BARK! BARK! BARK! ...Problem Barking
It is normal for dogs to bark. However, it is one of the most difficult dog behaviors to control, partially because of the fact that it is a natural behavior.
Here is a basic principle of behavior to remember whenever you are trying to teach a dog any behavior or rules for behavior: Dogs like attention. Negative attention is better than no attention; therefore, yelling, scolding, etc. can inadvertently reinforce a behavior because, even though we think the yelling etc. are negative, they are a form of attention. Behaviors that get attention will increase. Behaviors that do not get attention decrease.
It is difficult to control barking because barking is so often inadvertently rewarded. It often "works" for the dog. The dog gets what he or she wants, hence the reward, and that strengthens the likelihood that the dog will continue the barking. Each time the dog's barking is inadvertently rewarded the dog learns "my barking got me what I wanted" and it increases the likelihood the dog will bark again in that same situation. For example, when your dog announces to the world, "This is my yard, stay out!", by barking at every person that walks by your home, the passerby eventually moves on (not necessarily because of the barking dog) and your dog thinks his or her barking was responsible for the person leaving. Your dog thinks "Victory! I protected my territory!'. Another example of a common barking scenario is illustrated by the dog in the backyard that barks to be let inside because the dog knows that he or she will eventually get what he or she wants. The pet's owner or the neighbors will become annoyed and give in to the dog's demands.
The first rule of shaping appropriate barking behavior and preventing problem barking: NEVER reward barking.
If your dog barks in the yard, wait until a moment of silence and then open the door and call your pet inside. Remember, negative attention is better than no attention at all; therefore if you open the door to yell at the dog for barking, you are reinforcing their behavior. The dog gets attention. The dog may prefer the negative attention to being alone in the yard.
Dogs are highly social animals and being isolated away from other family members (their pack), outside in the yard for example, may be upsetting or stressful for your dog. Many dogs that demonstrate problem barking outside would be happier in the house. This is a lifestyle choice you will need to consider.
Another way to help control problem barking is to try to help avoid things and situations that cause barking. For example, if your dog barks at other dogs or people passing by on the street, make an effort to block the dog's view of the street. Sometimes "out of sight, out of mind" really works.
Punishment for barking doe NOT work well. Punishment and the use of anti-barking collars does not work well and will likely increase your dog's anxiety level. Therefore, do not use the anti-bark collars or punishment methods.
The most effective method for controlling problem barking is interruption. Interrupt the barking and replace it with a different behavior. It helps if the interruption is not perceived by your pet ass coming directly from you (their owner). If they perceive the interruption as coming directly from you, it may actually encourage barking because the dog perceives it as a form of attention from you. Bark collars that release a citrus scented spray when the dog barks are one form of this interruption method. Additionally, a quick blast from an air horn or a quick, light spraying with a garden hose or squirt gun can also be used to interrupt barking. Do not speak or yell while delivering the water spray or air blast. The dog will perceive both of those interruptions as coming from the object, not you. After the interruption, call the dog to you and give a series of obedience commands for which the dog earns a reward.
It is important to establish the person's dominance over the dog. You want the dog to perceive you as a leader. Obedience commands (i.e. sit, lay down, roll over, etc.) are helpful and should be used frequently during the day. Be sure to reward obedience with social rewards, such as praise, petting, rubbing the dog's belly, scratching the dog behind the ears, etc., as well as with treats or play. This helps to establish your dominance over the dog and changes your dog's focus from what he or she wants, to listening for what you want. If your dog understands that his or her position in the pack is lower than your position, she or he will feel less "entitled" to bark. Additionally, it is fun for your dog to perform commands, especially when he or she receives appropriate rewards frequently.
Some dogs bark excessively because of a panic-attack type disorder called "Separation Anxiety". Dogs with separation anxiety will sometimes bark for eight or more hours without
stopping, causing severe emotional and physical stress. Separation anxiety requires a completely different approach. Separation anxiety should be treated with your veterinarian's guidance and assistance. Please consult with your veterinarian for more information.
We hope this information is useful, however, it should not replace a veterinary consultation.
Please call us to set up your pet's behavioral consultation today!