When Barking Becomes a Problem

The most important thing to know about barking is that it is a normal dog behavior. At appropriate times and levels, barking is even considered to be a useful behavior. Many people obtain dogs because they want them to bark when someone is either coming to the door or prowling around at night. But when barking becomes excessive, the noise can be a real headache for owners and their long-suffering neighbors. According to the Cornell Animal Behavior Clinic, up to one-third of behavioral complaints involve nuisance, inappropriate, or excessive barking.

Before things get out of hand, take steps to teach your dog when it’s okay to bark and when she should stop or remain quiet. If you want her to bark when people approach the house, enlist your kids, spouse, or a neighbor to help with the training. Ask the helper to come to the door and knock or ring the doorbell. If your dog doesn’t bark at the noise, encourage her by excitedly asking, “Who’s there? Is someone at the door?” Praise your dog when she barks at the sound.

Once your dog is barking to alert you, the next step is to teach her when to stop. After she has given a couple of barks, hold up your hand and say a code word or command, such as enough or quiet. Give the command in a firm, quiet tone of voice. If you yell, your dog will simply think you’re barking back at her, and she’ll just bark more. If your dog stops barking, praise her, “good quiet!”, and pop a treat into her mouth. Be sure you give the praise and treat only when the dog is quiet.

Often, showing the dog a treat may be distraction enough to stop the barking. Say, “quiet,” and give her the treat after several seconds of silence. As your dog starts to learn what the word quiet means, extend the amount of time between saying the command and giving the reward.

Some trainers recommend wrapping your hand around your barking dog’s muzzle, or snout, and saying, “quiet” or “no bark.” That works sometimes, but you have to be careful when trying that technique. If your dog is barking frenziedly, she may accidentally bite you when you try to wrap your hand around her muzzle.

A safer way to get this effect is to keep a halter collar on your dog while you’re at home. This type of collar has a loop that wraps around your dog’s muzzle. When your dog barks more than once or twice, give a quick pull on the lead to tighten the loop around the muzzle. As soon as the dog is quiet, say, “good no bark” or “good quiet,” and reward her with a treat.

Another way to stop the barking is to call your dog to you or give her a down command. Calling your dog to you usually interrupts barking. And a dog hardly ever barks when lying down. Choose a command such as come or down and use the same one every time. Offer praise for silence and then reward your dog with a treat.

Be sure you don’t unintentionally reward your dog for barking by hugging her or saying soothingly, “It’s okay, Sweetie.” When you do that, the dog thinks she must have been right to bark. This simply encourages her to bark more the next time a similar situation occurs.

About the Author:
Chuck is currently working on Words and Links.

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Clinique Cheron, c.1905


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