Nuisance barking – we can all relate. Whether it’s your dog or the neighbour’s dog… everyone knows the angst of trying to get Fido to hush up… to absolutely no avail. Well the good news is: it is possible! First of all – figure out WHY your hound is making so much noise. What’s the trigger, (passers by/noisy traffic/the neighbourhood cat/a potential intruder) and what’s the message? Is your dog barking for your attention, or is your dog barking a warning to the perceived threat to ‘stay out or else’? (For more help on deciphering your dog’s chit-chat, check out my handy guide at the bottom of this blog.)
If your dog is trying to communicate with you, the solution can be as simple as just investigating his warning and declaring the all-clear. Territorial dogs will often bark at loud noises or passers by near the perimeter of your home – in their mind, they’re alerting you to a potential invasion! Obviously in your mind, you’re sick of the dog waking the baby every time the postman walks by the gate. So in this case, when your dog barks, simply respond – check out the postman, (thanks for the warning Fido, I’ve had a look, and I can confirm that all is well!) give a finish cue ‘enough’ or ‘job done’ or whatever you feel is appropriate, and then replace your dog’s current activity with another, so he eventually links this verbal cue with the idea of leaving his guard post, and relaxing. For example, you could say ‘enough’ then ‘bed’ and send him to his bed. Once he sits quietly in his bed, you can praise him. If you are firm and consistent with this reaction, your dog should eventually respond simply to ‘enough’ by standing down and letting the postman finish his round hassle-free.
Just remember that with any kind of training, repetition is your friend. Don’t do this a couple of times and then get cross when your dog still howls at the postie on the third day. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Stay consistent with your reactions, and your dog will LEARN. I promise.
Of course, you can always teach a direct cue for silence, which you can use in any situation, if you practise and proof it consistently enough. Positive reinforcement is the BEST way to teach any command, so simply praise your dog for doing the right thing. The use of a clicker is ideal here, as you can accurately ’mark’ the behaviour you are praising.
If you have never used a clicker before, get your dog to form a positive association with it, by simply clicking and treating a few times. Your dog soon learns that ‘click’ means ‘well done!’
Then when your dog barks, immediately give a cue for silence, such as ‘hush’ or ‘quiet’. Say it forcefully but don’t shout – shouting can just sound like more barking to your dog, and whip him into a frenzy. Once he stops – even if only for a second, click and treat. He may well resume barking afterwards, but that’s ok. Simply give the command again. Do not click and treat until you achieve one or two seconds of silence. It can be a slow process, but with consistency and repetition, you can gradually build up the amount of time your dog pauses silently, before you click and treat. If at any point your dog goes quiet, but then starts barking again before you’ve treated him, then go back a step, and make the pause shorter. You must set him up for success, not failure.
It’s also important to remember not to inadvertently reward behaviour that you do not want; in other words: don’t cuddle or treat a barking dog (while he’s barking!) if you don’t want a barking dog.
Don’t forget – there are myriad reasons your dog could be barking, and the underlying cause will need to be addressed if your dog is bored, frustrated, anxious, or lonely. It is also worth remembering that some breeds can be a lot more vocal than others – many herding breeds, like border collies for example, are simply noisier, because they use their bark as part of their job. It’s a hard-wired response!
Tips to Remember:
A tired dog is a good dog – don’t leave your dog under-exercised or under-stimulated… the devil makes work for idle paws. Play games, walk and train. Dogs thrive when they are being stimulated and worked… and are less likely to try and ‘find’ jobs for themselves, to alleviate their own boredom.
Be consistent – if you want to stop nuisance barking, you must react to all of it. If your dog gets hushed up on 3 occasions but then gets left to bark on the fourth, he’ll simply learn that perseverance is key, and he’ll get his way in the end!
Reward the good – when your dog shuts up, throw him a bone… but make sure, once your training is underway that you are rewarding adequately long periods of silence – if you reward too quickly, you’ll end up rewarding the barking itself.
A Translator’s Guide to Woof:
The basic alarm bark – “Something is coming, everyone prepare for action!”: Rapid midrange barking; the rate of which increases as the potential threat gets closer.
An indefinite alert – the dog senses or suspects something or someone is there, but isn’t yet sure what or who it is, or the ‘suspect’ is not yet close enough to really be considered a threat: A rapid midrange string of three or four barks, with pauses in between.
“Stop that behaviour!” Often heard from a mother addressing her puppies, or an adult dog disciplining a younger dog: A singular short, sharp, low/midrange bark.
“What’s this?!” Surprise… Curiosity… A call for the rest of the pack to come and check out this discovery!: A singular short, sharp bark of a higher pitch.
A loneliness-induced call-out for companionship… “Is anyone there?” Often heard in cases of prolonged separation: bark… pause… bark…pause. In cases of extreme stress, this can become a high pitched yelp.
“Let’s play!” Usually accompanied by excitable tail-wagging, and a play bow: An elongated, almost two-part bark… ‘arrr-ruff!’