If you have ever heard a bloodhound bay, you will know how ear piercing it can truly be. My rescued bloodhound Ellie came into my life with, let’s just say, a barking issue. Ellie thought that if someone walked by my house it was her duty to alert not only me, but everyone on the block. Being the responsible pet owner that I am, I taught Ellie a thank you cue within the first month of being her guardian. The thank you cue is something that I taught my dogs that still allows them to bark, but asks them to stop when cued.
I think back to the Iowa winter day when Ellie was outside and some kids walked by on their way to school. I heard her bay and she was on the other side of the garage where I couldn’t see her. I opened the sliding glass door and yelled, “THANK YOU!” Ellie ran as fast as she could and sat in front of me like a little soldier. Remembering her reaction still makes me smile many years later!
Let’s Talk Bark
Dogs bark for many reasons. Some include boredom, anxiety, alerting, elevation, attention-seeking, or in play.
Barking is a natural part of the dog’s world and it’s also a way of communicating. If you are experiencing problems with barking, the first step is to determine what he’s barking at as this will guide your course of action.
Teach the Thank You Cue
The thank you cue will allow your dog to bark, but asks him to stop when cued. You are welcome to use any word that you’d like for this cue. Some of my clients have used that’ll do.
Outside of training sessions it’s important to have stimulus control. That is just the trainer’s fancy way of saying, “Keep the blinds pulled!” Barking at people works really well for your dogs. Think about it. Humans walk by your house, your dog barks, and the people (because they continued to walk past your house) left your yard. In your dog’s mind, barking worked. Your dog’s behavior served him, so he will continue to do it and the more he does it the more it’s reinforced.
So outside of training sessions, make sure the environment (like keeping the blinds pulled) will set him up for success so he won’t bark while you are gone or when you are not focused on training.
During your training sessions open the blinds. During this time you will be waiting for stimulus (like a dog/person walking by), so he will bark. When I train the thank you cue, I set aside a block of time and multitask like working on my computer while I wait for my dogs to bark.
Also, have a lot of pea sized treats ready to roll. I like using Charlee Bears.
As soon as your dog barks say, “Thank you!” and start delivering several treats one right after another.* Don’t be afraid to deliver several (5-10 pea sized) treats. Typically after a few treats your dog will sit in front of you. After he is focused on you, go back to your work and repeat the process as the barking occurs.
Do one session five days a week for two weeks.
*If you have delivered several treats, gained his focus for a few seconds and he starts barking again, repeat the process. Re-cue “thank you” and deliver treats. If he continues to bark after you have gone through the process two times, redirect him with something to chew like a stuffed Kong or bully stick.
Outside of Formal Training Sessions
If your dog barks at a noise or something else outside of training sessions you can cue “thank you” and deliver the treats just as if you are in a formal training session. Be sure to have your treats ready to go.
During this week’s training sessions (week three), after your dog starts barking cue, “Thank you!” and wait for him to move toward you. As soon as he gets to you, start delivering treats. Deliver treats until your dog is sitting in front of you and focused.
Formal sessions are no longer needed for the next two weeks. As you are going about your day and your dog barks cue “thank you” and deliver treats. I recommend that you give treats after every thank you for the following month.
Fading the Treats
After this month, you can start giving random rewards (fading the treat). In other words, sometimes you say, “Good boy!” and other times you deliver treats. It’s important that you are still randomly reinforcing from here on out, but treats are not needed every time you cue thank you.
Blog written by: Michelle Huntting
Note: There are many underlying issues and many different reasons why dogs bark. This is a simple article to help the majority of pet owners that have slight issues with their dog barking as people or dogs walk past the house. If you have a dog that is experiencing extreme barking issues please contact a qualified professional in your area to evaluate and help modify his behavior.
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