This page on bark training is part of Section One:|
the Your Dog section of barkingdogs.net
A Detailed Examination of the Process of Bark Training Your Dog
This section will provide you with an in depth analysis of how to bark train your dog. It is written for those who want to come to a thorough understanding of the mechanism that underlies bark training. If you're not already familiar with these concepts you'll need to pay attention and learn a few new terms. But if you read carefully, you'll come out knowing not only how to quiet your dog, but also, more about human behavior than you'd ever expect to get from a lesson about bark training.
However, if you just want a brief, bare bones explanation of how to teach your dog not to bark, click on a quick explanation of how to bark train your dog.
Back in the nineties, I moved halfway across the country and into a new house in South Bend, Indiana, where my full-time job was to work against a deadline to get my dissertation proposal written. I had to get the paper done and that meant that I had to be at my desk all day, every day.
Unfortunately, my desk was situated against an outside wall, and three feet beyond that wall was a wire fence that ran the length of the line separating my newly rented property from my neighbor's place. A couple feet further beyond the fence, chained to a doghouse, sat Bear, a captive male canine descended from a mix of herding breeds.
The house of Bear's people was rectangularly shaped with its length running in an east/west direction. His owners spent most of their time in the front of the house, which was in the far western portion of the building. The dog, however, was chained behind the house, at the most extreme eastern portion of the property. By putting him there, they placed the dog as far from themselves as possible and, in the process, positioned him so he was never, ever more than ten feet from where I sat at my desk. To them he was a sound in the distance, a casual acquaintance they glimpsed twice a day, but to me he was a constant presence, always with me as he lay in bondage just beyond my window. He was usually in my sight and I could hear him out there at all hours, dragging his chains like a furry version of Jacob Marley.
I was chained to my desk just as surely as Bear was chained to his dog house. We were like Sydney Portier and Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones, except that we weren't running, and we didn't hate each other and, all right, we weren't all that defiant either. But for all practical purposes we were chained together, sitting there a few feet apart, day in and day out.
Bear was the featured view out my west window, and I often found myself staring at him as I struggled to find the right words to forge a coherent proposal. I'd be willing to bet that on any given day, I saw more of him than his owners did in six months.
Once each morning and again each evening, one of the neighbors would come out their back door and stay just long enough to dump some food in Bear's bowl. On rare occasions, one of them would pat him on the head in a perfunctory, sorry-assed excuse for a display of affection, and that was it. That was the sum total of Bear's contact with his owners.
Bear barked. He barked and barked and barked. He barked and barked. "Woof, woof, woof! Bow-Wow, Bow-Wow. Arf, Arf. Bark! Bark! Bark! Bark!" He was a practiced and prolific barker.
I suffered. I suffered and suffered, but it wasn't just Bear. This was during a time when one of my other neighbor's dogs was also barking at all hours outside my bedroom window. So sleep after dark was hard to come by, and we couldn't catch up by napping during the day, because the dogs barked then, too.
To make matters worse, I wasn't making much progress on my dissertation proposal. That sort of work requires sustained, focused thought, but each episode of deep concentration was brought to a sudden close by a piercing bark that sent my adrenaline surging, my heart racing, and my autonomic nervous system doing back flips. It was that same startle response you get when you think you're alone and then, when you least expect it, someone suddenly jumps out at you. Every time I succeeded in immersing myself in thought, Bear would startle me all over again. I could lessen the scare by not letting myself think so deeply, but then, that's kind of self-defeating for someone who is trying to concentrate. Moving the desk wouldn't solve the problem. The only other places it would fit were close to the favorite barking locale of one of my other neighbor's barking dog.
Things had reached the point where something had to be done, but the police weren't authorized to deal with the problem, animal control was altogether worthless, and Bear's owners damn sure weren't going to swing into action without some prodding. So, with a heavy heart born of much experience, I went to call on Bear's people.
I walked around to the front of the neighbor's house, where a knock on the door brought a woman in her mid thirties. I told her where I lived and said I wanted to talk to her about Bear.
"Yeah," she said. Which meant, let's hear what you have to say.
I said, "Well, he's barking a lot."
"Yeah?" She spoke the word this time with a quizzical inflection that changed the meaning to an unspoken query: "Why are you telling me this? What is it you want?"
"Well, it's really bothering me. He barks a lot."
"Yeah," she said, "He barks all the time."
"Well, have you thought about training him?
"We did train him, but he didn't get it. He's too stupid."
"Well, have you thought about hiring a professional trainer?"
"We took him to a professional trainer. In fact, we took him to two professional trainers, and they both said he can't be trained."
I didn't say it out loud, but I stood there thinking: Now, let me get this straight. You have a dog that barks all the time, and he can't be trained, so he's always going to bark all the time, and your solution to the problem is to chain him up immediately outside my window, where you have, essentially, abandoned him? It's the kind of thing you hear so often from abusive dog owners. The message is: the cost of owning this animal is too much for me, so I'm going to make you pay for it.
But before I could respond she said, "Come back tonight when my husband's home," and slammed the door.
She left so abruptly that she had been gone several seconds before I realized she had brought the conversation to a close and wasn't coming back. I walked home in despair, because I knew talking to the husband would not be any more productive than talking to the wife had been.
I knew from watching him that Bear was plenty smart. If his owners really thought he was stupid, they didn't know the first thing about dogs, and I thought it a bad sign that the wife tried to convince me that professional trainers had pronounced Bear a hopeless case. Without exception, every dog can be taught when to bark and when not to bark, and any trainer would have known in short order that Bear was bright and capable.
Bear's people concluded he was stupid because they couldn't get him to stop barking, but let's take a look at the intervention they used. I have no doubt it went like this. When he was barking a lot, they would go out every once in a while and yell "shut-up." When the frequent barking continued, they resorted to going out once in a while and giving him a sharp smack. When that didn't work, they concluded he was stupid, and gave up. They witnessed Bear's refusal to quit barking and took that to be evidence that he lacked intelligence. But I thought it proved just the opposite. Bear had his reasons for barking.
If you want to understand why somebody does something, you need to look at what happens after they do it. Bear only barked in the presence of a specific class of stimuli. That is, he only barked when there were people around. There were frequent basketball games nearby that took place within Bear's line of sight, and there was a fair amount of foot traffic as well. He learned that, if he barked at people, they would sometimes walk over and attend to him. He also learned that, if he didn't bark, he remained a solitary prisoner aching with loneliness, in sight of people who never seemed to notice him.
Bear was a Social Beckoning Barker, calling people over to him, and sometimes they came. Bear was not stupid. He knew that if he quit barking he'd soon have a social life that was not fit for a dog. In other words, he'd be spending a lot of time alone.
If You Want A Thing Done Right . . .
