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It’s fair to say the most loved member of the family might well be your Cocker Spaniel. True to their nature, he’s faithful, affectionate and playful. He loves messing around with the kids and he’s always interested in new people. However, he does seem to have an issue with one individual, the mailman. The mailman isn’t quite sure what he’s done to deserve his wrath, but he’s always met with a bark. It was entertaining to start with, but now you’re worried he’s starting to bark at other people too. You want him to remain the friendly dog he always was, so stamping out this behavior is important.
If you train him not to bark at the mailman you’ll be able to collect your post hassle-free. You also won’t have to worry that he becomes more aggressive, which could result in biting. Unfortunately, dogs that bite often have to be put down.
The good news is Cocker Spaniels are fast learners. They have developed a reputation for being straightforward to train, which is great news for you. You’ll have to use a number of deterrence measures to stop him from barking. You can teach him to bark on command, so you can also teach him to fall silent. The success of training will hinge on the incentive you use. Cocker Spaniels have a strong sense of smell, so some stinky food will do the job.
If he’s a puppy he should be eager to please. This could lead to results in just a week. If he’s older and he’s been barking at the mailman for many years then breaking the habit will be more challenging. You may need three weeks. Succeed with this training and not only will the mailman thank you, but you’ll also be able to stop him barking in a range of other situations too.
Before you can start training you’ll need to collect a few bits. For one of the methods, you will need a deterrence collar and a water spray bottle. You will also require a decent supply of treats. Alternatively, you can break his favorite food into small pieces.
Set aside 10 minutes for training. You can do this anywhere in the house, but try and find a time where there won’t be noisy kids charging around. A food puzzle will also be needed for one of the methods.
Once you have all that, just bring patience and a proactive attitude, then work can begin!
The Deterrence Method
The first step to take is to issue a stern ‘NO’ command whenever he barks. Wait by the door when you know the mailman is likely to arrive, so you can issue the command promptly. You don’t want to scare your dog, but let him know you mean business.
Water spray bottle
If the ‘NO’ command doesn’t do the job, upgrade to the water bottle. Keep it by the door, then spray it near your dog’s face when he barks at the mailman. This will make him think twice next time.
You can also use a deterrence collar. They can be bought from a range of online and local pet stores. As soon as he barks, an unpleasant spray of citronella will be emitted. He will soon associate negative consequences with barking at the mailman.
Fit baby gates in the doorways that grant him access to the mailman. If he doesn’t know he’s coming, he won’t get up to bark. Before you know it he will have forgotten all about barking at the mailman.
Radio & TV
It could also be worth playing the radio or TV quietly at the time when the mailman is likely to arrive. If he can’t hear him coming he won’t be disturbed and he won’t rush to get up and bark.
The Desensitize Method
Have someone knock
Have a friend or family member knock at the front door. Take your dog near the door and stand with him. Be animated and play around with him. This will put him at ease when he hears the knock.
For as long as he doesn’t bark, give him the odd treat and verbal praise. You’re showing him that this is the right behavior when someone knocks on the door.
As soon as he barks, stop playing with him and giving him treats. Instead, lead him by the collar out of the room and then turn your back on him. This will help make him realize that barking won’t get him anything he wants.
Take him back
After you’ve taken him away for a minute or so, head back for the door. Have the person knock again and repeat the same procedure. So, praise him until he barks. Keep practicing this for 10 minutes each day. Over time he will be able to stay longer and longer without barking.
Once you can have him by the door without any barking when someone knocks, it’s time to try the mailman. Make sure you’re there waiting for him. Then, follow the same steps as above. Really hammer home the praise until the mailman has gone. Keep practicing this everyday until the habit subsides.
The Verbal Cue Method
When he barks at the mailman, issue a ‘bark’ command. Give it in a clear, but firm voice. You don’t have to use that particular word, you can use any word or phrase you like. Cocker Spaniels can learn hundreds of different commands.
As soon as he does indeed bark, hand over a tasty treat. Do this every day for a few days. Then start giving the command when the mailman isn’t around, to make sure he fully understands it. This may seem strange, but once you can instruct him to bark, you’ll be able to instruct him to be quiet.
Now wait for him to start barking at the mailman, then as soon as he stops, issue a ‘quiet’ command. Again, you can use any verbal cue you like. Just give it in a playful voice. Cocker Spaniels learn best when they think they are playing a big game.
As soon as he goes silent and you’ve given the command, hand over a treat. The greater the reward, the faster he will learn. Now practice this every day for a few days.
Bring forward the cue
Once he’s familiar with the command, you can start giving the instruction before he falls silent. He will associate the command with being quiet and food by this point. You can now give this instruction every time he barks at the mailman and soon enough, the habit will be broken.
By James Barra
Published: 01/03/2018, edited: 01/08/2021