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How to stop your dog barking too much

PUBLISHED: 14:53 30 August 2018 | UPDATED: 14:53 30 August 2018

Smudge the puppy is calm now but unwanted barking can create headaches for owners  Picture: Blackstar Dog Training

Smudge the puppy is calm now but unwanted barking can create headaches for owners Picture: Blackstar Dog Training

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Tim James of Blackstar Dog Training offers his expert advice on reducing unwanted barking.

By Tim James, Blackstar Dog Training

There are many reasons why a dog may excessively yap or bark, but whatever is behind it the results can be troubling. Constant barking can create stress for owners, their families and even the neighbours and, of course, for the dog itself.

The first step toward achieving a calmer, less anxious dog is to establish why she is driven to repeated yapping. Does it happen principally when visitors arrive at the front door? When the dog meets other dogs in the park? Or perhaps when she encounters something new, such as a cyclist, a high-visibility jacket or even someone with a beard or wearing a hat?

Getting your dog used to myriad noises, sights, smells and physical sensations is a huge part of socialisation and the most important period for this to take place is between eight weeks and 16 weeks.

Establishing what prompts excessive yapping is important because you need to address the cause as much as the barking itself. Your dog may be aggressive out of fear, excited due to a heightened sense of expectation, or anxious because she is uncertain.

There is space here to use only one example, so I will deal with a very common scenario: the dog that keeps yapping when the front door is knocked or the doorbell is rung. Such behaviour can be hugely frustrating and can seem impossibly difficult to correct.

In fact, most dogs don’t want to be yapping at an unseen or imagined threat lurking the other side of the front door. Such a scenario raises their anxiety levels and, with the right guidance, most are perfectly amenable to being shown a better way to behave.

Success lies in approaching the problem from two sides: working with your dog to establish a safe protocol when visitors do come to the house, while also changing how visitors seem to your dog by changing her perception of them. The training exercise works best when at least two members of the family can be involved.

First, you need to teach your dog a new command – quiet. It may seem illogical, but this begins by rewarding silence. So, pick your moment and, when your dog is perfectly silent, simply crouch beside her and say ‘quiet’ in a soft voice. If she remains silent, mark her good behaviour with a calm ‘yes’ and then reward her with a treat and praise. If she barks or yaps, ignore her and try again when she is calmer.

You will need to repeat the ‘quiet’ command many times to underline that she will be rewarded not for making a noise but for not making a noise. From this point on, every time your dog lets out an unwanted yap or bark, simply issue the command of ‘quiet’, tell her she has done the right thing with a reassuring ‘yes’ and reward her.

Now you need to create a scenario which would normally prompt excessive barking. Ask a family member to stand outside the front door ready to knock. Command your dog to sit some distance away from the front door. Reward her for sitting politely, then ask the family member to knock at the door – very gently at first.

If your dog yaps or looks as if she is about to yap, calmly tell her to be ‘quiet’ and reward her silence. If she insists on making noise, you have probably not taken long enough on the quiet command, so go back and begin again. If she remains quiet, continue to reward her silence while the knocking at the front door gets steadily louder. Finally, introduce the sound of the doorbell, but be aware that you may need to go back a couple of steps if she cannot resist barking.

Finally, insist that your dog stays sitting while the front door is opened. Then, when the ‘visitor’ comes into the house you change the canine perception by getting them to avoid direct eye contact and simply to toss a few small pieces of chicken in her direction. Do this often enough and the perceived threat will change to something altogether nicer and your dog will come to see new arrivals at the house as the chance of a tasty treat.

Some tips

1. There are exceptions, but you should never reward your dog for barking or try to stop unwanted yapping with a treat or praise. You will simply encourage more of the same behaviour.

2. If you have a puppy driven to demand a treat by vocalising, try your best to ignore such behaviour. If you don’t you will raise an adult dog that believes it can get what it wants by nagging – albeit very cutely.

3. Before attempting to stop unwanted barking, you must first teach your dog to understand the concept of quiet. In other words, repeatedly reward her silence before trying to bring a halt to barking.

4.Never attempt to stop unwanted barking by shouting at your dog. She will simply think you are joining in and that there is, in fact, something worth making a noise about.

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