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Having a small dog is fantastic in so many ways. You have the cutest ball of fur to cuddle up with in the evenings. He can sit on your lap without squashing you. He doesn’t terrify guests and small children. So, in many ways, you love your dog. However, he does have one rather annoying habit. Whenever you are on a walk or he is in the yard, he starts barking at birds. As soon as a bird is in sight, loud barking is likely to follow. It was amusing at first, but now it’s becoming a problem. Not to mention, it’s quickly souring relations with the neighbors.
Training him not to bark at birds is essential for your eardrums and for your canine’s diminishing popularity. Barking can sometimes be the first step on a slippery slope to aggressive behavior, which could result in biting. Nipping the problem in the bud at the barking stage will prevent this.
Training any dog not to bark once they have found their voice can be challenging. With small dogs, it is often a bigger hurdle, as many bark because they feel threatened more easily. You will need to use a number of deterrence measures to keep him quiet around birds. You will also need to re-direct his energy into something more productive. An important part of training will also be teaching him to bark and then be quiet on command. This can prove useful in other situations too.
If he’s a puppy he should be a fast learner and eager to please. You could see results in just a week. If he’s older and the habit has been cemented over many years then you may need up to a month. Get the training right and you’ll get to enjoy those peaceful dog walks you first envisaged.
Before you get to work, you’ll need to collect a few bits. Break his favorite food into small pieces, or stock up on some treats. If your little dog is aggressive as well as loud, you may want to use a muzzle until the aggressive behavior is under control.
A water bottle and a deterrence collar will also be required for one of the techniques. Set aside 10 minutes each day for training and be ready to react on walks.
Once you have all that, just bring patience and an optimistic attitude, then work can begin!
The Deterrence Method
Whenever he barks at birds you must react swiftly. Rush over and give him a firm ‘NO’. While you don’t want to terrify him, you do want him to know you mean business. Hold eye contact while you give the command too.
Water spray bottle
If the firm ‘NO’ doesn’t deter him, upgrade to a water bottle. Carry one with you and give him a quick spray near the face whenever he barks. This will make him think twice next time.
You can get deterrence collars online that emit an unpleasant spray of citronella whenever a dog barks. This will quickly get him associating barking with negative consequences, which will keep him quiet.
Keep the back door shut
It is important that you reduce his access to birds until you get the barking under control. So, keep the back door shut and limit his access to problem areas as much as possible to begin with. Removing the temptation will seriously help.
Put him on a leash
If he barks at birds when you are on a walk, place him on a leash and pull him away. He will soon learn that if he wants to keep his freedom, he will have to keep quiet. Use any combination of these methods until barking has fully ceased.
The Quiet Method
Head out for a walk as you normally would, or let him into the yard. However, instead of stopping him from barking, let him roar. But when he does, issue a ‘bark’ command. Give it in a clear, but playful voice.
As soon as he does start barking, hand over a tasty treat. This may seem counterintuitive, but you need to teach him bark on command before you can teach him to fall silent on cue. Practice this for a few days and then start giving the command when birds aren’t around to check he’s got the hang of it.
Now head out to the birds again. But this time after he’s been barking for a while, issue a ‘quiet’ command. Give it only once, you don’t want him to think he can wait for you to pester him a few times.
As soon as he falls silent, give him a reward. The reward must come within 3 seconds of him being quiet, otherwise he won’t associate the action with the reward. Now practice this for a few minutes each day. Again, practice in a variety of situations to check he fully associates the instruction with the behavior.
Lose the ‘bark’
Once he has got the hang of ‘quiet’, you can stop using the ‘bark’ instruction. Simply command him to be quiet each time he barks. If you are consistent, he will eventually break the habit and stop barking altogether.
The Socialization Method
When he is just a puppy, take your small dog out to play around near birds. This early exposure will decrease the chances of him seeing birds as a threat. You can even play gently with bird decoys and leave them in his bed.
Whenever he is quiet and calm around birds, you should give him a treat and reward him. He will soon associate being quiet with treats. That will be an effective motivator to stop the barking.
Whenever he starts barking at the birds, lead him away. Take him by the collar and remove him until he falls silent. After a minute or so, you can release him back into the area. The combination of positive and negative reinforcement will swiftly drill into him what behavior is and isn’t acceptable around birds.
Small dogs often bark because they are scared. So, try and position yourself between him and the birds until the barking is under control. If you are in front, you are the pack leader and he will relax knowing it is your job to protect you both.
Never punish him
It is important you don’t punish him for barking at birds. This could make him scared of you and then he will turn to the only defensive measure he knows: barking. You don’t want to make the problem worse. Remain calm at all times with him.
By James Barra
Published: 01/11/2018, edited: 01/08/2021