If your dog is barking excessively, it gets annoying. No one wants their dog barking while they’re asleep or on a Zoom call. Not to mention, your neighbors might hate it! If you tell him to keep quiet, your dog just keeps on barking. It’s like nothing will stop him! If you have this problem, Doug Poynter shares how to solve it in today’s episode. Listen up as Doug takes a deep dive into what goes on in your dog’s brain so you can train him to tone down the barking.
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Stop The Barking!
Welcome to another episode of the show. I’m the owner of the business Better Dog Behavior. I’m located in Central Virginia, and I service all of the State of Virginia. Sometimes, I’ll go to Maryland. I had been to Pennsylvania, had clients in Southern California, and had clients in Armenia and Nicaragua. I’m not driving to those clients, but I do Zoom sessions. Mostly, I do live one-on-one sessions with folks, and people hire me for behavior problems.
I sometimes get hired for dog obedience, but mostly it’s behavior problems, like aggression, reactivity, and fear. There’s a cool client with a little Beagle who’s scared of everything. I’ll tell you about that in one of the upcoming episodes. We are probably one and a half session and got him approaching me. Seeing anybody other than his owners would cause him to run away. We were able to make some real progress quickly with that. I worked with folks with dogs that have separation anxiety.
I use positive reinforcement. I use marker training. Normally, I use a clicker. If the dog is scared of the sound of the clicker, then we’ll use a verbal marker. I find that all of that training works well to teach obedience and works exceedingly well to solve behavior problems. If you’re not sure what marker training is, go back to my previous episode. Go to where you look at this episode. Look at my previous episode called The Magic of Markers and you’ll learn about marker training.
It works wonders. It is amazing. I typically don’t do corrections. Corrections tend to make problems worse. You can stop a behavior problem at the moment with a correction, but you don’t change the way the dog thinks and feels about the problem issue. You don’t change his association. Sometimes you change the association and make it worse.Corrections tend to make problems worse. They can stop a problematic behavior in the moment, but it doesn’t change the way the dog thinks and feels about the behavior. Click To Tweet
I had a client with a nice German Shepherd of Eastern European bloodlines. She sent him to one of the big box trainers for a boarding train. They used the eCollar. He was fine in terms of the way he got along with dogs. He came back from that two-week boarding train and was highly aggressive with other dogs. What happened was about a week into it, my client got a call from the trainer at the boarding train and said, “He showed a little reactivity to a dog in the class.” My client said, “What did you do?”
The trainer said, “I corrected him,” which means she zapped him with the eCollar. What she did create a negative association. He was already a little irritated with the dog, then he got pain. Now, what’s happened is he associates the sight of other dogs with pain, “I don’t like other dogs now.” That’s the thing that I’m hired to fix. I wanted to talk to you about a behavior problem that seems to be the most prevalent and the one that most people have the most problems with.
I did an internet thing probably several years ago, taking a survey of what is the number one problem that you face with your dog. What is it that bothers you the most? By far, the number one was inappropriate barking or too much barking. I’m going to give you some strategies for dealing with that. The first thing that I would tell you is to check the food that you’re feeding your dog. If you are giving your dog dry dog food that has chicken as a meat source, you are hyping your dog up.Check the food you’re feeding your dog. If you’re giving him dry dog food and chicken, you are hyping him up. That can cause excessive barking. Click To Tweet
This doesn’t come from me. It comes from a holistic veterinarian who I’m going to try to get as a guest on this show in a little bit. She told me a couple of years ago that chicken in dry dog food can sometimes cause food allergies. It doesn’t always, but sometimes it does. Licking the feet would be evidence of food allergies. The thing that chicken in dry dog food always create is heat. She told me that chicken in dry dog food is thermogenic.
To give you an idea, thermogenic means build heat. In humans, bodybuilders will take a thermogenic supplement before a contest to burn fat because it winds your metabolism up. I cannot tell you how many clients I work with dogs that are way wound up with crazy energy, barking, and can’t focus on anything. It’s almost invariably true that what the owners are feeding the dogs is a dry dog food with chicken as the meat source.
When we change the food to what the doctor recommended, which is a fish meat source in dry dog food and the dry dog food does not have corn, wheat, or soy in it, in which corn, wheat, or soy can cause problems as well, when we change to that type of dry dog food with fish as a meat source, no corn, wheat or soy, grains that are healthy grains, barley, oats and things like that, then we see a radical difference in the dog’s behavior.
I’m not suggesting that it’s going to make problems like barking go away, but I am suggesting it will make the fix much easier when the dog is not hyped or like a human who’s just had 2 or 3 cups of coffee. It will be easier to get the dog more settled and more focused. Step number one for you to do, is to get your dog food switched if you’re using that chicken-based dry dog food.
