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Page Ten of a twelve-page article:
A Detailed Examination of the Process of Bark Training a Dog

Classical Conditioning

There is a movie called Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which the heroes of the story encounter a group of potential adversaries who extort favors from passersby by saying "neek" to those who fail to appease them. In this alternate universe the inhabitants could not stand to hear the word "Neek." Just the sound of the utterance was intolerable to the locals, and they would do anything to avoid it.

Earlier, I mentioned Steel, a German Shepherd and my favorite dog of all time. Steel was like those Monty Python characters, only it wasn't "neek" he couldn't stand to hear, it was "No." Remember, I said that for Steel, the word "No" had two meanings. The first meaning was that, a split second after I said the word, I was either going to reward him or I was going to punish him, depending on what he did next. I also mentioned that, for Steel, the word "No" had a second meaning, which was that he had screwed up and he was now being punished. He couldn't stand to hear the word "No" when it was spoken in a punishing tone. For him being told "No" in a disapproving, reproachful manner marked a shameful fall from grace.

He didn't mind being told "No" if it was spoken as a warning to stop before it was too late. To be told "no" under those circumstances gave him a chance to show his stuff by complying and, thereby, gave him a chance to earn further praise and respect, "Good Dog!!" But to be punished by repeatedly being told "No" in an emotional, shaming tone of voice, was almost more than he could bear. With each new pronunciation of the word he would almost flinch, even though we had long ago reached a point in his training where I almost never smacked him. Every time I'd say the word again he would sort of wince and crouch down looking small and pitiful. He had a face you could read like a book and there was no mistaking the shame and heartache in his expression. He took it pretty dang hard.

Now, that's what you need to aim for. You want to get to where the spoken word "no" is, unto itself, a powerful punisher. It may sound cruel to make a point of conditioning your dog to experience heart break at the sound of a verbal rebuke, but it's a worthy goal because, once that is achieved, you can exert much greater control over him using just your voice. After you reach that stage, it will rarely be necessary to do him even limited violence, which will be a happier circumstance for both of you.

I have to tell you that I gave some thought to switching over with my next dog and, instead, of telling him "No," when he screwed up I would say "Neek." I suppose the Monty Python fans might enjoy it, but the dog wouldn't think it was funny. He'd be just as upset either way.

Classically Conditioning Emotional Upset, or How to Say No And Make It Count For Something

Hearing someone say "No" is not, by nature, an upsetting experience, but it becomes upsetting if, over time, it is consistently paired with a distressing physical experience. So, if you say "No" every time you smack your dog then, over time, hearing the word will become almost as upsetting to the dog as being smacked.

What we experience as emotional upset is actually physical in nature. Most people don't think of emotion as being physical but, what we experience emotionally goes hand-in-hand with our physical state. When a dog (or a person) becomes upset, their autonomic nervous system shifts in a way that is characteristic of intense emotion. For specifics click on Why exposure to chronic barking is so profoundly debilitating.

If you rush toward your dog shouting "No" and dispensing aversives with the body language of a dominant dog on a rampage, it will trigger changes in the dog's physiology that will cause him to feel upset. If, over a long period of time, you frequently repeat the word "no" while he is feeling upset, he will eventually come to associate the sound with a state of physical/emotional upset and, thereafter, he will find the word "No," to be upsetting, in and of itself.

It is a common phenomenon you can probably relate to. Perhaps you lived in a particular place during a time of great upset and now you feel upset every time you go there, or maybe you associate a particular song with an upsetting relationship and now you feel upset when you hear the song.

That process is called classical conditioning. In classical conditioning, something that was previously neutral, (like being told, "No,") is paired with something physically aversive (like being smacked or feeling upset) with the result that, after a while, the formally neutral stimulus takes on an upsetting quality very similar to the physical/emotional distress with which it is paired. Joyful emotions are conditioned by much the same mechanism, but we'll get to that in a bit.

When you scold your dog, the only word that should come out of your mouth is "No." Don't ever say anything else to your dog when dispensing aversives. In that way, you establish the word as a powerful punisher you can use to control him in the future, but just as good, in the bargain you bring the dog to an understanding of one of the two most useful verbal expressions he could ever hope to comprehend.

If Your Dog Runs Away As You Approach

Some people find that they are unable to deliver a corrective tap to their dog, because every time they approach to dispense the punisher, the too-quick-to-catch animal skips off into the distance with a lighthearted, invincible air about him.

After you have put in the time necessary to classically condition your dog to become upset at the sound of the word no there will be no need for you to catch him or for you to deliver a corrective tap, because at that point, you will find that just the verbal rebuke will be all it will take to make the animal regret having barked inappropriately.

However, it is a catch-22 kind of situation, because you can't classically condition your dog to become upset at the sound of the word no unless you speak the word to the animal as you make him feel emotionally upset. But with most dogs, you can't cause them experience a sufficient degree of emotional upset unless you smack them as you speak the word, which you can't do if you can't catch them.

If your dog runs away from you when you go to smack him and tell him no in response to inappropriate barking, there are really only a few things you can do. The first requires that you tether the animal during the training period.

Essentially, the word tether refers to attaching a cord of some kind to you dog's halter, while attaching the other end to some sort of immovable object so that he will not be able to walk more than a few yards away from that spot.

You should not tether your dog unless you are going to be there to watch him, because otherwise, he could become dangerously entangled in the cord.

If you need to tether your dog during bark training, you will want to place the animal in a location where he can see all the things that he likes to bark at. Then, whenever he barks inappropriately, you can just reel him in and tell him no as you deliver the corrective smack.

Once your dog has mastered the art of not barking inappropriately while tethered, then, you can let him off the rope to run freely in the yard, at which point, you can be sure that the barking will resume as before.

Each time your dog barks you should catch him, deliver a smack and a verbal rebuke, and immediately reattach him to the tether for a while, where his bark training should resume as before.

Once your dog has not barked inappropriately for a while, you can again release him into the yard, only to retether him if he again barks inappropriately.

If you can't retether your dog because you can't catch him, then, you will either need to find a way to restrict him to a smaller area, in which he can be caught, or, you will need to come up with a more creative solution. For example, depending on the type of dog you have, the climate where you live, and your particular situation, you might want to try throwing buckets of water on the barking dog who can't be caught. If you can't make that sort of thing work for you, then, it may be time to think about fitting the animal with an electronic collar.

It should be noted that if your dog runs away from you under any circumstance, it is a sure sign that something has gone wrong at some point in the animal's training and development, because that definitely should not happen. The best way to keep that sort of frustrating, behavioral quirk from developing is to begin training and bonding with your dog early on, preferably, during his critical stage of development.

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This page on bark training is part of Section One:
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