Sunday, January 20, 2013

No more barking Please!

Ok I started this as a response to a request on the facebook page, and it quickly became rather lengthy  so I decided to turn it into a blog post instead. Enjoy!

Barking is one of the top reasons people get upset with their dog.  There are several reasons why dogs bark. (by the way do you know that adult wolves don't bark, only the pups do, one more way we know that dogs are like big wolf pups as far as maturity goes) One reason is they are bored, what do we all do when we  are bored? We tend to find something to fill in the time with, such as surfing the Internet, eating, or some other mindless hobby. Dogs don't really have hobbies, so when they get bored, they tend to get into trouble.  Sometimes a dog finds that it becomes self rewarding to hear itself bark, because it gets a reaction out of something around it, or it just likes the sound of it's bark, sometimes we never really know.  Other times dogs teach (or reinforce) themselves to bark at people walking by the fence (which is part of fence aggression) or at other dogs or animals running around because it makes them feel like they have a job.  Bark at the people and they go away, bark at the dog and it leaves.  Other reasons dogs bark is because they are anxious, and unlike people they are unable to calm themselves down.  Dogs live in the present (which we would do better to emulate a lot of the time) and that means that they can't simply think, "mom just left, but she will be back in just a bit", or "oh no, there is that scary looking such and such again, but everything will be ok". Living in the moment means if they are scared of something or if you leaving makes them nervous, they are thinking something more like "mom is leaving, she is going to walk out that door, will I ever see her again!" or "there is that scary dog, oh he is so scary, what I am going to do, is he going to eat me today..." and so on.  They don't think about yesterday when you came home after only being gone an hour, or how  you always come home after an 8 hour work day.  They can't tell themselves that the dog across the street won't hurt them, they are just to immature in their thinking to do that.  So what does all that mean, and how does that help you get your dog to stop barking as much?

 Well first of all the more exercise you give your dog the less energy they will have to be anxious. (I know that very well from experience) and thus not feel the need to bark as much.

Second, try teaching your dog something new for 5 minutes every day (it can be the same new thing all week if needed) and that can include when it's ok to bark and when it's not.(by the way did you know that learning something new is like going for a short walk as far as using up some of your dog's energy) Better yet do both, a walk and teach them something new.  For example, someone knocks on your door, in my house, it's ok for Roxy to bark and let me know someone has knocked (I don't always hear it) however she is to stop as soon as I tell her enough.  When your dog can bark on command it is self reinforcing and barking when you have not told it to becomes an unrewarded command that they will quickly fall out of habit of doing. (if you were given a piece of chocolate every time you dug a hole in the lawn for a month, then suddenly stopped getting any after that would still want to go to the bother of digging holes anymore if you suddenly stopped getting rewarded for it?)

Teaching your dog to bark on cue goes something like this: Grab a clicker,

and a bag of treats,

(these are my favorites to use, I have had very few dogs ever turn their noses up at them)

then find a way to get your dog to bark. (a few posts ago I put a couple of links to sites that have recordings of doorbells ringing, or people knocking on doors and here is one of them  
When your dog barks, click and treat.  At first your dog will be quite bewildered that they are getting clicked for barking, but they will start to catch on pretty quick.  Then you start giving the command "speak" or "bark" and then only click them for barking after you have given that command. (you can keep the stimulus going for the first little bit, i.e. whatever you are using to make them bark) Then slowly fade the barking stimulus out by using it only every other time and if they are waiting for  your cue, the drop it to every 4 or 5 times, till you feel like you can drop it all together and only give the "Speak" cue.  Now over the next few days (or weeks) make sure you are using that either when you want them to bark (like when someone knocks at the door) or just as something fun that you can do (when your have someone over and you want to show them how smart your dog is), or just randomly throughout the day.  Now your dog will expect some sort of reward (for those unfamiliar with how the clicker works, it is a reward in and of itself, as well as the treat that follows) whenever it barks, if it does not get the reward, it will feel gypped and therefore will stop barking randomly.  Unless you have taught your dog to bark at a specific cue (such as the doorbell ringing) I would make sure your dog gets rewarded (not always with a treat or the clicker) whenever you ask him to "Speak" that way it continues to reinforce the fact that barking is something to do on cue. (some of the best rewards for your dog is your once they have learned something is your excited praise, a belly rub, or a short play session, as well as a treat every once in a while)

Third, if your dog is barking at a window or a fence as people and other dogs go by it is most likely getting aroused with no other way of blowing off the steam. Therefore (and this will take time and energy on your part) I would grab your clicker and a couple bags of Greenies Pill Pockets (a low calorie, healthy, easy to break into small pieces, and eat treat) and when your dog sees someone at the window and they start to bark call his name, when he looks at you click and treat. Say the work "Quiet" or "Enough", and if he stays quiet click and treat again. The same method can be used when someone is at the door, or when the mailman comes, etc. For this one to work the best your dog will need to be trained to first look at you whenever you call his name (that is one of the reasons that is the first thing I teach in my classes).  The way to do that is simply clicking when your dog looks at you when you call his name, that does two things, first, if your dog has never worked with a clicker before that will teach him what the clicker means, a treat is coming, second it will teach your dog that looking at you when his name is called is always a really good thing (and this comes in handy more times than you can shake a stick at!)  So now that you know your dog will look at you when his name is called you can move on to asking for it either right after the first bark or two or just before (if you can get it set up, like if he tends to always bark at the mail man, sit by then window before the mail man shows up and call your dogs name and tell him quiet and click for the him being good before he has a chance to bark at the mailman).

The fourth way you can help your dog remain calm and not bark as much comes in a couple different ways, first there is a product on the market called D.A.P. (that stands for Dog Appeasing Pheromone).  It is the same pheromone that his mother excreted while nursing her puppies, so it gives them that happy good feeling. Or you could get some therapeutic grade lavender oils and rub them into his ear, paw or chest, or diffuse it into the air. (I do happen to also sell some if you are interested  and it does help). Being therapeutic grade means that the oil is tested to make sure there are no harmful chemicals that are trapped in the oils that would then be transferred to your dog.

So for a recap:
1. Wear your dog out as much as you can throughout the day
2. Put that bark on command
3. Teach the cue "Quiet" or "Enough" to signal when to stop barking
4. Use Pheromones or relaxing therapeutic oils to help calm you furry friend

So there you have it the best ways I know of to get your dog to not be quiet as vocal as he has been in the past and keep everyone's lives in "harmony"

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