Don’t switch it right away. Take a week or ten days, one-quarter of the new food with three-quarters of the old food for 2 or 3 days, then half and a half for 2 or 3 days, then three-quarters of the new food, and one-quarter of the old food for 2 or 3 days. You can even take more time than that if you’d like. What we’re trying to do is not upset the dog’s stomach with a radical change of food.
During that period of time, you can switch the dog over. What I see with my clients is, typically, the dog needs to be on the new food for maybe 10 days or 2 weeks before you start to see a difference. It’s not like the dog will go from being energetic to lying around and sleeping all day long like a lazy dog. It is for your dog to not express the high end of his or her energy nearly as much. The ability to settle down happens a whole lot quicker and the focus is a whole lot easier to get. That would be step number one.
Step number two is we want to think about what we want here. I had a lady call me on the telephone and said that she wanted me to train her dog not to bark. I said, “What’s going on?” I assumed that she had all these inappropriate barking issues. The upshot of the whole thing was after asking her a bunch of questions, she didn’t want the dog to ever bark.
I said, “One of the reasons why we have dogs is to alert us. I’m sure if somebody walked up onto your property and you didn’t know that person was there and you didn’t know that person, you’d want your dog to bark to let you know. Wouldn’t you?” “No,” she said. I said, “Really?” She said, “Yes.” I said, “Wouldn’t you be upset if someone broke into your house and your dog lay on the floor calmly while this person made off with all of your valuables?” “I don’t want him to ever bark again.” I said, “You got the wrong guy because I’m not going to attempt to train a dog to stop doing what dogs naturally do and one of the reasons why we have them.”
I feel sorry for the dog. I don’t know what she ended up doing, but I wasn’t going to try and do that with the dog. I was hoping I could talk her out of what she wanted and convince her that there are appropriate times for dogs to bark. I couldn’t do that, so she wasn’t my client. One of the things that we want to do is understand what it is that we want. I want my dog to bark and to alert when somebody walks onto my property. I want her to let me know that.
I’m working on this with my dog as well because I have a rescue dog. I don’t know what they did to her, but she violently barks when people walk in front of my house. I’ve gotten that down where I’ve got it minimized and she barks, but I can get her to come back to me and stop and settle down. I’m going to show you that as well as how you can do that. I’m going to give you some strategies for that in this episode as well.
Keep in mind that the idea that a dog would never bark is not realistic. Somebody said to me, “My dog was in the house and another dog ran into our yard and barked at him.” I said, “Is that a problem?” There was this silence. I said, “That’s normal.” Very few dogs other than a dog that was very elderly and pretty way laid back wouldn’t bark at another dog coming in onto their property. I said, “That would be a normal occurrence, don’t you think? It’s normal dog behavior.”
After this person thought about it, she said, “You’re right.” I said, “People want their dogs to behave better than kids behave. There is some behavior that’s normal for a dog. That’s one of them, like somebody walking up onto the property and the dog alerting to that.” I think what we don’t want is we don’t want the dog to bark neurotically or crazily or in an obsessive-compulsive way over and over again and it never stops.
If you have a scenario like that, I want you to, first of all, think about what you’re feeding your dog. As we mentioned, if the dog is on a chicken base, dry dog food, switch that, and make sure there’s no corn, wheat, or soy in the food. Have the dog be on that for about 10 or 12 days and see if there’s a little settling down. The other thing that you want to think about is how your dog’s behavior, his barking or her barking is being rewarded.
There could be something going on outside that’s rewarding your dog’s behavior. I always ask my clients this when they tell me, “My dog barks at anybody or anything that walks in front of our house.” I go, “Can you see how that person, dog, or that person with a dog is rewarding your dog’s barking?” I hardly ever have anybody get the answer to that. They think and go, “They’re not feeding my dog. They’re not petting my dog. No, I can’t see how they’re rewarding my dog.”
I go, “Your dog is barking because it’s something to bark at. Also, the dog is alerting, ‘You’re near my property. You’re a bad guy.’” How would you know the dog won? Usually, my client will think and they don’t get it, but I can see their brain is starting to think in that direction. This is how I want you to think. I want you to think of rewards. Any behavior that is rewarded is going to be reinforced and therefore repeated.
I asked my clients this, and they go, “I agree with that.” I say, “How is your dog barking at a stranger in the street rewarded?” They go, “I don’t talk to him.” Sometimes my clients will yell at the dog. We’ll talk about that in a second so that can contribute to it. I’m specifically asking them how that person in the street rewards their dog’s behavior. They never get it. I go, “Here’s what it is. They go away,” and you can see the light click on.
I go, “If your dog’s protecting the property and the way your dog is protecting the property is to bark at the intruder, how does your dog know he or she won? The person goes away. Therefore, barking worked, ‘I got that person to run away.’” They don’t know in their little dog brain that the person was going to run away or walk away anyway. That person wasn’t trying to walk onto or in front of the property and do something nefarious. They were just walking by the house, but the barking and the person going away rewards the barking.
