Does your dog bark uncontrollably? Here's how to stop it. Article by Sean Holloway
Posted 20 March 2012 - 04:43 PM
Understanding why dogs bark is crucial to addressing this common behavior problem. Though it is also used in play sessions, barking is normally a symptom of something stressing the dog. Eliminating the cause of the stress is quite often the simplest solution. As an example, who has experienced a dog reacting to a running vacuum cleaner? Often, the dog is actually stressed by the vacuum cleaner and is not ďplayingĒ with the vacuum cleaner, though that is not unheard of. The vacuum cleaner is moving like its alive, making ridiculously loud noises, and is intruding on the dogís home territory while gobbling up all the good smelly stuff around their den. The vacuum cleaner is a big, loud, scary monster to the dog! The dog does not associate your hand on the handle of the vacuum cleaner as being in control of the situation. In fact, it may be likely that the dog sees your behavior as poorly attempting to restrain the "monster". The simplest solution is to secure the dog in a crate away from the excitement of the vacuum cleaner. Itís best to begin this process early before your dog establishes the sound of the vacuum cleaner with the scary monster eating all the smelly good stuff in his home. If your dog is already reactive to the vacuum cleaner and shows signs of stress like barking even while confined to a crate in a back room, then you need to consider some rehabilitative training to eliminate the stress of the vacuum. Iíll go into more detail about such specific training later in this article.
Removing the cause of the stress, however, is not always possible. An example experienced by many people is the ringing doorbell. I canít even count the number of people who have told me they have disconnected the doorbell because of their poochís reaction to the sound, only to find the same reaction occurs with the knocks at the door that later replace the ringing doorbell. The stressor is not the ringing doorbell or the knock at the door. Itís the person on the other side of the door that the sound indicates is present. You can't just get rid of that stressor. So how do you get your dog to stop reacting to the doorbell?
Let me start answering that question by telling you what NOT to do. The first one is obvious, but I see it all the time. Donít comfort the dog! Donít tell him everything is OK and pet him for reassurance. While in our communication languages we are comforting the dog, in his language we are reinforcing the excited barking behavior. We arenít telling him ďItís OK!Ē as in the situation is OK. We are telling him ďItís OKĒÖ to keep barking. Another big no-no is firmly saying ďNO!Ē or ďQUIET!Ē or ďSHUT UP!Ē or any other command or string of commands we try to communicate with. What we are actually doing is barking along with him. I probably donít have to tell you that this technique rarely ever works and more likely just causes you even more frustration. Even in the rare occasion where it might work, we have failed to address the cause of the problem and simply treated one of the symptoms. Why not teach your dog that thereís nothing to get excited about? That brings up another point. Donít punish your dog for barking. Shaking cans, startling, hitting, pinching, or whatever other nonsensical form of punishment some trainers teach as effective methods of correction are too risky to implement effectively and are, to bluntly put it, just plain abusive. If your dog is having a reaction to stress, does it seem rational to correct the situation by causing pain and discomfort? Letís look at a much better way to address the behavior.
The key to controlling the barking is to find the cause of the barking. In our example, the doorbell is the cause of the barking. Specifically, the dogís desire to thwart off the intruder is the cause, but the doorbell has become the conditioned marker for the behavior. Other common causes of barking are boredom, fear, aggression, and frustration. If I hear my dogs barking at night, I know something is wrong. Usually, it means a bit too much water to drink too close to bedtime has resulted in a strong need for a late night potty walk. (This seems to occur on the coldest and rainiest nights of the year as well.) When you go into the shelter and all the dogs are barking, itís a combination of boredom and barrier aggression. One sad fact is that many sweet well-behaved dogs are never adopted and euthanized as aggressive because they are barking and showing signs of barrier aggression in a stressful situation they would probably never experience with a family. The point is, you have to find the reason for the barking and deal with that, not the barking. The same is true with our doorbell scenario. Hereís how we can correct the behavior.
Change the meaning of the doorbell for the dog. Train your dog that the pesky ole doorbell rings for reasons other than people intruding on the pack. Station someone at the doorbell, but make sure they are a normal member of the pack. You donít want your dog picking up on the smell of the neighbor you recruited to help you with the problem. If it is someone who doesnít reside in the house, they can and will smell the personís presence. If you live alone, you can operate the doorbell yourself; itís just easier to pay attention to the dog with an assistant. Ring the doorbell and ignore the dogís reaction. Donít do anything. Donít open the door, donít speak, just sit and wait. When the dog realizes heís been had, give him a treat and reward the calm behavior signals. Youíre specifically looking for him to sit, lie down, or walk away from the door before you give the reward. Repeat the exercise as many times as you like, but try to keep it up until you notice the dog starting to associate the doorbell with the treat instead of a big hairy monster who wants to eat all the kibble. Do these sessions at random times throughout the day for a week or two, or until your dog ďgets itĒ.
When your dog has become solidly conditioned to run to you for the treat when the doorbell rings, itís time to add a behavior before the treat. Typically the preferred behavior is for the doorbell to send the dog to his bed or another room to relax. To add that behavior, have someone ring the doorbell. When your dog comes to you for the treat, lure him to the place you choose with the treat. Give him the treat only in this new place. Repeat, repeat, repeat. When your dog automatically goes to the place and waits for the treat after the doorbell rings, pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Youíll have to keep up the treats to reward the behavior until your dog is thoroughly brainwashed to react this way. Even after the behavior is solid without treats, youíll want to practice and treat occasionally to keep him on his toes wondering if this is a treat session.
With a little creativity, you can apply the same training techniques to other barking behaviors like the vacuum reaction. If the doorbell is the problem, keep in mind that the proper way to greet an actual visitor coming through the door after the doorbell is a different behavior. Your dog will not greet visitors like a fancy butler in a movie because youíve doorbell trained him. If you have barking problems that go further than what Iíve addressed here, feel free to give me a call. Consultations are always free.
Sean Holloway, Lead Behaviorist
Posted 20 March 2012 - 07:02 PM
There's a few different ways to deal with that. There's a bit more info I would need to help you. It would probably be best if you give me a call so I don't get carried away with a twenty questions kind of post. Call me at (678)398-9656. ~ Sean