Have you tried everything and your dog is still barking and barking and barking at….. who knows what!? As noted in the last post, dogs bark for lots of reasons and I can’t address all of them in one post, but there is one quick and easy change you can make to decrease most barking, no matter the cause.
The goal is not to stop your dog from barking completely, because most of us want a watchdog meaning a dog to alert you when there is a possible intruder or another impending danger coming your way. But a dog that barks at every little thing is not truly an effective watchdog. Are you going to be concerned, quickly get up and go check every time your dog barks when most of the time it is your neighbor walking by like they do every day, a car driving past your house or a leaf fluttering to the ground? Well, most of us will just start to yell “STOP! BE QUIET!”, right?! So what most of us want is a balance between a dog that will bark only to alert us to a potential danger and stop when they are reassured.
Quick and Easy: I am highlighting this because if you are like most of my clients, then you are short on time with a busy life and if I recommend a change in your lifestyle that isn’t quick and easy, you probably won’t do it. With that in mind, I chose the one thing that requires the least amount of effort but will also make the most impact on your dog’s behavior. I call it “Say Please!” and it’s outlined below. Intuitively, it may not sound like it would help or even be related to your issue, but trust me… I get great feedback on how much just this one change can make. In addition, this change will jumpstart the process to more complete control in the future and even help with other behavior issues. So, even if your lifestyle is overwhelming right now, you can still manage this change and your dog should show a marked improvement. Later you can work on the cause and add more to your management .
Is this a complete solution for excessive barking? If you follow my directions, you should see a marked improvement within one to two weeks. By then, my hope is that you will suddenly realize that you forgot all about the nuisance barking because there have been some abnormally long quiet stretches of time without it. Yes, it can be a complete solution to the problem barking, but typically, you will still need to put further management in place. This is an investment; an investment in better behavior and a closer relationship between you and your dog. So, no, this is not intended to be a complete solution but you will be going in the right direction.
In-house excessive barking: This post is addressing barking in your house that either will not stop when your dog is reassured there is no danger or for nuisance barking that is in response to non-threatening random noises or events outside.
What if you have multiple dogs? This can help when you have multiple dogs but it can be tricky to get all your dogs to follow a command separately or at the same time when they are together. You might need to work with your dogs one at a time at first and then two at a time, etc. This is a larger topic so I won’t address it in this post, except to say that if you can get them all to remain in position at the same time and be released one at time, then this will help you also. If you can’t do that, and you can do it SAFELY, then just work with the dog that has the worst barking issue or hold off on this. I will address working with multiple dogs in future blog post.
Before you get started…
- Safety: Safety is always first! If your dog is a risk to anyone, to another animal or to themselves (as can be the case in separation anxiety cases), please get professional help immediately. See your regular veterinarian for a recommendation or go to the AVSAB website for a list of behavior professionals in your area. I cannot give you specific advice unless your dog is my patient. What I am providing is general advice that helps provide a foundation for improved behavior. Do not try any techniques unless you know it will be safe to do so.
- Health Issues: When your dog isn’t well, their behavior suffers. Honestly, you know you aren’t your best self when you are sick or incapacitated for any reason, so understand that neither is your dog. It doesn’t make sense to work on behavior before you know what health issues could be contributing to it.
It’s time to make this one change!
Some trainers and handlers call this “Work for Pay” or “Nothing in Life is Free” but those descriptions imply a bit of negativity, so I prefer “Say Please!”. If you visit a Kindergarten class, you will recall that the teachers normally ask them to sit in the same seats, follow a daily routine with “The Pledge of Allegiance”, then take attendance, maybe a “Show and Tell” and then the rest of the days lessons and activities are on a pretty strict schedule. Snack at 10:00, lunch at 11:30 followed by recess, etc. They are required to say “please” and “thank you” amongst other things. Can you require this and still be a fun teacher? Yes! Would you call this “Work for Pay”? or “Nothing in Life is Free”? Well, I haven’t ever heard it described that way.
We know that structure and routine in a child’s day provide them with a sense of security and also better behavior, because expectations are clear. Then we build on this as the years go by. Well, dogs aren’t much different than Kindergarteners and if you provide that same type of structure, you will improve their behavior too. (Even mine, if you are asking! 😉 Use this with your dog and their excessive barking will decrease and other behaviors will improve also.
To put “Say Please!” in place, consider every possible reward your dog gets throughout the day and ask for a command before allowing the reward. It is critical that you understand what I mean by a “reward”. A reward is anything and everything your dog wants and even things your dog didn’t even know he wanted!
It’s easy to realize this should be done before their food is put down or before they go out the door. But you will need to add lots and lots of other routines – remember the kindergartners! Also, I am stressing that your command does NOT have to be firm! You ask once, maybe twice and if your dog doesn’t follow through then, oh well….. the door doesn’t open or you block them from going upstairs or the food isn’t served. Try again in 10 minutes. They’ll get the idea pretty quick and comply faster as time goes on. Your attitude is not of a “strict authority” but rather, “You didn’t say please so you must not really want it, so let me know if you change your mind.” 😉
To put this in place, ask for a command your dog knows well:
- Before they go outside AND before they come inside
- Before getting on furniture AND if it makes sense, before getting off
- Before going into a room
- Before going upstairs AND before coming downstairs
- Before going in the crate and before coming out of the crate
- Before you offer any affection or petting
- Before you put the leash on AND before you take it off
- Before you throw the ball AND before you take it back
- Can you think of more? Think of as many as possible and the more you do this, the better
NOTE: if you know that your dog will NOT comply and you NEED them to for example, go outside to relieve themselves, then don’t ask for the command. Wait until you have it pretty solid elsewhere. Remember, if you can’t be sure they will comply, as in the example, before they go out, you still have the opportunity to ask for it before they come in. You can open the door and if they won’t sit, then close the door. If they will then bark or scratch the door, you may have to wait on that also or go outside and help them.
Treats: You do not need treats for this because the reward is getting whatever it is that comes next such as going upstairs. But if you are struggling with this, then your dog isn’t really trained so you may need them at first. After some time, you can fade the treats out and/or use other rewards such as toys, praise, etc.
If you do use food or treats, to prevent overfeeding, you can reserve 1/3 or 1/2 of your dog’s kibble to use as a reward. For other food, use healthy treats and know that dogs don’t care as much about the size of the treat as they do about the number of treats. So cut or break the treat up into mince size for small dogs and no more than a diced size for large dogs.
Keep a Record: Having a record or list in view will be a good reminder to do this. It may even help you to sit down and list the times you can do this. The more you add this structure of “Say Please!” into your day, the more automatic it will become. You won’t need to think about it, nor will your dog.
Are you going to take the challenge? If so, comment below and we’ll want to know your results. Remember, you need to ask for “Please” lots of times throughout your day and add any structure you can. Your dog is now enrolled in Kindergarten!