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Nov062011

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.   



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