June 07, 2006

K9 Shrink

Barking Dogs II

Last week we discussed territorial barking, one of the major causes of nuisance barking. Ever since man discovered that dogs would alert him to the presence of "outsiders," he has utilized this instinctive canine behavior to help provide security for himself and those living in close proximity.

In addition to territorial barking, today's dog will also bark to demand something it wants, and out of simple boredom.

Demand barking is often inadvertently reinforced by well-meaning owners. Say your dog is begging for food and barks to get your attention. You respond by sharing a bit of what you are eating with him. You have just rewarded his bark and reinforced his barking strategy.

Another type of demand bark may occur when your dog is crated. He may bark at you, asking to come out. If you then release him, he has learned how to bark his way out of the crate and is likely to repeat this annoying behavior.

While it may be difficult at first, ignoring your dog's barking is the best way to discourage demand barking. Dogs are pragmatic and will abandon a strategy (such as barking) if it fails to produce desired results. Another solution to demand barking is to teach the "Quiet" command.

Use a crate and spray bottle to teach the "Quiet" command. Adjust the nozzle on your spray bottle so that it produces a stream of water rather than a mist. You can add a little cider vinegar to the water to further distract your dog. When he barks, calmly say, "Quiet," as you spray into the crate. Do not spray your dog's eyes. Aim for the area of his mouth.

Repeat this procedure for every bark, until your dog stops barking. Before long, he will stop barking when he sees you approach with the spray bottle. If he does bark, say, "Quiet" without spraying, wait a few seconds, and praise verbally. Soon you will not even have to pick up the spray bottle to shut off the barking. A simple "Quiet" will do. When training this way, never reward a crated dog with food, and never spray the dog if he responds properly to the "Quiet" command.

Many dogs bark out of boredom. The simplest solution for boredom is to provide interesting chew toys when leaving your dog home alone. There are lots of chew toys on the market that are designed to distract your dog. My favorite chew toy is a simple marrow bone. I steam them lightly to kill bacteria then cool them down and give them to my dogs. Marrow bones are hard and very good for chewing. They can be used over and over. Simply pack cheese, meat, or other treats into the hollow section of a marrow bone to keep your dog occupied. If you toss a couple of these into your dog's crate before leaving the house, he will happily chew for a while and then doze off.

My favorite trick for controlling nuisance barking is to actually teach the "Bark" or "Speak" command. This training is lots of fun and requires precise timing. By using the "Speak" and "Quiet" commands to turn barking on and off, I gain greater control over both territorial and demand barking.

While doing bark training, I carry a pouch filled with food treats. When, at some point, the dog barks, I say, "Good bark," and offer a treat. I then try to induce another bark by saying either "Speak" or "Bark-bark." Sometimes making my own barking sound will encourage a dog to bark back at me. If he does, I praise, treat and repeat. When giving the "Bark" or "Speak" command, I extend my thumb and index fingers, moving the finger trips together and apart to mimic a mouth. This action becomes the hand signal for the "Speak" command.

Once I have a dog barking reliably on command, I add the "Quiet" command to turn off the barking. First, I induce a bark. Then, holding a food reward, I gently cup the dog's muzzle as I say "Quiet." As the dog stops barking and takes the treat, I praise verbally. With a little practice I soon have the dog barking and quieting on command. Dogs love this little game and it leads to their increased willingness to quiet down when commanded.

As with all problem behaviors, barking is more easily controlled if you are maintaining a regular schedule of general obedience training. Springtime is a great time to get out and train, so remember, practice, practice, practice!

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