Did you know that barking can be a reason that a family would surrender or re-home their dog? This is heartbreaking to me that a family would give up a family pet when there could be alternatives which could decrease this unwanted behavior. I know that sometimes I get carried away by something exciting or frightening and I react by barking to communicate what I am feeling. My family has worked with me since I was very young and now I have other ways to react because of what they have taught me. Here are some ideas for you or someone you know who has a dog who likes to bark.
One very important thing to remember is that yelling, “Stop barking”, over and over is not helpful to us. Our doggy brains translate your yelling into something like, “This is fun. Let’s do it some more and see who can be loudest!” After all we are “pack animals” and we love it when humans act like us.
Look at the environment where the barking usually occurs. Since we get stimulated by things we see as well as by things we hear, it may be possible to screen or remove the object(s) of our attention. For instance, closing the blinds so the dog cannot watch everything that comes by the window may help. Playing background music can be calming and reduce a dog’s reaction to noises outside. There are even CD’s which use types of music which have been shown to be especially beneficial for dogs.
Specific training techniques to reduce barking include: teaching “quiet” using positive reinforcement (praise and lots of treats), desensitizing the dog to the thing which causes him/her to react, teaching alternative behaviors, and rewarding quiet, calm behavior. In Kids 4 Critters class, kids learn that reward based training is a good way to help a dog learn. We dogs learn best by repetition and rewards. We learn in little steps and over short, frequent sessions. For instance, if I am a dog who barks at another dog, it would be best to start rewarding and praising me for being quiet and calm when that other dog is a long ways away. Over many sessions, we would gradually move closer to the other dog until I finally get it that it is more rewarding for me to stay calm and quiet than to bark at that dog. I also was taught that when someone comes to our front door, my family will tell me to “Go to my bed”. They have taught me this with repetition and rewards so that I learned something good happened when I went to my bed rather than barking at the door.
It does take time, effort, and consistency for these efforts to work but it is worth it to have a happy dog, a happy family, and happy neighbors. Please share my advice with humans you know so they can be responsible pet owners too.