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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Getting Started with Touch Cues

There are two types of touch cues - these are cues that you give to your dog by touching various parts of his body in different ways, to mean different things.  If your dog can't see or hear you cues, touch cues give you the perfect way to begin communicating with him.  Having a way to communicate is crucial to living in harmony with your dog.  You can tell him what to expect to happen, and how you want him to respond.  And your dog will feel safe, calmer and more confident when these things are clear to him too, and he doesn't need to guess.

The two types of touch cues are information and request.  Information cues do just that - they give information.  These would be signs that tell your dog what is happening or going to happen.  Examples of these would be: mealtime, outside, grooming time, car ride, etc.  Request cues are used when you want to request a behavior from your dog - sit, lie down, come, stay, leave it, etc. When most people think about cues, they are thinking of request cues.  I've added information cues here too, because I believe they are very important.  

Dogs are always gathering as much information from their environment as they can.  Dogs that can hear may notice the jingle of your keys, hear the mail person's footsteps, or hear a knock on the door.  These sounds become cues to your dog - information cues. They let your dog know what is going on or is about to happen.  Dogs that can see are also very good at noticing information cues.  They may watch you putting your shoes on and know what the agenda is for the day.  Are you putting on running shoes, hiking boots, work shoes or fancy heels?  Dogs can learn the difference!  

Blind and deaf dogs will also learn some information cues from the environment, especially if you have other dogs that react to them.  But they miss out on key visual and auditory information cues that we can provide to them in the form of touch.  It's nice for them to know what's going to happen next.  

You may find when you first begin to use touch cues with your dog, that he startles or even moves away from you.  If no one has tried to communicate with him in this way before, this is all new and he won't understand at first.  But he will catch on quickly.  If you are also playing touch = food games with your dog, the startle should diminish quickly.  

As for going the other way, this is something I've noticed in some dogs.  When they are touched, they may react as if they have bumped into something, and they may quickly stop and go the other direction.  This also diminishes as the dog begins to realize that certain touches mean certain things.  But as he is learning, you can help steady him with a calm and steady touch with one hand while you give the new touch cue with the other hand.  By touching and steadying first, the initial surprise of the touch has time to dissipate and the dog is now better able to focus on the new touch cue. 

Don't try to name everything at once.  If this is a new way of communicating for you and your dog, you both need time to become familiar with the process.  You will need time to practice and remember the signs so they become automatic for you to use and give in a consistent manner.  Your dog will need time to learn what the new touches mean and to build his vocabulary.  Decide on one or two touch cues to start out with.  If you are starting with information cues, you can begin with going outside and mealtime, as these are two things that all dogs experience every day.  This will allow you both several opportunities every day to practice and for most dogs, these will be two experiences that they really like and look forward to.  They should pick up on the cues quickly.

When teaching information cues, you can use the chosen cue consistently immediately prior to and during the event that you're naming.  For example, if you are teaching the cue for outside, give it as you are at the door about to open it.  Then use it as you are opening the door and again as you are going out.  Eventually you will only need to use it once, and if you use it across the house, your dog will probably beat you to the door!  But for now, as you are introducing it, try to use it immediately prior to and during the event.  If you are introducing a cue for mealtime, give the cue as you already have the dog's food ready, and then again as you put the food bowl down.

When teaching request cues, it is best if you can to try to initiate the behavior first a few times without the cue, so you can be sure your dog is comfortable doing the behavior.  Once your dog is comfortable doing the behavior (luring into a sit position, for example), add the cue you will use just prior to helping the behavior to happen.  So the order would be, touch cue for sit, then lure dog into a sit, then reward and praise.  In this way, the dog will begin to anticipate and try to do the behavior on his own when he notices the cue.  This will allow you to stop using the lure as the dog learns to respond first to the cue.  

When dogs learn cues, they don't automatically differentiate between them.  It takes practice for the dog to learn to distinguish one cue from another, especially if they are not context specific.  If sometimes you ask the dog to sit, then down, or to shake hands, you may notice him sometimes "guessing" and giving the wrong behavior.  This is a normal part of learning.  Take time to practice, help the dog get it right, and reinforce a lot when he does!  

Try to keep the touch cues as clear as possible.  If cue delivery gets sloppy, the dog may interpret the cue as something else entirely.  This may be noticeable if the dog knows a lot of cues if those cues are given close together on the dog's body.  A sloppy cue can easily shift to another area of the body, which may be where a different cue is given.  Consistency is important if you want a consistent cue response. 

