Q: My dog barks all the time. He barks at the mailman, at sounds he hears on TV, at birds outside the window, whenever the doorbell rings, whenever he wants something. He never seems to shut up. I’ve tried yelling at him, squirting lemon juice in his mouth and tossing a “throw can” like my obedience instructor said. Nothing seems to work. He’s driving me crazy! What can I do?
A: Barking can be, quite honestly, a hard behavior to modify because it’s a self-rewarding activity for the dog. When a dog barks, he almost always makes something happen. When he barks at the mailman, for example, the mailman leaves. (The dog doesn’t know that dropping off the mail and walking away is the mailman’s job — he thinks his barking has scared the ‘intruder’ off.)
When the doorbell rings, he barks to let you know that something is out there ... and sure enough, you come to see. If he barks for his dinner, you usually bring it to him. Yelling, scolding or throwing things are seldom effective as corrections because he’s still making something happen with his barking even if that something isn’t very nice. A better way to hush your noisy dog is to teach him to start — and stop — barking on command.
First, train your dog to “Speak!” for a dog cookie. Praise him when he barks. After a few woofs, tell him “alright, Enough!” in a firm, no nonsense voice. Immediately pop the cookie into his mouth. It’s impossible for him to bark when his mouth is stuffed with cookie so he has no choice except to obey your command to stop barking. Now tell him what a good dog he is for being quiet.
With a dog as noisy as yours, you can use all his barking episodes as training opportunities. When the doorbell rings, praise him for barking to alert you, then tell him “Enough!” and reward with a treat when he stops. He’s going to learn that you want a few woofs and then silence. Make sure you praise him for barking when he’s supposed to and then stopping (Enough!) on command.
When you know that he fully understands the meaning of the word “Enough,” you can start correcting him when he ignores it. If he doesn’t obey your command to stop barking, give him a sharp tug on his collar and scold “NO! Enough!” Before long, you’ll be able to use “Enough” to stop him before he starts to bark.
This training is going to take a few weeks to sink in. Be persistent and don’t give up. Some breeds are naturally noisy and will take more work to train than others. Even when your dog understands what’s expected of him, he may still bark more often than you’d like him to. Now, though, you have a way of getting his attention and letting him know what you want. Even if you have to say “Enough!” each time he barks when he’s not supposed to, you’ll be doing much better than when you didn’t have a way to communicate with him at all.
Q: My dog lives outside and barks almost constantly. The neighbors are complaining and they’ve called the police once. If I can’t get her to stop, I’m going to have to give her away. Would one of those bark collars help?
A: It might but there’s a good chance it won’t be a permanent cure. Dogs are social creatures; nature didn’t intend for them to live by themselves isolated from their families. Dogs that live outdoors are often lonely and bored. They bark for attention and for something to do. A bark collar might silence her temporarily but if you don’t take care of her needs for company and exercise, she’ll learn to ignore the collar and continue barking. For a long-term solution, bring her inside and make her a genuine part of your family.
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