I didn't like my choices. The noise was driving me insane, but we had signed a lease and, in any case, the housing market was too tight to make moving an option. I was sure it would turn into World War III if I pushed the neighbors to take responsibility for their dog. I knew that even if I tried to move in that direction that, in the end, after all the hassle and upset and energy expended, there was a good chance that the dog would still be out there barking.
I was already locked in one struggle, trying to get my neighbor on the other side of the house to train his barking dog, and each new encounter with him was as unpleasant as it was unproductive. The last thing I wanted was to have to simultaneously do battle with two irresponsible dog owners. The only way I could see out of the dilemma was to train Bear myself, but that seemed to pose some insurmountable problems.
In its most unadorned form, training a dog not to bark is a simple matter. You just give him a good smack, or spritz him with water, from a spray bottle or make sure some other unpleasant thing happens immediately after each and every bark and, if you keep it up long enough, the dog will stop barking. But it wasn't going to be that simple with Bear.
I didn't think Bear's owners would be willing to let me train him, so I didn't ask permission. I figured that, with as little concern as they showed for the dog, if I just did it, they probably wouldn't care enough to hassle me about it. And I didn't want to give them a chance to forbid me to do it.
Since I was going to train their dog without their permission, I needed to take care not to antagonize them. I figured that, if they looked out and saw me on their property, especially if I was on their property striking their dog, they'd put the family foot down and I'd be doomed to barking hell for many months to come.
So how do you bark train a dog when you can't strike him or punish him in any way, or even go on the property where he's located? It's not a problem you're ever likely to face, but I want to introduce bark training by talking about Bear's intervention to drive home the point that there has been 70 years of hard research into the mechanism of operant conditioning. We know why dogs do what they do and we have long since known how to change their behavior in any desired direction.
Pay close attention to this section, because, if you understand what I'm going to say next, you will be well on your way to grasping the fundamental mechanism that governs all animal behavior. There is a formula, consisting of three components, that you can plug-in to change behavior. If employed properly, the effect of applying the formula to a barking problem will be to convince the dog that barking is more trouble than it is worth while making it compellingly rewarding for the dog to stop barking. This same general formula works as well with humans as it does with dogs. If you know what you're doing and you can control your subject's environment completely enough, it will work every time. Here is the formula.
The Formula for Changing Behavior:
Component One: Reinforcing an Alternative Behavior that is Incompatible with the Response You Want to Eliminate
At any given moment, either a dog will bark or make some other potentially irritating noise, or he will be quiet. A dog can't both bark and be quiet at the same time, so we say that barking and being quiet are incompatible responses.
Bear didn't bark every minute of every day. He was quiet sometimes. I just needed to increase the amount of time he spent being quiet. If you want to increase the frequency with which someone makes a given response (like being quiet), you need to provide them with something rewarding, either while they are making the response, or immediately afterward. If that reward is sufficient to cause the person (or dog) to make the response again, then the reward can be properly called a reinforcer.
Part of my plan, then, was to make it rewarding/reinforcing for Bear to be quiet. I just needed to decide what kind of rewards I was going to use as reinforcers.
If you have been in frequent physical contact with others throughout your life, you may not be aware of the profound longing that comes from years of isolation with little opportunity to touch or be touched, but certainly Bear was in that condition. He was starved for affection. Beyond a doubt, he would have gladly been quiet if silence brought him companionship and physical contact. But up to that point, being quiet had brought him only isolation.
Clearly then, I could use my physical presence and my gift for dog massage as reinforcers. The plan was to wait until Bear was quiet, then I'd take a minute to go out and give him a rub down while I brought him up to date on my school work.
Separating the two properties was a chain link fence several feet high, but the top of the fence was not secured to the supporting posts. Bear found that if he reared up on his hind legs and pressed his front paws against the upper-most part of the structure, he could push the top of the wire fence steadily forward until it was leaning at a nearly horizontal angle. Bear was a very lonely dog, so when I came outside he would press the fence down and scramble on top of it to get closer to where I was standing. That put him on my property and made it possible for me to make physical contact with him without trespassing.
Massage and conversation are powerful reinforcers for a lonely, deprived dog, but for someone who is hungry, food is by far the most powerful reinforcer, and Bear rarely got enough to eat. He was thin. So thin, in fact, that I called the humane society to see if anything could be done about it. They said they could only step-in if Bear was literally starving and, as far as I could tell he was not actually dying from lack of food, he was just very, very thin. Unfortunately, there is no law against having a skinny dog.
Starving or not, Bear was always plenty hungry and I knew he would gladly be quiet if I greased his paw with the occasional dog biscuit. He longed for companionship, but for Bear, food was the ultimate reward.
Of course, rewarding Bear for being quiet wouldn't stop him from barking, not that one thing by itself anyway. But it would provide him with a reinforcing alternative to sounding off. For the first time he would be in a position to be rewarded for not barking. With a good alternative in place, it is easier to change the old behavior, and it also makes the new way of doing things much less upsetting to the one whose behavior is being changed.
Component Two: Removing the Reinforcer for the Behavior You Want to Eliminate
You may recall that a reinforcer is the thing, or things, that comes during, or after a response is made, and serves as an incentive that causes the response to be repeated again. For example, you eat some ice cream, it tastes good, so you eat some more ice cream. The good taste was the reinforcer for eating more ice cream.
Bear found that if he made the response (barking) in the presence of people, they would sometimes react by spending a little time with him. The result was that he began barking every time he saw people. That's how his barking got started, and that's why it continued.
To eliminate a problem behavior you must eliminate the reinforcer that supports it. The reinforcer that made Bear bark was the opportunity to interact with people, which meant that, to stop Bear from barking, I had to stop people from reacting to his barking by petting and socializing with him.
Component Three: Punishing the Behavior You Want to Eliminate
Loosely defined, an aversive is anything that a person (or a dog) would rather avoid. If you want to cause someone to make a given response less often, you need to present them with an aversive every time they make that response. That process, where you cause someone to do something less often by presenting them with an aversive after they do it, is called punishment. An aversive is also called a punisher. It's important to note that a punisher need not necessarily be harsh. It can sometimes be something as mild as a disapproving look, or saying "No" in a disapproving tone.
Another part of my plan then, was to make it aversive/punishing for Bear to bark. I just needed to decide what kind of aversives to use.
I knew it wouldn't work beforehand, but it's usually best to begin by trying the most obvious intervention, so early on I experimented with using the word "no" as a punisher. Bear would bark and I would storm out and say loudly "No! "No! No!" He looked dumbfounded. It was obvious that I had given him something to think about and he thought about it for several seconds before he resumed barking. After a few such episodes he didn't even pause to take in the show. He just kept flapping his lips.
