San Lorenzo Express

Dealing with Barking Dogs

Hints to Help Break the Barking Habit

IF STILL A PUPPY —— The time to attack the problem is during puppyhood; the barking habit can be a tough one to break in the adult dog. Let the puppy sound warning signals for a few seconds, then reassure him with a few calming words ("it's all right, Spot."). The puppy has done its job and you haVe responded.

WHEN BARKING CONTINUES -- After sounding his alarm and being calmed down, if barking continues, speak directly to the puppy with a command of "QUIET!" If you are not getting the idea across, demonstrate by holding the puppy's mouth closed (being careful not to cut off breathing passages) for a moment. Remember that you are teaching, not punishing, so do not excite the puppy by yelling or hitting. Release the puppy after he has calmed down and let him know everything is all right.

IF THE DOG BARKS AT ANY LITTLE NOISE -- The dog who barks at any little noise needs extra special attention. This type of barking problem is best resolved by setting up the conditions you know cause the barking. For example: the arrival of mail or delivery people, clanking cars going by, or the neighbor's dog. When the dog begins to bark, tell him firmly "QUIET!" Be ready to enforce the command with a correction such as smartly smacking your own hand (not the dog) with a folded newspaper or magazine until he knows the command of "QUIET!".

IF THE DOG BARKS WHEN NO ONE IS AT HOME -— Leave a radio playing softly when you go out. It often keeps the dog in better spirits. It may even be that he thinks you are in a another part of the house. Get the dog use to being in a closed room by trying this when you are at home. If the dog still barks or howls the minute you leave him, tell him to stay and be a good dog, then walk out and close the door. The minute he starts to bark or howl, burst in and scold "NO, bad dog; QUIET" then go away again, wait outside. If he starts to bark or howl again, increase the intensity of your command until he is sure you are around the corner.

THE TIED UP DOG -— If for some reason your dog must be tied up in the yard for hours at a time, make sure he will be as comfortable as possible. It is very important that the rope is not too short or long (allowing it to be tangled). Dogs that are tied up often do a great amount of barking. To reduce the probability of barking, make sure he has sufficient shelter, one he can enter and exit comfortably. Keep a supply of fresh water and some food nearby. Take the time needed to be sure the dog is not too crowded, causing him to step in his food, water, or feces. As a result, he will feel like a king in his own home, thus giving less reasons for barking and howling.

Eliminating the problem is time—consuming and sometimes frustrating, but you will be able to do it in two or three weeks, and you can comfort yourself with the knowledge that you are making your dog a better pet, neighbor, and citizen.

Controlling Excessive Barking

REDUCE MISBEHAVIOR -- If only for the sake of the neighbor's peace of mind, owners of dogs that bark excessively should do everything possible to minimize the problem in their absence. On no account should the dog be left outside where (a) there are a multitude of disturbances to incite the dog to bark and (b) the barking can more easily penetrate the neighborhood. Until the problem is solved the dog should be confined indoors. Closing the drapes will help muffle the noise for the neighbors and help filter disturbances from outside. In addition, confining the dog to the back of the house (away from the street) will keep disturbances to a minimum.

In many cases confinement is the primary reason that the dog is barking. Often the dog is confined to the yard or basement because the owner cannot trust it to be left in the house by itself. The most common reasons for this situation are that the dog has a house—soiling or destructive chewing problem. The dog reacts to confinement and isolation by barking. The owner should at least reevaluate the problem and decide what they really want from their pet.

The owner should not overlook the obvious. Many dogs are situational barkers and bark only in response to fairly specific stimuli. Rather than getting rid of the dog (as many owners are forced to do) because it barks excessively, it may be easier to get rid of the stimuli that elicit barking. This can be an effective interim measure until the dog's barking is successfully under control.

If the owner is unaware of the stimuli that precipitate each barking spree, neighbors may be aware of the causes. If the dog barks at other dogs coming into the yard, the gate should be kept closed. If the dog barks during garbage removal, the trash may be put in plastic bags and left on the sidewalk. If the dog barks at unanswered telephone or doorbell ringing, they may be disconnected before leaving home. If the dog barks at outside disturbances, the owner may leave a radiö playing to an "elevator—music" station. This will provide ideal "white—noise" which will help to mask the noise from the street.

