First and foremost, frequent barking is a very common problem – you are not alone! It can also be tricky to resolve as it takes patience, perseverance, consistency and repetition. It is not a problem that is likely to go away in the space of a few days or weeks but it can be rectified so don’t lose faith. I will try to keep this as brief as I can!
There are a few things to remember:
This is how dogs communicate. However if your dog is barking at everyday occurrences (such as, the telephone ringing or when someone comes into your home) this is called ‘nuisance barking’, essentially we have to remember that you dog is trying to tell you something. There are many reasons why dogs develop nuisance barking behaviour – It usually means your dog is ‘alerting’ or ‘warning’ you; There’s someone entering our house or the telephone is making that awful sound again!
Dogs DON’T bark just to wind us up – although sometimes it may seem like it. They bark because somewhere along the way, this type of response has been positively reinforced. In simple terms, your dog believes that this is the correct way to behave in these situations. Often, when our dogs bark at a time when we consider it inappropriate, our instinct is to shout over them and tell them to “STOP BARKING!”. Unfortunately all this does is reinforce the negative behaviour because our dogs think “great, Mum or Dad is barking too! This must be what they want me to do so I’ll keep doing it and do it more and more!”
Unlearning a learned behaviour and re-learning a more appropriate behaviour takes time. The message you give your dog must be simple, consistent (everybody in the household does the same thing) and persistent (it happens the same way every time).
How to stop your dog from barking:
1. The first thing we would suggest is to pick a command such as “Shush”, “Enough”, “Quiet”. You should use this every time you want the behaviour to stop.
2. Next, find some of your dogs’ favourite treats (snacks or toys) and 5-10 minutes of spare time.
3. Then, set up some role play: have a friend/ neighbour/ family member become the stimulus – have them come into the house or ring the phone.
4. When he starts barking, do not shout. Instead, try to shift your dogs’ attention to you – show him the treat/ toy. Ask him to sit. As soon as he stops barking for 2-3 seconds, use the command. As long as he stays quiet, give him the treat and praise (Make sure you don’t give it to him if he has started barking again as otherwise he will think this is how he gets rewarded).
5. Next, repeat – start again. Do this for 5-10 minutes at a time but the key is consistency, frequency and perseverance.
If you have any other concerns or queries please feel free to pop into the clinic.
Written by Hermann Heyl MVB MRCVS, Clinical Director. The Vet Waltham Forest.