There are no set-in-stone touch cues that you should use.  Use whatever makes sense to you, because you will be the one who needs to remember them!  Be sure that other people in the home or that interact with your dog on a regular basis know the cues so everyone can be consistent.  If they are simple touches, such as a tap on the hips for sit, these can be listed and hung on the fridge.  If the cues are more complex, it may be helpful to video them.  This can be very helpful if you hire a dog walker or pet sitter.  It gives a clear record of how to communicate with your dog.  

I hope this has given you some tips on how to get started teaching touch cues.  Watch for follow-up posts showing some examples of touch cues that I use for my own blind deaf dogs.  

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Encouraging Play and Activity With Newly Blind Dogs

When a dog loses its sense of sight, its whole world changes.  There are many things that dogs can do without their sight, but dogs that started out sighted and are now blind are often confused and maybe even fearful when they can no longer see.  They can't interact with their world the way they used to.  

Most likely, they knew landmarks around the house and yard by sight, they knew family members by their mannerisms and how they moved, they could see the steps were nearby, or that there was a curb or obstacle in front of them on their walk.  Now, all that visual information has disappeared.

It is a fairly common concern to pet parents that their dog appears depressed and may stop interacting with its world in the special ways it used to.  There is, of course, going to be a time of transition when the dog will begin to relearn how to navigate by a different map.  They will create a mental map, now relying more on smell and tactile information such as surfaces, air currents, and feeling their way around. 

There are ways that we can help our dog through this transition and encourage them to stay engaged with daily activities, to play, and to be active.  

The very first thing to consider, is that our dogs are very in tune with us and they take their cues from us.  When we are worried about our dogs, and sad because they've lost their sight (which is normal for us to do), our dogs can sense these emotions in us.  Our mood and our thoughts and feelings always affect our dogs.  It is normal for us to grieve when our dog loses its sight.  And it's healthy for us to grieve.  There are many wonderful groups on social media particularly centered around dogs that are blind.  These are great resources, and they are also great support systems.  You can talk with people who will understand what you're going through, who can help you problem-solve, and who can tell you stories to give you hope.

It's OK to comfort your dog if she's feeling confused or scared.  You won't make her feelings worse.  She needs to know you're there for her.  Help her to feel safe and loved.  But also help her to feel empowered and confident in herself.  Teach her the skills she needs to know to become self-sufficient again.  

It may be overwhelming for your dog to try to navigate the entire house and yard suddenly without sight.  It's often helpful to give your dog a smaller area to learn to navigate first. You can use gates or ex pens to create smaller areas for her to safely explore at first. And it is very helpful to have your dog wear a harness so you can easily help guide her along routes in the house and yard that she will use often.  Go at her speed, and help her to avoid obstacles.  It's no fun for anyone to run face-first into a doorway or a table. 

With consistent guidance, she will begin to learn how those routes smell, how they feel to her feet, and how many steps to take between point A and point B.  Try to keep furniture and the layout of her world the same.  Keep her food and water in the same place, her bed where it has always been, etc.  As she learns these routes, you will find you need to guide her less and less until she can do it herself.  This will give her confidence.

Encourage play with favorite toys as she is ready.  I use longer plush toys, so there is room for my hand at one end, and still plenty of room at the other end for the dog to grab the toy without grabbing my hand (because she can't see it).  Will she chase it if you toss it across the room like you used to?  Perhaps.  But it is more likely that you will need to learn a new way of playing with her.  Move the toy back and forth near her, but touch her with it playfully as you pull it around on her level.  Let it move over her paws so she can feel it moving and be tempted to grab at it.  If she can hear, use your voice to excite her in the same ways you used to so she recognizes this is a game.

Many blind dogs enjoy light tug of war games with toys.  This way, she can play while keeping the toy in her mouth where she can keep track of it.  Some enjoy chasing toys that make noises as they move - giggle balls, balls with bells inside (always supervised!), stuffed toys that continue to make noises after they are squeezed, etc.  Most enjoy toys that can be stuffed with yummy treats to tempt their noses and taste buds.  These can be played with as toys, used as enrichment activities, hidden around the room for her to sniff out and find, etc. 