I remember years ago walking across dew-covered grass with my German Shepherd, Steel, who was off the lead at the time. A nearby cat suddenly broke from cover and sprinted for the fence line. The dog reflexively took off after the cat and I shouted, "No!" Steel tried to slam on the brakes but he was moving so fast that his sudden attempt to stop sent him sliding across the wet grass. He thrust his front legs out before him, locked at the elbows, and set his rump down on the ground so that he might maximize his stopping power. He skidded across the lawn several yards in that position, sitting down, while careening out of control like an automobile hydroplaning with its brakes locked. When he slid to a stop I got my laughter under control enough to call him over and give him a quick rub down as I praised him in lavish tones. I was pleased with him, so he was pleased with himself.
Steel stopped whatever he was doing when he heard "no." It always worked out well for him when he stopped on command, always. Without exception, good things followed his compliance so he was always happy to comply. But I always made things unpleasant when he didn't stop on command, always, every time.
The word "no" had two meanings to Steel. One of those meanings was: "Stop what you are doing immediately." He knew that just a split second after he heard the word spoken in that tone of voice, that either something pleasant was going to happen or something unpleasant was going to happen, depending on what he did next. Being a party dog, and not into punishment, he always stopped right away and seemed delighted to do so.
Bear saw things differently. For him, the word "no" didn't have any meaning at all. He barked, and then I ran outside. From his perspective that was perfect, because then he had company. Not only that, but there was still a chance that the people he was barking at might yet come over and join the party. From his point of view it was a wonderful turn of events. For Bear, barking was working out well. He didn't care if I was standing there shouting. At least someone was there with him which, outside of the opportunity to eat, meant more to him than anything else in his universe. Obviously then, at this early stage of the game, I could not control Bear through verbal commands or spoken threats.
If he had been my dog I would have simply followed the word "no" with a two fingered smack on the nose, delivered lightly enough so as not to hurt him, but hard enough to cause him to prefer that I not do it again. If you do that after every bark then soon the barking will stop and the dog will come to understand the meaning of "no." That plan wouldn't fly here though, because I needed to train Bear without going on to the neighbors' property, which meant that I could not walk over to where he was to dispense the aversive. If we were to have physical contact then I needed him to cross the property line and come to me.
Imagine this scenario: Bear barks and I rush outside and call him. He comes to me and I smack him on the nose for barking. Bear would view the smack as punishment for coming when called. Then, the next time he barked I would rush out and call him and he would refuse to come. After that I'd be right back where I was before, except that instead of watching me shout "NO!" from a distance, he would be watching me call him from a distance.
Bear would come to me to be petted, fed or, in general, rewarded, but he would not come to be punished, not for long anyway. So, the option of using a nose-smacking aversive was out of the question.
Punishment takes two forms: you can give your subject something he doesn't want, like a smack on the snout or a misty spray of water to his face, or you can withhold something he does want. Obviously, I was going to have to go with the second option.
The first component of the formula for changing behavior consists of reinforcing an alternative response that is incompatible with the problem response you are trying to change. In Bear's case, that meant that I would massage him, speak to him, and feed him dog biscuits as a reward for being quiet. Once he came to expect those things and, indeed, to count on those things from me, I would be in a position to punish his barking by withholding them from him.
Setting the Plan In Motion
Remember, to stop a problem behavior, one of the essential elements is the elimination of the reinforcers that support it. The reinforcer that made Bear bark was the opportunity to interact with people, so I began by speaking with the people who sometimes responded to his barks by petting and socializing with him. I explained the situation and asked them, in the future, not to approach him when he was barking and they agreed, no problem.
When reinforcement for a barking response is slowly thinned over time, so the dog is gradually given less and less in the way of rewards for barking, the likely result is that the barking will continue on even after virtually all the reinforcers that used to drive the response have been eliminated. With that in mind, I made it a point to speak to absolutely everyone to make sure that all of the social reinforcers, that were supporting the barking were removed at once. The next part of the plan was the most fun. I began to reward Bear for being quiet. I started, so to speak, reinforcing quiet behavior.
We began a routine. Every time I went outside, Bear would push down the fence and scramble onto it to reach the spot where I stood. I would give him one single cookie (a small sized dog biscuit), then I'd give him a sixty-second rub down as I spoke to him in the sort of affectionate tones usually reserved for speaking to young children. Then I'd go back inside.
As a rule, when you're providing food to reinforce quiet behavior, or any behavior for that matter, you have to use tiny amounts, maybe as little as a single pellet of dry dog food. That's because dogs are prone to gain too much weight with resulting health problems, the same as people. Bear was an exception to the rule, however, because he was Whippet thin, but he wasn't a Whippet. He was a herding dog who desperately needed to gain weight. So, I went ahead and gave Bear an entire biscuit, albeit a small one, every time I went outside.
The routine was for me to go out, on average, once every half hour. I made it a point only to go out on those occasions when Bear had not barked for at least the preceding five minutes, because, if he received a cookie soon after barking, the food would serve as a reinforcer and the barking would increase. I gave Bear the next six days to learn the routine.
Once each day I took out the trash, which required that I exit the side door and walk past Bear on my way to the garbage cans in the alley. On those occasions I paused along the way to give him his usual rub down and talking to, but trash time was special. When it was trash time, Bear got not one cookie, but three cookies. He eagerly anticipated the daily trash removal ceremony. It was a big moment in his day. Oh, you betcha.
Up to that point I had facilitated the withdrawal of the reinforcer for barking and I had begun to dispense regular reinforcement for being quiet. Now it was time for the next phase. I began to punish Bear's barking behavior.
I had decided to use the form of punishment in which you punish your subject by taking away something he wants. In this case I would withhold the food that Bear had come to expect whenever I stepped outside.
On the morning of the seventh day Bear barked and I rushed outside and exclaimed "No" in an emphatic, angry tone. Then, went back inside without giving him the biscuit he anticipated. I doubt he was impressed much by my raised voice, but I'm sure he was upset by the way I reentered the house without giving him a cookie. He soon realized that the same thing happened every time. If he barked, I would exit the house, tell him "no," and reenter without feeding him, and if I came back out within the next few minutes it would only be to chastise another bark which, in turn, reset the clock and delayed the next cookie for a while longer. On the other hand, as he quickly discovered, if he was quiet, visits were more frequent and each visit brought refreshment and affectionate physical contact.
Bear was located outside my west window. I could look out my south window and see pedestrians walking down the sidewalk, coming from the east moving toward the west. More to the point, I could see them before Bear knew they were coming. So, when I saw people approaching I would hurry to Bear's side where I would speak to him affectionately and pet him with one hand while holding a clearly visible cookie in the other. If he barked as the people came into sight I would speak harshly, "No" and walk back inside, taking the food with me. If he remained quiet as the people passed by, I gave him the biscuit while continuing with the conversation and the rub down.
