Help! I’m Barking and Can’t Stop!

barkIf 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!

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Photo of Ellie by Cheryl Kenyon

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.

STEP ONE:
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.

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STEP TWO:
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.

STEP THREE:
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.

STEP FOUR:
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.

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Blog written by: Michelle Huntting
www.michellehuntting.com

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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Treats, Money, and Motivation

I will often hear trainers proudly say, “I don’t use treats because I train in the REAL world.”

In the real world we go to work every day. One of my dad’s favorite lines is from the movie It’s a Wonderful Life and it’s about money. George says to the angel Clarence, “It [money] comes in pretty handy down here, Bub.”

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Photo from It’s a Wonderful Life

It’s true. We need money for food so we can feed our kids, ourselves, and our dogs. We need money for gas in our car to even get to work or to get to the grocery store. We need money to pay for homes that we live in. Money comes in pretty handy. We live in the real world.

What if your boss says to you, “I decided that you should come to work every day for me and in return I am going to tell you at the end of the week, ‘Atta, boy!'” You would more than likely not return to work.

Money is a motivation and reinforcement for humans. We will do many things for money.

Dogs are living, breathing beings that have their own emotions, thoughts, dreams, and will. It is an unrealistic expectation that they will work just for their owner. You may really enjoy your boss. Heck, your boss may even be your friend, but you will need more than friendship or an “Atta boy” at the end of the week to show up to work every day.

Dog’s need motivation and reinforcement as well.

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When training dogs, there are so many different kinds of reinforcement, but at the top of the list is food.

Are we still living in the real world if food is a motivation for dogs? Yes, because the issue isn’t the treats or food. Bottom line, to get dogs to listen without any food we must first train with food

What I often hear pet owners say is, “I don’t want to use treats with my dog because I want him to listen to me.” Because that’s what I want for you too, I have listed a few tips on using food to reinforce and establish behaviors.

Timing Matters
The timing of treat delivery matters. Let’s say you cue your dog to “come” and start shaking the treat bag and he comes running inside. This is a great example of what not to do:

Cue behavior “come” –> Shake treat bag –> dog comes –> deliver treat

It’s important to deliver treats at the correct time because if the treats are shown or delivered as listed above, then you will be using treats as a bribe not as a reinforcer. If this is your pattern in training you will ALWAYS be stuck in this rut. If you want to always pull out a treat to get your dog to come or in a sit then continue this pattern. Don’t get stuck in a rut. This pattern will not take you down to the road called “he listens without food.”

Here is the pattern that will take you down the path of focus and reliable behavior:

Cue behavior “sit” –> Dog performs sit –> Deliver treat


Reinforce, Reinforce, Reinforce

If you have ever done weight training, you know that doing many reps will help build muscle. If you lift a weight one time and call it a day, it seems silly to even waste your time. You will never tone or build a muscle using one rep. You must condition your muscle with continuous repetitive motion.

If you give your dog one treat for a behavior that you liked, that is like doing one rep to build a muscle. Imagine though, that just like you might hit the gym hard for a month working on a specific area of your body, you decided to do this with your dog.

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For example, you are tired of your dog jumping on guests, so you decide that you are going to reinforce the behavior of sit. So twice a day you do three minute formal sessions. During these formal sessions you cue your dog to “sit” and once he does you deliver a treat. Outside of that time you notice every time he sits (without being cued), and you give him a treat.

For an entire month, you conditioned your dog with reinforcement of a particular behavior. At the end of the month, your dog will be sitting like a little statue. Reinforcement doesn’t happen with one repetition. You must build behaviors, just like you do your muscles.

Fading the Treats
When I first start teaching a desired behavior, chicken is falling out of the sky! But as we progress in the training process and “muscles” are built, I will simply maintain those “muscles” with random reinforcement (radon reinforcement is explained below).

It’s important to note that I wait until after a behavior is strongly established before I begin to decrease the amount of treats used in training.

Once a behavior is strongly established (the dog offers behavior all the time) then you can start the process of fading treats.

Random Reinforcement
I am not much of a gambler, but if you have ever been to a casino you know that the slot machines use random reinforcement. It’s brilliant, really. Humans, just like dogs, work for random reinforcement. The hope for the big win will keep people playing the game.

After establishing a strong behavior, it’s important that you randomly reinforce.

A great example of this, in my household, is the cue come. I incorporate training into my everyday life with my dogs, so sometimes I will give them a piece of steak or chicken when they come inside. Sometimes I will say, “Good Boy.” They never know when they will win big. With random reinforcement I keep them guessing as well as motivated.

Bottom Line
In the real world food isn’t the culprit;  it’s your friend. Use food wisely in training and you will be well on your way to having an engaged, well-behaved dog whether food is present or not.

Blog written by Michelle Huntting
www.michellehuntting.com