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Incessantly Barking Dog

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From Melanie Walton:

I have a male pointer mix dog that is about 2 years old. He likes to bark at everything! He has been through a basic obedience class and I do use the clicker when working on training skills with him. He loves working with the clicker and learns skills quickly. My problem is I don't know how to Discourage an undesired behavior. He barks a lot. There are two different situations in which he barks that I would like to stop. If he is sitting in the house next to me and hears a dog FAR off somewhere else in the neighborhood (he cannot see the other dog) he jumps up, runs around and frantically barks. Frequently he imitates the other dog's bark. If it's high pitched, my dog barks higher; if it's low pitch, my dog barks lower. He gets so worked up and then eventually stops barking, usually if the other dog stops (this also happens when he is outside the house).

The second situation is if he is in the yard and a person or especially a dog walks/rides/drives by anywhere in his line of sight (sometimes right by the fence and sometimes all the way at the other end of the block). He goes nuts, starts barking and runs back and forth in front of the fence. I can't seem to distract or get his attention at all. And if I am inside the house (and he's in the yard) I'm afraid if I walk outside to stop him it will reinforce the behavior.

The barking doesn't appear to be "mean." His hair is not standing up on the back of his neck and his tail usually up and wagging.

This is causing great problems with the neighbors and they are threatening to try to have my dog taken away. He is a great dog and learns quickly, I am just not sure how to use the clicker to show him the behavior I want...which is no barking.... or being quiet. Maybe he could be taught to bark just once or twice and then stop. I just don't know how to do that. If you could please give some suggestions on how to use the clicker to stop him from barking I would greatly appreciate it. I don't want my dog taken away and I do want to make my neighbors happy. I would love any help/advice you could give. 


Dear Melanie,

When something happens that sets him off, In the house, get some super treats and the minute he barks click him and treat. Put him on a leash if you have to, so he doesn't run around. Stand on the leash. As he is eating the treat and can't bark, shove your hand in his face like a traffic cop giving a 'Stop' signal; this will suprise him a little. Click and treat. Then pause, don't move, let him start barking, click, treat, signal Stop, while he's still quiet, click and treat. Then say "Bark!" let him start barking, click and treat, signal stop, click and treat. Go back and forth at least twenty times, very fast, don't try to keep him silent, just Get silence and click it. He will catch on.

You will now have the beginnings of both a bark cue, to reward a single woof, and a Silence cue, to interrupt barking, indoors. Do this exercise every time he gets to barking in the house.

As for the fence running and barking outdoors, that is a different problem. Get it under control in the house first. My advice would be NOT to ever leave the dog in the yard alone, until you have control of the barking. Walk him on a leash, exercise him someplace away from the yard, and keep him indoors the rest of the time. Dogs don't really do well alone in the yard, they are better off being with you, and the neighbors can't complain that way. Crate him if need be.

When you have a perfect recall trained—so that he always comes the minute you call no matter where he is, you can perhaps let him in the yard again, but no more than ten minutes at a time, and a big reward for coming when called. The fence running is self-reinforcing especially in a bored dog, and prevention—by not turning him out on his own—is the first part of management.

Happy clicking,

Karen Pryor