If Bear barked loud and long in a violation of egregious proportions, I would immediately carry out the trash, timing it so I appeared on the scene shouting "NO" while he was still barking. When I was done I reentered the house carrying all three biscuits so he could see them. I'm sure it was tough for him to see those cookies disappear back inside the house. He was aware it would be the next day before he'd have another chance for a triple treat, and he knew that if he hadn't barked he'd have been eating instead of dreaming about what might have been.
The frequency of Bear's barking dropped off quickly. There was no point in his barking anymore because those he was attempting to summon no longer responded by socializing with him. In the new order of things, people only came to socialize when he was quiet. His owners still came out to feed him twice a day, but they never reacted to his barking one way or the other. Therefore, he no longer had any reason to bark and he now had plenty of reason to be quiet. In eight days, Bear's outbursts went from hundreds of barks each day to a few barks each week, and he soon stopped barking altogether.
It didn't take long for us to become close friends. For the rest of the time I lived in that house, on average, for every half hour I was awake, I probably spent one or two minutes with Bear, and on occasion, I'd make a detour on the way to or from the bathroom to check on him and dispense a nocturnal cookie in the wee hours of the morning. He was a charming companion, sweet, affectionate and appreciative of the least little thing done for him. He calmed me and I soothed him, and we gave each other something to look forward to.
When spring rolled around our lease was up and we got a line on a better house in another part of town, for less money. It was the end of the line for me and the little shepherd boy. It tore me up to leave him there, knowing what things would be like for him after I was gone. Bear's life was a sad story with a sad ending, but then, that's usually the case. More often than not, when you hear a barking dog, you're listening to a wail of sorrow from a desperate animal that knows his life is passing him by.
A few months later I took a walk through the old neighborhood. I saw Bear but he didn't see me. His attention was focused on some people standing across the way. He watched them quietly for a moment, probably wondering whether they might have time to socialize with a guy such as himself. Then, he barked. He barked and barked and barked.
Behavior Chases the Contingencies
If there is only one thing you take away from the story of Bear, let it be this: Bear's behavior was determined by the situation in which he found himself. When the situation is arranged one way the dog barks. If the situation is arranged a different way he stops barking. When the situation reverts back to the old conditions the dog reverts back to the old behavior.
That's why it is so exasperating to witness the finger pointing ritual of the irresponsible dog owner: "He's too stupid." "He can't learn." "He can't be trained." "He's too young." "He's too old." "He's hopeless." "He's psychotic." "He's neurotic." "He's insane." "He's barking because he saw another dog." "It's because he saw a cat." "He saw a squirrel." "He saw the mailman." "He's out of control." "That's just the way it is." "It's not my fault." "Hey, dogs bark, man, whadaya expect?"
The problem with those arguments is that they are all a crock. Your dog is barking because you have placed him in a situation in which it is more rewarding for him to bark than it is for him to be quiet. Your barking dog is not stupid. He's not crazy. What the dog is doing makes perfect sense, given the situation in which you have placed him. It's your dog. It's your situation. It's your fault. Take responsibility for it!
Too Stupid To Live
Arguing with someone about whether their dog can be trained not to bark is like debating whether the earth is flat or the moon is made of green cheese. It's ridiculous, and it brings to mind the old truism: "Any excuse is better than none."
The fact is that, if there really were such a thing as a dog that was too stupid to learn not to bark, he would also be, quite literally, too stupid to live. Think about it. If every time your dog barked you went outside and gave him a sharp smack, or threw water on him, or dispensed some other punishing aversive, and he continued to bark chronically, that would mean he was unable to make the connection between what he just did and what just happened to him. A dog so totally unable to grasp cause and effect relationships would stick his nose in the fire over and over again without ever making the connection between the pain in his snout and the fact that he put it in the fire. He would walk endlessly through the briar patch on bloody paws, forget to eat, run in the sun until he died of heat stroke, and stand in the snow bank until he was frostbitten. It's an absurd notion. If you dispense aversives immediately, every time he barks, he will respond.
Your dog, then, is definitely smart enough to learn. The question is, are you smart enough to teach him, and are you committed enough to follow through with the effort?
There Are Two Types Of Bark Training
Training Your Dog Not To Bark
A procedure that is worked right will work right, because exact procedures get exact results. On the other hand, sloppy procedures, at best, get some results, sometimes.
I used to teach a psychology course in which I introduced the students to learning procedures by having them work with their dogs at home. I emphasized that the way to train a dog not to bark was to do four things after each and every violation:
One of the students gave it a try and reported back that the barking increased after she started training, and that the more she worked with the dog, the worse the problem became. She insisted that she was doing everything just as I instructed, but when she described her interactions with the dog, it became apparent that the intervention she was using was not the one I urged her to try. Her intervention was as follows. Every time her dog barked she would:
She did well on steps one and two, but what she did on steps three and four was very different from the intervention prescribed. Only exact procedures are guaranteed to work. Inexact procedures, like the one she used, produce, at best, some results, sometimes. In this case, her perversion of the intervention proved counter-productive.
It's true that the smack on the nose is supposed to be light enough so as not to be particularly painful, but it still needs to be delivered in such a way that it is very unpleasant. My student barely tapped the dog on his hindquarters, which was not at all aversive to the animal, so it had no effect. Likewise, saying "no" to the dog had no effect on that particular dog during that phase of his training because "no" only works as an aversive after it has long been paired with and, thereby many times associated with, something unpleasant, like a punishing smack on the nose. All of those factors came together to make her intervention ineffective. What made it counter-productive was that the dog's owner socialized with, and dispensed affection to the dog before returning to the house, which meant, in effect, that every time the dog barked, he received a reward. When a particular response (like barking) is consistently followed by a reward, the response is expected to increase, which is just what it did.
The problem with behavioral procedures is that the effectiveness of any given procedure is limited by the degree of precision with which it is executed. The point being that if you want this intervention to work, you need to follow the formula exactly. Changing seemingly small details of the intervention can make for very large differences in your results.
Eliminate the Reinforcers That Support the Barking Behavior
In your effort to bark train your dog, your first step needs to be to eliminate the rewards (the reinforcers) the dog receives for barking. To determine what is reinforcing your dog's barking, check to see what happens immediately after he barks. If his barking is followed by some sort of attention or by a turn of events he finds interesting, then that is probably the reinforcer.
One of the basic rules of behavior, one that is almost always true, is that if someone is making a response, then there must be something that is reinforcing that response. It's like a magic act where the magician makes his assistant levitate in mid air while he passes various hoops and rings around her body to show there is nothing holding her up. Even though your eyes tell you she is levitating, you still know that something is supporting her because, otherwise, she would fall. It's the same sort of thing with any given response. If the response exists then there will almost always be a reinforcer present to support it and keep it going. That's sometimes not true with barking dogs, however.