Blind dogs still enjoy going for walks and outings.  If she liked to ride in the car, continue to take her out and about.  Don't stop doing her favorite things just because she can't see.  She will enjoy the smells of going some place new, the breeze in her face, the lick of your ice cream.  If your dog is reluctant to walk, take it slow.  Just take her out and go at her pace.  There's no place you need to go in a hurry, right?  Just let her explore at her pace.

Give her time to acclimate to the new surroundings.  Maybe sit with her and read a book if you need  something to occupy the time while you wait.  She will eventually step out and begin sniffing around.  This creates confidence, and if you do it often, she will begin to go farther and farther.  Your dog may appreciate it if you wear a small bell or a set of keys on your belt loop when you are out for a walk so she can easily hear and keep track of you.  

Take time to reteach her how to walk with you on a leash.  I prefer to use a harness with a leash attached to both the front ring and the back ring at the same time.  One end of the leash to each attachment point.  If your leash only has one clip, you can use a lightweight carabiner clip on the handle end of your leash to attach it to the harness. This allows your dog to receive more information about where you are, how fast you're going,etc.  Your dog probably kept track of you on walks by sight in the past.  Now she will need to relearn how to use her other senses to keep track of you - by smell, by hearing where you are, and by feeling you through the leash.  

Teach her verbal and/or touch cues to help her navigate her world.  Teach her to stop and wait, to step up or down for a curb or a set of steps, etc.  These will help her understand her world better, and will help you to keep her safe.

Enrichment activities are important for any dog, but can really help to increase a blind dog's confidence and interest in the world around her.  You can use your dog's regular meals to encourage toy play by putting her food in the many varieties of puzzle toys that are available.  You can even make your own in some cases.  

Enrichment activities can use all the senses she has available.  So taste of course, and smell is very important.  Snuffle mats are great for encouraging sniffing and searching.  You can teach her to search out treats or toys you hide (easy at first and then making the game more challenging) in the house or yard, or even out on your walks.  

If your dog can hear, try hanging a wind chime, or playing music.  And touch is important too - helping her to feel confident on all surfaces will go a long way toward helping her be more active.  A dog that is not confident walking across tile floors, for instance, is more likely to remain in her bed than venture out and risk walking on one.  Even if she used to walk on your kitchen floor, she may be hesitant to now.  Remember, this is new for her to experience the same floor but through different sensory input.

Teach your dog new things!  This will help get her up and active and engaged with you and her environment.  There are so many ideas here in this blog!  Have a look and pick something you'd like to teach your dog.  

Tellington TTouch, massage and other calming touch, and modalities such as Healing Touch for Animals, will help reduce your dog's anxiety and stress, and will help her to relax.  A relaxed dog will be more likely to try new things and to play.  Plus, these are techniques you can learn to do yourself with your dog, so they will also help to relax you at the same time!

I've written many posts here in the blog about enrichment activities, food toys, and even teaching leash walking to a blind/deaf dog, that may be useful to you during this time of transition.  The most important thing to remember is that this IS a time of transition.  For you and your dog.  Be patient and be kind in guiding her and helping her.  Allow yourself to grieve, and then, allow yourself to empower your dog.  Empower her to be confident and to try new things, and cheer her on every step of the way.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Distinguishing Night from Day

Some people living with blind/deaf dogs report that their dogs have trouble staying asleep all night.  Often their dogs will wake them during the night and can't seem to settle back down to sleep.  I hope this excerpt from my book, Through A Dark Silence, will be helpful ... 

