Barking Dogs – How to deal with this noisy problem

We get all sorts of questions about dog behavior.  One of the biggest is “How do I get my dog to stop barking!?”

Dogs will bark for lots of different reasons.  Most common is the dog who barks to alert.  The alert can range from, “yo, um, there is a stranger climbing into the living room window,” to “ there is a leaf in the backyard" Dogs may also bark to let their humans know that they need something; food, water, to go out to the bathroom.  They may even bark if there is something not right with you, as is the case with medical alert dogs.

Even if there is a legitimate reason (in the dogs’ mind at least) for the barking, it can be a really annoying habit.  Barking is a difficult behavior to change, mostly because barking can be self reinforcing; meaning, some dogs just like hearing themselves talk.  Barking releases stress and often gets the dog some sort of attention from others.

So how do you get your best friend to stop annoying the heck out of you?  Well, you can try ignoring the behavior.  If the dog is mainly barking to get attention from you, ignoring it, should, in theory, negatively punish the dog into stopping.  In other words, if you withhold the attention, the dog will give up barking.  In the laboratory, this approach works well.  In real life, it is more difficult.  Since barking is so annoying, most people crack and eventually yell at the dog.  Even yelling is attention and thus reinforces the barking.  Most people also have neighbors and trying to ignore barking away often doesn’t go over well with the people next door.    

Making noise to startle the dog into stopping will have one of two effects.  The dog will either bark louder, because you are making a weird noise and dogs bark at weird noises, or the dog will temporarily be startled into silence.  I highlight the word temporarily.  Often using a noise to interrupt barking loses effectiveness as the dog gets used to the sound.   

If you are very skilled, very patient and very motivated, you can reinforce an incompatible behavior.  What the heck does that mean?  It means that you reinforce the absence of barking, when the dog is quiet.  This is effective, but it takes a looooong time.

Citronella collars have been touted as a humane alternative to a “shock” bark collar.  These sometimes work but often don’t or they work at first and then the dog just keeps barking no matter if they are wearing the collar or not.  Why would this happen?  Either the dog got a blast of citronella and now can only smell citronella so more citronella really doesn’t make much of a difference, or the dog has figured out that sooner or later, the cartridge will run out and as soon as it does, doggie can bark with impunity again. “Ruff, ruff.”

So, now that you have ignored, tried reinforcing quiet, shook pennies and blasted air horns, got doused in citronella, you may be tempted to try one of those electric collars.  In our experience we have seen some good bark collars and some really horrible ones.  The good ones are extremely effective.  The bad ones are unnecessarily harsh and can cause more harm then good.  If you would like to investigate the use of an automatic anti-bark collar, consult a professional who has experience with electric collar training.  They work, if you know what you are doing.

The final solution to barking is a surgical procedure to cut the vocal cords.  A controversial procedure, debarking is a permanent fix.  Some say that a debarked dog doesn’t know the difference and has no health problems post surgery.  Others say the procedure is inhumane.

SuperPaws Dog Training tackles problem barking in the same way we go about fixing most behavior problems.  We find that good, solid, reliable obedience training is all you need.  Once your buddy knows what you want from him, “quiet,” is not so elusive.   


Introducing Dog to Baby 

Preparing for a new arrival is one of the most exciting times – exciting, stressful and loaded with things that need to get done on a deadline.  While you are putting finishing touching on the nursery and planning the baby shower, give some thought to the level of your dog’s training. 


Anytime a dog experiences a big change; a move, the death of a family member, the addition or birth of a new family member, he will experience stress.  This stress often causes the dog to regress in his training.  Often, house breaking is the first skill to go, so don’t be surprised after bringing baby home, if your dog has an accident or two of his own.  If handled correctly, this will be a temporary set back.

All you need to do is go back to when your dog was a puppy. Dust off your crate and put your dog back on a schedule.  The familiar routine will help with more then just house breaking.  For those first few chaotic weeks, a routine should put your dog at ease and back in familiar surroundings when all hell is breaking looses around him. 

