Monday, January 9, 2012
My beagle/terrier mix loves to bark, especially when she's outside. If it moves, Alex barks and once she starts, there's apparently no “off” button. Some breeds bark more than others, and beagles are among them. You can yell at a barking dog until you're blue in the face and they may stop briefly – but usually start in again. This problem behavior isn't entirely their fault, however. We have to accept our role in their unacceptable barking if we don't teach them what we want them to learn. It's not that difficult to do, but you have to commit to teaching them, and it can take some time to get your dog to stop barking.
One thing dogs do well is vocalize. They alert us to intruders or danger by using their voice. Happy yaps say your dog is having fun playing. Some dogs bark to let us know when they see something interesting, and barking lets other animals know they have been seen. Dogs bark when they're lonely, bored, feel threatened or stressed, for attention, or when they don’t get enough mental or physical exercise.
A barking dog is annoying, especially to neighbors. Most people understand if a dog has a reason to bark, but yapping constantly is likely to get you a visit from the local police if your neighbors complain. In some cases, you may be asked to leave an apartment or rental home if you can't contain your dog's barking.
Yelling may stop some dogs, but it won't work for all dogs. Trying to outshout them is more likely to cause their barking to intensify, because they think you're joining in on the fun. They react by becoming more excited. And hollering at your dog from inside the house is just as annoying to the neighbors as the barking dog.
Teaching your dog to stop barking is just like any other training. The most important thing to remember is to remain calm, patient and consistent. You have to be ready to go to your dog every time she barks. You can't do it from the couch or from a window. Dogs will bark from time to time, but you can teach your dog when it's time to stop. This is one training exercise where it's best not to reward with treats or praise, and don't bring them inside or give them hugs. You need to change unacceptable behavior, and it's best done using your body language. Rewards teach them to associate barking with getting something enjoyable.
Training your dog to stop barking
Changing your dog's behavior can take some time to accomplish. Dogs are going to bark at people, other dogs, cats or wild animals. You want your dog to stop after the reason for barking is gone. I go outside and stand beside Alex to let her know I've heard her alarm and came to see what's going on. At this point, I say “enough” in a normal voice to let her know I see nothing around to be concerned with, the danger has passed and she needs to stop barking.
To teach your dog to stop barking, break her focus by blocking her view with your body, stay calm and don't yell. Use your body language to convey to her what you want her to do. It says you're taking over that area and it's time to calm down. You can reward her with a CANIDAE treat or attention after she calms down and moves away from the area. This is a good time to take a few minutes to work on basic commands like “watch me” and “sit.” It puts your dog’s focus on a training session, and they'll associate treats with commands and not for barking. Use this same method to block access to the door when someone comes to visit.
Dogs that bark out of boredom need something to help them occupy their time. Find an activity you and your dog can enjoy doing together, like agility training, field trials, dock diving, K9 Nose Work, Musical Canine Freestyle, hiking or more frequent walks. Interactive games and toys can help keep your dog busy when they are home alone. Don't leave your dog outside or with access to windows, if possible, when you're gone.
Barking is a natural thing for dogs to do. They communicate with their voice just like we do, but sometimes they have a hard time stopping. If you're dealing with separation anxiety, you may need to contact an animal behaviorist to help with your dog. You can calm a barking dog by using language they understand. Body language, respect and consistent training all work much better than yelling or getting angry.
Photo by Natasha C. Dunn
Read more articles by Linda Cole