If your blind/deaf dog is unable to distinguish between light and dark, it may be challenging to help her tell the difference between day and night.  This can make it challenging for you to get enough sleep on a proper schedule.  
Keeping a bedtime routine can be helpful.  Create as many clear cues as possible that it is bedtime and only use them when you want her to let you sleep all night.  Here are some ideas that may be helpful.
Create certain rules that pertain to night time only.  If you enjoy having your dog share the bed with you, it may be a good idea to keep the bed off limits to her unless it is time to actually go to sleep for the night.  Even if you don’t want your dog on the bed with you, you can keep the bedroom off limits until bedtime.  Then the bedroom itself will become a cue that it’s time for sleeping. 
I think it does help if your blind/deaf dog can sleep in your bedroom.  Dogs do cue off our emotional state, our breathing, etc.  If your dog does wake in the middle of the night, it can help her fall back to sleep to realize that you are nearby and you are calm and sleeping.  
If you use a crate or ex pen within your room, your dog can learn that while she is in her crate or pen, it is time to be still and quiet, and so, most likely she will sleep during these times.  Be aware that you are using a crate appropriately and that you've already taught your dog to know that a crate is a safe place to be, so she can be comfortable and not stressed.
You can reserve a special blanket or dog bed for your dog to only use at night.  It will need to be picked up during the day, or have access to it restricted in some way.  If used consistently, your dog will learn that this bed means that it is time to sleep.  
Dog appeasing pheromones may be sprayed onto the dog's bed to help her to relax.  Read the instructions, and allow the spray to air out slightly prior to putting the bed down.  Some of them are mixed with alcohol to allow it to disperse in the spray properly.  Your dog most likely won't like the alcohol smell, but it will dissipate if you let it air out a bit.
A relaxing scent such as lavender or other essential oils can be diffused in the bedroom.  The scent will also become a cue.  Only use this scent at bedtime.  The diffuser can be used all night, or can be used for a while as bedtime is approaching. Be sure you are using a high quality therapeutic oil.  Some oils contain chemicals and a little bit of scent added, and won't have much of an effect on the dog's behavior.
If you need a way to confine your dog within the bedroom at night, the special bed can be put into an ex pen only at bedtime, or you can use a short tether near your bed to keep the dog on her bed. 

Keeping your blind/deaf dog busy during the day with enrichment games and activities will help her to begin to differentiate between day activities and sleeping at night.  It will also help to tire out her body and mind so she is more likely to sleep at bedtime.  
A nice bodywork (calm petting, massage, Healing Touch for Animals®, etc.) session before bedtime will help your dog to relax and calm down. 
If your dog wakes you in the middle of the night and you think she needs to go outside, keep it very quick and business-like.  Keep any touching and interaction to a minimum.  Don’t let her loose in the yard to run and explore.  Don’t involve the other dogs.  Make it a very quick and boring trip outside on leash, stand still and wait for her to potty (no walking and sniffing), no treats or playtime, and right back to bed. 
Do not give a treat for pottying outside. If you make getting up in the middle of the night fun for your dog and let her do things that she enjoys, she will continue to wake you up at night.  Keep it boring at night and exciting and fun during the day and she will learn the routine. 
Some dogs enjoy a large stuffed animal to snuggle with at night so they don’t feel so alone.  Puppies especially are used to snuggling with their mom and littermates and a large stuffed toy or pillow will give them a sense of security.  
An old-style ticking clock placed in the bed may also help sooth puppy to sleep.  It will provide a rhythmic vibration throughout the night.  If you remove it during the day, you can then use it as a cue to your dog that it is nighttime.  There is also a dog toy called a Snuggle Puppy that is said to do the same thing and provide a pulsing heartbeat sensation.  This might help your dog to feel calmer also.

Dogs with some vision, but that can only see close up, may like to have you nearby.  Put her bed or pen by your bed so you can put your fingers in to reassure her if she wakes up.  A nightlight may help her not be so anxious by allowing her to see somewhat if she wakes up.
If your dog can hear, you can use some of the music created specifically to calm dogs and let it play on a loop all night. You will need to take time to condition the music to times when your dog is already relaxed and napping for it to have maximum effect.  My favorites are the Healing Touch for Animals music CD's and Through A Dog's Ear CD's.  They're very relaxing and they help me sleep better too!  

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Vinny's Adventures and Brags!

Invincible Vinny recently became the first blind and deaf dog to earn his Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced Trick Dog titles through the AKC!  To celebrate, AKC sent him some lovely medals!  

Before Christmas, Vinny earned his Advanced Trick Dog title through DMWYD.  This allowed him to also get all three titles through AKC.  He also earned his first K9 Freestyle title through Poised for Success.  That's a lot of title letters to add after his name!

If you don't already follow Invincible Vinny on Facebook, go check him out.  We often post his trick and other videos there so you can keep up with what he's doing next!  Click on his logo below to see his page! 
Vinny is currently practicing for his  Expert and Performer Trick Dog titles, his Trick Dog Champion title, and his next Freestyle title!  Keep an eye out for this star!  

If you'd like to meet Vinny in person, please see his FB page for some events he is making appearances at this year.  And, if you'd like to have him at your event, message him!  

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Learning a New Way to Communicate

Sometimes we know in advance if our dog will lose sight and/or hearing.  I have a senior dog now who is mostly deaf from age.  So far his sight seems OK, but I know it too may begin to fade.  There are some things we can do to help ease this transition for our dogs.  

