WOOF! – calming for quiet
Posted on December 27, 2010 by pawsitivedawgs| Leave a comment
Original posting June 19, 2010
All dogs bark but some dogs take it to a new level and their barking becomes a problem for those within earshot. Excessive or problem barking may cause some sleepless nights or just be an annoyance but in some cases it can escalate to neighbourhood feuds and even legal action.
Barking among dogs raises lots of questions; obviously it is part of their communication and signaling repertoire but just where and how it came about has always been a bit of a mystery. For a long time it was thought that barking was purely for our benefit, being seen (heard?) mainly in domestic dogs and not adult ferals or wild canid adults. But some work on this has shown that perhaps people are not all that adept at interpreting barking and dogs seem to be better at it then thought!
Barking dogs have something to say - from Discovery News
David Ryan on Why do dogs bark?
Excessive barking is usually an indicator of an underlying issue, whether that be physiological or behavioural or a combination of both. Behaviourally, dogs usually vocalise due to conflict as in not being sure how to proceed in a given situation – if in doubt shout instead!
Therefore when dealing with excessive barking we need to consider the underlying issues so to be sure to modify barking rather than just suppressing it. This is what makes aversive anti-bark devices so ineffective – they target only the barking (and they are not always so great at even that) and leave the dog to express the underlying issue in other ways and possibly making them worse due to fallout associated with the use of aversives.
Why is he barking?
There are different types of problem barking, each having different underlying causes and each modified in different ways. For the most part excessive barking is a workable ‘problem’ behaviour but one that will take some time and effort to control and reduce. Sometimes a combination of approaches will be required to help with problem barking.
Watchdog Barking is a behaviour we don’t want to get rid of totally, just control it and ‘turn it off’ when it’s not required.
Offensive barkers bark to protect themselves and possibly their territory and bark at anything or anyone they perceive as encroaching on them. This barking is often coupled with assertive body language.
Defensive barkers do so to protect themselves and move a threat away from them; as such this barking is usually seen with much more nervous body language.
Both offensive and defensive barking is borne out of fear and usually lack of experience. Barking to these dogs is a way of asking for distance and time before deciding how to act. These barkers often spook at noises which will set them off and they are often difficult to quieten.
Boredom and Recreational Barkers are usually frustrated, distressed or bored and the problem barking is often present with other behaviours – particularly of the destructive variety e.g. chewing, digging etc. These are high energy dogs that use barking to work off some energy and will bark at any chance.
Excited Barkers use barking as an outlet for energy and are often highly reactive dogs who bark in all sorts of different situations when stimulated. They are usually alert and appear very happy to be barking! Barking for these dogs is self-rewarding (like boredom barking) and the more they bark the more excited they become so the more they bark and so on…
Attention Seeking Barkers do so because when they bark they become the centre of attention – whether that means getting nice things or being told off – it is all rewarding to this barker.
Separation Distress causes barking in dogs that are upset when separated from someone special. Vocalisation (including barking, howling, whining etc.) is a common sign of distress and conflict in dogs and may be accompanied by other related distress behaviours.
Help for the Excessive Barker
Let’s look at some general tips for reducing barking – we can look at more specific barking later on…
1. vet check
First thing is to rule out a physiological basis for barking especially if barking has started or increased recently and suddenly so bring your dog to your vet for a full check up.
Next try to identify to which category your dog’s barking fits. Keep a record of barking incidents by noting who is around when barking begins, what is your pet directing their barking towards, what do you do in a barking situation and how does you pet respond? If you are worried about your pet’s barking when you are not around, record your dog on video during an absence of about one hour.
By recording barking incidents we may be able to identify a pattern based on the when, where and why.
If you can identify particular triggers that cause the barking prevent your dog getting the opportunity to practice shouting by limiting his access to triggers. So block his visual access to the outside world at windows, gates and fences for example.
Improving your dog’s lifestyle by occupying him with basic manners training, exercise and plenty of mental stimulation will help to reduce his distress, frustration and boredom (we are knocking out several reasons for barking right there!). And also by providing your dog with something to do he won’t have as much time on his paws for barking.
Keep your dog busy with interactive enrichment toys such as Kongs, Busy Buddies, Buster Cubes or activity treat balls such as the IQ treat ball. Ditch the dog food bowls and have your dog earn his entire diet from enrichment toys and for good behaviour.
5. reward calm, quiet behaviour
Your dog cannot and does not bark all the time so catch him doing the right thing – reward quiet (the absence of barking) with attention, praise, tummy scratches, treats, toys or anything that your dog likes.
Clicker training can be used to reward the silences between barks as your dog takes a breath!
Only give your dog attention when he is quiet and undemanding. Actively ignore your dog’s pushy attention seeking behaviour by turning and walking away from him and averting eye contact until he is quiet.
