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When a delivery person comes to the door, Lana’s Cocker Spaniel starts barking. At first, Lana thought this was good; her dog was warning her when someone approached the door. However, her little dog’s behavior soon became out of control, with hysterical barking that does not stop until long after the delivery person has left. Lana does not mind her dog barking a few times to warn her someone is approaching, she just wants the deranged barking to cease, and for her little Cocker Spaniel to be quiet when she directs her to stop barking. Shouldn't be too much to ask right?
The fact is, dogs bark to protect you and their property, which is natural. However, when barking becomes out of control or your dog does not respond to commands to stop barking, you have a problem. Cocker Spaniels can be high strung, vocal dogs, so your Cocker Spaniel is particularly prone to develop a habit of barking at delivery people. The reason this behavior can be difficult to eradicate is that the behavior is self-rewarding. A stranger approaches your dog's territory, your dog barks, the stranger leaves, your Cocker Spaniel wins! Breaking this habit is going to require some ingenuity. Fortunately, there are several successful strategies for getting your Cocker Spaniel to stop barking at delivery people.
Getting your Cocker Spaniel to stop barking at delivery people, after a brief alert that someone has approached, will require consistency and dedication. You ultimately want your Cocker Spaniel to respond to your command to stop barking once you have been alerted. Teaching your Cocker Spaniel to bark on command is, ironically, useful for teaching him not to bark, as it teaches him that barking is something you do when asked and stop doing when asked. Teaching behaviors that are incompatible with barking and creating a positive association with delivery people, so that your Cocker Spaniel learns that your delivery person is not there to axe murder the whole family, are also useful strategies. Working with a young dog is the easiest, as they will not have had time to develop a barking habit yet, which may be hard to break. Older dogs can also be taught to be quiet when delivery people approach the house, but training may require more time and consistency.
Having an assistant play the delivery person will be extremely useful so that you can control the situation and be prepared to direct your dog. If you rely on actual delivery people to trigger the unwanted behavior, you may be caught unprepared or stressed out trying to teach your dog and deal with a delivery at the same time. If your assistant can come dressed similar to a mail or delivery person and carry packages, that is even better for simulating the actual situation. Have treats ready to reinforce positive behavior. Avoid punishing or yelling at your barking Cocker Spaniel, as this only creates excitement and tension and gives him attention for his barking behavior (even if it is negative), which generally escalates the behavior.
The Positive Association Method
Meet the delivery person
Take your dog outside. Have a friend approach dressed as a delivery person and carrying a bag or packages like a delivery person would. By meeting outside, you break the cycle of your dog barking from behind a door or window which breaks the cycle and mitigates the behavior.
When your dog starts barking, ignore him and talk to your fake delivery”person.
Reward when quiet
When your dog stops barking, even for a moment, have your assistant delivery person give your dog a treat. Repeat frequently over several days.
Change it up
Start having your assistant approach the house while your dog is behind the door. Change up assistants if possible so your dog does not always associate “deliveries” with one person.
Continue to reinforce quiet
Open the door and have the fake delivery person provide a treat, only when your dog is quiet. If your dog is barking, ignore him, wait patiently for quiet, then have your delivery person give a reward.
The Provide an Alternative Method
Change the situation
Block the area in front of your door or window off, wherever your dog usually stands and barks at delivery people, so that your dog can no longer go to that area to bark. This breaks the cycle and changes the situation.
Teach alternate behavior
Teach your dog to sit and look at you when you command him to do so. You can reinforce this behavior with a 'look at me' command and clicker training. Practice this behavior in the house and outside where distractions are present until well established.
Have "delivery person" approach
Have an assistant play the delivery person at a prearranged time so you are prepared.
Command alternate behavior
When your dog starts to bark, give the command to 'look at me'. Wait until your dog stops barking and complies. Reward your dog. If your dog barks, ignore him and wait, don't repeat the command while your dog is barking, have your fake delivery person wait patiently.
When your dog pauses barking, repeat the command “look at me”, continue until you get compliance, then reward. Repeat several times with different assistants over several days until your dog learns that a delivery person means “look at me” and that he will get a reward for performing that behavior instead of barking.
The Barking on Command Method
Trigger your dog's barking by having an assistant posing as delivery person approach the door, or by ringing the doorbell, or any other trigger that causes your dog to bark.
When your dog barks, say “speak”, then provide a good smelly treat held in front of his nose. This will cause him to stop barking to get the treat. Repeat until established.
Find a quiet environment free of distractions. Give the 'speak' command, followed by the 'quiet' command. Do not raise your voice for the 'quiet' command. When your dog stops barking, wait a few seconds then give him the treat. If your Cocker Spaniel continues barking, wait for him to stop barking, repeat the 'quiet' command and then reward.
Repeat frequently over several days in different situations until you can command 'speak' and 'quiet' with no trigger present.
When a delivery person approaches the door, give the command for quiet after your dog has let out a few barks. Then reward your dog for stopping his barking.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 01/04/2018, edited: 01/08/2021