Stop The Barking AND Lower Your Blood Pressure

small black dog with cottage cheese container in his mouthThis is a post about how to stop a dog’s barking. It’s not about how to eliminate barking in dogs. Let’s be real. Dogs bark and somewhere along the way toward domestication we must have liked that and selected for it. It’s not a dog’s fault that they live in an apartment building or neighborhood where people don’t want to hear a dog bark.

Expecting any dog to stop barking forever isn’t realistic. Most people don’t even want that, they want a dog to shut up when they are asked to. This means that someone has to be there to give the dog instruction as to how to behave. If a dog is barking because they are anxious about being left alone, or bored to death and frustration on a chain, that’s not what I am addressing in this post.

I strive for a variety of things in my life, one is to lower the stress I experience on a daily basis. Living with four dogs, each with their own ‘quirks’ hardly seems to be a recipe for lower stress, but it’s what I’ve got, so I deal with it. When my dogs bark at ‘stuff’ whether it’s people, vehicles going by, or a sound that startles them, I want their barking to end sooner rather than later. Shouting at them to be quiet not only rarely works, I’m sure it raises my blood pressure.

In order to get a dog to do something we find a way to get the dog to perform the behavior and then reward them for it. Sounds easy enough. In practice it can be challenging, but that’s what I enjoy about being a dog trainer, never a dull moment! If I want my dog to bark a couple of times and then be quiet how can I do that?

I start by rewarding my dogs often when I say their name. I know I shouldn’t use their name so much that they begin to tune it out, or use it in connection with anything they might perceive to be a punishment, like getting yelled at, but I’m crummy at that, so I treat them a lot whenever I say their name. I could come up with a word, ‘HEY!’ or ‘THANK YOU!’ and reward them for that and leave their name out of it completely. What this does is make it more likely that when I say their name (or ‘HEY’), while thinking to myself, “Shut the heck up already,” s/he will turn around and come to me for a treat. I am also rewarding the ‘not as much barking’ behavior.

Rather than wait until my dogs offer me quiet behavior (which could take awhile with four dogs egging each other on) I interrupt their barking and feed them treats. Instead of barking 20 times I might be able to get them down to 10 times, then 5 times and ultimately maybe just once or not at all. How that works is that brains are very good at predicting outcomes. Our brains do it well and dogs’ brains do it well. If something makes my dogs bark and I consistently interrupt them and offer them treats they soon come to understand that whatever it was that made them bark predicts me doling out treats. Most of my dogs prefer to get their treats sooner rather than later.

Worried about creating a dog who barks to get a reward? It can happen, but it’s usually obvious when a dog is playing that card. I find it clever on their part. It ‘looks’ different than a dog barking because of arousal. If this is happening, stop rewarding after the barking and start rewarding (A LOT!) the dog for being quiet. A clever dog will sort this out. I praise or treat my dogs when they hear something that ‘might’ be worthy of a bark or two, and they don’t bark, or haven’t barked yet.

I am busy with this process as I spend time at my mum’s house where there is more foot and vehicle traffic than at our house. It’s working to our advantage. Since it happens more often it gives me more opportunities to interrupt and treat them and it contributes toward them becoming habituated to the sights and sounds. Now when Nibbles goes racing to the fence to yap at someone going by (something he really seems to enjoy doing) I can shout out “THANK YOU!” and he turns in his tracks to come get his reward. I have set out a plate of treats so my mum, who also needs to keep her blood pressure down, can do the same thing. Not to miss out the other dogs join him. The burden on me is simply to have super good treats at the ready while we work the process. In the scheme of things, it’s one of the easier things I end up having to do to lower stress levels in my life.

9 comments so far

  1. Heather Staas on

    Super down to earth article that we ALL can relate with! Must be shared!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Heather! Coming from a day care operator that means something!

  2. kenzohw on

    Great article! With thwo Hovawarts getting them to stop barking is an ongoing challenge and training. We also use the “Thank you” and it works very well, although we need more training when the “threat” is very close 🙂 And what you described about that there is a chance they bark for a reward, thats exactly what happened with Viva. Lets say we are getting there … although she still makes a couple of barks, and then turn around and look at me while being quiet. I rewarded that – which was wrong – so I try to ignore it with mixed results, as she still does it occassionally.

  3. Heather on

    I always enjoy your posts. There are parts of this one that apply to each of my pups. I have a fearful foster who has recovered a lot and now I am trying to adjust how I look at him. Now that he has confidence, he has found a voice at times, as he now wants things or feels that he has turf here. It’s been great to see that emerge, but I’m realizing I have to help him find balance. This will be a great tool/technique as what he often wants is my attention. I have tried to find a word to use with him, (especially since he’s a foster and may need this to transfer), he seems to responds best to “enough or that’ll do.” Yes, he’s a BC-I’m sure it’s my perception, but, boy, somedays I wonder if those words are in his genetics. LOL!

    My other dog, my girl, is a smartie and loves getting that “paycheck.” She’s also loved learning and training. Do we have moments when she’ll come check in for some “work”, then check my hands, find them empty and walk off? Yes, admittedly we have. But, I fault myself for that. That’s not a food dependency, that’s a relationship void. When I consistently spend the time with her, our relationship has more value than the food. She’ll come see what we’ll learning, NOT what the pay out is. I, too, find it clever on her part.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Thanks Heather. The hardest thing for me here is that I am having to worry about how their behavior effects my mom and the neighbors. Although listening to a neighbor’s loud music for hours today I’m wondering if my civic concern is misplaced.

      • KellyK on

        I tend to think that unless your dogs are really loud or barking constantly or barking really late at night or early in the morning, hearing dogs barking is just part of life. Also, your neighbor is probably going deaf from all that loud music and doesn’t hear the dogs anyway!

  4. Sam Tatters on

    Another thing that can work well, as long as your dog understands its meaning is their release cue i.e. what you you say to them to signify the end of an exercise during a training session.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      That’s a great idea Sam!

  5. Debbie Jacobs on

    I’ve traveled a lot and you are right Kelly, dogs barking and roosters crowing are part of life in so many places. The morning after neighbors shot off fireworks til late into the night I was decidedly less concerned about my dogs making noise. I suppose that’s how the degradation of common courtesy begins.

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