6. turn barking ‘on’ and ‘off’ on cue
Teach your dog to ‘speak’ and ‘shush’ on cue:
* say “speak”
* have an assistant ring the doorbell (or some other prompt that gets your dog barking)
* allow him three barks (woof, woof, woof)
* say “shush”
* reveal a really really really yummy treat and hold it right at his nose
As he improves, you will be able to ask him to speak without the doorbell and hopefully he will ‘shush’ before seeing the treat.
See Train Your Dog Month Day 19 for more on teaching this trick.
Even if your dog is barking you can use the ‘shush’ part of this routine to quieten him. Dog barks “WOOF”; say “shush” and reveal a tasty treat; reward with another couple of treats to reward and extend the quiet.
7. reduce crazy canine behaviour
Reducing arousal and crazy dog behaviour is the key to keeping dogs quieter and better able to control the barking if it does start.
Put calm behaviour on cue, use calmatives and play lots of impulse control games. Jazz up and Settle down (with barking) is great as you reward calm behaviour with the opportunity to bark and go crazy.
Remote Barking Control
There are lots of products that are designed to control barking without the pet owners involvement. This is so that the dogs barking is not rewarded with attention or the owner’s presence and so that the aversives delivered are not associated with the owner’s presence.
These tools are usually in the form of collars that deliver electric shocks, sprays of citronella or mustard spray or air. Some devices produce a very high frequency sound when barking starts. These anti-barking devices use aversives (unpleasant things) and are for the most part activated by barking.
Some trainers advocate the use of spray bottles or rattle cans (a container with pebbles/coins that can be shaken at the dog for misbehaving) and these are even more difficult to use correctly as exact timing and your presence become a factor.
Aversives are associated with side effects or fallout and these devices are no different. There is no ‘quick fix’ to behavioural issues including barking. Using aversives to suppress barking will not fix the underlying cause and your dog is likely to express that in other problematic ways.
It is understandable that stopping the barking while working on behaviour modification to tackle the underlying issue is important so we use a couple of reward based systems rather than reaching for aversives waaaaay to early.
This is a great exercise to involve other people too so that this work can continue even when you are not around.
Use something that will make a noise that your dog is not familiar with but one that will not startle him. I use a rustling plastic bag or crisp packet.
Leave the dog as you normally would, bringing your rustling interrupter with you. Return, unknown to your dog and hide on the other side of the fence.
If your dog barks, rustle the packet and then toss a few treats over the fence whether he stops barking or not. After several repetitions your dog will stop barking immediately upon hearing the rustling interrupter. Now you can toss treats for quiet without having to rustle.
Practice often so that this becomes a well established routine. Involve your neighbours or dog walker while you are out; this can be particularly useful if you have had a friendly note from a neighbour regarding your dog’s barking.
Remote Reward System:
The Manners Minder or similar system is great for rewarding quiet behaviour without being present, again hidden from your dog. Leave as normal and return and hide. If your dog barks, ignore him. But if he quietens mark with the Manners Minder and reward through the system. Easy!
Fence Fighting Barkers
Fence fighting is a type of frustration aggression where two (or more) dogs on either side of a fence or other barrier shout abuse at one another! These dogs are often fine with other dogs when out from behind a barrier but when faced with their neighbour through the fence its full on war!!
All of the other barking tips and many of the calming tips apply here too.
Turn the neighbour dog barking into a cue for your dog to recall to you.
First limit places that your dog can get too close to the fence so that you have a chance of attracting him away. Begin this exercise in the house, with the doors closed, so that your dog can just hear the other dog barking.
As soon as the neighbour barks, immediately rush to your dog and feed his absolute favourite (a treat that he doesn’t get at other times). Repeat as often as possible. Soon your dog will look at you or move toward you upon hearing the other dog. Now you can move closer to the fence and repeat. Work with your dog on leash or in a confined area so as to prevent him getting to the fence and being hard to get away. No more practicing this behaviour as it is likely to escalate.
This can take time although I worked on this in one afternoon with Rufus who fence fights with a neighbour dog (Pepsi the Westie) when at my parents house (we don’t share any barrier with neighbours at home).
We have a strict rule in our house that only 3 barks is allowed anyway but for the most part as soon as Pepsi shouts Rufus might let one WOOF! out while coming to find me, even if I’m inside. At this stage I reward him with food randomly so that he continues to come running to me when he hears barking.
Fence fighting can also be worked on using Premack’s Principle as seen in this video from Bridges Dog Training: The Power of Premack.
Just like the Fence Fighter, on-leash barkers are often frustrated either to get to or to get away from something.
This on-leash behaviour is often termed reactivity and usually manifests in a barking lunging dog.
If the dog is barking to avoid interaction with something he finds scary that is dealt with in a different way to the dog who is frustrated because he wants to interact with something.
For more on calm leash manners see here.
Training Class Barkers
Barking in training classes depends very much on the class type, the set-up and the combination of dogs and handlers.