A stir-crazy dog may bark in the absence of external reinforcement simply because barking at nothing in particular is slightly more entertaining than standing around doing nothing at all, which is his only alternative. Also, a dog vocalizing in a threatening way may bark simply because, by virtue of his genetics, he enjoys hurling threats at passing strangers.
Stretching the Ratio
Dogs that seek social interaction by beckoning to people in the distance may also bark in the absence of reinforcement. That's due to a phenomenon called stretching the ratio, which I alluded to earlier. The term "ratio" refers to the ratio of response to reinforcement. In other words, how many responses (barks) does the subject (the dog) have to make before he receives a reinforcer (some human attention). Very often, when people first get a dog they will frequently yell at him to shut up when he barks. With a lonely, desperate dog, isolated by himself in the backyard, that may be all that is required to reinforce his barking behavior. He may learn that by barking he can draw a verbal response from you, which makes him feel less isolated and abandoned. After a while you become less inclined to answer his bark with your own verbal response. So that, as time goes by, you respond to his barking less and less often. For some reason, gradually withdrawing reinforcement in that fashion causes the response to continue even after the reinforcement has been faded out to next to nothing. So, by stretching the ratio of response to reinforcement. you may eventually reach the point where the dog continues to beckon endlessly even though people seldom, if ever, respond in any way. So it is possible that, at this point, your dog may be barking in the absence of any reinforcers that are within your control.
Still, all types of barkers are likely to receive at least some reinforcement from passing pedestrians who reinforce the barking by looking at the dog or reacting to him in some other way. In that instance you can identify the reinforcers but, outside of blocking the dogs view, you can't do much to eliminate them, not when there is a steady stream of people passing by within view of the dog.
In any case, if you can identify any reinforcers that may be driving the barking response, begin by removing them. It is much easier to punish a response out of existence if you first remove the supporting reinforcers.
Reinforce Incompatible Responses
A dog can't both bark and not bark at the same time, which means that you can reduce the amount of barking by reinforcing instances of silence or, in behavioral terms, you can reduce the problem behavior by reinforcing an incompatible response.
You can eliminate a barking problem through punishment alone. It's not necessary to reward the dog for not barking by spending time with him when he's quiet. But it will be easier to stop the barking, and it will be less upsetting for the dog if the alternative to barking is waiting a little while for you to come out and join him, than it will be to stop the barking if the dog's alternative is to sit forever by himself.
It may have occurred to you that you can't reinforce a dog for being quiet if he never stops barking. When you are dealing with a dog that barks virtually without letup, you have to punish the continuous barking until you reach the point that the dog is sometimes silent. Then, you can begin to reinforce him for quiet behavior.
The first thing you need to know about punishment is the difference between a punisher and a potential punisher. A potential punisher is anything your dog would probably rather avoid. A punisher (also know as an aversive) is anything that reduces the rate of the response, if it is consistently presented either during the response, or immediately after the response is made. For example, your dog would probably prefer that you not smack him on the nose so, by definition, nose smacking is a potential punisher. But can we say that nose smacking is an actual punisher for your dog? It depends. If smacking your dog on the nose every time he barks results in a reduction, and eventually an elimination of his barking, then for your dog, nose smacking is a punisher. If it doesn't reduce the rate of barking then it is not a punisher. It's just a potential punisher. When it comes to the question of whether a particular potential punisher is, in fact, an actual punisher, the proof is in the pudding. If it stops the barking, it is. If it don't, it ain't.
I have referred several times to giving the dog a "punishing" smack on the nose. When I say "punishing" I don't mean severe, or cruel. I'm just using the word to indicate that the strike must be sufficiently aversive to the dog to result in a reduction in the rate of barking. Although, if it is presented consistently, a light tap delivered smartly should be enough to do the trick.
People sometimes tell me they do punish after every bark but the dog still keeps barking. You can see the absurdity of that statement though. By definition, punishment reduces the rate of the response. You may have gone out and done something to the dog each time he barked, but what you did was obviously not punishing, because the response (the barking) continued. Punishment would have steadily lowered the rate of the response so that, over the course of a few days, the barking would have slowed until it all but stopped. Now, if what you're saying is that your dog will not respond to any punishers whatsoever, then I have to tell you that's nonsense, you just need to find the right punisher and learn to deliver it effectively.
The only instances I have heard of in which punishment did not seem to quiet a canine in short order was in those instances where the dog was kept in such cruel conditions of mind-numbing isolation that even aversives conscientiously dispensed could not serve make the animal appreciably more miserable than he already was.
The Art of Making Punishment, Well, Uh, Punishing
As World War II was drawing to a close, the Japanese steadfastly refused to surrender. Even after all hope was gone, they continued to resist until the advent of the atomic bomb left them no choice. Their recalcitrance had a great deal to do with the aggressive tone of documents sent from Washington to Tokyo laying out the terms of surrender. It was the intention of the U.S. government to treat the Japanese with generosity during the post war period. But the belligerent tone of the documents, when viewed through the cultural filter of Japanese sensibilities, caused them to conclude that their treatment at the hands of the victors would be draconian. They fought on, then, because the official communiques had a very different meaning to the Japanese who read them than they had to the Americans who wrote them.
As you set out to bark train your dog, you will do well to remember that dogs are not little humans with fur. The cultural differences between nations of humans are far smaller than the perceptual differences between humans and dogs, who, like us, interpret every event through a cognitive filter inherited from their ancestors. Any given event is likely to have a very different meaning to your dog than it has to you. That which is unthinkable in polite human society is often natural and expected in the mind-set of a dog.
As we socialize our dogs, we teach them our way of doing things. But the dog can only enter our reality to a limited extent. If you want to communicate effectively with your dog, you have to understand how he sees things. You need to enter his reality and behave in a way that signals your intentions and desires in terms he can understand.
Dogs are extremely status conscious. So are humans, of course, but dogs are even more so. Your dog has assigned everyone he knows, be they human or canine, to one of two classifications relative to himself. The classifications are: dominant/leader/boss and submissive/follower/flunky. To his way of thinking, everyone must be one or the other. You can't be neither and you can't be both.
If the dog thinks you are the boss, then he thinks he is your flunky, and if he thinks he is the boss, then he thinks you are his flunky. To the canine mind, everyone is classified as being either dominant/superior or submissive/inferior, and whichever he thinks you are, he thinks he is the opposite. That's important for you to know as you train your dog, because in his perception, the dominant creature has certain rights and the submissive one has certain obligations and there is an accepted way that the dominant one is supposed to convey his wishes. If you want your dog to respond to you as though you are the dominant dog, then you must behave as the dominant dog is supposed to behave.
