Persistent Barking – how to deal with it

Question 3: How can I deal with my dog’s persistent barking?

Thinking about various problem behaviours and how to tackle these, I have realised that there are a number of options:

  • ignore it
  • work round it
  • tackle it

I have also realised that the reason that so many dogs have so much problem behaviour is because we are often scared to tackle the problem, or we simply don’t know how to work through it.  Unfortunately, tackling a problem is the most difficult solution; ignoring it or just working around it are much easier options.

Many dogs bark incessantly.  They usually do this for a number of reasons:

  • because they are lonely or stressed, suffering from ‘separation anxiety’ – I will talk about this in a future post
  • because they are bored – asking for attention
  • because they are over-excited – this is the one I am going to talk about here.

A good example of this type of persistent barking is when a dog is waiting for a ball to be thrown.  They are basically shouting at you: “THROW THE BALL THROW THE BALL THROW THE BALL”.  Usually, we want to shut them up as quickly as possible, so we throw the ball.  Now the dog knows that when they shout “THROW THE BALL” you will do as they say! Hmm, not the best solution then.

What we want is for the dog to learn that when they shout “THROW THE BALL” at you, nothing at all happens.  Boring.  Then when they stop shouting at you, hey presto! The ball is thrown.  There are a number of steps to follow here:

  1. When the dog starts barking hysterically, distract them.  This can be by calling their name, or nudging them, or offering a toy for them to tug on.  Or you could ask them to do something else, such as a ‘down’ or a ‘twist’.  Or failing all that, you could shake a bottle with some stones in it.  This usually makes the dog say “What?”
  2. As soon as the dog stops barking, click the behaviour.  This can be using a clicker, or by saying ‘Yes!’  You need to pay attention and do it as soon as the barking stops.
  3. Reward the behaviour you want, ie the stopped barking.  Either with a treat, or a ball throw, or a play, or even just a pat or stroke.
  4. Repeat this.  How many times?  Probably ten times more than you want to.  Then maybe a few more times.  Oh and then a bit more.  Again and again.

It’s a natural instinct, a persistent habit and a self-stimulating behaviour for the dog.  But it can be controlled, and you can train it away.  The absolutely easiest way to do this is to simply pay attention to your dog and play with them.  Then they won’t get frustrated and bored in the first place.  Easier said than done of course.

You do also need to be able to say ‘Enough!’ or as I say ‘Finished’ and then stop throwing the ball.  I put is away and show the dog my empty hand.  Then I ignore them for a bit.

Please note: I am not a qualified dog behaviourist or trainer.  I have owned border collies for many years and raised a number of puppies, so I am an experienced dog owner, that is all.  Information provided here represents my opinion, based on my experience.

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