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Your puppy is in your yard when suddenly they start barking so much you think there must be trouble. You rush outside. There is your puppy, unharmed, barking like a maniac at an indifferent bird. You scold your pup, but it does no good. Any time your puppy catches site of a winged creature, the barking begins again. It doesn't matter if you are on a walk, at the park, or in your own yard. Any sign of a bird and your puppy loses his furry little mind. Training your puppy not to bark at birds is important for your sanity as much as the behavior of your dog.
Dogs, by nature, are predatory animals. When they see a prey-sized animal, such as a bird or squirrel, natural instincts can kick in and urge them to take chase. Barking is a part of this instinct, so keep in mind that expecting your puppy to stop barking altogether is unrealistic. However, you can teach them how much barking is acceptable. Be patient with your pup, especially when they are very young. They want to please you but are fighting very strong instincts. With some consistent rules and positive reinforcement, you can show your puppy what you expect from them and cut down on the bird-related barking.
Depending on the method you choose, you will need treats, a harness, and a leash. A CD, YouTube video, or other recording with bird sounds is also a good investment when working with your puppy to not bark at birds. You will need to expose your puppy to birds to change their reaction. It is best to start out in your own yard if possible. If not, go to a park with your puppy on a leash and stay close to your car in the beginning.
The Quiet Method
Decide how much barking is acceptable
When your puppy is barking at birds, they are probably trying to protect their territory. By barking your pup says to the bird, "this is my space and you can't hang out here." Expecting your puppy to stop barking altogether is asking a lot. Instead, decide how many barks you are willing to allow your puppy before asking him to be quiet.
Take your pup outside
Go out in the yard or to the park with your puppy. When they start to bark at birds, allow them three or four (or however many) barks and then give the command, "quiet."
Hold your puppy's muzzle
After giving the command, reach down and place your hand around your puppy's muzzle. Gently hold it closed for a few seconds. Then let go.
Reward for quiet
If your puppy stays quiet after you release their muzzle, give them a treat and some praise and affection. You can give extra treats if your puppy continues to stay calm even though the bird is still nearby. In this way, you are telling them that being quiet around birds gets yummy rewards.
Repeat this series of actions every time your puppy barks at a bird. After a few weeks, your puppy should learn to stay quiet after you give the command or to remain calm around birds altogether.
The Desensitization Method
Find a recording of bird sounds
While inside your house, play a quiet recording of bird calls for your puppy. The best place to try this method is in an area where your puppy typically stays calm, such as in their crate. If your pup tries to chase the sounds, turn the volume down until they stay calm with the recording on.
Increase the volume
Slowly raise the volume of the recording over time. If your puppy starts to react dramatically to the noises, turn the volume back down to the previous level and leave it for a little while longer.
Match the level of real birds
Keep increasing the volume of the recording until it is at the same level of noise your puppy would hear outside with real birds. If your puppy stays calm with that level of noise, you can try taking them outside around real birds.
See how your puppy reacts
If your pup goes back to barking as soon as you take them outside, return indoors and let them listen to the recording for a while longer. You want to get to the point where they stay as calm outdoors as they do around the recording.
Reward your pup for staying calm
If you take your puppy outside and they don't react to the bird sounds, give them a treat and some praise to let them know that staying quiet is the right way to go. After a few successful bark-free trips, you can stop giving your puppy treats for staying quiet outside as they should now be completely desensitized to the sound of bird calls.
The All Done Method
Put your puppy in a harness
For this method, you want to take your puppy out in the yard or to the park on a harness and leash. That way you have full control over their actions and can prevent them from running after birds.
Expose your pup to birds
Take your puppy out on the leash and harness to an area where there are birds around. If your puppy starts to bark or chase them, simply bring them back into the house or take them back to your car.
Let them calm down
Give your puppy a few minutes to calm back down after their encounter with the birds. It may take up to 10 minutes for your pup to completely relax. Once they are calm, you can go back outside again.
Repeat as needed
Keep going in and out whenever your puppy barks at nearby birds. While it may seem frustrating to take your pup back into the house every single time they bark, you are telling them that barking at birds means no more fun time outside.
Reward your pup when they do the right thing
If you go outside with your puppy and they don't bark at birds, give them a nice treat and some praise as encouragement. By rewarding good behavior and discouraging bad behavior by taking your puppy inside, you can help them learn the difference between the two. However, you will need to be patient and consistent for your pup to fully get the message.
By Christina Gunning
Published: 04/04/2018, edited: 01/08/2021