One is to teach hand signals to our dogs for basic every day behaviors (sit, lie down, wait at the door, come) and for some of the fun tricks they know (fetch, shake hands, spin, etc).  It's fairly easy to teach dogs hand signals.  If you've originally taught your dog the behavior with a food lure, often the hand movement you use can become a hand signal for the behavior even when you're no longer using food to elicit the behavior.  For example, many people raise their hand up when teaching a dog to sit - this same raising up of the hand can become the hand signal.  If you practice with the hand signal and reward often, your dog will respond just as easily to the hand signal.  

Think of behaviors you ask of your dog throughout the day, and perhaps you are already using a hand gesture (signal) that you can continue using.  Sometimes use just the signal and see if your dog responds without your verbal input.  If not, you can remind with the verbal at first.  The sequence would be - signal - pause just long enough to see if your dog will respond - verbal to remind if needed - reward.

It's important as your dog loses hearing to be animated with your praise - use petting, use play, always use a happy face, clap your hands.  If your dog was once hearing, praise will be important and the tone of your voice gives him cues.  You can begin now while he has hearing, to add these things - clapping your hands, smiling, acting happy in your body language - to your verbal praise so he begins to associate them together.  Dogs really tune into our body language.  But by teaching this when your dog can still hear, you will associate those body motions with all the lovely verbal praise that he's already learned to love.

As dogs lose their hearing, they begin to sleep heavier and will often wake up with a startle.  Startling is a normal behavior and you may never get rid of it totally, but a dog that can hear will be woken up gradually by sounds in its environment which its brain will recognize.  As the hearing begins to fade away, noises may not sound the same and his brain may not be able to recognize what they are, or he may not hear the noises at all.  So when you do wake him up, or he gets bumped, he will jump up and be scared until he realizes where he is and who is with him.

It's easy to help with this and you can play these games from the time your dog is a puppy, but I find it is important to revisit them as your dog becomes a senior or when you first notice his hearing may be fading.  Do lots of trading touch for treats.  You touch him, he gets a wonderful treat.  Do it a lot just as a fun game.  Do it when he is awake and paying attention at first.  Then do it while he is awake but perhaps not paying attention, so you surprise him a bit.  And lastly, do it every once in a while when he's asleep.  It's courteous to allow him to sleep without interruption, but sometimes there is a reason you will need to wake him up - be ready and give several special treats as soon as you wake him up.  Help him associate being startled with something good, so he won't wake up fearful, he will wake up and look forward to the good treats that are to come.

If your dog is losing his eye sight, begin to teach him cues that will help him navigate his environment and stay safe.  If he can hear, use verbal cues to help him learn to stop, wait, to go up or down a step or curb, etc.  Help him.  Guide him gently so he learns new ways of navigating around the house and yard.  You may want to put a small bell on your wrist or ankle when you go for a walk so your dog can keep track of where you are and whether you're moving or not.  Of course, you can also talk to or sing to him so he has a voice to follow.  

Try to empower him and teach him problem solving as often as possible.  Teach him new ways to play with you that you both enjoy.  Think of how much he relies on the vision he does have during his daily activities.  Are there things you can do to help him get around safely?  Gates at the top and bottom of steps or drop offs are easy to implement.  Blind dogs can maneuver steps, but they should be supervised, especially in the beginning.  

You will learn to watch out for obstacles that you don't normally think about steering your dog around - fire hydrants, trees, branches on a bush, curbs, etc.  There are tools that can help a blind dog to navigate.  If you are thinking of using a halo harness, or eye protection, begin to condition your dog to them now, making sure you are creating a positive association and that you are both having fun.  It can be a scary transition for a dog to lose its sight.  Plunking a lot of new, weird equipment on your dog at this time can cause him to shut down and be more fearful.  Take it slowly.  

When a dog in a multiple dog family loses its sight, there may be a period of adjustment among the dogs.  The blind dog may bump into other dogs or overstep their bounds into another dog's space - something he would not have done before because he could see to judge distance, could see the other dogs, and could respond to their communications.  Now, he may find himself getting into trouble, as the other dogs may see him as rude stepping into their space.  Be prepared to supervise and to change the way you all interact for awhile.  If there is any tension, don't leave a blind dog unsupervised with the other dogs, even if they have been left alone for years.  Separate or supervise.  At least until you're sure everyone has adjusted.

