Michael is an avid pet-lover and content writer on topical themes related to dog care, training and behavioral development.
Controlling an Impulsive Habit
Barking can be quite annoying. It wreaks auditory havoc on everyone, especially those who’ve returned home after a tough working day and are settling in for some peace and rest before starting over again the next morning. It leads to rifts and tensions in neighborhoods since pet owners are viewed as being in charge and therefore responsible for their pet’s actions.
Owners are also held responsible for the consequences visited upon persons outside their immediate circle by their pets’ actions. It has led to lawsuits, evictions, and breakups in community relationships.
Yet there are times when barking is not only necessary but life-saving, for example, if an intruder gains entry into private premises undetected or a nocturnal fire starts unnoticed. A dog is endowed with a natural instinct to protect the pack. Barking is built into them as a natural way of preserving the species. A dog will bark instinctively to alert everyone about something unusual in the environment.
The objective here, therefore, should not be to eliminate this impulse to protect, but rather to train the dog to distinguish between ordinary and extraordinary events. Barking itself is not the menace. Barking for the wrong reason is the problem.
To get to the heart of the matter and resolve the issue, the root cause needs to be understood, i.e. what causes the pet to behave in this manner. A dog may bark to call its owner to the door upon realizing they are preparing to head out.
A canine may also bark after spotting the movements of another creature or to join in a cacophony raised by neighboring dogs at night. Dogs are very much influenced by the actions of their kind, which is why it takes just one to set off a chain reaction in an entire neighborhood, creating a performance loud enough to fit the definition of a competitive canine audition.
Excessive barking can also be triggered by old age, or medical conditions like persistent pain, pest attacks, or even brain disease. The good news is that this behavior can be corrected by applying the correct techniques.
Here are the four steps you can take to stop your dog from barking.
- Foster a conducive environment
- Encourage constructive behavior
- Use the proper reinforcement technique
- Consolidate the training
1. Foster a Conducive Environment
It is important to remain calm when you are around your pet as it can sense the mood you are in. Being in an irritable or agitated mood affects your pet, so the more relaxed you are, the calmer your pet will be.
This also applies to the prevailing conditions at home. A dog can develop an agitated temperament due to its immediate surroundings. If the home tends to be noisy, rowdy, or rambunctious, it should not come as a surprise that the dog follows suit. Some homes are habitually loud because occupants are used to raising their voices. They also keep electronics like TVs and radios blaring. The pet assumes this is part of life and adjusts itself accordingly.
If the norm is to shout when something goes wrong, it reinforces the conclusion that in this environment, the only way to get attention is to be loud. If members of a household have a tendency to yell at the dog when it barks, the animal concludes that they too are raising their voices in response to the perceived threat. In other words, the human members of the pack have joined in to raise the alarm. So instead of dissuading the dog, the effect becomes the opposite. This reaction becomes a catalyst for further barking.
Erratic behavior cannot be countered with erratic behavior, and neither can rowdiness resolve rowdiness. Despite the frustration that barking may create, it is necessary to respond in a controlled manner and a calm voice. If aside from barking, the dog is manifesting other signs of distress or destructiveness, it may be a result of separation anxiety. Serious cases require consultation with a professional behaviorist. The dog may also need to be examined by a vet to rule out any causative medical or physiological anomalies.
2. Encourage Constructive Behavior
A dog that is well spent from the activities of a constructive day is not likely to bark for the wrong reasons. Keeping your dog sufficiently exercised and active throughout the day can be a key antidote for the problem, whether this involves activities like agility training or simply playing fetch.
Boredom is one cause of excessive barking and the behavior can develop if the pet is not sufficiently engaged. Keeping a dog preoccupied prevents it from slipping into idleness. If the weather or some other reason excludes outdoor activities, a little creativity could help invent some new games. It can be as simple as running up and down the stairs, or placing barriers along the hallway for the dog to either jump over or circumvent.
Keeping a dog isolated or confined for extended periods of time could lead to habitual barking, because the pet feels distressed and abandoned. Due to a lack of stimulation, barking becomes the main outlet and the dog starts venting at anything that moves or makes a sound. To avoid this, the pet should be permitted to have enough space and freedom to conduct its activities.
If a dog is already accustomed to being in the presence of people of different ages, other pets, moving objects (like vehicles and wheelchairs), and the sounds of household appliances (like vacuums, washers, and dryers), the less likely that any of these will come as a shock or sudden surprise to the dog. Exposing your dog to the contextual realities of life will help it adjust accordingly.
One way to encourage socialization is to allow different types of guests into your home. When they visit, hand them treats and allow them to give those treats to your dog. Encourage them to show the dog love and affection. This will accustom your dog to understand that your friends are not necessarily bad because they are strangers, but that they can be kind and helpful.
