How to lessen barking and keep a quiet dog busy, (c) 2012-2016 Frania Shelley-Grielen all rights reserved
While barking is a necessary part of canine expression and communication, not being able to control it can be frustrating, especially where neighbors and guests are concerned. Here's my advice after working with a client seeking help with barking for an small, older rescue (names have been changed), who it seems had little if any prior training. Here are strategies to lower the volume and give that quiet dog something to do:
Marcelle seems well socialized to people and comfortable in her home. Marcelle's focus in life is you, which is a beautiful thing but makes her life one dimensional, giving Marcelle more to do that is substantive for her as a dog will enrich her life. While Marcelle probably has a history of positive interaction she also seems to have a history of lack of training which may explain her insistence on being heard no matter what. Marcelle's barking habits can be attributed to two things; natural behavior and lapses in training.
Marcelle would benefit from learning canine manners in a human world, little dogs are in greater need of structure just because they are so little--all that barking (and jumping or pawing) gets the attention she is asking for at the moment, it serves her well being so much smaller than everyone else around her but is difficult for humans around her. Training will also give her confidence, boundaries and create a stronger relationship, one where she is more tuned in to what you are asking of her and she is responding to it.
Give Marcelle more to do in her day: Feeding her diet in a Kong for both breakfast and dinner meals will prolong the satisfaction and the doing of eating her meals both of which are enriching for her. Go back to puzzle toys full of treats and leave these for her as well, more activities to feed her mind. Classical music has been proven to soothe dogs and cats, leave the radio (105.9FM in NYC) on for her for the music and the soothing voices of the announcers for company and to listen to, another thing for her to do. Try new and different toys to leave for her and keep one by the door (a special one that she only gets when you leave). Puzzle toys (I like these) (burying a new toy in your dirty clothes for a day or two and showing her how to play with them helps too) are a great addition to squeaky and stuffed toys.
First know that training is so much more than teaching tricks and commands, it is about finding a clear and consistent way to communicate with another species, one who has no extensive "language" to understand our explanations and whose idea of life rewards is at times very inconsistent with ours. So we are limited to an almost pantomime if you will, one where we have to identify without words what stimulates a response (from the dog's point of view not ours) and "condition" that response, we "associate" behaviors and rewards (meaningful for a dog) and we reinforce -- repeat so we both know that's what we're looking for. So start with what you both know already is working. Praise is part of training and a reward that should be freely given for being "quiet" or "good, " etc. If she is sitting with you or lying down or waiting patiently you can label ("put it on command") what she is doing at the moment and praise: "Good quiet Marcelle, good quiet." The trick to remember is saying the phrase when she is doing the behavior you want to reinforce. Remembering that her name is not the command or the praise. Label the behavior, remark on it. We do not nearly praise enough at all.
Work also with Marcelle on what she knows already to make it stronger for the both of you (as humans we need to work on our timing of asking, labeling and rewarding so they know what we want). Training is best for everyone if it is constant and consistent so aim for some time during the day even if it is just five minutes in the morning or the evening.
On to barking: barking is a natural behavior for a dog and typically serves three broad purposes: alert, alarm and solicitation. Letting Marcelle know she is heard, alerting her first and giving her something else to do will target the barking. Marcelle will naturally alert to the presence of a new person entering a room, you and other people should greet Marcelle first when entering a room or an area where she--a simple "Hi Marcelle" or "Marcelle we're home" will help take the pressure of her to let the world know about it. Strange noises and newcomers frequently set off alarm barking. Working on "quiet" after you tell her in four or five words that you hear it too are the way to go with this one initially: Start as soon as the barking begins, hold a treat in front of her nose (or a toy she will respond to if you get up to toys) as soon as she sniffs the barking will stop (she cannot do both at once) then immediately say "Good quiet!" or "Hush" or whatever command you want to always use for this and offer her the treat immediately, repeat frequently.
Teaching Marcelle to go to her "spot" or "place" takes more doing but is an exercise in human canine communication and will teach her and you more about each other, strengthen your bond and give her a really secure base not to bark and feel good about it too. This is a great step-by-step guide from the ASPCA's Virtual Behaviorist website:
"“Go to Your Spot” Training
It also helps to teach your dog a specific set of behaviors to do when people come into your home so that he has fewer opportunities to alarm bark. Plus, when your dog performs his new behaviors and receives rewards, he’ll learn that people coming into his and your space is a good thing.
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
"First know that training is so much more than teaching tricks and commands, it is about finding a clear and consistent way to communicate with another species, one who has no extensive "language" to understand our explanations and whose idea of life rewards is at times very inconsistent with ours".
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Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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