by Denise Mazzola, CPDT – KA
When it comes to tolerating barking dogs, there seems to be two kinds of people in the world, those that don’t hear it, that’s me, and those who hear it in spades,
that’s Amy. Last week, the three of us were sitting at the kitchen counter enjoying dinner when Amy looked at me and asked if I could do something about “that?” “What?” I asked. “The barking”, she said. Olivia and I looked at each other wondering what all the fuss was about. We didn’t hear the barking coming from a dog downstairs, but for Amy the sound was “piercing her brain”. (Her words!)
Interestingly, people who cannot tolerate barking tend to have dogs that bark, a lot. Seems counterintuitive doesn’t it? The fact of the matter is, from the dog’s perspective, barking is easily reinforced by the person who hates it the most! Let’s look closer at this.
Dogs enjoy barking. It’s a self-reinforcing behavior, just like digging, meaning the dog does not need any encouragement from us to maintain the behavior. No treats, cookies or toys needed. Dogs also enjoy barking together. I would venture to say that barking is a group sport. When one dog begins barking in our house, a few other dogs will join the chorus, sometimes without even leaving the comfort of their dog bed. When you yell at your dog to stop barking, we hear “Rover, stop,” “Rover, quiet”, “Rover no bark.” However, your dog hears the famous adult on the Peanuts cartoon “Waa, waa, waa”, or “Waaaa, waa.” Why, because your dog is not a verbal species. Your dog does not understand English, as much as you wish he did.
How to stop the barking? First, stop yelling at them because from your dog’s perspective, you are barking along with them! You are unintentionally reinforcing their barking. Change things in the environment to prevent the dog from being stimulated to bark. For example, if your couch is near a window and your dog spends time looking out the window and barking move it to another wall to prevent access to the window. Maybe your dog is stimulated by outside sounds, running an air conditioner, the TV, the radio or a noise machine can help reduce noise stimulation. Major hardware stores sell window wall paper that you can temporarily put on your windows. This is great stuff. It allows the light to come in, but prevents your dog from seeing out the window. We’ve done this on our picture windows and it has reduced unwanted barking out the window by 90%. We left the top of the window, wallpaper-free so we can still see whose coming down the driveway.
Lastly, you can punish your dog, yes I said punish, not with pain, but with science. In operant conditioning there is something called negative punishment. Negative meaning the removal of something, think mathematically, not morally. Punishment, meaning you want less of a behavior, in this case we want less barking. Negative punishment means the removal of something the dog wants, sometimes it could be withholding a wanted treat or toy or sometimes it’s the removal of the dog from what she wants, in this case access to you and the environment.
Here are the steps: You’ll need two clear verbal commands. Mine are “quiet” and “too bad.” Any two words will work, but you must be crystal clear and you must be consistent. You’ll need a crate or some other way to provide a time-out. When you begin this procedure be sure that you are able to follow through EVERY TIME.
As soon as your dog begins barking, say your first command “quiet”, don’t expect any reaction yet. When the dog continues barking, say your second command “too bad” and immediately take her by her collar to her crate, and no it will not make the crate a bad place, nor will she be afraid of it. She must be quiet while crated. She can come out after a minute. When she starts barking again repeat the sequence. Say your first command “quiet” followed by your second command “too bad”, followed by crating her for at least one minute. After four to six repetitions, your dog will begin to recognize the cue sequence and may stop barking, she may drop her head or turn to look at you. Be observant and be ready for her to stop barking. When she does stop barking, be prepared to heavily reinforce her with delicious treats, lots of toys and lots of praise, for-being-quiet!
Be prepared to repeat this sequence for several days until the barking has completely stopped. This approach works beautifully, but you must be consistent and consistency isn’t one of human natures strongest attributes.
Certified Professional Dog Trainer Denise Mazzola is the owner of Denise Mazzola’s Everything Dog. She has been training dogs and people for over 25 years. Everything Dog provides services to clients throughout the Monadnock Region of NH by offering private lessons, group classes, board and train, as well as day training services. Denise has been published in the trade journal, Chronicle of the Dog, and writes a monthly column for the Monadnock Ledger Transcript. She also hosts a monthly “Ask the Trainer” radio show on WKBK. Denise lives in Keene with her life and business partner, Amy Willey CPDT-KA, and they share their home with three dogs and three daughters. For more information, visit www.everythingdognh.com.