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Friday, June 6, 2014

Excessive Barking in the House (Blog Request)

One of the questions I hear most is whether my deaf and deaf/blind dogs bark.  While I would love to be able to say no, the truth is, that yes, they do bark.  As do my dogs that can see and hear.  It’s what dogs do – they bark.  If you are going to live with a dog, I think you need to accept the fact that they bark.  However, sometimes that barking can be excessive and seem to be for what humans believe is no good reason.  Our dogs, of course, always believe they have a good reason for barking.  How do we strike that compromise that allows our dogs to be dogs, yet protects our sanity as humans?
I think more often than not our dogs are confused when it comes to barking.  They don’t know whether we want them to bark or not.  Sometimes we may acknowledge their barking positively to announce visitors or even unwanted people on our property.  Sometimes we may laugh at their barking if they bark at something they think is scary but we think is cute.  Sometimes we may haphazardly mumble to them to knock it off or be quiet while we are otherwise engaged in some activity.  And still other times, we may become downright scary in our attempts to get our dogs to be quiet.  That doesn’t show the dog much consistency, and it doesn’t help to make clear to him what we do want him to do.
Some of us have the problem that our dogs bark at every little movement outside the window.  But if we leave our dog home alone all day with nothing to do but look out the window, can we blame him?  He sees something new and exciting outside the window to give him something to do, and he wants to join in!  If your dog has a consistent habit of barking, such as barking at things moving outside the window, it may be easy enough to prevent your dog from having access to that situation.  You can block your dog’s access to the window or put him in another room while you’re away.  You can buy window films that will allow light to shine in, but will block your dog from seeing out.  There are options only limited by your creativity.
Some dogs like to bark because it gets their person’s attention.  Sometimes we are aware of this behavior, such as when your dog comes and sits by the cabinet and barks for you to give him a treat, or if he sits and stares at you and barks until you pet him or toss his toy.  But other times it is hard to tell that what your dog wants is actually your attention.  He may bark and you may tell him to be quiet and if he barks again, you may get up and go to him to try to make him be quiet.  The problem is that if your dog only gets attention when he is barking, he may want your attention enough to get in trouble to get it. 
Instead, try paying more attention to your dog any time he is being quiet.  A gentle scratch behind the ears or a belly rub, a tasty treat dropped quietly by his side while he chews a bone … these things will go a long way toward minimizing excessive barking.  Behavior that is reinforced (rewarded with something the dog likes) will tend to happen more often!  So, paying attention to a quiet dog will tend to give you a quieter dog.  Paying attention to a barking dog will tend to give you a dog that barks more.
Decide in your mind what type of barking you will allow.  It’s not fair to a dog to expect no barking.  Imagine if someone forbid you to speak or make noises – ever!  Yikes!  So, when will you allow or even appreciate barking?  And in what situations would you like to diminish the barking?  You have to decide before you can teach your dog the difference.
I like to teach my dogs a quiet cue by rewarding them for being quiet.  Even my deaf dogs learn a quiet cue.  The end result is that when they are barking, I can give them the quiet cue and they know it is time to be quiet now.  But in the beginning, they need to learn what quiet means.  How do you explain to a dog what quiet is?  When a dog is barking, you can yell quiet all you want, but if the dog doesn’t already know what quiet means, he is unlikely to figure it out in that moment.  He is just as likely to think you are yelling, “The pizza guy is here!” 
I teach the quiet cue by giving the cue when my dogs are already quiet and then rewarding them immediately.   Any time I am reinforcing my dogs for being quiet, I cue them “quiet” and then praise them and reward them with things they like.  They begin to learn that when I say quiet they will get a reward, and they begin to have an inkling that this only happens when there is no sound coming out of their mouths.
The next step is to get their attention on me when they are barking.  I want the dog to look at me and be paying attention.  Sometimes this requires a touch to distract the dog long enough that he turns to see what I want.  I immediately give the quiet cue and reward immediately.  The reward has to come fast in the beginning before another bark can be said.  I keep containers of treats around my house in various areas to reward good behaviors quickly. 
There are other things that can help communicate to your dog that things are not as exciting as he thinks they are.  If you immediately jump up and run to the door whenever someone arrives, you are showing your dog how to behave – to jump up and excitedly rush to the door.  Dogs bark when they are excited!  Instead, put a sign outside your door asking guests to be patient as you may take a while to get to the door.  Take your time getting to the door.  Move and speak calmly.
When your dog barks, try to redirect him to do something else.  Even if you haven’t taught the quiet cue yet, you can run the other way (from what he’s barking at) and get him to chase you for a fun game, toss a toy for him to chase, have him go to the dog bed (if he already knows how to do that), etc.  Make sure you are breathing deeply and calmly.  If you are tense and holding your breath (which we often do when we are concentrating or hurrying), your dog will also be tense – and, you guessed it – tense dogs bark!
Lastly, but not any less important, be sure you reward your dog for being quiet when you want him to be.  Even if he just pauses for a moment before barking when he sees that cat outside or hears a noise, be ready to praise him and really reinforce his behavior with something he thinks is great!   Remember, if you pay attention to a quiet dog, you will get a quieter dog! 

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