How can anything so important to our relationship with our dogs get such a bad wrap? On the Richter scale of annoying behaviours by dogs it can be a ten. Barking is one of our dog's most important means of communication. If we try to curtail much of his barking we are isolating his attempts to talk to us. Barking ,like growling is something that we need to pay attention to ,and not sublimate like many people do. When we look at barking we need to look at the whole situation and try to discern what our dog is trying to convey to us. First listen to your dog and then try to determine what he is saying and then and only then can we ask for a cessation or an alternate behaviour. . Barking is sometimes a symptom of a problem—for example, fear, boredom, or stress. If you fix the problem, the symptom will likely go away. However, if you simply treat the symptom, the problem will just show up in a different form which may be even worse. Treat the problem not the symptom. We have undoubtedly selectively bred guard dogs to enhance their tendency to bark, but perhaps we’ve unconsciously bred all dogs to use barking as a method of drawing attention to their body language, If dogs didn’t live with us they wouldn’t have developed the paedomorphic tendency to bark. If we hadn’t impoverished their body language they wouldn’t need to bark to tell other dogs that they are excited or angry. If we paid their real communication more attention, they wouldn’t need to shout to make themselves understood. "Previously, other researchers thought domesticated dogs barked primarily for our benefit, since neither adult wolves nor feral dogs bark."We think barking existed in the ancestor of the dogs, but the present form of variability and abundance of barking is the product of domestication in dogs," Pongrácz says that domesticated dogs must have learned how to bark to other domesticated dogs later, as a form of communication additional to visual and scent cues."
Not all barking is indicative of an underlying problem. Sometimes they are simply saying hello , who's that outside, let me in the door ,or it's time to eat. First,we have to listen to our dog. then determine whether barking was an appropriate response. Perhaps limited barking is all right under certain circumstances. It's your responsibility to define an appropriate response in each situation. So why do dogs bark? Dogs bark to ALERT us, to REQUEST things from us, because they are AFRAID, or because they are BORED.
REQUEST BARKING is the result of our intentionally or unintentionally reinforcing one of our dog's other types of barking. It is usually just one bark ,followed by a pause and then he waits for your reaction. I think you've all seen this. They all do it, or they wouldn't be dogs. If they get no reaction ,they will repeat their plea. This can really escalate into nuisance barking. ANY sort of attention, ie. looking at, talking to, yelling at, is still reinforcing. Most often it is attention seeking. And punishment is certainly not an option because in most cases what we consider as punishment , actually is reinforcing for a dog ,in the way of attention.
Examples include door opening ,begging for food, wanting to play etc, etc, etc. A dog would have to be pretty stupid not to have discovered that this experiment usually works. We are WEAK . How many of you have had company pay attention to your dog when he barks. I think all of us. The best way to keep this from becoming a real problem is simple. Ignore them when you know it's one of these request type pleas. Another type of learned barking can be from previous experiences. A dog may get excited with car rides. He's learned that getting into the car can mean good things or sometimes bad things. This can lead to a learned form of barking that is even more irritating as this is usually an excited form of barking with much more vocalization. Remedies for this are more complicated. But I know we've all seen this in our dogs many times and yet we somehow are overpowered by our desire to love and acknowledge our dogs. With their requests for attention we need to realize that too much of anything is not good. Pay attention but watch out ,attending to every cry for our attention can lead to a very demanding and annoying dog. Even the Havanese. Never let a barking dog out of his crate. Always wait for a lull of at least ten seconds. Ignore any dog who barks at you to get what he wants. If you have been reinforcing it for a while, the barking will get worse before it goes away. The dog will be frustrated at first. The behaviour will go away by stopping reinforcement. This is called "extinction" and the ramping up of the behaviour before it goes away is called an extinction burst. Pay attention to your dog when he's quiet. Failing to do so is also using extinction, but this time to get rid of our favorite behavior lying quietly at our feet. Teach your dog that this can bring out the treats.
ALERT BARKING Wake up mom and dad I hear someone outside at the door. And hey there stranger I'm on to you. Alert barking serves two purposes ,one to notify members of the pack that there is potential danger and two ,to let the invader know that they have been detected. This tends to be a mid-to-high pitched bark, delivered in bursts of short barks. It indicates something new or interesting, but not necessarily threatening. We've bred dogs to do this over the generations and an example of this is The German Shepherd dog. Most people don't mind this eary warning signal from their dog. The problem arises when your dog does not stop barking. You can’t teach the dog to stop barking unless he is barking. How do you do this? You will need someone to help you.
1. Ask your friend to stand outside your front door.
2. Say, “Sparkey, speak!”
3. Your accomplice rings the door bell.
4. Your dog barks.
5. You say “Good boy!”
After about six to eight repetitions, your dog’s going to anticipate the door bell ringing after you say, “Sparkey, speak.” So now when you say “Sparkey, speak,” your dog barks on cue. Now you can teach him to shush on cue:
1. First, cue your dog to bark: “Sparkey speak"
2. Say, “Sparkey, shush!”
3. Put a delicious food treat in front of his nose. (He’ll sniff the food treat and stop barking because he can’t sniff and bark at the same time.)
4. The dog shushes.
5. You say, “Good shush!” but don’t give the treat. The longer you hold on to the treat and the dog sniffs it, the longer he will be quiet. Repeat the speak-shush sequence over and over so that the dog learns to speak on cue and to shush on cue.
FEARFUL BARKING Barking occurs when the dog is fearful or unsure about something that is happening. It's the dog's way of saying: "Back off—don't come any closer." This is much more serious than alert barking because the dog is saying that he is afraid and therefore potentially dangerous if approached. This type of barking can last until the perceived threat has left. Here is where your dog may need to be socialized more. Expose him to lots of places, experiences, sights and sounds and make it all fun. If he's afraid about traffic, hand feed him his meals on the sidewalk. Start on quieter streets and progress to busier streets as he improves. It takes a while to improve fearful adults so be patient. This type of barking can
be self reinforcing. He barks at a dog walking down the street and the dog goes away. MAGIC.
BOREDOM BARKING can result when your dog is not being mentally stimulated. The dog barks compulsively.To control this take your dog for a good walk in the morning and they will be more likely to rest until you come home. You should also make sure that your house is sufficiently enriched with fun toys and puzzles to keep them entertained when you are not home. Try putting some of your dog’s daily food allowance into a Kong toy or treat ball so they have to work to retrieve their snacks. Keep their toys in a toy box and alternate the toys they have access to each day. Hide their toys and some treats around the yard to encourage them to forage. If your dog has any play mates in the neighbourhood you might alleviate boredom by inviting them over for the day.You may also consider organising a 'dog walker' to walk your dog in the middle of the day while you are at work or a 'dog minder' to keep your dog company when you are away for long periods. You may also consider utilising your local 'doggy day care' services.
Take the time to characterise your dog’s barking habits – does he bark at people passing by? Ask your neighbours whether he barks while you are away from home – does he bark all day or only some of the time? If necessary, manage the problem with help from a behavioural specialist. It is also a good idea to take your dog to the vet for a full health check to make sure there are no medical reasons for his behaviour. Never try and modify your dog’s behaviour by punishing him.
Anti-barking collars constitute a form of punishment and are an unreliable remedy – they do not address the cause of the problem and are easy to abuse. Your dog will be punished for every bark, some of which will be appropriate, and he will not learn an alternative, acceptable behaviour.
You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” ? Winston S. Churchill
Dave and Molly
Ian Dunbar was awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award from I.P.D.T.A. Here's a picture of me accepting the award on his behalf.
Member of IAABC ,International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants , Member of Pet Professional Guild