DOG SITTERS -- During the retraining period the owner might consider employing a part-time dog sitter to continue the training exercises when the owner is away. With continual training it takes only a few days to break a dog of its barking habit. As training progresses, the dog sitter may come for less and less time each day.

DOG STOPS BARKING UPON REQUEST -- Too many owners fall into the trap of forcefully commanding the dog to "Be Quiet" but then say nothing and virtually ignore the dog if it obeys. In fact, many owners restrict their feedback to severely reprimanding the dog if it barks again. With this approach, training becomes an unpleasant series of punishments. As a rule of thumb, for each reprimand for barking, there should be at least ten times the dog is praised for being quiet.

A number of useful ploys will maximize the probability that the dog will stop barking and remain quiet when requested. These are especially important during the initial stages of training because they increase the likelihood that the dog can be rewarded and begins to learn what the owner wants. As soon as the dog stops barking, alternately praising the dog and softly repeating the request "Be Quiet" helps reassure the dog that it is doing the right thing. The more softly the owner praises the dog, the greater the likelihood that the dog will refrain from barking. The more softly the owner speaks, the harder the dog has to listen. If the dog listens to the owner, it will be less likely to bark because it would not be able to hear what it is listening to.

Another usefUl tip is to instruct the dog to sit and/or lie down before telling it to be quiet. When dogs embark upon a bellowing, barking bout, they like to stand squarely on all fours so that they can abduct their elbows and get a good lungful of air. Simply having the dog sit often reduces the duration and force of the barking. Having the dog lie down will tend to reduce it still further. Other dogs like to run up the walks and bounce off the windows when barking. They appear to work themselves into an excited frenzy and bark to dissipate the energy that they are creating. A dog that is obediently sitting or lying down cannot run in circles, and so does not become as excited, and the barking is easier to control.

Instructing the dog to "Sit—stay" and/or to "Down—stay" encourages the dog to pay attention to the owner and facilitates all aspects of training. The "Sit/down stays" are also powerful counter—conditioning measures, since they give the dog something else to think about; it has to concentrate to remain in the "stay" mode. It usually helps to designate a specific spot where the dog should stay; e.g on a mat some distance from the door, or in its basket or, if outside, in its kennel. (Telling a dog to remain in its kennel also tends to reduce barking because otherwise the dog has to put up with the reverberation of the barking.

TRAINING THE DOG TO BE QUIET -- Each time the dog barks, after three woofs it should first be praised for sounding the alarm and then softly requested to be quiet for a specific length of time. After requesting the dog to be quiet, the owner must devote his/her full attention to the dog. If the dog remains quiet, it should be rewarded, If it barks within the requested quiet period, it should be immediately and effectively reprimanded büt must also remain quiet for the requisite amount of time. During initial training the requested quiet period should be realistically brief, no more than two or three seconds. As training progresses the requested quiet period may be gradually increased.

Normally the training sequence proceeds as follows. After three barks the owner says "Good dog" and then quietly requests "Be quiet" or puts a finger to his/her lips and softly says "shush". If the dog is quiet for just three seconds, it receives copious praise and perhaps a food reward. However, the dog does not know the meaning of the words "Be quiet" or "Shush" and so will almost certainly continue barking. But the unsuspecting animal's very next woof is met with a cataclysmic, dogmatic, skyfalling, earth—rending reprimand -- a 120 decibel "BE QUIET!". Most dogs are so shocked and amazed by this horrendous outburst that they stare at their owner in disbelief. In addition, many dogs promptly sit down. It is as if they become "sit—happy" and have adopted the maxim, "If in doubt, sit."

If, following the reprimand, the dog stops barking, it should be praised immediately and continuously, with an extra special reward if it remains quiet for the full three seconds. A useful technique to help the dog keep quiet is to keep talking to it.

(Source: Based on material distributed by the Alameda County Sheriff, August 1991)