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When the Smiths' little terrier puppy sees someone new approach them on walks, or pass the house or come up the walkway, he barks hysterically and excitedly. The puppy won’t respond to entreaties from his owners to be quiet, so they raise their voices, which escalates the puppy's emotional state and makes him bark even more excitedly. This results in the Smith family yelling at and punishing the puppy, which causes the puppy to become anxious and his barks to become more frantic, well you get the picture, it’s a vicious circle!
Most of us want our dog to bark when a stranger approaches our house and maybe even look a little menacing to let the stranger know that the dog is on the job and protecting their owner and property. Unfortunately, many dogs seem to bark out of control, not stopping when directed and becoming over excited, and even hysterical when barking. The attempts of many owners to stop this behavior only contributes to a heightened emotional reaction from the young dog. A dog that is out of control and barking excitedly is not only annoying, if the barking is unwarranted and needs to stop, but does not present the picture of a dog that could be directed to protect if necessary, or directed at all! How do you let your puppy bark, to alert you someone is coming, but do so calmly and stop when directed?
Dogs that bark in an overexcited, emotional state are actually less intimidating as watch or guard dogs because they are not paying any attention to their handlers and could not be directed to protect if required. For most of us, we don't really require an actual aggressive guard dog, we just want to be alerted, calmly, when someone is coming up the driveway and then be able to direct our dog to be quiet. Some dogs become so fixated and excited by the approach of a stranger, or even a friend, that they lunge and bark, and cannot be stopped. This behavior is very disruptive.
You want your dog to be able to bark without going into that overexcited, unstable, anxious, fearful and aggressive emotional state, so he is doing a job, not reacting to a situation! The key is to teach your puppy that barking is a job or a task, not a reaction. You want to direct both starting and stopping barking and separate this behavior from emotional reactions. Barking should be triggered by an actual event, not excitement, and be able to be controlled with a verbal command to cease barking when the situation no longer warrants it. A young dog or puppy can be taught that barking is a job he can do, alerting you when someone is approaching, and that he will be rewarded for doing the job appropriately. Also, it is important that he can be directed to stop barking when it is no longer necessary. No nonsense, no hysteria, just a simple job! Easy right?!
If you use an assistant to trigger barking it will help you control the training process and help take the emotional component out of barking being triggered, since you are expecting the trigger, and not concerned about someone being anxious or upset by your puppy barking, which contributes to an overexcited, anxious state. Also, have treats and patience, so your puppy learns that barking is a behavior he can be directed to perform and stop. Do not ever get excited yourself, yell at, or punish a barking puppy, as this will only cause your puppy to become the opposite of calm. Instead, if you are excited, he will become excited and fearful, and escalate the problem behavior.
The Bark on Command Method
Trigger your puppy’s barking, with an event, such as having an assistant approach your house.
As soon as your dog starts to bark, before he has time to get excited, say “speak,” let him bark and then before barking escalates, reward him with a treat.
Practice and repeat triggering barking with an assistant or capturing barking when it occurs. commanding 'speak' and then rewarding. Try to reward before barking escalates and becomes excited, taking the treat will interrupt the escalation.
Now introduce the command “quiet”. Ask your dog to “speak”. Don't provide the treat right away. Say “quiet”, wait for your dog to stop barking. When your dog stops barking for even a moment, reward your puppy. Hold the treat out to distract him from barking and repeat "quiet" to interrupt the puppy and help him stop barking.
When your dog has learned that he can bark just because he is commanded to, which takes the emotional component out of the behavior, use 'speak' and 'quiet' in day-to-day situations at home when someone approaches the house, or on walks, when your puppy sees something exciting. Also, command 'quiet' so that barking becomes routine and directed.
The Extinguish Barking Method
When your puppy barks excitedly when playing or when triggered by an assistant approaching, stop, turn away, and freeze. Withhold any toys, have the assistant stand and ignore the dog. Do not talk to the dog or respond in any way.
Do not get excited
Do not get agitated or excited. When your dog stops barking, resume play or have the assistant provide positive attention. Be consistent, never reinforce excited barking by rewarding it with any type of attention.
Don't open door
If your puppy excitedly barks when the doorbell rings or someone approaches the house unexpectedly, which is common, do not go to the door, that is rewarding the excited barking for your puppy. Using an assistant allows you to control this to some degree, but if someone comes to the door unexpectedly, remove your dog before opening the door, put him in a separate room or crate, or ignore the visitor and call their cell phone if you can to explain. Avoid reinforcing excited barking in your puppy with getting to meet someone new, or opening the door to increase the excited state.
Accept calm barking
If your dog barks calmly, say “OK, that’s enough”, calmly get control by directing your puppy to be quiet and continue routine, but do not reinforce excited barking.
Repeat scenarios where excited barking occurs and ignore your puppy when he barks excitedly. Allow calm barking once excited barking has stopped. Eventually, your puppy will recognize that excited barking results in no play, attention or affection, or removal from the situation.
The Replacement Barking Method
Teach your dog to bark on command and be quiet on command. See the 'Bark on Command' method.
Allow your dog to be triggered to bark excitedly, such as when the phone rings, or when the doorbell rings.
When your dog starts barking excitedly, tap him on the side to get his attention, or stand between your puppy and the source of barking excitement.
Don't create tension
Do not pull your puppy back from behind, as this increases the excited state and tension.
Direct barking to replace reactive barking
Once you have broken the excited barking, command your puppy to bark by saying “speak". Allow directed barking, then direct "quiet" and reward. Repeat whenever excited barking occurs. Get your dog's attention, then direct barking and stop it. Your dog will learn that barking is something that can be controlled and directed not just a reaction to a stimulus, and directed barking is calmer than reactive barking.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 05/18/2018, edited: 01/08/2021