If another dog is doing something the dominant dog doesn't approve of, and he wants them to stop, he growls. If the behavior continues, the dominant dog attacks the offending party with a sudden rush and, possibly, the snapping of jaws. If the inferior dog backs off in time he can avoid being bitten. Among dogs that are well acquainted, a canine that views himself as inferior will almost always back off. So, there isn't all that much biting, but there is a lot of rushing forward accompanied by approximations of biting that convey the threat to do bodily harm.
An inferior dog on the receiving end of a rebuke from the dominant dog is not traumatized by the encounter. The inferior dog believes the dominant dog has the right to decide how things will be done and, from his perspective, the physical aggression involved is just the dominant dog's way of making his wishes known. The inferior dog doesn't sit and stew about it. He doesn't wonder if it's right or wrong. He just accepts it as the way it should be and he gets about his business without giving it a second thought.
When you train your dog, you need to deliver punishment in a manner befitting a dominant dog. For the last several years I've watched one of my neighbors attempting to bark train his dog. Sometimes after she barks, he calls out her name in a melodious voice, and he seems to think that will eventually bring an end to her recreational barking. She no doubt knows what he is trying to convey to her but she doesn't care what he wants because his behavior has conveyed to her that she is the dominant dog.
That's how it works. In the mind of a dog you must be dominant or submissive. She takes his failure to assert himself as a submissive posture and, when you take a submissive posture with a dog, from the dog's point of view, it is the same as declaring him the dominant member of the relationship. That's important to note, because a dog that thinks you are submissive feels no obligation to take your wishes into account.
My neighbor, no doubt, feels he is being good to his dog, but the result of his behavior is to make communication with the dog impossible. And in the bargain, he ensures that the potential of the relationship will never be realized.
Your dog is not going to care how you feel about his barking unless he believes you are the dominant dog. And if you want to convince him of that, you must act like the dominant dog.
In the canine world the dominant dog corrects his inferiors by lashing out. That's not how it's done in polite human society, but your dog is not a polite human. He's a dog, and that's the way dogs do it.
Tips for Lashing Out at Your Pet
Your dog only understands a few words of human dialect, but he has a good grasp of body language. So, you must correct him using the body language of a dominant dog.
When the dog barks, go after him. Do not call him to you. Hurry straight toward him with your shoulders squared and your eyes locked on his. Charge forward with body language that indicates that you are prepared to take physical action. The rule is that the more intimidating your movement during the charge, the less force you need to use when you arrive. So, ham it up. You are playing the role of the ferocious dominant dog rebuking his underling. Do it with all the dramatic flair you can muster.
Just an instant before you reach the dog, say loudly, "No" followed an instant later by a tap on the nose. The strike should be lightly delivered with two fingers, driven by a slight flip of the wrist. The best way to gauge the amount of force to use is to smack yourself on the face or head with two fingers. You'll quickly realize that even the lightest of taps is unpleasant. A smack on the dog's nose can be of slight intensity and still be effective. That's especially true if it is preceded by a sudden rush forward, and accompanied by a sharp "No" and intimidating body language.
Striking a dog forcefully on his nose, or on any part of his head, can cause brain damage that might not become apparent until well into the future, and puppies are especially vulnerable to head injury. Therefore, always remember that your goal in charging and striking the dog is to ensure that he will come to associate barking with unpleasant consequences. So you just need to be very unpleasant. There is no need to be brutal. The point is not to inflict pain or injury, but to create an unnerving consequence that the dog will want to avoid in the future.
The dog's reaction is your best measure of whether you are punishing effectively. Some dogs, like the preponderance of Border Collies, are so extremely sensitive that shouting, smacking or running at them could be traumatic for the animal and might possibly damage your relationship with the dog if it is done too dramatically or repeated too many times. Such dogs will respond to relatively mild punishers like a shout, a disapproving look, or simply being told sternly, "no." If that's the case with your dog then so much the better. It's always best to design your punishment interventions to be as mild as you can make them and still get results in a timely fashion. But let the dog's reaction be your guide.
After you rush out, shout "No" and smack the dog, look to see what he does. If he looks absolutely terrified then you need to switch over to a more gentle, scaled-down approach. But he should at least appear disconcerted. If he yawns and looks altogether unconcerned then you definitely need to crank up the intensity.
If your dog is unimpressed by your intervention, you have four choices for increasing the intensity. The first thing you should try is to adopt more dramatic, more aggressive body language. Put some fire in your eye as you advance quickly toward the dog. Move with the demeanor of one who is attacking and raise your hand as though you were about to deliver a mighty blow. Also, try saying "No" in a more explosive manner. A sharp tone and an aggressive presentation can go a long way toward making the tap more effective. You can also increase the amount of force as you deliver the tap, or you can alternate the tap with any other humane consequence that you know your dog would rather avoid.
Watch the dog when he knows he is about to be punished. When he barks and looks up and sees you coming, and he knows that you're about to smack him, what does he do? If you have succeeded in making the intervention aversive enough, the dog will look shamefaced and apprehensive as he braces himself for the unpleasant event to come. It will be obvious that he is dreading what is about to occur because his body language will say, "Oh no, I wish this wasn't happening." However, the dog should not look terrified. Your goal is just to present him with a consequence that is intense enough to make him want to avoid it in the future. You're not trying to hurt him and you certainly don't want to scare him to death. On the other hand, if he seems unmoved and unconcerned, you'll know you have yet to make an impression.
You need to quickly arrive at a level of punishment that works. Research has shown that, if you start by dispensing mild punishers, and slowly increase the severity of the aversives over time, the gradual increase gives the subject time to adjust. The result is that, in the end, to get results, you must apply more intense punishment than what would have been required if you had used a punisher of adequate intensity to begin with.
Of course, in the end, the ultimate measure of your intervention is whether the dog stops barking. If you find a good punisher, learn to dispense it properly, and deliver it every time, he will respond.
Try Not to Get Mauled
You might want to think twice before you try the lashing-out intervention with an animal you don't know well. If you try it with an aggressive dog who views himself as dominant, you are likely to find that he also knows how to dispense punishment and, indeed, that he has a lashing out intervention of his own.
Also, consider the matter carefully before you lash out at any dog that has been abused or has a history of biting or otherwise behaving aggressively toward people. It is often still a good intervention even in those instances, just be sure you know the dog well enough to predict his reaction. If you have any doubt, consult with a dog training professional before you try that particular approach.
Using Isolation As a Means of Punishment
There is another way to punish your dog for barking that does not necessarily involve lashing out. Although it is not discussed on this page, that technique can be highly effective, especially for dealing with a particularly sensitive dog who you don't want to smack with your hand. That procedure, which involves briefly isolating the animal, is also extremely effective for dealing with a dog that barks at people you have over to the house as guests, or who, for whatever reason, barks while he is indoors. To learn more about isolation as a means of quieting your dog, please read Using Brief Isolation As a Training Technique.
