommend training first but the citronella spray collar has worked effectively in conjunction with a training program for many clients. There are also many high frequency collars and devices that may work for your dog as well.
These are just a few techniques to get you started. I understand that every dog and situation is different, and that there are few behaviors as frustrating as excessive, incessant barking.
Please call or email if you feel like you need help.