I received a call this week from a couple whose only complaint about their dog was her incessant barking. I could tell they were frustrated. They used the phrase “driving us insane”. They also shared how much they love her and what a wonderful companion she is.
This is a call I receive multiple times a week. People adore their dogs but barking is a “hot button” issue. It is often the reason for tension between family members and neighbors. It even results in the relinquishment of dogs to shelters.
It’s important to understand that barking is a normal, natural canine behavior. Dogs bark for many reasons including boredom, frustration, alerting to noises, fear, reactivity and more.
When your dog barks, she’s attempting to communicate something she needs, similar to when a young child cries. As the dog’s guardian and advocate, it is up to us to listen and try to help him.
Determining the “why” behind barking and addressing it is the most important step. If your dog barks at something or someone out of fear, yelling at or punishing her will not fix the issue for either one of you. Your dog will likely become more fearful. This is due to your reaction and you’ll both experience the same situation again next time.
If your dog barks because she’s bored and frustrated from being ignored all day, you must provide the physical exercise and mental enrichment her brain and body are pleading for. These are fundamental needs which most dogs don’t receive regularly.
Almost all dogs bark to alert others in their house when they hear or see something outside. In moderation, this is barking that many humans accept as it instills a sense of safety. However, some dogs don’t understand that just a handful of barks is enough. This is where a positive interrupt cue can be used. (something invaluable I learned during one of my Peaceable Paws Academies with Pat Miller).
The positive interrupt cue does exactly what it says…it interrupts the dog’s barking in a positive way and allows you to redirect the dog’s focus.
You are basically saying “Thanks for the warning. Now let’s go do something else”. When you teach this cue, your dog learns that it is acceptable to bark at something a few times. Then she is positively reinforced for stopping and looking at you.
The key to success with this cue is to first teach and practice it in a low distraction environment when your dog is NOT barking. You need to build a very solid foundation before expecting it to work when your dog is focused on barking at something.
In this video I’m working with my own dog, Bosco and introducing the very beginning steps of the quiet cue.
You want your dog’s head whipping back in your direction nine out of ten times after hearing your cue BEFORE you attempt to use it in a barking situation. If you don’t take time to establish this automatic response when there are zero distractions, you can’t expect it to work in a highly distracting situation.
Using patience, consistency and high value treats, you too can have a powerful positive interrupt cue which will redirect your dogs from barking and help to bring peace to your household once again.
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Tiffany Lovell, CSAT, CPDT-KA, AAI, operates Cold Nose College, Space Coast in Brevard County, Florida and offers force-free training and behavior consulting. She specializes in private in-home coaching & training, separation-anxiety training (local & remote to anywhere in the U.S. & internationally) and behavior consults. (321) 757-2059; coldnosecollege.com