Some people have gone as far as attaching treats to the outside of their door for postmen, delivery men, milkmen, or other persons whose arrival always triggers a series of barking. The intention is for these persons to present the treats to the dog when the door opens so that the pet’s attitude toward them changes to one of acceptance and they are seen as allies instead of adversaries.
Sharing treats through people with whom your canine is not acquainted can be a way of pacifying the situation and preventing the dog from feeling threatened whenever an unknown individual crosses its path.
Petcube Bites allows you to observe your dog when you are away and even reward it for good behavior. It provides you with two-way audio so you can correct the dog and divert its attention.
3. Use the Proper Reinforcement Technique
If your dog is barking for attention, your immediate reaction should be to ignore it. Simply turn around, walk away or leave the room. The dog will be quick to realize that barking under those circumstances produces the exact opposite effect. Only return and act according to your pet’s wishes after it has calmed down completely.
A dog is able to read body language and knows when your attention has turned toward it, even if you are not physically next to it. If the pet knows that creating pandemonium is how to get attention, it will make a practice of barking even when there are no legitimate grounds. The solution is to not only turn away your facial attention, but your entire presence as well.
If the dog continues to bark despite your lack of concern, it is testing you. Some people get frustrated after a while and then come over to reprimand the dog for the continued noise it is creating. This teaches the dog that to get their attention, it needs to bark for longer periods of time. Prolonged barking is what makes the owner return. To avoid this, ensure you stand your ground and only resume your place after the dog has completely settled down.
The same applies to giving the dog a treat or toy as a way of distracting it from barking. This reinforces the idea that barking is a good thing because it is how rewards are obtained. If for example, your pet barks at the sound of the doorbell or the approach of a friend and receives a treat to calm it, the conclusion drawn is that it is being rewarded for misbehaving.
The thing about raising pets is that we are not always conscious of how much our own actions or reactions contribute to the negative behavior we see in them. Silence is what should be rewarded in this case, not barking. A pet owner’s approach to the issue should never be to propagate the behavior they are attempting to discourage.
Another method you could use is to withdraw the dog from the immediate setting. Take the dog to an alternative space or room and either tether or keep it there until it completely calms down. In due course, the dog will learn to associate illegitimate and incessant barking with timeouts. This association will help it desist from the behavior.
4. Consolidate the Training
The dog needs to be trained to associate the words ‘No barking’, ‘Quiet’, or ‘Hush’, with the cessation of barking. As the leader the canine looks up to, issue the command sternly, and then reward your pet when it obeys and calms down. This also creates a remedial association. The next time something happens and there are no legitimate grounds for raising the alarm, the dog will remember that controlling itself is more rewarding than working up a barking frenzy.
You could also leverage technology. Petcube Bites is a multifunctional device that works as an automated dispenser and a monitoring camera. It allows you to observe your dog when you are away and even reward it for good behavior. The device starts recording video when it detects motion or sound. It alerts you immediately something unusual starts taking place or when your dog manifests the wrong behavior.
Petcube Bites also provides you with two-way audio so you can correct the dog as soon as it starts to bark and you can also divert its attention, for example, by using a laser. It also allows you to reward your pet when it calms down and stops barking. In this way, the dog learns that the treat is only dispensed from the device when it is in a calm, non-agitated state. So whether you are physically present at home or not, training and reinforcement continue.
Collars that are bark-activated and are designed to spray or produce a sonic sound when the dog barks can deter the habit. However, long-term cure requires behavior modification that gets to the core. There are plenty of devices on the market today which are designed to discourage the dog from barking by creating discomfort, be it through an aversive smell, sound, or electric shock.
Still, the use of such devices has also been criticized on the grounds that they use the principle of inflicting punishment on the animal, which amounts to negative, rather than positive reinforcement. Also, users need to be aware that such methods deal with the effects of the problem, rather than the root cause.
A dog may also be overly protective of the home or its immediate perimeter. It may view this as its territory and consider anyone entering the space as a violator. Prepare yourself to detect the signs that typically lead to barking and curb the habit by drawing attention to yourself. Whether the trigger event is the entry of guests or the arrival of a vehicle, learn to focus its attention on your authority as the leader and trendsetter.
Molding a dog’s behavior is a process that should start early enough. Ideally, the pet should already be accustomed to obeying its owner’s wishes and instructions from puppyhood. Foundational training in behavior makes it easier for the dog to comply when directed to cease a particular habit like barking. One reason this is important is that barking can be a dog’s way of asserting its dominance. Obedience training counters this by making it clear to the pet that you are the leader of the pack and your authority is what prevails.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.