Anyone Can Train Their Dog – October 2010

Anyone Can Train Their Dog

By Art Hess


“Beware a silent man and a dog who doesn’t bark.” (old quote) Many dogs bark. It’s the when, where, and how much that presents problems. Before we can address the problem of barking we have to look at why the dog barks. We have many breeds who have been developed over several centuries to “go to ground, and give voice.” That’s dog speak for “dig and bark.”

And what good would a coonhound be if he didn’t tell you where he treed his prey or a mighty terrier who runs down a hole after a rat and has to announce his find. Even the Nova Scotia duck troller uses his voice as he runs along the shore and raises the birds for the hunters.
The pattern of these dogs who have inherited the barking game can be altered but we need to recognize that for many of them it’s a built in quality. How about the other reasons. If a dog is confined to a roof or behind a gate all day and only sees a portion of a street it’s not a surprise that he’s going to announce his presence to everything from a bird to a boogy man. Also if the dog is not exercised and has nothing to interest nor occupy him he just might bark. Seems to me like most of us would, too.

Solutions to barking fall into a number of categories. There are physical solutions like crates and gates. There are mechanical measures which include a variety of different collars that emit scents, sounds and electrical impulses. And we have medical solutions like chemicals or surgery.

I feel the best long-term answer is to train the dog not to bark. I read a behaviorist’s book lately and her first line in the chapter about barking was, “When the dog barks, bring it in the house.” Sounds simple but it follows the standard trainer’s answer to many problems. Remove the problem from the dog or the dog from the problem. Many times it’s almost that simple. Look around and see if you can remove the dog from the barking environment.

Often it’s only at a specific time when we can put the dog in a place away from that which is causing the problem. If you lived north of the border you would know when the mailman comes. If he barks at the mailman give him his treat in his crate in the back yard for that period of time and save yourself and the mailman from a bunch of unnecessary stress.

I’ve visited several yards and homes where people simply installed gates and fences so the dog can enjoy himself but not spend time looking out the front gating waiting for his next reason to bother the neighborhood. If you’re going away for a couple of hours use a crate and leave your dog in his private den complete with a new chewy bone and his favorite music.

First of all you must accept that treating the barking problem requires FULL TIME EFFORT. If the dog barks and you’re in your favorite chair get up and deal with him. You have to start today and continue until you have his problem reprogrammed. Yelling only encourages him to bark even more because in his mind you are joining him in his effort to scare away the bad things that he perceives as reason to bark.

When reprogramming the dog, the process is first to go to the dog and get his attention. Sometimes this involves only speaking to him and often in the beginning it requires that we touch the dog, usually on his neck below an ear, as we speak to him and say “hey thanks for warning us, that’s enough for now, lets go to the patio.” By inviting him to the patio (or his crate or bed etc.) we redirect his attention. Quite simply, we get him thinking of something other than that which was the object of his barking.

Now as he moves to his bed, crate etc. we reward him for redirecting his attention. This is the one that confuses people as they berate me for rewarding a barking dog. You see they don’t understand that I gave a command (“go to your bed” or something similar), he obeyed the command, and he was rewarded for performing the task. If you said COME and he performed the task to the expected standard you would reward his performance so why not when he correctly redirected his attention. It’s that simple.

The problem is you must repeat this procedure every time he barks until gradually you will say “thank you, that’s enough” and he will automatically return to the patio, bed, etc.

Many times we will be able to address the barking before it happens. As we work with the dog we learn certain things which are likely to precipitate barking and we head it off by redirecting his attention before the strange dog comes up the street or the boys with the ball shout and yell just as they get near the front gate.

This is all part of teaching your dog that those things that required his barking are all in his past and he can relax and enjoy a quiet nap on the back patio. Good luck and happy training. It’s not always easy but the results are certainly worth that extra effort.

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