Of course, that does NOT mean banish the dog to his crate because that is convenient. Put the dog on a reliable schedule. Start a few weeks before the baby comes. Have designated meal times and times for walks and exercise. Get your dog used to calling crate “home” again for a little while. 


If your dog’s obedience is lacking now is the time to go back to school!  When it comes to dog/baby interaction there is a short list of commands that your dog should respond to immediately and without question. 

OFF – if your dog is jumping on anyone or anything he shouldn’t (like you while you are holding baby), he needs to learn off.

LEAVE IT – if your dog picks things up or puts his mouth on things he shouldn’t (like diapers, toys, blankets, your baby…)

PLACE – being able to reliably park your dog in a spot (and have him stay there) is extremely valuable when people come over, or when your walking around with baby or whenever you need the dog to not be under foot.

COME – a reliable recall is always important.


As soon as you have your baby stuff set up, arrange the house as if baby was already home.  Set up the swing and pack in play in the living room and the bassinet in the bedroom.  Spend time standing by the changing table.  Put tempting garbage in the diaper pail.  In a word, live as if the baby is already a part of your lives.  That way, your dog can get used to all the stuff that your baby will come with.  This is minimize the impact of this life change on your dog. 

Another important consideration is traveling with dog and baby.  Set up your car seat and figure out where the dog will ride when you are all in the car together. 

Talk together as a family about how much access you will allow the dog to the baby and when.  Will you let the dog in the baby’s room, for instance?  Will you allow the dog to lick baby’s toes but not the face?  Keep the dog away until the baby is X number of weeks old?  This is not a time to stress too much!  If you and your partner disagree on how to handle dog/ baby interactions, call in a professional to mediate.  We are more then happy to help, as we have been there and can relate!

You can choose to bring home a blanket or other item for your dog to smell, but that may not be necessary.  If a dog can smell a minute amount of narcotics in a barrel of gasoline, the dog can small your baby in utero.  Have you noticed your dog spending more time sniffing your tummy?  Depending on your comfort level, you may want to let fido get used to baby’s sent long before the big B-Day.

Some new parents have had success with a prerecorded CD of baby sounds to get the dog used to crying, cooing, laughing and other interesting sounds your baby will make.  This may be helpful to de-stress your pup.


Employ friends and family to give special attention to your dog.  Schedule people to come, feed, walk and play with your dog.  You may want to have your dog stay with a friend or a boarding facility while you are in the hospital, but  it is my professional opinion to not board the dog during your baby’s home coming.  Coming home after a stay away and finding baby in the home may exacerbate the dog’s stress level.  It’s better to have extra hands come and take care of the dog, but let him stay home.  It IS however, a good idea to have someone on call to take care of the dog should you unexpectedly go into labor.  If no one is available, set up professional services for any of your dog sitting needs. 

Congrats mom and dad. The best is yet to come!



“click, click,” good human!

I was working with our apprentice trainer today and in a conversation about reinforcement I noted that one of the biggest obstacles we as trainers face is client compliance. I hear over and over again from fellow trainers, “if they only did what I told them to do,” and “they don’t practice, that’s why the dog’s not trained,” and “they just want me to fix him and I can’t if they won’t help,”…..

In various forms and in many ways I hear the same complaint- owners not participating in the training. Then it dawned on me like a bolt out of the blue the solution to the problem.

Dog trainers are “masters of behavior.” we mold, shape, reinforce and change behavior all day long- dog behavior. My questions is what are we doing to reinforce OWNER behavior? We tell them to practice. We instruct them to work on this or that. We lecture about patience and consistency, but what REINFORCEMENT is your human client getting for their hard work?

Thankfully we have less problems with client compliance than others in the field because we obtain measurable results the first lesson. When reinforced by noticeable change in the dog, owners are motivated to do their homework. If they don’t make head way they give up (go into avoidance, shutdown, stop responding) and quickly. What would we do with a dog that stopped responding? Give him a lecture? Explain why the pooch needed to practice ? No! We’d do something fun, provide a jackpot, go back to an easy command, get the reinforcement flowing…. Why aren’t we do this with the human too?

