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Imagine going on vacation with your family to New York city. You check into your dog-friendly hotel, and then you carry your Shih Tzu into your hotel room in his crate. You let him out and he happily explores the room before finally settling down into his open crate in the corner with a toy. That night some noisy neighbors move in next door. You can hear them talking and laughing loudly for a while, then they leave for a late night out on the town. They have a dog and it begins to bark when they leave, and it keeps barking all night long, until they get home at four in the morning. Your dog, however, remains quiet and ignores all of the noise. You are relieved. The guests check out the next day, possibly because of all the complaints about the barking from other guests on your floor. You go off the next day to do some sightseeing, a bit nervous about how your own dog will do. When you arrive back home you sheepishly ask a guest out in the hallway, who is staying next door to you, if he has heard any barking today? The person acts a bit surprised and tells you that your room has been completely quiet all day. You smile and then walk into your room to find your pup curled up quietly on his bed, chewing a toy.
If you would love for this image to be your reality, then teaching your pup not to bark now is vital. Because your Shih Tzu is still a puppy, barking is less likely to be an ingrained habit yet, and teaching him now to be quiet, rather than bark, will lay a foundation for him to be quiet for years to come.
Teaching your puppy not to bark is important for a number of reasons. Barking can cause annoyance, can interrupt sleep, can make it hard to take your puppy places with you, and can even lead to being evicted from rental properties, hotels, or campgrounds. It might even cause legal issues or fines if you live in a densely populated area and your neighbors complain about it often. Many dogs are given up to shelters and rescues every year because of constant barking. All of this can be prevented by desensitizing your puppy to sights and sounds, by teaching him the "Quiet" command, and by teaching him to relax and entertain himself with toys when he is alone.
Your pup might find barking itself to be rewarding, so it is very important to reward your puppy for being quiet instead. It is easy to ignore a dog that is being quiet, but remember to reward your puppy for that calm, quiet behavior so that he will offer it more often. Once a dog gets very excited about barking it can be hard for him to stop, so it is also important to interrupt your puppy's barking early by telling him something like "Aha". When he stops for a second then you can use that opportunity to reward him for being quiet. Doing this will teach him to offer the quiet behavior more often.
Many dogs bark simply because they are bored, and then it becomes a habit. The easier way to stop barking is to prevent it from becoming a habit in the first place. 'The Chew Toy Method' is best used for preventing bad barking habits from starting. By giving your pup something interesting to do that involves his mouth that is not barking, you are encouraging him to be quiet and to relax. He will learn over time to relax and to self-entertain with chew-toys when he is alone or bored.
If you use 'The Quiet Method' then it is important to praise your pup for speaking when you tell him to, but to only reward your pup with a treat when he is being quiet when you tell him to. This is so that 'quiet' will become his preferred command, and he will not bark in order to get a treat. When you tell him "Quiet" is is also important to sound calm and for your tone of voice to be soft. Even though it feels counter-intuitive, speaking softly close to your dog's ear is more likely to get his attention and to calm him down than speaking loudly is. If you become loud like he is, he is more likely to get excited and more agitated. After all, when you yell it seems like you are barking also.
To get started you will need lots of small treats that your dog loves. If you are using 'The Chew Toy Method' then you will need an exercise pen, a crate or a chew proof pet bed, or both, at least two Kong chew toys, peanut butter or soft cheese, and your puppy's dog food. You will also need a bowl, water, Ziploc bags for the Kongs, and a way to freeze the Kongs. If you prefer to stuff multiple days' worth of Kongs at once, then you will need about two Kongs for each day.
If you are using 'The Quiet Method' or 'The Desensitize Method' then you will also need a small bag or a treat pouch. For both of those methods, you will also need an assistant, a front or back door in your home to practice at, and a leash. If you are using 'The Desensitize Method' then you will also need a location with other dogs and children, who are at a distance, a window that your puppy likes to look out of, and anything else that your puppy tends to bark at, to practice around.
The Quiet Method
Get set up
To begin, grab lots of treats that your pup loves and place them into a small Ziploc bag in you pocket or into a treat pouch. Recruit an assistant and have the assistant stand outside your front or back door. Attach a leash to your puppy if he is likely to try to run out the door or move around a lot when he gets excited.
Instruct your friend to knock a couple of times and then stop. You can also motion to her through a window when to knock if you have a window visible. When she begins to knock, tell your pup "Speak!" in an excited voice. Praise him when he barks.
When your friend stops knocking tell your pup "Quiet" in a soft voice. Crouch down in front of him and say it softly into his ear if he is still barking. Wait until he stops barking for even a second, and when he does, praise him and give him a treat.
Have your friend knock again and again, and practice 'speak' and 'quiet' with your puppy every time that she does so. Do this until your pup no longer barks when that friend knocks. When your pup no longer barks at that friend then stop the training session and have another session later that same day or on another day.
