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How to Stop Unwanted Barking

Excerpted from Click for Joy: Questions and Answers from Clicker Trainers and their Dogs by Melissa Alexander, an unparalleled guide to the concepts of clicker training.

Your barking dog

dog barking

Dogs bark for a number of reasons, some acceptable, some not. Common types of barking include the following:

  • Alert barking. Dog barks to let you know he has seen or heard something out of the ordinary.
  • Defensive barking. Dog barks to make something he is afraid of or doesn't like go away.
  • Attention barking. Dog wants attention.
  • Frustration barking. Dog is confused, frustrated, or stressed.
  • Boredom barking. Dog barks to amuse himself.

Evaluate the situation

When you deal with barking, it's important to look at the whole situation. Barking is sometimes a symptom of another problem—for example, fear, boredom, or stress. If you fix the problem, the symptom will likely go away. However, if you simply treat the symptom, the problem will just manifest itself in a different way—one which may be worse! Treat the problem not the symptom.

Define and train an alternative behavior

Not all barking is symptomatic of an underlying problem. Often it's simple communication: "There's someone outside!" "I want to come in!" "I'm hungry!"

First, listen to your dog. Address the issue. Then determine whether barking was an appropriate response. Perhaps limited barking is all right under certain circumstances. Or perhaps you'd prefer to teach your dog an alternative way to communicate his needs. It's your responsibility to define an appropriate response in each situation.

If the dog continues to bark after being cued to do something else, or if the dog is barking for attention, one of the most effective responses is to remove what he wants.

For example, your dog alert barks when a car pulls into the driveway. First, listen to the dog and address the issue. Check to see what he's barking at, thank him for bringing the situation to your attention, and reassure him you've got it under control. Then decide how you want him to react in the future when strangers drive in. Perhaps he may bark to alert you, but once he's done that you want him to be quiet. If that's the case, interrupt any further barking and cue another, reinforceable behavior.

Train your dog to be silent

By teaching your dog to bark on cue, you can also teach him to be silent on cue. Read Karen's method for teaching bark/be quiet.

Remove the reinforcement for unwanted barking

Barking is, unfortunately, a self-reinforcing behavior, so waiting for the behavior to extinguish—even when another behavior is reinforced—is often futile. Therefore I recommend a combination of positive reinforcement and negative punishment.

If the dog continues to bark after being cued to do something else, or if the dog is barking for attention, one of the most effective responses is to remove what he wants. For example, if he wants to get out of the crate, stop moving or back away when he barks, then walk forward when he quiets down.

Manage the environment

When you're not training, manage the environment so that barking isn't triggered and inadvertently reinforced. For example, if your dog barks when he's alone in the backyard, keep him inside except when you're able to go out with him. If your dog barks at passersby through the front window, either draw the blinds or keep the dog out of the front room except when you're there to address the problem.

When you're training, make sure inappropriate barking isn't rewarded—and that the preferred response is. Be proactive. Cue your preferred response before the barking is triggered.


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