By Eric Gillaspy CPDT-KA
A lot of my time is spent watching dogs and their owners interact. I learn a lot when I watch and listen. Recently, I was reminded why not to give a name to unwanted behaviors. A client came in with her very loud Labrador Retriever. She proceeded to tell me that her Lab wouldn’t stop barking. No matter how many times she said or yelled “Quiet!!!” the Lab barked, usually the second she said “Quiet.”
The Lab had associated that the name of the behavior of barking was named “Quiet.” He heard the owner say “Quiet” every time he barked so it must mean that he was doing it right.
Sometimes, it is hard to wrap our human brains around this but think of how we teach dogs to sit. We get them to go into a sit using a lure or placement. Then we tell them “Good” and give them a treat. We add the cue once the dog is doing the behavior of sit. Just like we add the cue of “Quiet” every time we think our dog is going to bark. Some of us even praise them with a “Good Quiet” after they bark.
The best choice is usually to just ignore behaviors like that and try not to say anything to your dog. Once the dog understands that the behavior is unwanted, the behavior usually goes away.
Some people and even some dog trainers would suggest punishment. But punishment can raise stress levels in dogs and cause them to do displacement activities. This just means that dogs will do things that they associate with pleasure to alleviate the stress. A lot of dogs bark to alleviate stress, so this can become a vicious circle.
One way to get rid of behaviors that we don’t like is to redirect into new ones. Ignore the barking and redirect into a different behavior that is incompatible with barking. Most dogs won’t bark when asked to do a trick or even lay down. Then you can praise your dog for the new behavior rather than acknowledge the barking. You may see your dog offering to sit, down, or do a trick to get your attention, rather than bark.