Training classes, especially general obedience ones, are not always suitable for reactive dogs so its important to attend a class (without your dog) first just to view it and check it out before signing up and to discuss your individual dog’s needs with the trainer/s.
To prevent your dog nuisance barking in class don’t allow your dog to ‘eye’ other dogs and keep your leash loose to avoid frustration. Work hard on eye contact training so that if he is looking at you he can’t be looking at anybody else.
Keep your dog engaged with you by offering lots of rewards and being interesting.
Arrive on time and practice some calm and attentive exercises before class begins to get your dog focused on you.
If your dog barks, try the “shush” routine and lead him away by jogging away from the action. This will usually bring his focus back to you.
If your dog’s focus on the goings on and barking is difficult for you to divert, say “uh-oh” calmly to your dog and take him outside for a 15 second time out. When you come back in work with your dog behind a visual barrier. This allows you to keep up with the class and hopefully keep your dog quieter.
I instruct groups to feed every non-barking dog any and every time another dog barks. This teaches all dogs that barking means to look to their owner and tells the barker that they just lost out on a treat! Using these exercises I can’t remember the last time we had to use a time out for a barker in a group situation.
These often fall into the offensive and defensive barking categories and spooky barking is usually in response to noises that worry the dog. This barking is often difficult to predict and it can be hard to quieten and comfort the dog.
I do not like using aversives or even telling off any barker (you shouting at the dog to get him to stop shouting just doesn’t make sense!?) but it is especially unacceptable in this case. The dog is already worried and scared and you will not help him by upsetting him.
In some cases where there is mild noise fear, these dogs can usually be diverted with another activity. But some of these dogs are fearful and noise phobic and a more in-depth program will be required.
With spooky dogs, you will notice that just before these dogs begin to vocalise, and often it is just a split second, they will go still and alert. Immediately upon hearing something that has spooked your dog produce a reward, it’s usually most convenient to use a food reward but if your dog will divert his attention for a toy play a game with him.
The goal is to divert his attention as soon as he alerts, before the barking and vocalising begins. This is where a good game comes in most effective and if your dog is not a game-addict giving an extra-yummy stuffed Kong can also help.
With these dogs its important to break their concentration on the stressor as early as possible. With dogs who are spooked by noises regular and controlled work on this is more helpful than just waiting for a noise to spook the dog.
Using Sounds CDs (of thunder, fireworks, traffic, kids etc.), downloading such sounds or YouTube clips can really help. Play the sound at a level below which your dog responds and immediately follow that sound, in its mildest form, with a high value reward. Soon your dog will begin to look to you expectantly for his treat upon hearing the sound – at this stage you can up the volume just a little and work at that level.
Dogs who bark when separated from their nearest and dearest are one of the most difficult to work on.
Calmatives and work on alone training is an essential part of this barking control so as to work on the underlying issue.
Along with that employing kind remote barking controls such as the positive interrupter described above will be most effective for this barker. Using aversives will make this dog worse as they are already distressed at being alone.
Provide this barker with lots and lots of activities that will keep his mouth busy while you are absent. Hide stuffed Kongs around his area and confine him to an area where he is least likely to disturb neighbours.
If you hear your dog barking as you return home, do not enter or make your presence known to the dog. If the dog stops barking, count to three and then enter. If your appearance causes the dog to bark again, turn away again. Carry out several false departures before going out. Go out and wait for the dog to stop barking and then return when he is quiet – repeat a number of times.
This barker has learned to get attention, rewards, the ball and his own way by shouting. This is an owner trained behaviour and probably has its roots in poor impulse control and frustration at not knowing how to get the things he wants.
Use the speak/shush routine first in set-up situations so that your dog gets the game. Putting barking on cue means that you can give this barker the opportunity to get his barking-jollies on your terms and turn him off when needed.
In all situations you must be consistently strict with NO attention for pushy behaviour. This dog needs to be kept occupied with lots and lots and lots of opportunities to earn attention in nice ways not pushy behaviour.
If the dog barks demanding attention or access to something else, say ‘uh-oh’ calmly and turn away from him (and remove the reward such as your attention, a toy etc.). Be still and make no effort to communicate with him at all so no eye contact and no talking.
As soon as he stops praise him and ask him for a behaviour such as ‘sit’ to allow him to earn access to whatever reward he wanted.
If during his barking spree, he barks more than three times and will not stop, even after you have turned from him, say ’uh-oh’ again calmly and move away from him, out of the room. This is a brief 20 second time out and should be used sparingly.
After 20 seconds, wait for him to quieten and then release him and have him earn attention nicely.
Working on impulse control exercises is also very important for this barker and I find one of the best exercises for this is Jazz up and Settle down.
For more on barking check out Turid Rugaas’ Barking: The Sound of a Language in which she looks at barking as a form of communication so by understanding the message we can manage and modify the behaviour.