Shuddup already!

image of border collie dogBarking. There’s nothing quite as annoying as a dog that barks when he’s not suppose to. Trouble is that dogs don’t know that when we think it’s ok for them to bark, may be different from when they think it’s ok to bark, or how long to bark.

Add to the mix the fact that dogs bark for different reasons; to alert us to changes in the environment (like the dreaded UPS truck coming up the drive), to draw attention to themselves (hey I’m out here!), because they are anxious (OMG they’ve gone and are never coming back!), because they are excited (yippeee! I’m loving this game!), to get something they want (throw it! throw it!), because they’re suppose to (gotta keep making noise so they’ll know where to find this fox I’m chasing), to keep things away because they are afraid (better not take one more step in my direction buddy) and, well, just because some dogs seem to have more to say than others.

Years ago I had two delightful cocker spaniels. When people would go by the house the dogs would run out the dog door to stand in the driveway to bark at the passersby. My usual response was to rush outside to get them to be quiet. One day as I was shouting at them they both stopped, turned, and with looks on their faces that seemed to say, ‘about time you got here!’, they turned back and resumed their barking. At the moment they stopped to look at me I realized that they did not understand I was shouting AT them and not WITH them. It appeared as though they thought I had come out to join them in raising the alarm. No wonder why my ‘training’ was being ineffective in trying to get them to stop.

We often have unrealistic expectations for our dogs. These expectations are something individual owners should consider and best to think about before a dog is brought home, but most trainers are consulted after the fact, so that’s where we have to start in order to find remedies for the challenge of untimely barking. There are considerations for dealing with any behavioral problems and they apply to barking as well.

1. Assess our expectations for our dogs. Is it reasonable to expect that a dog will NEVER bark? Is it fair to prevent a dog from barking AT ALL by hurting or scaring them when they do? Are there any compromise we can make?

2. To change a behavior we have to stop giving the dog the opportunity to practice it. How can the dog be managed differently so that the barking behavior is either less likely to occur or not occur at all? Can we change their environment so that they are not constantly being exposed to stimuli that cause them to bark? Can we lower their anxiety so they don’t feel the need to bark? Do we provide them with enough exercise and opportunities to use their senses (and bark if they like) so they are relaxed at other times and less likely to have pent up energy for excessive barking?

3. We can’t teach a dog a new behavior if we’re not there to show them what it is we want from them. Even if we are there we often are not training the dog, we are just achieving a momentary break from the barking by getting them to ‘shut up!’. If we use an interrupter to stop a dog’s barking are we following it up with the information the dog needs to learn an alternate behavior?

4. Are we being consistent with our training?

I don’t expect that my dogs will never bark. When something causes them to bark I try to discover why they are barking, more often than not they have a discernible reason for it, and I’m glad to know about it (like the time they found a baby mole trapped in a dog bowl). I acknowledge that I am alerted to what is going on, thank them for the heads up and let them know they can stop. This approach has a high rate of success for routine environmental changes. My calm response to the situation seems to help.

When people come to the house or exciting new things pass by (people with dogs!) I again acknowledge to the dogs that something is worth noting, and then ask them for an alternate behavior. For most dogs it means coming to me and sitting quietly and getting rewarded for that behavior. My fearful dog Sunny is asked to go get his frisbee, so the arousing and potentially scary people are associated with something that is very positive for him. We’ve practiced this enough so that he will now bark a few times and then run and get a frisbee on his own. This is an example of using environmental cues to get a dog to perform a behavior we like.

When I board dogs that are inclined to bark at every chipmunk they see or rustling of leaves they hear, they are brought inside. This isn’t done as punishment but acknowledges the fact that for this dog the stimuli is too much for them to experience without barking. It isn’t fair for me to expect a dog like this to be outside and not bark. For Molly, a sighthound mix, watching for squirrels is sport. She’d make a great hunting dog for someone, but her talents are not appreciated by the neighbors.

When it comes to excessive barking it may pay to focus on the ‘whys’ of the behavior first and then consider ‘how’ we can change it.

This post was written in collaboration with the Never Shock A Puppy Campaign. Inspired by Be The Change the campaign is raising money for an approved shelter. You can make a donation and know that your money is going to an actual shelter doing actual rescue work (as opposed to a hoarder).


22 comments so far

  1. Rose on

    Wonderful advice. My dogs were barking like crazy today and my thoughts were shutup already. lol

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Rose! Nice to know I’m in good company.

  2. Allie on

    I agree that figuring out the cause and removing the dog from the trigger is a first step, and that sometimes dogs should be allowed to bark – but I’ve found that positive reinforcement and teaching alternative behaviors is really effective too.

    Technically dogs can bark while giving a down or going to their mat, but they usually don’t, especially if you move them just far enough from the cause that they can be calm and only reinforce behaviors offered with silence.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for sharing that Allie! People with barking dogs need all the help they can get.

  3. Hilary on

    Loved this, Debbie. Astute insight… barking is a tough one to deal with, depending on the dog. Love how you write!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and of course for telling me you love how I write!

