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Friday, October 18, 2013

Barking Solutions from Our Dog Trainer

by Michael Baugh, CPDT-KA, CDBC
courtesy AmbientFusion via
Please Stop!
Dear Michael,
I recently started working from home and at the same time my husband has left for 3 months of training for his job. I'm not sure if my dogs think he is coming home sometime soon, but they run to the door about 10 times a day and bark. It makes getting work done very tiring. 

I don't want to yell at them for doing their job of protecting me, but I cannot function with the barking constantly. I've noticed that if it's too quiet they will bark more often, so I'll keep a TV on or stereo. They also stay busy with Kongs or other things, but I can't give them treats 40 hours a week. :) Obviously we go out and get lots of exercise (they're just little poodles) which does tire them out a bit. Any advice will be appreciated.
Hi Liz,

I love dogs but, like you, I hate barking.  Hate it!  That first sharp bark always startles me, and the on-and-on barking just infuriates me. I'm not kidding. Barking is like my dog-trainer-Kryptonite.  It weakens me and clouds my good thinking.  Barking makes me want to yell at dogs (which by the way is pretty much just barking back at them).  What are you and I to do, we kindred spirits, we lovers of bark-free peace and quiet?

First, thank dog they aren't barking right now.  Assuming your dogs are not barking as you read (mine are not barking as I write), take a moment to thank them.  It's important to notice that this really isn't something that happens all the time.  It just feels that way.

Now let's ask ourselves, how could we keep this non-barking moment going a little bit longer or perhaps even all day?  You had one great idea.  Keep some ambient sound going.  I like my dogs' Through a Dog's Ear CDs.  Odd and unexpected sounds often get our dogs barking.  If we can block at least some of those sounds with music, the radio, or TV, we're winning the battle for peace and quiet.  Yes!  Other dogs bark at stuff they see out the windows.  I recommend keeping those dogs away from the windows if possible.  In other words, cheat.  If we know what sets the dogs off, block the dogs from those things as best you can.  

Okay, now we're off to a good start.  But, every plan has it's flaws.  What if the dogs still hear or see something (please no) and chaos ensues?  Here's my first best answer.  Breathe.  Breathing helps us think.  It prevents the Kryptonite from taking hold.  It keeps us from barking back.  So, let's take a breath and pull ourselves together.  It's just barking.

Next, let's ask ourselves what we wish the dogs were doing instead.  Actually it's better to have asked ourselves this question ahead of time, like right now when the dogs aren't barking.  My answer is that I'd like my dogs to bark once, and then come running to me.  Some people say they'd like the dogs to be quiet all day and just lie around and look cute.  That ain't happening with our dogs and you and I both know it.  So, let's go with my plan.  Here we go.  
  1. The yard men pull up with their truck and trailer.  
  2. Stella and Stewie sound the alarm.  
  3. I take a breath (because I'm Zen like that).
  4. In my lightest and brightest voice I cheerfully call out "Thank you!  Stella, Come!  Stewie, Come!"  Keep in mind, I practice coming when called with the dogs a lot; this is essential if we want this to work.
  5. Stewie usually comes first.
  6. In my same cheerful voice I praise him and give him some treats,  I always keep my treat bag near my make-shift desk in the kitchen - also essential.
  7. Stella then follows (problem child).
There are also cool long-term results with this plan.  Often, the dogs only bark once and then come running to me on their own.  They know the game.  And you know what?  Sometimes they ignore sounds altogether.  That's because the training we've been doing automatically makes some of the sounds they've been hearing less scary, less likely to make them bark.  We've developed the cure for our dogs' Kryptonite (the noises that startle them).  The geek term for this is counter conditioning.  Every time the lawn guys show up, dad (that's me) gets all happy and gives us snacks.  Before long, that makes the lawn guys seem less threatening, and the need to bark lessens as well.  After all, lawn guys = happy talk and treats.

Win-win, right?  Gotta love behavior science!  WOOF!  Sorry, (silence).  
© used with permission from
Robyn Arouty Photography

Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA advises dog trainers in Houston, TX. He's also writes for several dog training blogs, including this one.

Michael's advice does not replace an actual consultation with a qualified trainer. Want to read more of Michael's posts? Check out the whole list here or just click on these:

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