A major reason for relinquishment to shelters is bad behavior. In my experience, many times that bad behavior is barking. Barking isn’t just loud and obnoxious. It can cause problems in the family, with the neighbors, or even have you kicked out of your apartment complex.
I hope that if you are dealing with this kind of problem behavior, that you’ll take these steps to make it stop before considering relinquishment or rehoming.
Does your dog typically have things that trigger barking? If so, then you should be ready to jump into action. If it’s more haphazard, do something that will make him bark. For Gremlin, I can make him bark by knocking on any solid surface that mimics the sound of someone at the door. When your dog barks, give a command they are familiar with and respond to consistently.
I like “sit”, but you are an expert when it comes to your dog, so do whatever they know best. When they are performing the command and doing so quietly, reward them with a yes! Or good dog! And then give them a small treat.
You don’t want to come off as rewarding that he barked, but that he’s quiet. The treats you use when you’re training against behavior problems should be of a high value.
Think about it like this: If the action you are looking for isn’t high value, like roll over or fetch, the treat can come from a bag, but if the action is something high value, like behaving so they can remain in the family, it’s time to get serious and bring out the big guns. I will be posting a recipe next week.
When your dog doesn’t stop barking
You might have a dog that doesn’t respond to commands when he’s busy giving someone or something the business. In that case, you’ll need to interrupt the barking with a sharp sound. One that is loud enough to get their attention but isn’t so startling that it gives them anxiety (which can make the barking worse).
I find myself dealing with this anytime someone comes to the door. I use a loud, sharp clap. I think this is the best and easiest method. As soon as they react to the sound and are quiet, say yes! Or good dog! And give them a small treat. As they learn to stop barking when they hear the noise, add in the word “quiet” or “shh” as you give the treat. After a while, you should be able to use the word (or sound) without the clap.
As this progresses you’ll be able to give the quieting command before the barking begins, as long as you have been able to identify the situations that make your dog bark. Be sure to not give treats every single time as they get better at being quiet. If something isn’t sticking, read this article to see if you are making any of these training mistakes.
Consistently Reinforce Quiet
This last step is crucial and super easy (and fun). You’ll need to consistently make sure your dog knows that being quiet is a good thing. To do this, you should praise your dog for being quiet. That’s as simple as noticing your dog staring out of the window quietly and giving her praise, a treat or a toy. Easy!
When your dog barks
First of all, if barking is a problem outside, don’t leave them alone outside where they can bark uncontrollably. If they were to bark and you run out to quiet them, they’ll see your attention (even frustrated attention) as positive reinforcement for barking.
Don’t punish them for falling off the training wagon, that can cause anxiety, which in some dogs is expressed by barking. And finally, when your dog barks and doesn’t react to the quiet command, it’s important to ignore the barking until it’s over. Any kind of attention can give your dog the wrong idea, reinforcing the behavior.
Is your dog barking because of anxiety?
If you suspect your dog is barking because they are anxious, you’ll need to do what you can to find the object of their anxiety. Is it the mailman? Wildlife? The neighbor’s cat? Barking when you aren’t home can be a sign of separation anxiety.
It’s always important to bring up your dog’s anxieties with your veterinarian. They can help you decide if you should attempt to manage it on your own or if you should look to pharmaceutical help.
A final note on barking
Some dogs were made to bark. It’s important that you consider your dog’s breed(s) when trying to understand their barking habit. Your dog doesn’t have to have hunting breed bloodlines to be a barker. Many miniature and toy breeds are bred barkers, including (and certainly not limited to) Yorkies, Shih Tzus, and Westies.
If you are looking to adopt, become familiar with a wide range of common breed behaviors before heading off to the shelter. If you are looking to shop for a dog, be sure you know as much as you can about your particular breed before bringing home puppy. Just remember to think of breed standards as the guide, not the rule. Every dog has their own personality.