(by Brianne Statz)
We recently added a challenging exercise to our group classes – spend 2 minutes or so working with your dog without talking. It may not sound that hard, but it’s surprisingly difficult for our very verbal human brains to accomplish. We like to talk to our dogs, and our dogs do build quite an impressive vocabulary, whether it’s words we purposely teach, like sit and down, or words they pick up on their own, like W-A-L-K. Despite their capacity to learn verbal cues, dogs are generally more visually oriented and communicate more by body language. That means they bark a lot less than we talk. But even so, barking is a behavior that many of us find irritating, and want to eliminate as much as possible.
Here are a few strategies to help curb undesirable barking:
· Train an incompatible behavior – It’s harder (though not impossible) for your dog to bark when he has something in his mouth. Teaching a “get your toy” cue can help for excitement barking, such as when you come home from work or you have a visitor at the door.
· Train an alternative behavior – If your dog knows that something other than barking will be rewarded, chances are he will choose that option. For example, say your dog barks at other dogs while walking. Every time you spot another dog, stop and ask your dog to sit and generously reward him for paying attention to you. As you do this more often, your dog will see other dogs as an opportunity to earn some goodies from you, rather than something to start barking at.
· Reward quiet – This one sounds simple, but can be a true test to your patience. Simply wait for your dog to stop barking and reward the quiet. It works best if you try to be preemptive and reward your dog for being quiet before the barking starts. For example, if your dog likes to bark when he sees someone walk past the front window, spend some time sitting with your dog by the window, and as soon as you see someone going by start lavishly praising and feeding your dog as soon as he sees the person. If he does start barking, wait for him to stop, and then reward. Up the ante by gradually waiting for longer periods of quiet before rewarding.
· Manage the situation – When you don’t want to work on training the bark away, do your best to manage the situation. Close the blind to the front window, give your dog a stuffed Kong or bone to chew, or do a day of doggy daycare to get him really tired.