By Emma Judson
Dogs bark for a reason, probably several reasons. Until you find that reason and eliminate it, it will continue.
Short term, using punishment has a little effect, but not long term because punishment merely suppresses a behaviour and does not actually address the root cause, so the behaviour comes back.
This is a bit like sticking a big ole plaster on a festering wound. Sure, you can’t see the wound any more. But it’s still there. It isn’t going to get better just because the plaster is hiding it. It is only going to get worse.
Dogs bark to communicate. To tell you they heard something. To tell the thing they heard to go away. They bark because barking is inherently enjoyable to do, because they are over excited or stressed, because they are fearful, etc, etc,
Quite possibly because of several of these reasons all together.
Barking is fun! Make sure your dogs are getting the physical and mental exercise they require. If they have no issues with going for walks on a lead, then a couple of walks a day. Also playing games, puzzle solving, clicker training, eating food from toys such as Kongs, finding their food scattered in grass, and of course, training sessions with you.
Make sure that the activities you do are not all very high energy, whizzy things like going for a walk where they yell at everything they see or chasing a ball endlessly, or hurtling around chasing other dogs or one another. A little bit of those things is fine, but a lot of it is just going to create lots of stress, like kids at a fairground. They get wound up and they can’t unwind.
Try to work out your daily routine so that any high energy stuff is then followed by calming stuff. For example a clicker training session can be quite a ‘wind up’ activity, so follow it by sending that dog outside, alone, to find a couple of handfuls of scattered kibble.
Barking at Sounds
This is best addressed by counter conditioning. Put simply, any sound you hear, you do not wait for the dogs to bark, do not tell them to be quiet, just pair the sound with a high value reward like a little cube of cheese or sausage. This will mean you need to walk around for probably a week or two with a treat pouch on you whenever you are home, with treats in it. Or keep treats in every room in pots or dishes high up out of your dog’s reach, so that when you hear a sound you can say “Yes!” or something similar and grab them all a goodie.
Over time this teaches them that sounds/sights = treats, and any fearful or reactive desire to bark fades away.
Barking at Sounds that are Exciting
For example, barking at the postman or the doorbell.
Disconnect the doorbell and replace it with a note with your phone number on it asking folk to ring not knock. If it’s the letter box, replace it with an outside box.
Then you have the space you need to re-teach your dogs that, for example, the sound of the doorbell (get a new remote one so it has a brand-new sound!) means ‘you will get a treat if you sit’, or ‘go to your bed for a treat’. Effectively the sound is taught as a cue to do something, just as the word ‘sit’ means ‘park your butt’. It takes a while particularly with multiple dogs, but it can be done.
If you find the sound of the postman or a visitor coming through a gate sets them off, you can counter condition this in the same way as scary sounds. Pair the sound with the reward until their automatic reaction is not to bark but to look at you for that reward.
Doing the above things should really help to reduce the barking. I would do all these things, but also avoid shouting at them. It just sounds as if you are joining in!
Also, it’s really important to note when you are counter conditioning, the sound you hear = dogs get a treat. The reward is not dependent on them behaving well/keeping quiet etc. They will start to keep quiet as their need to bark reduces!
Very often I hear people tell me that counter conditioning doesn’t work and what I see is people hearing a sound and then waiting for the dog to make a mistake, to bark, and then telling the dog to be quiet! That isn’t counter conditioning.
Even if you hear a sound and your dogs bark before you can get a treat, still treat them. You will not be rewarding bad behaviour here. Frankly, even if they did then learn to bark to get a treat that is far more easily resolved than barking out of fear/anxiety etc!