There are many reasons dogs bark. Barking can be triggered by strong emotions such as aggression, fear, reactivity and fear. These behaviors need to be addressed and modified in order to change the underlying emotions.
One of the most common forms of barking is when a dog gets excited and exhales through loud vocalizations. These dogs are easy to work with and can be redirected to a more underlying behavior without spending a lot of time or effort.
WHY ALL THE EXCITEMENT
I understand if your dog’s excessive barking is caused by excitement. Sunny, our Pomeranian/Eskimo-mix, is one of these. His voice was pretty under control until the arrival KC, an Australian Kelpie, who is now our newest dog (we had Kai). Sunny’s barking has been reenergized by KC’s energy – and more.
First, determine what causes the dog to bark and then figure out how you can manage it. Although it is easy to identify the trigger or triggers, managing the dog’s exposure can be challenging.
DOG BARKING MANAGEMENT SOLUTIONS
Another strategy is to remove your dog barking from the excitement.
Sunny chases KC and Kai around the yard, barking shrilly, and then runs at full speed after them. Sunny is having a lot of fun and I didn’t want to stop him. I let him bark and chase for a while, then I put him in the house.
If your dog barks at your children or your friends while they are on the swing set, you can place her elsewhere and she will be able to return when the fun has ended.
You can also manage the barker, rather than the trigger. Sunny can be kept in the yard if I don’t want him to bark. Sunny can also play with a Frisbee in my backyard. You could also take Sunny to the park with you or to a friend’s house to play, or invite someone to host football parties until your dog stops barking.
You can use it to help calm your dog and reduce her barking. You should choose structured exercise over random, crazy exercises to improve your dog’s impulse control. (See “Impulse Control Exercises For High-Energy Dogs” September 2017 and “Are Canines Cognitive?” Oct 2017.
You might be able manage the situation by feeding your dog high-value treats while you distract her from the stimuli. Although it is unlikely to alter her behavior, this could help you get out of embarrassing situations.
While “very high value” can mean something different for every dog, it usually refers to something moist, meaty, or cheesy. My favorite brand of packaged, non-perishable, non-greasy, easy-to-break-into-small-pieces treats are from the Real Meat Treat Company. Dogs love treats that are interesting and high in value, not boring, dry, kibble-type ones.
Once you’ve identified the triggers of your dog, you can begin to work with her to reduce her sensitivity to them and counter-condition her reaction to them. This will help her develop calmer feelings and less reactive behavior. We should be prepared with high-value treats, and we must start the work at a distance that is sufficient to keep her “under-threshold”. If she becomes aroused like the dog in the photo, it’s a sign that you have pushed her too far and too fast. Photo credit: Sue Feldberg/ Dreamstime.com
Good management is fine. In fact, I don’t mind a dog’s family managing their dog’s barking behavior throughout his life. However, it might be nice not to have to deal with the barking forever. There are effective ways to change barking behavior if you are willing and able to put in the effort.
Reward a dog for exhibiting an alternative behavior. This suggests giving your dog something to do, rather than telling her not to do it. When she does what we asked, we can reinforce the new behavior. You can find it. These are some behaviors that could be used as alternatives to barking. You can say “Find it!” loudly and throw treats at your feet. Search. You can do the same thing as “find it,” except that you will toss the treats into the grass for your dog. It doesn’t matter what criteria you use, the important thing is to provide a place for the dog to go and wait for further instructions. You can settle. Although this behavior can be described as a “down,” we may start to shape it from that position. You want the final behavior to look like a calm, relaxed dog. Touch. Touch asks your dog touch her nose, paws, or any other part of the target. This could be your outstretched hand, a ball at the end of a pointer or the lid of a container taped to the wall. To get her attention off of the barking, use “Touch” and engage her in her favorite behaviors. (See “On Target Training,” September 20,21. Teach your dog a “Quiet” cue. Your cheerful “Quiet”, also known as a positive interrupt, simply asks your dog not to bark in anticipation of getting a reinforcer. It can work great if you train it properly. (See “Punishment and Interruption,” February 20, 2021. Teaching a “Quiet” cue is easy. Start by teaching your dog a short amount of quiet. Slowly increase the time that you wait before giving your dog another reinforcer. You might count to yourself “One one-thousand …”” If your dog barks while you work on this, it is likely that she is increasing her “quietness”. This exercise helped me to deal with Sunny’s resurgence in barking due to the addition of another dog into our family. This requires a lot of reinforcement. However, I believe that we will eventually be able decrease the frequency of treat delivery. If you’re able to control the barking, you might try to ignore your dog’s barking and reinforce her quietness when it is not. Sunny can get excited when Sunny is going to the back door to play in the yard. I stop moving toward the back door when he barks and turn around. When he stops barking I stop my progress toward the door and say “Quiet!” then drop a treat on to the floor. Then, I continue towards the door. We stop if he barks again. This worked well until KC came along. If you don’t have control over the bark-causing stimulus (e.g., neighbor’s dog that barks at you) or if your apartment is home to neighbors who are likely to complain about your dog’s barking, this protocol won’t work. Walking away is one of my favorite ways to teach this behavior. This means to quickly move away from an object that is causing your dog anxiety and turn away. Your dog may be intensely focused on the stimulus which is causing her excitement. A happy, well-trained “walk away” cue will cause your dog to quickly turn 180 degrees away from the stimulus. See “How to Teach Your Canine to Walk Away,” September 2018. You can then cue an alternative behavior (such as “Go to Mat,” above) so she doesn’t just return and resume barking.Counter-conditioning and desensitization (CC&D)
This is a technique that can be used to alter your dog’s relationship with a stimulus. We are trying to change your dog’s negative association (e.g., hat-wearing, passing skateboarders, small children or any other) with a stimulus to one that is positive. However, it is possible to make a more positive but calmer association. The dog’s stimulus is kept at a distance, or held at a low level of movement. We then gradually increase the intensity of the work (move the stimulus closer to the dog, let the skateboarder move a bit more), until the dog has a new association with full intensity.
If your dog barks at the child swinging, it is best to start your CC&D without them. The threshold distance is the distance at which the stimulus is arousal-producing to the dog. This distance is important because the dog will not be able to notice it, but she will still be alert. Once the dog is able to see the swing, give her small amounts of high-value treats. Stop feeding the dog treats, then let the dog look at the swing once more.
Repeat this process until your dog is greeted with a happy smile, and a “Yay!” expression. This is a conditioned emotional response (CER) – your dog will now look at you with a happy smile and a “Yay!” expression. This is called a “Yay, treats!” expression. Your dog now associates swings with “Yay!” and not “Get excited!” You will then gradually increase the movement of your swing until you have a person on it.
You now have to learn how to use the CC&D protocol for other bark-eliciting situations. You can feed the people in the pool treats, then they will play gently and then have a lot of fun at the pool. You can feed your friends treats and have fun talking while you watch the football game. Then, get slightly excited, then even more excited, before finally engaging in Super Bowl-level excitement. You get the idea. You still have the option to put your dog back in your home or another room after you’ve completed a round of CC&D. This will allow your children and/or friends to play/roughhouse/be rowdy as they please.
Your dog is the best judge of your choices, so make them wise. You have the option to manage your dog’s environment and reduce or eliminate her barking. Or, you can work with your manager to implement a modification program. You can teach your dog that silence is chicken (golden), and eventually peace will be restored in your home.
How to help dogs who bark a lot:
Did you miss our previous article…