At some point, your dog may lose both its sight and hearing.  Begin to teach touch cues for things that you communicate to your dog every day.  A touch cue doesn't need to be complicated.  Touching a dog under the chin can mean, come forward, let's go.  Putting a harness on will become a touch cue that you are going outside for potty or a walk.  Develop a language through touch.  Loving touch is very important just to show your dog how special he is.  We all crave touch and it is very important to a dog that is blind and deaf to continue to have special loving touch daily. 

Most important of all, perhaps, is to realize that you will be sad when you realize your dog is losing sight or hearing.  This is normal and natural.  It's OK to be sad and to grieve.  You and your dog will both go through a transition period.  Please be kind to yourself during this time, and have patience with your dog.  Help him and guide him.  Take time to help him enjoy things that he's always enjoyed - sharing an ice cream cone, hanging out on the deck in the sun, going for a car ride, etc.  Together you will both start to realize a new reality that is not worse than before, but is just different than before.  

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Learn to Teach Tricks and Earn Titles

There has been a lot of interest in my dogs learning lots of tricks and earning trick dog titles.  Many people who also have differently-abled dogs have asked me to share how I teach the various tricks to my dogs that are deaf and blind/deaf.  I've put together an online course that will help you teach your dog beginner level tricks, using techniques that are fun for you and your dog.  You can even have a chance to then earn your Novice Trick Dog title at the end of class.

I always teach with positive reinforcement methods, so teaching and learning is fun for everyone!  One of the great things about this class is that you get expert instruction anytime that is convenient for YOU!  The class is online, but you don't need to be sitting by your computer at a certain day or time.  Lessons are published in an online classroom beginning Jan. 20th, with new lessons every week.  You can read and view the lessons at any convenient time, and then practice with your dog as it suits you.

I check the classroom and the private facebook page daily to give feedback and answer questions so I can help you be successful.  These classes are great fun and give you a focus for your training sessions with your dog.  Come join people and dogs from all over the world!  We have a fun community! 

Class will cover instruction for adapting certain tricks and teaching techniques for dogs that are blind, deaf or blind/deaf.  However, we are an inclusive school and we encourage ALL dogs and people to join along!  The more the merrier! 

For more information about the tricks class, head over to Tricky Tricks - Beginner to have a look! 

We also offer other classes, and have several new ones planned to be rolled out later in the year.  You can check out all our classes, as well as our free resources here

I'm so excited to be able to offer this class to all of you!  You've been asking for awhile now - and it's finally here!  I can't wait to get started! 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Does Ignoring an Unwanted Behavior Really Work?

I often hear the advice given to ignore the behavior we don't like and it will go away.  But is this really true?  In my experience, and in the experience of many others, ignoring a behavior does not cause it to go away.  In many instances, ignoring can even cause the behavior we are trying to get rid of to escalate.

Ignoring a behavior can cause it to escalate.

If we are trying to ignore a behavior and it escalates, we will often at some point give in and pay attention because we just can't take it anymore.  Think - the barking dog that we try to ignore and the barking just continues and continues, or gets louder and louder.  Everyone has their breaking point, right?  The trouble is, that by allowing the behavior to escalate, we've allowed the dog to learn how to bark longer and louder.  Thus increasing the behavior that we didn't like in the first place.

We can't ignore behavior forever.

The premise behind the suggestion to ignore a behavior is that we won't somehow inadvertently reinforce the behavior and make it stronger.  In reality, though, is this really what is happening?  What is your definition of ignoring?  A quick search on the internet reveals the definition of ignore as follows: "refuse to take notice of or acknowledge; disregard intentionally."

So basically, if we are ignoring the behavior, we are refusing to get involved, and we are allowing whatever is going to happen to happen without interfering.  How is this likely to change the behavior?  It's really not.

It can also be pointed out that behavior happens for a reason.  The dog is not barking just to bark.  There is a reason.  There is something driving his behavior.  Perhaps he is bored, or lonely, or there is something there he is unsure of, or even that he's learned that barking gets him attention.  Barking may also be a means of stress release.  There are many reasons a dog may be barking.  We are not dogs, so we cannot know for sure why, although we can speculate.

Ignoring does not alleviate the cause of the behavior.

The important part to remember is that something is driving that behavior.  Ignoring the behavior is not going to make it go away if the cause of the behavior is still there.  Even if we ignore the behavior, the dog will still feel the urge to do the behavior.  If doing the behavior relieves that urge, then doing the behavior in itself becomes reinforcing for the dog, and he will continue to do it.

