A Dog’s Eye View: Inside voice please
October 10, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Excessive barking is right at the top of the list of dog owner or dog neighbor complaints. It can cause great upheaval between neighbors or family members, and even law enforcement might become involved. Usually, when this happens, everyone has reached the limit of tolerance.
Let's establish some types of intervention.
It seems that a common first response always is to yell at the dog to be quiet and repeat those words several times while chasing the dog around the couch. Let's take a look at how the dog might interpret our behavior:
The dog thinks, “I hear someone coming up the steps. I am conflicted here. Do I drive off that intruder or do I let my person know? I'll let my person know: bark, bark, bark! Oh, no, my person is barking, too. I'll help: bark, bark, bark! Yikes, my person is chasing me. I don't know what that means, but I'd better get out of his way. Bark, bark, bark! The door opens, and it's one of my favorite people. Hi! Bark, bark, bark!”
Then the owner yells, "Get down and shut up, you stupid dog!" and sends the dog outside.
If any part of this scenario sounds familiar, here are suggestions for how to help manage the problem of too much barking.
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First, reinforce some basic training. If your dog is crate trained, teach her to go to her crate when she hears the doorbell. Yes, you can teach this to your dog, but you have to be ready to put in the time to train it. It will take weeks or months of consistent training to replace barking with this new behavioral response. The fastest way to teach it is to start when your dog is young and before barking becomes a problem.
If you listen to your dog, you will notice there is a pause in the first volley of barking. (This isn't always true within a multiple-dog household.) Teach your dog that three to five barks is enough. Reward the first volley of barking to thank your dog for being your alert system — a very suitable job description. Then teach the cue, "enough" or "shush." The word doesn't matter; what matters is you now are teaching your dog to be quiet. Reward being quiet with several treats in a row, and redirect your dog to do something else such as go to its crate or bed.
Household manners are the hallmark of a great relationship with your family dog. Waiting until things start to unravel and then punishing your dog seems a bit backward to me. Be proactive and reinforce good behavior. If you need to step in and interrupt bad behavior, be sure to tell your dog what to do instead.
Once law enforcement is brought into the picture, things change. It usually means your neighbors have had quite enough. But sometimes, that intervention can be a blessing in disguise. No more putting off making the training and management changes you need in order to keep the peace.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.
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