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Is the quiet of a relaxed evening at home frequently shattered by loud volleys of dog barking?
From fireworks to the doorbell or people talking in the street, there are many common sounds that will have a reactive dog up on his paws to defend his patch with ferocious barking.
This is all very well, but in the modern city noises outside your dog's core territory (the home!) are a fact of life. It may be things have got to the point where settling down to watch the latest boxed set is simply not possible. You've no sooner got comfy on the sofa when a shout in the street has the dog giving a deafening bark that has you spilling the popcorn. While this is a good tactic form the dog's point of view for scrounging an illicit snack, it's not so great for your nerves (or his waistline.)
Unfortunately, most people's reaction is to yell at the dog to be quiet. At which point, the dog misinterprets your cries as a poor imitation of barking and thinks you're joining in. Instead, what the clever pet parent does is to either teach the dog to be quiet on command or issues an instruction for the dog to carry out which is incompatible with barking.
If this all sounds like wishful thinking, here's how to make it happen.
Teaching a dog to stop barking at noises, is just that. This near-miracle is achieved either through teaching the dog the "Quiet" command or by giving him an alternative action to undertake which is incompatible with barking. The latter could be picking up a ball and holding it in his mouth or going to a mat to lie down.
However, be aware that barking is often deeply ingrained behavior, so things aren't going to change quickly. Don't be discouraged, but instead channel your energy into regular daily training sessions which will help to retrain the dog.
Also, it's important not to accidentally reinforce bad behavior by giving the dog attention when he barks. If necessary, be prepared to leave the room and let the dog get on with barking if that's the only option. At least then you have withdrawn attention, which sends the dog a powerful message and doesn't unwittingly reward him.
Teaching a dog not to bark at noises requires a great deal of time, persistence, and patience. It's crucial that you dedicate a few minutes every day to teaching this command. In addition, take care to avoid accidentally reinforcing the undesired behavior by shouting at the dog in between times when he barks.
The basics you need to teach the dog to lead a quieter life include:
- A treat pouch you can wear on your belt
- A mat
- A rubber ball or toy
- Peanut butter or a tasty food you can rub on the rubber ball or toy.
The Teach 'Quiet' Method
Understand the idea
When a behavior is placed on cue, such as barking, it's then easier to teach the opposite command, such as quiet. Once the dog has learned "Quiet" you can use it to silence unwanted barking.
Have the dog bark
Bizarre as it sounds, the first step is to put barking on cue. Make a noise that will trigger the dog to bark. For example, sit in front of a wall and knock on it behind your back.
Label the barking as "speak"
When the dog barks in response to you knocking, say "Speak" and allow him to bark another couple of times.
Use a treat to teach "quiet"
Now hold a tasty treat in front of his nose, to interrupt the barking. As he stops to sniff the treat, say "Quiet" and let him have the treat.
Practice, practice, practice
Repeat the above steps in a room with few distractions. The dog will start to anticipate "Quiet" means a reward and stops barking ahead of being shown the treat. Now you are ready to practice with distractions. Have a friend knock on the front door, allow the dog to bark then give the 'quiet' command. When the dog stops barking, give him lots of praise and a treat.
The Incompatible Behavior Method
Understand the idea
Some actions, such as carrying an object in the mouth or going to a mat, make it more difficult for the dog to bark. For example, picking up a ball means his mouth is being used for something else, while the dog that is concentrating on going to his bed is not listening to noises outside.
Introduce an object
Choose an object, such as a rubber ball, that won't be damaged if you coat it in peanut butter.
Smear a tasty treat, such as peanut butter, on the ball and offer it to the dog. As he licks the ball, place it gently against his lips and say "Take it".
Hold the object
Once the dog opens his mouth and holds the ball, stroke the underside of his chin and repeat "Take It". When the dog learns to happily hold the object in his mouth, start offering the ball on the flat of your hand for him to take voluntarily. Finally, place the object a short distance away and have him pick it up on the 'take it' command.
Go to your mat
Here the dog learns an alternative action (going to his mat) instead of barking when he hears a noise. Set up a mat in a convenient corner of a room. Hide treats on the mat. Now toss a treat onto the mat and as the dog runs after it say "Go to your mat." Not only does he get the treat you threw there, but he discovers other delicious treats, which makes it a special place to be.
Instead of tossing a treat, say "Go to the mat". Let the dog discover that when he goes there he'll find hidden treats. Slowly phase out the concealed goodies, so that he's responding just to the words. Now have a friend make noises outside, and when the dog barks tell him in a firm but happy voice, "Go to your mat", then praise and reward him when he does just that.
The What NOT to Do Method
Don't yell at the dog when he barks
To a dog, yelling sounds a lot like barking. He may think you are trying to join in and it encourages, rather than discourages, the bad barking behavior. Also, giving the dog attention in the form of telling him off is accidentally rewarding him, which again is an encouragement. So know that your safest default position is to ignore the noise (unsatisfying as that might be!) and leave the room if need be.
Do NOT be inconsistent
Don't confuse the dog by yelling at him or encouraging him to bark some days or at some people, but wanting him to be quiet for others. Also, make sure all family members react in a similar way to his barking, and they use the same commands to get him to stop
Don't forget to practice
It's no good only issuing the cue words when you're in a real-life situation that causes the dog to bark. Be sure to practice for short periods of time, each and every day so that the commands are embedded in his psyche for the times they are required.
Don't think he'll learn overnight
Barking is a self-rewarding activity for dogs. The more ingrained his barking habit, the more difficult it will be to retrain. It may even take weeks or months of consistent training in order to teach him a new and better way to respond. Be prepared for this and stick with it.
Don't make life more difficult than it has to be
Take a look at ways you can reduce the stimulus for the dog to bark. For example, if he barks at fireworks going off, then generally decreasing the stimulus by closing the curtains and playing soft music to disguise the bangs is going to help. Likewise, if you know the dog barks wildly when the front doorbell rings, when you are expecting visitors, pop the dog into a rear room where he's less likely to hear the bell.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 10/23/2017, edited: 01/08/2021