I’m a professional dog trainer so no one is a bigger fan of training your dog than I am. I think that training a dog is fun! What I’ve noticed though is that most owners who call us aren’t interested in training their dogs to DO something. They want their dogs to STOP doing things. The reason we’re focusing on how to stop unwanted behavior is because unwanted behavior lands dogs in shelters. Unwanted behavior is also when we’re most likely to see ineffective, painful and inhumane methods used to turn off behavior. So we’re going to devote the month of January on how to train your dog to stop doing the annoying things you don’t want them to do. This month, we’ll be posting weekly about how to stop your dog from: jumping on people, humping and begging for food. Today’s installment is how to control alert barking.
It’s important to realize that dogs bark for many different reasons. Some of the reasons dogs bark include separation distress, to gain attention, to gather information about their environment or to make scary things, people and other dogs go away. Before you select a method for controlling your dog’s barking, it’s important to know why they’re barking. If you don’t know why your dog is barking you can inadvertently make the behavior worse.
The type of barking that owners complain the most about to me is ALERT BARKING. The dog is in the house and hears something and the barking begins. I’ve never met an owner that didn’t want their dog to let them know when someone was approaching. What all owners want is to control this behavior. We want them to bark to alert us but then we want them to stop once we’ve acknowledged that they’ve done their job. While it may seem counter intuitive, I’m recommending that you thank your dog(s) for barking. In this method, you are NOT rewarding the dog(s) for barking. You are rewarding them for engaging in a different behavior (stop barking and come to me).
When the dog(s) begin barking:
- Say, “Thank you!”
- The dog(s) should come to you for the treat (in the beginning of this training you may need to lure them towards you with kissy sounds, slapping your thighs, etc).
- When they come to you, say “yes” and give them a treat.
You can strategically place small bowls throughout your home. Blue Dog Bakery treats come in all shapes and sizes and you can find them in all major grocery stores. Owners almost always ask me what to do if the dog starts scamming the rule structure by “fake” barking and then running to you for a treat. Believe it or not, this is actually incredibly rare. I think the reason this doesn’t happen very often is because there is an emotional basis to alert barking as opposed to just pure naughtiness. If your dog seems to be barking for attention because you’ve used “thank you” training, then it’s time to take your attention away from your dog or use “timeouts”. If you need help using timeouts, just let us know and we’ll send you our two page handout on using timeouts effectively.
If your dog’s barking has you at the end of your rope with frustration, try to remember that a part of barking behavior is genetic (the same as you are programmed to scream or laugh). The Belyaev fox study taught us that when we breed for tameness (or domestication), barking comes along for the ride. If you have questions about how to stop your dogs’ barking, feel free to contact us or leave a comment here. We also hope you’ll write comments about your own experiences of controlling your dogs’ barking.