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  • Drew Webster

How to decrease "problem barking" behavior

Be careful, don't fall into THE TRAP! If you are asking, "how do I stop my dog from barking?", or "what should I do when my dog...", this is the trap, why? Well, because you are spending your energy and time trying to STOP a behavior, this means we are already behind the behavior. Rather we need to first understand it, then think about how do we build the behaviors and communication necessary to manage this completely normal and common dog behavior.


All behaviors have 3 parts:

1. Antecedent -stimulus which acts as the cue which triggers the behavior (doorbell, knocking, sight or sound)

2. Behavior -pattern or habitual behavior that follows the cue.

3. Consequence- wha ever happens directly after the behavior which the learner finds reinforcing or punishing.


Any behavior which is reinforcing will INCREASE in frequency and if it is punishing it will DECREASE in frequency. Ok, that's your crash course in applied behavior analysis.


Most people approach barking, pulling the leash, jumping up on strangers, counter surfing, running away, biting... you name it, by punishing the behavior and it kind of works, for a while. Then the learner becomes DESENSITIZED to the aversive punishment over time as it becomes more tolerable. Then the punishment has to either increase in severity and/or frequency and what happens as the behavior happens more and more and the punishment becomes less effective. You might even say the behavior is increasing in frequency, therefore something about the punishment and behavior is actually becoming a reinforcer... hmmm. Now you can see "the trap".


So even worse than his behavior, is YOU now have a behavioral repertoire. He barks (cue: antecedent), you yell "Hey, Quiet, NO, BE QUIET" (your behavior) and he stops-momentarily and you are reinforced for punishing the dog (consequence). Darn. You and he now develop bad habits together.


So the solution is awareness, don't get caught up in this trap in the first place. Figure out what cues (environmental) cause the barking. Is it you leaving, ignoring him, holding something, is it him being alone... then set them up. One of the best ways to work on "separation-related problem behaviors" like barking/crying/baying when you are not home is to desensitize the LEAVING CUES, video him as you get ready to go, when does he seem to notice and what behaviors do you see that look like stress in his body as you prepare to leave? Is it when you put on your shoes, coat, grab your keys, load him up into a crate? Then make these behaviors events that happen when you are not actually leaving. "Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to put on your coat, shoes, grab your keys, then sit down and read a book or play on your phone for 10-30 minutes" ...then stand up walk outside and come right back in then get settled in, do this 2 or 3 time a day, then shorten the time you sit and lengthen the time you leave gradually over time. Record your dog, figure out what he can tolerate. Same if your coming home behavior causes way too much excitement, don't hurry your dog outside to "wear him out", get settled, then take him for a nice long walk/play/jog/etc... You get what you reward.


Ok great, but also teach him it's ok to be a dog, when does he get to be a little cattle dog? You have to provide a place, time or activity for him to chase, jump, bite, bark, and be a crazy little puppy. I don't think this place is a dog park or group dog play event. I don't call that "good socializing". Most young dogs learn to ignore their people at dog parks or worse, to enjoy playing with dogs as the only place they get to express species-specific behaviors more than playing with their own people. If you want a great bond with your dog, play with him, be his best bud. It is so much more important than him having a bunch of dog friends. So barking on cue, you can find something which already causes barking, search for something new (novel stimulus- like a high pitch noise on your phone- Opera anyone) or just frustrate him with a toy. I like the toy because it's easy to control and I can put an on switch then add an off switch later by changing the rules from BARK, I say "yes" and throw the toy, add the cue "speak" he barks, "YES" and toy, then "speak", good boy, good speak "enough! or "shush" then wait for quiet, he doesn't stop toy goes away, he does stop, "yes" and toy. Make sense? Here's a video for you.

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