Enhancing the Effect of Punishment by Punishing Across People, Places and Techniques
Punishment is likely to take effect more quickly and exert a more powerful influence if it is delivered in a number of forms by a variety of people. So, select the techniques with which you are most comfortable and alternate their use. Have the members of your family take turns dispensing the aversive. That will convey to the dog more quickly that no barking is the law of the land and that the entire pack is in agreement on the issue.
Another good strategy is to punish barking in a number of locations. Place the dog in the front yard and punish him when he barks so he will grasp that there is to be no barking in the front yard. Then, place him in the backyard and repeat the process. Take him for a ride and facilitate an understanding that the cab of the car and the back of the truck are no barking zones as well. While you're at it, take him over to your friend's place and enlighten him as to the rules there. If you do all that, you will have a dog with a profound grasp of the rules of etiquette that a well-socialized canine observes when living among humans.
Do Not Call Mohammed to the Mountain. Take the Mountain to Mohammed
Dogs, like humans, seek to make associations between what they do and what happens to them. You could almost define intelligence as the ability to correctly associate one event with another. If the dog engages in a given behavior (like barking) and some specific event (like getting smacked) consistently follows that behavior, then the dog will think to himself, "you know, if I want more of that to happen, then I need to do more of what I just did, and if I don't want it to happen again, then I need to stop doing what I just did."
The dog tends to think that what happens to him is the consequence of whatever response he most recently made. Take this scenario, for example. The dog barks, so you go outside and call him. The dog comes to you and you smack him. In the mind of the dog, he was just punished for coming to you when called, even though, in your mind, he was being punished for barking. Needless to say, when you are going to punish the dog you need to go to where he is located. Do not call the dog to you and then punish him. Also, from the time he barks until the time you dispense the aversive, you should not issue any command or say anything to the dog other than, "No."
When you punish your dog, you want to be certain he understands that your tapping him (or whichever technique you are using) is the direct result of his barking. So you need to get to him immediately after he barks. If you can arrive on the scene while he is still barking, that's better yet. The sooner the punishment follows barking, the better the chance that the dog will make the association.
The longer the delay before you arrive and dispense punishment, the greater is the possibility that the dog will make some other response and mistake the aversive as punishment for the other thing he did. Also, by delaying punishment you run the risk that the dog will receive reinforcement for barking before you arrive to punish him. Someone might, for example, respond to the dog by calling him, crossing over to the other side of the street or in some other way rewarding him for having barked. That's something you definitely want to avoid, because a response that is followed by a reward (a reinforcer) is always more difficult to punish away than a response that has no source of reinforcement. So get there immediately, and make sure something unpleasant happens before some enjoyable consequence has a chance to occur.
If much more than twenty seconds goes by between the time the dog barks and the time you are able to get there, you might as well let it go. After much longer than that you run the risk that the dog will not make the association between your unpleasant behavior and his barking. There is no point in going out there a couple minutes later. He won't know why you are punishing him. In fact, delivering punishment well after the act would probably make your intervention less effective, because that might make it appear to the dog that you sometimes come out and dispense aversives for no reason at all. You want him to understand that your abrasive behavior is not a random act but that, rather, it is a direct consequence of his barking.
You can see then, it is essential that you arrange the situation so, during bark training, you are close enough to hear the dog barking, and are able to reach him in short order.
To punish "continuously" does not mean to punish the dog all the time, no matter what he does. Rather, it refers to punishing the subject every time the target behavior is emitted. In this case, that means dispensing an aversive every time the dog barks. Every time.
I can't stress this strongly enough. If your goal is to teach your dog not to bark, then you need to go to him and do something he doesn't like, every time he barks. Every time, without exception. If you go every time and dispense a punishing aversive, your barking problem will be all but completely resolved in a few days.
Probably the most common mistake people make during bark training is that they fail to punish continuously. If you punish every episode of barking, the dog will learn in a hurry, but if you sometimes just ignore it and let him bark, then you can bet it's going to take Old Shep a long, long, time to get the message.
Less Than Ninety-One Minutes of Effort
Let's deal with the issue of how long it takes to bark train a dog. If every time he barks, you dispense an aversive in an effective fashion, you will need to punish him no more than ninety times before he gets the message. In fact, most dogs will stop barking inappropriately at a point much closer to the twentieth correction than to the ninetieth. If you punish continuously, even a dog that's as stubborn as a mule and as stupid as a rock is going to change his ways before you make that ninety-first sortie.
When your dog barks, it should take you no more than one minute to stand up, walk out and smack him, walk back in, and resume what you were doing. That means that with less than ninety-one minutes of effort, you can have your dog bark trained. Compare that to the years of suffering your neighbor will experience should you instead opt to shirk your responsibility.
The Miracle of Bark Training Through the Critical Stage
Perhaps the least known and least appreciated bit of information in all of dog training is the ease with which a dog can be trained during his critical stage of development. During the critical stage, and often at other times when a paradigm of first responses is in play, a dog can be dissuaded from ever again barking problematically with just a very few corrections. So start early, before bad habits ever have a chance to develop. Bark training your dog will be infinitely easier if you do.
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.
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.
Dealing With Dogs That Bark When You Are Not There
Every parent knows that what their kids do when mom and dad are home and what they do when mom and dad are gone are often two different things. That's because the situation is different when mom and dad are gone, and the kids react to the new set of circumstances by displaying the behavior that is most rewarding, given the new circumstance. When you leave the house your dog also suddenly finds himself in a new situation, one in which barking is no longer punished.
You can deal effectively with a dog that barks in your absence by attaching an electronic collar before you leave the property. That will keep him quiet while you are gone, but it doesn't truly train the dog not to bark. It just teaches him not to bark while the collar is attached and functioning. If the batteries wear down or the collar comes off or stops working for any reason, the dog will resume his busy schedule of recreational barking. So, it is still a good idea to train your dog not to bark.
The way to train your dog not to bark while you are gone is to leave, then sneak back and catch him in the act. The best approach is to take the day off from work, or at least some portion of the morning. Set your alarm and get up at your usual work time. Get ready and leave the house just as you would on any work day. Then drive a couple blocks, park the car and walk back. Your dog has remarkable hearing and recognizes the sound of your particular car engine, so he will know if you just drive out of sight and park in front of the house next door. In all likelihood he also recognizes your particular footsteps so you must walk back very quietly.
Make it a point to bring along something to read because you might have to wait a while for the barking to start up. You may be able to speed the process along by creating the noises your dog barks at. For example, if he barks at car doors slamming or the sound of skateboards, you can prompt him to bark by creating those sounds. In any case, when he barks you need to rush in, aggressively dispense punishment, and then immediately depart from his presence. Once again, you will want to park a fair distance away and walk very quietly up to the house so you catch him in the act. You want to reach the point where the dog starts to think that, like Santa Claus or God, you always know what he is doing.