So here’s a challenge to all my colleagues out there. If your having problems with owner compliance, maybe you are trying to reinforce the wrong animal in the equation!


Shirley Animal Hoarding Case. What Happens After the Media Leaves?

Animal Hording has become big news lately. Shows like Animal Planet’s “Confessions: Animal Hoarding” and recent news stories have brought this phenomenon into the public eye. Recently, SuperPaws Dog Training participated with Second Chance Wildlife Rescue in the removal of animals in two Long Island hoarding cases in Huntington and more recently in Shirley . The Shirley case was a big news story. How often do you see someone living with a cow in their house? Lots of news stations were on scene to get the scoop, but why does this even happen in the first place and what happens after the cameras leave?

According to the ASPCA of New York, animal hording is defined as: having more then the typical number of animals, inability to care for those animals in terms of sanitation, nutrition and veterinary care, and denial on the part of the owner that the animals are in distress or need veterinary care. There could be many reasons people horde animals including psychological disturbance or the pervasive belief that they are rescuing and helping these animals. The one commonality among hoarders is that they truly believe that the animals are doing fine and the situation is under control.

As the ASPCA points out, not everyone who has multiple animals is a hoarder. Animals that are spayed or neutered, (or kept in good breeding condition,) who receive regular veterinary care and are in good physical condition with proper nutrition and shelters are not the subjects of hording. Even is a person becomes overwhelmed with the number of animals are still not considered hoarders if they are actively looking to resolve the problem.

Hoarding cases attract a lot of media attention. Because of this, awareness of the problem is increasing as many more cases of hoarding are being reported. It is very important to understand that large scale rescues introduce numerous animals into the rescue system all at once, severely taxing that system. When all the news cameras turn off and the reporters go home, the animals still need care. If you can provide a home, great! If not, donations of food, kennels, blankets, time and money are a huge help. After a news worthy case of hording hits the media, there is usually an upsurge of donations. These donations are greatly appreciated. It is important to understand, however that it may take weeks if not months to rehabilitate and re-home many of these animals. Your local rescues need ongoing support.

Understanding and preventing animal hoarding is one step but the real heroes are the ones who continue to care after the blitz dies down.

Dr. Mary Travers-Smith


Winter Activities

In the Season of Seemingly Never Ending Snow, you and your pooch may be feeling a little cooped up.  Here are some suggestions for activities to do with your furry friend to keep his sanity, and yours. 

1)      Teach him a new trick: Start with a tasty piece of food or pup’s favorite toy.  Get his interest by waving it just out of reach of his nose.  Once you have him following your hand with his nose, use that to guide him into the desired position. Once the dog is in position, give him the treat or the toy.  Try “take a bow,” “sit pretty” or “beg,” “roll over,” “spin,” “dance” or “hop”… you get the idea.

2)      Play hide and seek: Have your dog watch you hide food treats and let him go get them.  Once he understands the game, hide the treats in a different room and then tell him to go find them.  This will help him use his nose and his mind.

Note: Lots of dogs get a little portly during the cold season.  If you are using food to entertain your dog be sure to take it out of the dog’s daily allotment of food so he doesn’t get too jolly.   

3)      Indoor fetch: Just because you are stuck inside doesn’t mean your pup can’t play his favorite game.  A hallway or flight of stairs work just fine.  For more intense play and a more tired dog, throw the toy up the stairs.  After a few turns you will see how tired this makes your dog. 

4)      Outdoor play: If all else fails, bundle up and head outside.  Most dogs, even small dogs love playing in the snow.  Have a one way snowball fight.  Believe it or not, lots of dogs love this as they try and catch the snow.  Just make sure your snowballs are loosely packed.  Not in the mood for a snowball fight? Try snow angles.  Your pup will get into the winter spirit in no time.   

Hope this helps! Enjoy the fun.

Dr. Mary