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Dog Barking – How to Train and Stop a Problem Barker

Nuisance dog barking or puppy barking can be a big problem for owners.  No one wants to be the neighbor with the crazy barking dog. If you want to improve your dog’s behavior you first have to understand it. Dogs have different barks for different behaviors. Dogs will bark to alert, for attention or out of frustration and many will bark or howl when left alone.

Barking is very hard for pet parents to work through because a lot of our instincts end up reinforcing the behavior. For example take a dog who is barking at a strange dog or person on the street. As nurturing human beings, pet parents often think they should sooth and calm him with petting, where the dog most likely will take this to mean you like my behavior, keep doing it. The other major issue is barking dogs can trigger owners to yell or punish the dog to try to stop them. This might suppress the behavior but it is more likely to cause the dog increased stress and to continue barking. Frustrated owners will sometimes turn to punishment in some form like “anti-bark” shock collars, these tools are not very safe or humane and most of the time they will make the problem worse by creating anxiety.

 

Breaking the Cycle—How to Stop Dog Barking

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If owner-absent barkers declare victory every time a family member returns—even if only to holler for quiet—how can this vicious cycle be broken? Start with exercises that reward the dog for being silent. On a day free of work commitments, go through your normal morning routine, but don’t stray far from the door once you’ve left home. If your dog is silent for a predetermined period of time, reenter and reward him. Begin with an easily obtainable goal—say, 10 to 30 seconds. When he barks, set the timer back to zero. It may take awhile to get that first silent success. Some dogs will improve faster when a marker indicates unwanted behavior; a sharp rap on the door with a metal object after a bark may speed things along. No shouting for quiet, though—most dogs prefer negative attention to none at all and may find your hollering rewarding.

Once you have garnered your first success, reenter the home, tell the dog “yes” or “good,” reward him, and go about your business. Keep all comings and goings low-key so he isn’t excessively revved up each time. Repeat the exercise numerous times, lengthening the time away with each success. If you have to restart the count more than a couple of times, you may be moving too far, too fast.

Some dogs will get wise to your presence on the other side of the door. Increase your distance after the first few repetitions to replicate departure. Instead of rapping to mark the unwanted behavior, you could employ a citronella-dispensing collar. This device interrupts each bark with a multi-sensory cue by combining the startling pssst of the mist exploding out of the container, the moist sensation, and the citronella smell. In a 1996 Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association article, Cornell University behaviorists Juarbe- Diaz and Houpt note that the citronella collar is twice as effective (88.9 compared to 44.4 percent) as the electronic shock collar, without the use of a painful stimulus. Some find that the use of the collar alone extinguishes barking proclivities. However, it is not suitable for separation anxiety cases, as these often demand a more extensive behavior modification protocol and possibly drug therapy as well.

No matter what the reason for your dog’s home-alone barking, please let your neighbors know that you are working on the matter. Their irritation will lessen once they know that their complaints haven’t fallen on deaf ears.

 

Environmental Changes to Help with Dog Barking

The anxious dog may feel less stressed-out when home alone if he’s confined to a kennel crate either the enclosed airline type (molded plastic) or a wire crate draped with a sheet or a tablecloth. With less space to worry about just the bed and a chew toy many dogs just curl up and calm down. A word of warning regarding dogs with severe anxiety problems (often a rescue/shelter dog): some dogs may go to pieces in a crate; they will shake, slobber, struggle and exhibit extreme escape behavior. In these instances you must seek the counsel of a professional dog trainer or applied animal behaviorist who is well versed in canine behavior problems and can customize a program for the dog that may include short-term drug therapy.

Barking Set-Ups

If you have tried all of the above and you are still finding notes from your neighbors, you must desensitize the dog to your departures with “barking set-ups.” Set-ups take time; slow incremental progress is a necessary part of the program. Be prepared to use a long week-end or some vacation time for the program.

  • Keep the dog in the quietest part of the house. A dog with behavior problems has not earned “the run of the house”.
  • Keep curtains and/or shades drawn. If you don’t have adequate window coverage, get some; hang a sheet or blanket across the window. A darker environment has a calming effect on most dogs. Additionally, there is no visual stimuli to provoke the territorial or bored dog. Curtains muffle sounds from the outdoors for alarm barkers.
  • Leave a radio or TV on as white noise. In many households, the stereo/TV/radio is on from morning ’til night as long as someone is home. Imagine how “loud” the silence is when everyone is gone and the sound system is turned off! Beyond masking outside noises, leaving the stereo/TV/radio on gives the aural appearance of your presence.
  • As you leave, give the dog an “only-when-I’m-gone” chew toy with your scent imparted on it. This toy should be something spectacular – a sterilized beef bone stuffed deeply and thoroughly with canned dog food or cheese spread (served frozen or chilled), a flavorful beef-basted knotted rawhide bone, or a stuffed KongTM. Give it to the dog upon leaving; rub it between your palms several times before you go. Not only is this a diversion tactic, it actually makes being left alone not so bad, as this is the only time the “most-wonderful-thing-in-the-world” appears!

First, imitate your daily departure routine. Do you usually put on make-up, search about for keys, gloves, etc. pack a gym bag or throw out the garbage? Make the dog think that this is just like any other daily departure.

Second, while giving him his special goodbye toy, get eye contact and tell him in a firm and matter-of-fact manner to be quiet until you return. Please, no longwinded emotional scenes; no begging, pleading or whining for him to be quiet. It will only serve to emotionally charge the situation and further stress-out the dog.

Leave for a brief period of time. Just a minute or two to start out with. If you wait for an elevator, ring for it and get in. Go one floor down and come back up using the stairs. Wait 1-2 minutes. If the dog has not barked, return and gently praise. If you hear him begin to bark, mark the behavior by a sharp rap on the door with a solid object like a brass key ring and start timing again. Each time the dog barks, rap on the door and set the timer back to zero. It may take a half hour to get 1-2 minutes of silence. When you do, go in and praise. Leave 15-30 minutes later and repeat.

The goal, of course, is to be able to stay away for longer and longer periods of time without having to correct the dog for barking. The time away must be built up in small intervals. Set goals ( 5, 10, 15 minutes) and go back in and praise the dog if he remained quiet for the set amount of time. Don’t wait for an undetermined amount of time and correct the dog for finally barking. Silence must be praised. Appropriate behavior must be acknowledged.

Most dogs who can remain silent for two hours can usually stay quiet for an 8 to 10 hour work day. It is building up to that first hour or so that may take several days of set-ups to achieve. Barking problems are rarely solved in a day.

Barking set-ups can be tedious, but they usually work if you take the time to do them properly. Let your neighbors know that you are not ignoring their complaints; that you understand their discomfort and you are taking steps to correct the problem. Quite often, they will cut you a little slack if they know that their complaints have not fallen upon deaf ears.

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