If the dog is feeling stressed and lonely, and his barking relieves those feelings for awhile, he is rewarding himself for barking by causing his unhappy feelings to go away.  So next time he feels stressed or lonely he will be more likely to bark because he knows this will help him feel better. 

When we look at the teaching aspect of changing behavior, how can we teach the dog how we would prefer him to behave in our human world if we are ignoring him and leaving him to his own devices?  Teaching and learning are both collaborative and cooperative efforts.  If we are ignoring our dog's behavior, how can we influence that or other behavior?  

Ignoring is not teaching.

If we allow the behavior to continue, our dog is practicing it over and over again, and the behavior is getting stronger and more skilled through repetition.  The more the brain and body repeat a behavior, the better it gets at doing it. This is why we need to practice to hone our skills.  Practice makes us (and our dogs) better and better.  Whatever we allow our dogs to practice - they will get better and better at!  This includes barking!

Practice makes better!  Even behaviors we don't like.

If ignoring doesn't work to change behavior, what does work?  

Can you determine a cause for the dog's behavior?  What is driving that behavior?  There may be a way to eliminate or diminish the cause, which will then diminish the urge for your dog to behave in that manner.

What is driving the behavior?

You may also be able to pinpoint what reinforcement your dog is receiving from doing the behavior.  A reinforcement is anything the dog would view as favorable, that he would like enough to continue the behavior.  If we look at barking, this could be the mailman leaving when he barks.  It could be the attention of someone yelling at him to be quiet.  It could be the neighbor's dog coming over to visit him.  And so on.  

What is reinforcing the behavior?

If you can pinpoint what the reinforcement is for your dog, you can figure out ways to manage the situation so the dog is not self-reinforcing by doing the behavior.  With the above example of barking, if the dog is reinforced for barking at the mailman because he can then watch the mailman leave, keep the dog in an area where he cannot see the mailman come or go.  If someone is yelling at the dog to be quiet, eliminate this - and help the dog with a better environment so he won't be barking to be yelled at.  Be sure to give tons of attention instead when he is quiet, even for short periods of time.  And so on.

We always want to set up the environment and situation to set the dog up to be successful with the behaviors that we do want to see instead.  Take time to decide what you do want the dog to do instead.  Be specific.  Instead of barking, what do you want the dog to do instead?  Lie on a dog bed chewing a bone?  Bring you a toy when someone is at the door (the toy to help keep his mouth busy instead of barking)?  Etc.

Set up for success!

Take time to teach your dog that new behavior that you want to see.  Teach it in a different area and context than where the old behavior (that you don't like) is happening.  Don't start to teach an alternative behavior for barking in areas where the dog is already barking.  Teach your dog the new behavior until he knows it very well and it's easy for him.  Then gradually bring the new behavior into the environments that would normally trigger barking.  Set your dog up for success and move through this gradually.  Begin at a distance from the area or activity.  If your dog has trouble, move farther away.  If he gets it right easily, move a bit closer.

Teach the new behavior.

In order for behavior changes to become long-lasting, we must also think about the many hours in a day that we are not actually training.  How can we lessen barking in those moments as well?  (Or whichever behavior you are trying to change.)  Remember that if your dog is barking, he is practicing the behavior of barking and getting better at it.  You don't want him to practice barking.  You want him to practice being quiet.

How can you set him up to be successful in being quiet?  Enrichment activities are always super in any type of behavior change program, as they occupy the mind and the body.  Gates can be used to section off the dog's space into areas he can be successful in (gates positioned so he can't get to windows to see that mailman).  Music can mask every day sounds that may trigger barking during the day or night.  The idea is to prevent the old behavior from happening and encourage the new behavior (in this case quiet) as often as possible and for as long as necessary for the new behavior to become a habit.

Encourage feelings of well being.

Is all this a lot of work?  Well, it can be if the old behavior has been allowed to become a habit and if the dog has been allowed to practice it for awhile and get really good at it.  The good news is that dogs never stop learning.  And ... dogs do what works and brings them things that they like and feelings of well being.  If we take the time to set up their environment and activities to provide for lots of reinforcement (things they like) for behaviors we want, and to help them feel stress-free, safe, and happy, we can begin to easily shape behavior into what we want - and what our dogs want.