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Amigo the Chihuahua loves to play. However, he gets so excited when playing that he begins to bark obsessively at his toys and whomever he is playing with. The behavior is quickly becoming out of control and quite annoying. Amigo’s owners don't want to punish Amigo for playing or dampen his enthusiasm, but they do want him to stop barking.
Unlike most barking, which results from fear or an attempt to warn you of possible danger, barking during playing is usually the result of dominant behavior or an elevated emotional state, such as over-excitement. The dog may have inadvertently been rewarded and reinforced for barking during play, by continued or escalated play in response to barking. Establishing a firm leadership role with your small dog and not reinforcing barking during play will help to overcome and reduce this type of barking. There are also several steps you can take to accomplish this and train your small dog to stop barking during play.
While it is normal that your small dog will get excited when playing, and even occasionally vocalize, incessant barking during play is distracting and disturbing. Small dogs can tend to be vocal, and their vocalizations may be inadvertently reinforced during play, resulting in an obsessive behavior that is difficult to stop. Possession of their toy, aggression, or just over-excitement can all contribute to barking behavior during play. Changing your relationship with your small dog by establishing leadership will help mitigate this behavior--make sure your small dog sees you as the provider of food, exercise, and toys, and that he recognizes your leadership. Providing obedience training and teaching your small dog to do tricks also helps establish leadership. This will help change the dynamic of your relationship with your small dog and may reduce barking during play from aggression or dominance. You will also need to make sure that barking during play is not reinforced, by not continuing play when your small dog barks or by substituting behaviors such as 'quiet' or another behavior incompatible with barking.
Once you break the barking habit during play your small dog should be able to play in an engaged but relatively vocal-free manner!
Sometimes exercising or walking your small dog prior to training your dog not to bark while playing is helpful to reduce excess energy that may be contributing to excited barking. Be consistent to ensure that barking during play is not reinforced. The use of treats to put barking on command or establish alternative behaviors is also useful to train your small dog not to bark during play. Be consistent with your small dog so as to avoid confusion. It may take some patience to change an established behavior.
The Bark & Quiet Method
Trigger your dog's barking with an event other than play, such as when someone rings a doorbell.
When your small dog starts barking, say “speak” and reward him with a treat. Repeat to establish. Eventually you will provide the command 'speak' and your dog will bark.
Now introduce the command 'quiet'. Ask your dog to 'speak', Then say “quiet” when your dog stops barking for a moment. Reward your small dog. Gradually increase the length of time your dog needs to remain quiet in order to get his treat.
Practice using “quiet” when barking is triggered in exciting situations like on walks, when a squirrel or another animal is encountered. Say “quiet” and reinforce compliance with a treat.
Apply to play
Introduce the use of the quiet command when you are playing with your dog. When your little dog starts barking say “quiet”. Also practice “speak” until your dog learns that barking is something he does only when asked and responds to the quiet command when playing.
The Extinguish Method
Freeze when barking occurs
Start playing with your dog. When he barks, stop, turn away and freeze, withhold any toys.
Play when quiet
When your dog stops barking, resume playing. Continue to play as long as your dog doesn't bark.
Stop play for barking
When your dog starts barking again say “no” and withdraw.
Be consistent, never reinforce barking by continuing play. Require your dog to be quiet in order for play to continue.
Establish quiet during play
Eventually your small dog will recognize that barking results in no play and quiet results in continued play, and will respond. Reward quiet play with continued play, affection and attention.
The Alternative Behavior Method
Present alternate objet
Teach your dog to pick an object up in his mouth on command. Use a rawhide bone or another object that you do not use as a toy during play.
When your dog investigates or touches the object with his nose or mouth, capture with a clicker and reinforce by providing a treat.
Shape picking up
Gradually shape the behavior so that your small dog will pick the object up in his mouth for a reward.
Add a command such as “bone”, teach your dog to pick up his “bone” every time he is commanded in order to get a treat.
Use during play
When playing, and your small dog starts barking, give the command for the alternate behavior, such as “bone” and stop play while your dog gets his bone. This will break the barking cycle. Resume play when your dog is calm. Command alternate behavior when he starts to bark.
Written by Laurie Haggart
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 01/25/2018, edited: 01/08/2021