Alternatively, if you live near your workplace, you could give your work number to the neighbors and ask them to call you when the dog sets in barking, or get someone you trust to monitor the situation and punish the dog for barking while you are gone.
Start Early and Catch Problems Early
The longer a response (like barking) is in place, the more difficult it will be to get it stopped. Whichever type of bark training you decide to use with your dog, whether he is a puppy or you adopt him as an adult, start training him from the moment he first steps foot on your property. The best way to solve a barking problem is not to ever let it get started.
Punishment Need Not Be Psychologically Traumatic
One of the greatest misconceptions about the use of aversives is the notion that punishment necessarily causes psychological trauma. It is not punishment but, rather, unavoidable punishment, that messes with your head.
If you make the response of putting your hand into a fire, your response will be followed by a punishing aversive (you will be burned). So nature punishes us for touching fire, but we are not psychologically traumatized by the experience because fire is predictable. We know what it will and won't do and so, by adjusting our behavior, we are able to avoid being punished by fire by simply not making the response that triggers the punishment.
I once kept a Labrador Retriever for a few weeks while his owners were out of town. For the first two weeks the dog and I spent almost every minute together and in all that time I never struck him, despite the fact that we were doing obedience work and interacting very intensely. I guess he had come to believe that I would never smack him under any circumstance.
Then one day we were wrestling around when we moved into a posture where we were positioned face to face, sitting on the floor. In the excitement of the game the dog nipped me in the face. He only meant it in a playful way and he didn't bite hard enough to even leave much of a mark, but any sort of facial biting is just too dangerous to tolerate. It is my long standing policy to swiftly punish even playful facial biting so, much to the shock of the dog, I bellowed, "NO" and, a split second later gave him a smack. The dog yelped and dodged away as though he thought I might strike him again.
A couple days later it happened again. We were wrestling around when we moved into the same face to face posture while seated on the floor. In his excitement the dog forgot himself and playfully nipped me in the face for a second time. I shouted "NO" and landed another two-fingered tap that made him yelp with surprise, just as he had before. But this time the dog didn't move a muscle. The fact was that there was no possibility I would strike him again unless he nipped me again, and he obviously knew that. He sat right there in the same position and his body language and facial expression clearly said, "I'm really having fun. Let's keep wrestling." So we immediately resumed wrestling and, I might add, we wrestled long that day as we did on many subsequent occasions and he never again nipped me in the face.
The point of the story is that the dog knew exactly why I smacked him and he also knew that it was entirely up to him whether or not I did it again. He realized that, in a sense, he had smacked himself just as surely as you burn yourself when you put your hand to a flame. He had no fear of my lashing out again because he understood what he had done to trigger my response. Now, if I smacked him periodically no matter what he did, that would traumatize him. But punishment that can be predicted and avoided is not psychologically traumatic.
When He's Paid His Debt, You Just Forget
When bark training your dog, you need to respond to every bark by immediately dispensing an aversive. Soon after punishing, however, you should resume friendly relations with the dog. You don't want to be continuously sour with him while you're waiting for him to master the art of not barking. On the contrary, you want to see to it that being with you is a fun, highly rewarding experience for him right up until the time he transgresses. Immediately after the transgression, you should become markedly abrasive for just a second until he has paid his debt to society, then you instantly go back to being his charming companion. If you are extremely good to him when he's good, he'll be more profoundly influenced by your being momentarily bad to him when he's bad. Your dog needs to think of you as being too terrible to cross and too wonderful to want to.
While it's okay to go back to what you were doing with the dog before he barked and paid the price, you need to make certain that the dog's situation does not improve as a result of his misbehavior. If you are petting your dog when he barks inappropriately you can smack him in a punishing fashion and go right back to petting. On the other hand, if you wanted to, you could make the punishment more effective by smacking him and then getting up and immediately walking away. You might even want to top that off by refusing to interact with him for a minute or so afterward, but after that you should forgive and forget until the next time he puts his paw in the fire.
Whatever you do, don't make the mistake of my student who responded to her dog's barking by giving him a tiny taste of punishment, followed immediately by a giant dose of affection. The result was that the dog soon learned he could improve his situation by barking and, thereafter, bark he did. He barked and barked and barked.
Punish or Reinforce Early in the Response Sequence
What we think of as a single response is often not truly an isolated event; rather, it is one link in a chain of responses that occur in sequential order. For example, you may find that your children's response of punching one another follows a certain pattern and that those same events evolve in the same order every time. They begin by playing a game together. During the game the one that is winning teases the one that is losing. Then, the loser begins to call the winner names. Next, the winner responds with names of his own, followed by shouting which gives way to punching. When you get a series of responses that consistently follow one another in sequential order like that, it is called a response sequence.
You may find that your dog's barking is part of a response sequence. Let's say the dog hears the footsteps of a pedestrian walking the sidewalk on the other side of the fence. The sequence starts with the dog snapping to attention in a sudden display of alertness. Next, he gives a low, almost inaudible growl, following by a charge to the fence and a gander at the despicable interloper strolling the walkway beyond. Next, he races down the fence line and back again, followed by a steady stream of barking that stops only when the walker passes out of sight.
It is much easier to stop an unwanted behavior if you interrupt it early in the response sequence. So when your children play that game, and the one winning first begins to tease the one losing, that is the time to put your foot down. The further along they get in the response sequence, the harder it will be to put a stop to it. It's the same thing with your dog. When he first hears the pedestrian and snaps to attention, that is the point at which you want to intervene. Your dog's barking may not be part of a sequence, he may just hear a sound and bark with no further ado, but it's worth watching for.
No-Barking Bark Training In Review:
Once your dog recognizes you as the dominant member of the relationship, he will willingly accept your right to say what is and is not acceptable. He will not hold it against you because you punish him for something he knows he should not have done. And as long as he is able to predict and avoid that for which he will be punished, he will not be traumatized by the experience.
You must clearly define right and wrong for your dog. You do that by frequently reinforcing right behavior, and always punishing wrong behavior. If you do that faithfully, you will find that it is seldom necessary to punish your dog because, after a while, he will seldom misbehave. Remember, your dog is definitely smart enough learn. The real question is: Are you smart enough to teach him in a way he can understand?
Up to this point we've talked almost exclusively about training your dog not to bark. Now we get to the discussion of watchdogs who are taught to bark at certain things, and not to bark at others.
The Dog Science Network also sponsors a course in dog training, featuring a free workshop in canine
Written by Craig
Spanish translation - Traducción al español
This website and all its content, except where otherwise noted, are © (copyright) Craig Mixon, Ed.D., 2003-2017.