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It all started when the dog had an upset tummy. In the early hours of the morning, he barked and, realizing this was unusual, you let got up and let him out for a toilet break. Disaster averted, you went back to bed. A short while later the dog barked again. Same thing. You let him out.
Unfortunately, while his tummy is now back to normal, his barking habit seems well established. He has his own internal alarm clock which goes off about half an hour before you want to rise, and he barks. He even does this on the weekend when you want to sleep in. This is becoming a real issue now, as it seems a lifetime since you had a decent slow start in the morning, and you're accumulating a sleep debt, which is making you grumpy.
If only there was something you could do about his early morning barking...
Barking in the morning can be a hard habit to break. This is because it's a 'self-rewarding' behavior. In other words, the dog wakes up and barks, and a short time later Mom appears with breakfast. In the dog's mind, it's a straight join-the-dots between barking and breakfast.
There is no magic involved in breaking this habit. Success depends on not responding to the barking and only rewarding silence. However, this pitches you against a dog's natural instincts to bark louder and for longer, when ignored. The first hurdle is to be aware this 'extinction burst' behavior is normal and to be expected, so that you can stick with the plan and see things through.
This training doesn't require special equipment, so much as an awareness of the importance of timing.
You will mainly need:
- A dog crate
- A comfortable dog bed
- A collar and leash to take the dog for toilet breaks
- The dog's breakfast (to reward him with when he's quiet)
- The odd treat or titbit
The Prevention Method
Understand the idea
Prevent is better than cure! OK, this might be too late for your dog, but read on none-the-less because it helps you understand what's going through the dog's mind, which will help with retraining. Preventing morning barking occurring in the first place, is about being careful not to accidentally reward the dog 's bark with attention or food. By only greeting the dog when he is calm and quiet, you can avoid this.
Cause and effect
Understand what's going through your dog's mind. Modern training is based on a system of rewards: When a dog performs a desired action he is rewarded, which encourages him to repeat the activity next time. Similarly, if the dog barks in the morning and you appear with breakfast, he has just been rewarded. Effectively, giving him breakfast is rewarding the barking, and therefore he's more likely to bark tomorrow.
Consider crate training
Crate training can be a boon to teaching more settled behavior in the morning. The crate acts as the dog's den, a safe place where he can rest without being disturbed. This also means he's less likely to see the neighbor walking to work, which could set the dog off barking. Likewise, the dog is confined while you get up and ready, which makes it easier to ignore the dog until he is quiet (and you then reward the calm behavior with attention)
Only enter when the dog is quiet
Be it a puppy or dog, only enter the room when he is quiet. This teaches him that good behavior (rather than barking) is rewarded and makes breakfast more likely to happen.
Ignore the dog
If the dog is barking but you have to enter to get ready for work, then it's essential to ignore the dog. He has to learn that barking earns a cold shoulder, and it's only when he's calm that he gets breakfast.
The Extinction Bursts Method
Understand the idea
Your dog barks in the morning and you have been advised that ignoring him is essential. Only when his barking doesn't get what he wants, will he learn to be quiet. This is all well and good in theory, except your dog hasn't read the manual. Instead of being quiet, the barking has got worse, way worse, and now you're at your wit's end. What you're experiencing is something called 'extinction burst' activity, and a necessary stage that the dog has to work through in order for him to get the message.
What is an extinction burst?
Have you ever got into an elevator and pressed the button to close the doors but nothing happened? Did you wait patiently or press the button again? If you pressed the button, and the doors still stayed open, the chances are you beat that button with your fingertip. This is an example of extinction burst behavior. Basically, when you don't get the expected response to a behavior, you ramp up the behavior in the expectation of making the thing happen.
Why your dog's barking has gotten worse
You have done the right thing and now ignore the dog, not letting him out of the crate despite the crazy barking. His barking has gotten worse...way worse. What's happening here is that regular barking didn't get your attention, so your dog assumes you didn't hear and ramped up the volume. When still he doesn't get attention, he decides that it must be the length of time he's expected to bark that's changed. Instead of a bark getting an immediate response, he thinks he needs to bark for 5, 10, 15, or even 30 minutes in order to get breakfast.
Why giving in is a bad idea
OK, so the dog barks for a full 30 minutes before you snap and shout at him to be quiet and put his breakfast down. Bliss! At least he's quiet while he's eating. However, this was a bad idea. The dog now clocks up the 30 minutes of barking is required to get what he wants, which is the exact opposite of what you are aiming for.
Only reward quiet and calm
Instead, it's essential you only reward the dog when he's quiet. Be aware that most dogs will pause from time to time, in order to listen to see if anyone has taken notice. If necessary, take advantage of this albeit brief silence to say "Good boy" and toss him a treat. Repeat this and the periods of silence will slowly grow more frequent. Similarly, only let him out of the crate when he's quiet, as a reward for this good (non-barking) behavior.
The Do's and Don'ts Method
Do: Ensure the dog doesn't deed the potty
Particularly if your dog is elderly, barking in the morning could be a sign they need a comfort break. If you suspect this is the case, only go to the dog in a pause (however brief) between the volleys of barking. This way the dog gets his comfort break, but his barking isn't rewarded.
Don't: Shout at the dog to be quiet
Dogs can be strange creatures, in that they look on attention...any sort of attention...as a form of reward. Thus, if you yell at the dog to be quiet, he may well be secretly pleased and feel validated that barking is an appropriate thing to do. It's better to bite your tongue and ignore the dog, knowing that at least this way you aren't making things worse for the next day.
Do: Teach the 'quiet' command
Learn how to teach a dog not to bark and be quiet on cue. This involves teaching the dog to bark on command (usually easy to do!) and when he's eating his reward for barking - gently hold his muzzle and say "quiet".
Do: Ensure the dog is settled and comfortable
If the dog wakes because of hunger or boredom, then he may decide to bark and see what happens. Simple ways to promote him sleeping through include giving a small snack about half an hour before bedtime, and then letting the dog out for a comfort break immediately before lights out. Also, be sure to give the dog plenty of exercise in the day and the evening, so that he's pleasantly tired and more likely to have a good snooze.
When all else fails, your last resort may be a dog bed or blanket in a corner of the bedroom. Simply being in your presence and knowing that you are not yet awake, may reassure the dog that the day hasn't started yet and he's OK to continue lying in.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 01/22/2018, edited: 01/08/2021