Continue to have knocking sessions until your pup will be quiet as soon as you tell him to when he starts barking. When you reach that point, then practice around other things that your pup barks at, such as strange people, other dogs, different noises, squirrels, and other animals. Tell him "Quiet" when he begins to bark at those things, wait until he stops barking, then reward him with a treat when he is quiet. If he is struggling to stop barking, then move him further away from whatever he is barking at, or get in front of him and softly tell him "Quiet" while you block his view with your body. Practice around the harder distractions until he will become quiet around those too when you tell him to.
The Desensitize Method
Get set up
To begin, grab lots of treats that your pup loves and place them into a small Ziploc bag in your pocket or into a treat pouch. Recruit an assistant to help you, and instruct your assistant to go to your front door.
Have your assistant knock two times and then stop, to trigger your dog tp bark. Wait until your puppy becomes quiet again. After your pup has been quiet for three minutes have her knock again. When your puppy barks when she knocks, wait until he stops for a second, and when he stops, praise him and give him a treat. After he has stayed quiet for two or three minutes repeat the process again by having your assistant knock again. Repeat this until your pup no longer barks when she knocks on your door.
Have regular door knocking sessions with your puppy and assistant until your puppy no longer barks when someone knocks on the door. Each time that you practice this your puppy should realize that the knocking is uneventful and should eventually calm down during that session, but it will likely take many sessions before he decides that door knocks in general are not something to bark at, so practice this often.
Take your puppy to places with other dogs or children. Whenever he barks at another dog or child, stand in front of him and block his view while telling him "Aha" in a firm but calm tone of voice. When he becomes quiet for even a second, then praise him and give him a treat. If he is struggling, then move farther away from the other dogs or children, until he can focus on you more again. Also reward him any time that he looks at the children or other dogs and remains quiet. Practice this until he no longer barks at other dogs and children. Make sure that you practice this in multiple locations.
Practice at windows
If your puppy tends to bark at things outside a window, then stand next to him while he looks out the window. When he begins to bark tell him "Aha", and when he becomes quiet for even a second, praise him and give him a treat. If he is struggling to stop barking, then stand in front of him and block his view until he becomes quiet for a second, then when he is quiet, you can praise him and give him a treat. If he looks out the window and sees something that he would normally bark at, but does not bark, then praise him and give him a treat also. If he tends to bark at people walking past, then you can also have your assistant walk past the window regularly to give you opportunities to practice this, if he is likely to bark at her.
Practice specific issues
If there are other specific things that your pup tends to bark at then set up training sessions where he can view, smell, or see whatever he tends to bark at, in a safe environment. When he barks, interrupt him by telling him "Aha" and blocking his view until he stops. When he becomes quiet again for even a second, then praise him and reward him with a treat. Practice with the thing that he tends to bark at until he no longer barks around it.
The Chewy Toy Method
Set up the area
To begin, purchase an exercise pen, a crate and/or a chew-proof bed, at least two hollow Kong toys, peanut butter or soft cheese, and your pup's dog food. Set up the exercise pen and place your puppy's crate or bed inside, on one end of the pen.
Stuff the Kongs
Measure out your puppy's dog food for the day and place it into a bowl and cover the food in the bowl with water. Let the food soak up the water until it triples in size and becomes mushy. Add more water if you need to. When the food is mushy then mix a little bit of peanut butter or soft cheese into it, making a thick paste. Drop pieces of the mush into the Kongs, but do not pack it too tightly. Place the stuffed Kongs into Zip-Lock bags and then into the freezer to freeze. To save time you can also prepare several Kongs at once, to provide enough Kongs for several days worth of training. You will need to purchase additional Kongs to do this. If you use peanut butter, make sure that it does not contain the artificial sweetener xylitol. Xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs. Also do not substitute other nut butters for peanut butter because many other nuts are toxic to dogs. Substitute soft cheese, meat paste, or a safe store-bought product created specifically for dogs.
Place him into the pen
Whenever you cannot supervise your puppy, place him into the exercise pen with a stuffed Kong. Do this so that he can relax on his bed or in his crate with the door open, and chew on his food-stuffed Kong. Because he cannot chew and bark at the same time very well, the Kong will automatically reward him for being quiet. It will also teach him to entertain himself and to relax while he is alone, by giving him something calm to do. Time alone while he is young is also important for preventing separation anxiety, which can lead to barking also.
If he barks while in the pen, then ignore the barking and do not let him out until he is quiet.
Every ten minutes that Fido remains quiet while he is in the pen, walk over to him and drop a couple of treats or pieces of puppy food into the pen for him, and then leave again. Do this to reward his quiet and calm behavior, and to teach him that you will return to him later when you leave.
When your puppy is doing well being left alone in the pen with a Kong, then gradually increase the amount of time between treat rewards. For example, if your pup no longer barks while in the pen, then begin to go over to the pen every fifteen or twenty minutes that he has been quiet and drop treats. As he improves, increase the time even more, until you reach one hour between treat drops. Continue to reward him for being quiet every one to two hours when you are at home with him while he is a puppy, in addition to giving him a Kong whenever you confine him. Do this until he has formed a habit of being quiet and he calms down with age.
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 04/24/2018, edited: 01/08/2021