Therefore, “When another person walks in front of the house, I’m barking again. Why? It’s because it works. Watch, I’ll make them go away. Every day, that guy comes in and puts something in the box out in front of the house and I drive him away every day as well. I bark like a fool, and he runs away, gets in his truck, and drives away. The Amazon guy, I drive him away 2 or 3 times a week. Do you see?”
This normal behavior that’s rewarded is going to be repeated. There are several ways that we might deal with this. I will always ask folks who have a dog who goes berserk, ballistic, and barks at people. Does your dog have access to a window where he or she can see whatever’s moving or walking in the street and lose it? They go, “He likes to lay up on the back of the couch. He likes to lay in front of the door and watch things that go by outside.” I go, “We need to take away that access.”A behavior that's rewarded is going to be repeated. Click To Tweet
I’ve had clients who didn’t want to do that because it would block the light coming into the house. Sometimes I’ll say to them, “You might think about Roman blinds.” I’m no decorator, but I understand that Roman blinds are from the bottom to about halfway up the window. The upper part of the window remains open so that the sunlight can come in. That’s a strategy.
Now your dog may hear stuff outside bark at it. We’ll talk about that in a second, but at least this can minimize your dog being able to see outside. The answer to this is not to put the dog in a crate all day long because too much time in the crate creates too much energy, which can also create crazy barking at some point. If we can minimize the ability of the dog to see the general public milling around in front of the house, then we can begin to reduce the potential for crazy barking.
What if you can’t do that? What if you do all that minimizing, you get your Roman blind set up and whatnot, but the dog can hear people? What if you’re like a client of mine who had a German Shepherd? They had a big sliding glass door. All they had was a curtain in front of it, and the dog could hear something and push the curtain with his nose and see somebody out front. How could we change that without putting a screen up?
They didn’t want to put a screen up because they used that sliding glass door a lot. They didn’t want to always have to be moving the screen. Here’s something that I want to give you that you can use that I found works pretty well. It is using the clicker or the verbal mark and using a food reward but calling the dog back to you from the area where he is barking. In order for this to work, you need to be able to call the dog back to you with no distractions.
You practice in the house calling the dog to you and, as he comes to you, click and treat. Remember, check out The Magic of Markers episode. A marker is a noise that’s made the instant the dog is doing what we want. A click is what most people use. You can get clickers for dog training on Amazon. Some people use a verbal marks. They’ll say, “Yes.” You say yes in a way that’s different than the way you normally say it the instant the dog is doing what you want.
If you can practice teaching the dog to come to you, an easy way to do that is to face the dog and back up. You might even have a food treat in your hand. Back up as the dog comes to you. Either click or say yes, then give him a food treat. Practice backing up a little bit further each time and not clicking until he gets to you. When you start out clicking as he starts to come to you, then give him the food treat when he gets there.
As he learns how to do this, you wait for him to get closer until you are waiting to click until he gets to you then you give him the food treat. The way to entice him to come to you is to face him with the food treat and start to back up while facing him. They’ll start to move to you as they do click when he gets their treat. Gradually, wait longer to click until you’re waiting until he gets right to you before you click.
Once he’s offering that and doing that with you voluntarily and with a little bit of fluency, meaning he looks like he’s gotten it and he gets it and is having fun doing it, then you let him hear you say the recall cue. Most people say come as he starts. Before he starts but as he gets started, let him hear you say, “Come.” As he walks to you, when he gets there, click and treat.
You do that often enough, and he’ll begin to associate the word come with moving towards you to get a click and a treat. Then, we’re ready to begin to start the situation with the barking. For example, if you’re in the house and he runs to the window, what you want to try to do is click before he starts barking. Why would I do that? First of all, if you can click when there’s no barking, then you’re marking no barking.
If you can click as he gets to the window or the door and he’s looking out and you can click before he starts to bark, then you’re marking looking out the window with no barking. What you do is you click then he turns around and you back up with a food treat in your hand. When he comes to you, you give him the food treat. While he’s still there with you, you click again to keep him there and give him another food treat.
You might even ask him to sit. When his butt hits the ground, you click and give him a food treat and then click and give him another food treat. Keep him sitting there. At that point, he’ll start to enjoy sitting there facing you because you’re clicking and giving him food treats. Maybe keep him there for 10 seconds or 15 seconds, whatever you think is long enough for the person walking by to have gotten by the house and let him go.
When he runs back to the window, it’s likely the person’s not going to be there anymore. What made the person go away is running back to mom. Do you see? That’s one way of doing it. The other way of doing it is the one that’s probably the most realistic. That is you’re probably not going to get the click in as he is at the window before he starts barking. If you’re good and you can do that quickly, then great, but if not, you’ve got a couple of ways that you could do this.
