I think I can speak freely with my blog followers, so I am going to go ahead and admit something… A yappy dog drives me nuts. No Lie! We have all experienced the yappy dog either from our own or a friend’s when visiting. I also think that we have all gotten to the point where we are searching for the stress ball or about ready to put in the ear buds to try and tune out the nastiness with music. We have certainly “chimed” in with the barking by saying “HUSH” (cause that’s what we southerners say) or many other choice words that I am not allowed to repeat in my blog.
Barking is a great way for dogs to communicate. As a huge fan of the bloodhound, I am happy to report that by baying they are very good at letting you know that they are on a scent. Baying, a bloodhound’s bark, is a sound that brings me so much joy. I have had the pleasure of having a purebred in my life, and I would love when she got on a scent because, most of the time when she did, we were in the great outdoors, and she was at a distance from me. However, my bloodhound came to me reactive to people walking past our house. Wow! That was a loud experience, and I have to admit I wasn’t overflowing with joy at the decibels she could achieve from within the confines of my living room!
My point, however, is that barking for dogs serves a purpose and is is their way of expressing themselves. I would hate to eliminate that entirely. So, we need to weed out, if you will, when it is acceptable music to our ears to hear that barking and when it just isn’t. In an earlier blog, I give a step-by-step process of teaching a “thank you” cue to your dogs. In other words, when I say “Thank you!” my dogs stop barking. Click here.
Barking is more difficult problem to solve than, say, leash walking is to teach, in my opinion. The reason is that the cause of barking can be varied whereas a skillful trainer can typically pinpoint the cause of leash pulling. You must determine what your dog is barking at in order to get to the bottom of the issue. He could be barking at people walking by, the sound of a car door, the dogs on the other side of the fence, a squirrel up a tree, etc. You must determine what’s causing the bark, and then we can work towards a positive solution to eliminate the dog’s desire to bark and your frustration that results from that desire.
The other complex thing with barking, from my observation, is impulse control, and this is what I have to say about that: There are times I can teach a “thank you” cue to a dog, but he is still not able to stop himself because he, well, simply can’t even if he wants to. I compare this inability to two things. First, I have twin boys that I have walked through toddlerhood with, and when something upset them, they would throw themselves on the floor in an overflow of emotion that they didn’t have the skills to work through any other way (even if they wanted to). With them, it was a matter of my teaching them those skills. Second, it can also be compared to a stress response. Consider, for example, the silly notion of me, a land-loving acrophobic, going bungee jumping. I try to never say “never,” but let’s just say bungee jumping is not on my bucket list. There is no desire in me to do this activity. Let’s just humor this idea for a moment though. Let’s say I went with one of my favorite people, Jackie (If I did anything crazy, it would be with her), to bungee jump. So, we are there with the people who are (and I am hoping) successfully putting on my gear. While they are gearing me up, Jackie is telling me all about her hot date from the night before. As much as I love Jackie and want to hear about her steamy date, there is no way I can hear anything she is saying. My adrenal glands are on overload because I am fearful of a potential crash landing. My mind is completely frozen in the thought of, “Gosh, I should have established my will for my boys before I agreed to this.” Once again, the point is that I am physically unable to focus on what Jackie is telling me. I simply don’t have the control over myself to do it because my senses are so consumed by the frightening experience I am facing.
So when your dog is barking his heart out, and you have worked hard but unsuccessfully on the “thank you” cue, I would theorize that he needs impulse control to think through his stress (or what we in the training world call “arousal”). He also needs management, but we will have to talk about that in another blog.
There are simple activities that you can do to help teach impulse control to your dog. Believe it or not, working on impulse control will improve everything with your dog: focus, relaxation, jumping, barking, etc. To me, impulse control is a foundational skill and a missing link in dog training… But do not lose heart because I am going to share some of my secrets.
Creating a Pattern
Pattern games create, as their name suggests, a pattern for your dog by getting him excited and then doing something to bring him down. These games create a wave-like pattern of taking his excitement level up and down. The purpose of this exercise is to help him learn to think through his excitement.