  4. Kari on

    Great Post! I have a bloodhound who loves the sound of his own voice. We have been trying to learn the command “hush” for 2 yrs now ๐Ÿ™‚

    • fearfuldogs on

      Hounds! What’s the sense of being a hound if you can’t bark! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Good luck!

  5. Deborah Flick on

    Hey Debbie. I love your writing style and I especially like that you are encouraging people to question whether their expectations are realistic or not, humane of not. Dogs need to be able to bark—sometimes!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Deborah! I’ve had to deal with some crate & demand barkers lately and understand how frustrating the behavior is. Most of us just want it to stop! NOW!

      • Deborah Flick on

        Yeah I know what you mean. For today’s post I wrote about my friend’s dog Dudley the Demand Barker. Personally, I found it took fortitude to extinguish his barking by ignoring. It took a little while. Extinction out bursts and all that, but it did work in the end. Shoot, I forgot to mention that in my post. Things get worse before they get better.

    • fearfuldogs on

      There is so much information that it’s impossible to do the topic justice with a blog post. But we can try to get the idea out there that we need to consider the emotional foundation for the behavior in order to tailor our training approach. It is not one size fits all.

  6. Edie on

    Thanks for this, Debbie. It’s a great topic, handled with your usual thoughtfulness.

    There are two things I tend to do when my dog barks so much that it drives me nuts, one far more mature than the other.

    The mature one: I close my office door so that Frankie can’t come in. He hates not being able to have access to me, so it works like a charm to quiet him down (also, he’s busy trying to push open the door, which I hold closed for a few minutes).

    The embarrassing one, done when I’m running around the house looking for something and Frankie follows me around, barking: I bark back. It always startles Frankie into being quiet — for all I know, I’m letting loose with a string of canine curses or I have a really bad dog-ese accent — and it makes me laugh at myself so I’m less annoyed than I was at Frankie.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Edie. Just so you know. I’ve barked at my dogs myself. Not sure if maturity or the lack of it has anything to do with it. I’m thinking more along the lines of sanity ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Lizzie on

    I guess I’m the lucky one here, Gracie does not bark! I think she is not confident enough to bark, if that makes sense. I’m told that a lot of ex puppy farm dogs won’t bark because it would have drawn attention to them and would have cowered in a corner so as not to be noticed ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

    I had to laugh when I read Edie’s post as Gracie follows me about ALL THE TIME and sometimes it drives me mad, it’s like having a toddler at your heels and you have to keep turning to make sure that you don’t tread on them! It’s especially frustrating if I’m in a hurry. Sometimes I find myself turning on my heels and shouting, ‘for heavens sake Gracie please stop following me’, or words to that effect!

    Yeh like she understands what I want; instead she just looks shocked and that makes me feel guilty, so I have to give her a hug and thank my lucky stars that she wants to be around me so much, bless her.

    • fearfuldogs on

      How does she liked being hugged?

      The worst is when you’re wearing snowshoes and dogs are literally stepping on your heels! I’ve had big dogs step on the snowshoe, effectively holding it in place while my body keeps going and my face lands in the snow. I am not a happy camper when that happen!

  8. Lizzie on

    Ha, I can just imagine the snowy scene Debbie, probably not so funny when you’re face down in it though!

    In answer to your last question above, Gracie loves physical contact, from me that is. She will come up and nudge me for no reason other than she wants a stroke. She especially likes me to cup her head in my hands and give her ears a rub, and she also likes flinging her whole weight on me broadside and slamming into my legs, sometimes so hard that I nearly fall over. This is when she is at her most playful.

    It’s lovely to see her so happy.

    • fearfuldogs on

      I feel particularly warm & fuzzy when I pet Sunny and he asks for more.

  9. Laurie on

    I enjoyed this post Debbie.

    One of Chewy’s jobs, as a city dog, is to alert me to when someone is at the door. But not endlessly so which she did at first.

    I waited for about 4 or 5 barks, then interrupted with warm praise every time she barked when the doorbell rang. I then immediately gave her something else to do away from the door. “Good girl Chewy!! Thank you for letting me know! Sit and wait please”

    This let her do her job of alerting me and be very happy with herself, stopped her after a couple of barks, plus taught her manners at the door (sit politely behind me until I allowed her to say hello with feet on the floor).

    Like everything, it took lots of practice and consistency, and the help of volunteer doorbell ringers. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Thanks Laurie! I do the same thing with my dogs. Sometimes my cocker Annie, the yappiest of the lot, will turn and give me a surprised look as if to say, ‘Oh, you mean it’s ok?’

      Yes darlin. Now shuddup already ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. Judy Haynes on

    I’m only 4 years late reading these comments…love them. We adopted a 4 year old terrier/basset hound in July. Blue is a puppy mill survivor who spent his first 2 years in that environment and then another 2 years at the rescue shelter. While I struggle with the barking from our 2 basset hounds, I must say I was thrilled to finally hear Blue bark as he wrestled and played with the hounds outside in the dog pen. While he doesn’t make a sound or move far from the corner of the couch when I’m around, I know there is a time and a place he feels he can let loose. It brought me to tears!

    • fearfuldogs on

      And I’m almost a year behind responding to comments! Nice to know your dog feels joy.

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