While he’s barking, you could wait for him to take a breath. There’s a gap in the barking, and you click immediately. You got to be quick on the click so that you get it in the silence, but you click in the silence and hopefully, he’ll turn around and come back and get a food treat. If he doesn’t, you can call him and have him run back and give him a food treat then click again while he’s there and give him a food treat.
Before he has a chance to run back, ask him to sit. If he sits, click and give him a food treat and work the same process that we talked about to keep him there seated in front of you. The other way that you could do it is when he goes up to the window or the door and starts barking. Before you click, call him back. See if the work that you’ve done with him teaching him to come back to you in the house, see how strong that is. Get a handful of food treats and get his attention with his name. When he turns around, call him back.
Be backing up with those food treats in hand, and you might even back up and take him to a dog bed. I’ve just told you that you can have him sit in front of you, but maybe there’s a dog bed in the room and you have him come back to the dog bed, lay down on the dog bed, and click and treat for that. See if you can call him back and wait to click until he gets back to you. You don’t have to be quite brilliant with your timing on the click for that to make sure you’re clicking in silence. You’re just calling him back to you, and when he gets back to you, you click and treat.
My dog gets so violent that she won’t come back if I just call her because she is so focused on what’s going on outside. What I have to do is I have to do the click before she barks or click in the gap. She’s barking, and I wait for a pause then click. I got to get up right behind her with a food treat, and when she turns around, back up and have her come back to me. She’s coming back to me and laying on her dog bed, and I click and treat while she’s on her dog bed. Click and treat, and she stays on that dog bed.
When it’s done, I go, “Okay.” She runs back to the window, and they’re all gone. Going back to dad and laying on the dog bed is what got them to go away, not barking at them. What I find is that the intensity of her barking is going down and it’s easier for me to call her back away from the window. These are a couple of strategies for you for barking inside the house. The other thing that I want you to keep in mind is if you yell at the dog and try to make the dog stop doing this, it’s not working.
What you’re doing is you’re barking at the dog. You’re role modeling, making a lot of noise, and you’re getting your dog even more wound up. What do dogs do when they get wound up? A lot of times, they barked. I had some clients with a dog, a Hound mix, who was probably the most violent bark I’ve ever seen in my life. If you came to their house, he would run down the hallway and hurl himself at the front door with this violent barking.
I had met them the first time out on a walk, and he saw me and lost it. I got this feeling as we walked, and he began to settle down when the couple and the husband were walking the dog. I ascribed this to the husband. I said, “You yell at this dog a lot?” He said, “Yes.” The wife piped up and said, “It’s not him. It’s me.” She said, “I’m Italian. I’m used to a loud household. I yell about everything.”
I said, “You got a dog who’s role modeling the way you guys are. How do dogs yell? They bark. If you can calm down with your dog, then we can use some of this behavioral stuff that we’re talking about that I just gave you here that will have a much better result. The more wound up you are, the more wound up he’s going to be. Yelling at your dog does not help to stop barking.” What helps more than anything is to understand what’s going on, to understand what’s rewarding the barking, then begin to mark when the dog is not barking and call the dog back to you.
Keep the dog with you and get a reward for being nice and calm in front of you for a longer period of time. When the dog goes back to the thing that he or she was barking at, they’re all gone. Let me tell you something that you need to be careful of, and this is why we want to keep the dog with us, seated in front of us or lying on the dog bed for a period of time. We don’t want this to be a bark, run back, then run back to bark, and then run back. We don’t want that because then what happens is the dog links the behavior up, “I bark, I stop barking, and I get a reward.” That’s all one behavior to a dog.
What we’re doing here is the dog is barking. If we can get the timing right to click when the dog stops barking and get the dog to come back and stay with us for a longer period of time, then we can separate out the quiet from the barking. That’s the stay with us for a longer period of time. We’re separating out the quiet from the barking so the dog does not link it up, “I bark and get quiet.” I hope that makes sense.
Those are some strategies to help with barking in your house. It’s just a matter of doing the work. It’s a matter of being calm and getting your timing right, understanding markers and clickers, and understanding that the click noise or the mark noise happens when we get the behavior that we want or we have the absence of the behavior that we don’t want. I hope this helps you.
I’ll do another session on barking a little bit later with some other types of barking. Give that a shot. If you want to contact me on my website, it’s www.BetterDogBehaviorNow.com. I hope this has been helpful to you. I work with canine behavior problems. I work with aggressive dogs, reactive dogs, dogs with fear, dogs who bark, and dogs who have separation anxiety and behavior problems. It is what I specialize in here in Central Virginia and all over the world via Zoom. I hope that this has been helpful to you. I’ll talk to you next time.
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