It is of key importance for you as the dog’s handler to watch the dog as you take him through these exercises. You do not want your dog too excited for too long during the arousal part of the on/off games because the dog could go beyond what he is emotionally able to handle and will not be able to bring himself back down. For him, this would be like getting dressed up with no place to go. This is not the purpose of the game. Rather, the purpose is to create a pattern within your dog’s ability to get him slightly excited and to bring him back down. Teaching your dog to think through his excitability will set him up for success when you are out in the real world.
First exercise: Creating a Wave
Okay, I will forewarn you on this exercise that you will feel a bit silly at times. Don’t worry about what the neighbor dogs are thinking! It’s okay because the exercise will help your dog. You can start this exercise indoors until your dog has become well focused and will remain in a sit, and then take him to the backyard and eventually the front yard as you both become more confident.
As a handler during this exercise, you have the additional tool of your voice. There will be times in between activities that you will need to stop and use a softer, lower voice to talk to your dog to help calm him. It may be a drawn out, “Goooood boooy.” For very excitable dogs, the session may be less than 15 seconds, and the exercise should not be conducted longer than 3 minutes at a time with any dog. I recommend training up to 3 minutes once a day, or doing a couple 1-to-2 minute sessions per day. The benefit for you will be a focused dog as well as a nice, short cardio work out for yourself.
While you are doing the exercise, it’s important to watch your dog’s breathing and body language so you don’t take him too far up the excitability scale. Any time he gets revved up in the process, re-cue a “sit” and talk in a soft, low voice. If you do take your dog over the point of excitability, you can leash him and take him on a leisurely walk in your backyard for several minutes, and then give him something to chew while lying on his mat.
To begin the exercise, you will need a handful of treats and a *clicker, a wonderfully useful training tool that I highly recommend. You should click if your dog stays in a sit position when you do the following exercises. At the end of each exercise, you will click and treat when he’s in a sit (or down) position. *If you don’t want to use a clicker, you can use the word “yes” or “good” as a marker.
- Cue your dog to sit.
- Act as if you are going to jump (but don’t).
- Sway side to side.
- Jump up once.
- Clap your hands.
- Act as if you are going to jump (but don’t).
- Roll your tongue making a high-pitched sound.
- Move your body from side to side.
- Move your arms around.
- Jump up.
- Run up towards your dog.
- Run in place.
- Do jumping jacks.
Get the picture? You want to exhibit a variety of distractions for your dog.
Exercise: Running backwards and cueing “sit” with a look
Again, you will need a handful of treats and clicker for this exercise. Place your handful of treats in front of your dog’s nose and make a sound as you run backwards a few steps to encourage him to follow you. Cue a “sit” and come to a stop. As soon as he sits, click and reward with a treat. Continue the game. There are some dogs that may need to sit a bit longer before resuming the game. When the handful of treats is gone, end the game.
An indication that your dog’s excitement level is becoming too elevated and you may need to slow things down occurs when the dog begins taking treats hard or aggressively. If this happens, you can ask for a longer sit and talk in a slower and lower tone. Another indication is if your dog starts to nip. In this event, you can pick up the leash and start walking your dog slowly around the yard and end the session. For the next session, do not work for such a long period of time.
During the exercise, it’s crucial that you pay attention to his small body cues. We want to create a wave-like pattern, but we don’t want to create a tidal wave. Overdoing it is not advantageous. It really will take observational skills throughout this exercise to know when to push and when to ease up.
It’s all about impulse control. You really can’t expect a dog to be able to do what he is not capable of doing any more than you can expect it of your child. Once your dog has mastered the impulse control skills in these exercises, he will be in a much better position to gain control of his impulse to bark for random and unnecessary reasons. You have set your dog up for success by giving him the practice and tools he needs to overcome his adrenaline and deal with the situation he is presented with. Now, when that pedestrian walks by the house or the squirrel scampers up the tree or the neighbor does a sonic slam of his car door, you will be able to “hush” your dog, and he will physically have the ability to do it. Finally you can leave the ear buds in the drawer and the stress ball… well, wherever you keep your stress ball.
Blog written by Michelle Huntting