For the Love of Silence by Jeanine Renzoni
A noise problem, the sound of barking travels miles – I’ve heard dogs all across this northern countryside on some clear, otherwise quiet nights. I do prefer the low woof and howl to the high-pitched constant yap, yap, yap. The sound of dogs and coyotes talking to each other on those crystal clear nights is actually pretty cool. (a poem about barking)
But that’s not the topic here. The topic: how to get to silence instead of constantly nagging about wanting your dog to shut up.
Lonely, bored, attention seeking, alarm giving, excited, uncomfortable telling …
*Attention barking and whining calls to others to get them to approach, if you always approach, barking and whining is rewarded and repeated. By doing this dogs are taught to persist in this for a very, very long time … hours, days, constant. Attention seeking barking is often choppy, GET (listen) Over (listen) Here, NOW! NOW! GET Ov-Er HERE!
*If there’s nothing to do, barking is entertaining. Sometimes they face a direction that seems to get a better sounding board – music anyone?
*Lonely barking sounds lonely – moaning, howling, sadness.
*When a dog is confined and needs water or to potty their barking/whining/activity has a certain persistent desperation. If your dog usually complains a bit (I don’t want to be in here-attention seeking) upon being left in a kennel or crate, you’ll know the sound, but if they need something that same type bark/whine/activity will just persist. (‘I forgot to poop and now I need to go.’) This is tricky – an actual need or just prolonged attention-getting barking?
*Separation anxiety has a similar sound – persistent desperation, but it is their need to be close and not left behind. And this is combined with scratching, shredding, licking, urination/defecation, lots of anxiety…
*Excited occurs in games, chases, frustration. It’s short, choppy, sometimes kind of breathless because they’re running.
*Alarm giving is a burst of quick, loud, staccato barks that may get growly, that says don’t approach/stop! usually in a pattern of three to five repeated. Most people want some alarm barking, then just want it to end when they say it should.
The why of barking leads to some of the answers to getting silence instead.
*silence needs to be rewarded, otherwise why be silent if barking or whining works better to get attention (any attention – good or bad).
Example: dog lies down and settles (yay! drop a treat down between their paws while they’re not looking at you – sneaky treat dispensing. Why? because you want them to think settle, and not focus on you).
*noise needs to be ignored (if your dog barks at you to get you to play – turn away until they’re silent, then turn back and ask them for something – sit, touch, and reward, then if you want to – play, but don’t directly reward barking at you with play! Or with any attention – negative attention included)
*bored dog? give him something to do – frozen filled Kong or bone, food cube puzzle for meals, more exercise – swimming is good or puppy play session or tug.
*dog doesn’t like crate or kennel? – play games in there, in and out of there, make it more fun and have things for him to do — ice cubes with dog food, keep the first confinements short or during times when he’s tired and wants to sleep and build up. But don’t let him out if he’s vocalizing. Silent and still is how he gets to be released – always, every time, even if he has to go potty, a brief, still and quiet interval is always part of the answer to get released. (see Obe’s Progress)
*goes crazy about games or fun? – cover the target object (pocket or put it up and away and move away from it) then ask for a control cue like sit or down then reach for object, if barking starts stop the reach. Game only continues if dog isn’t barking crazily. Changing to food as a reward can also be calming. Sometimes reward trained dogs get frustrated at not understanding how to get rewarded or at the slowness of the trainer’s responses and start barking – turn away and video-evaluate your training. See why video
*alarm barking – thank you and reward and dog goes to place (crate, spot) to give you time to go greet/meet visitor. There is no need for a crazy at the door system. Remember collar restraint creates the oppositional reflex (which is pulling against you and more excitement – which you probably don’t want). Playing a lot of games with known family/friends at the doorway with the dog can make this less of an alarm and more of a notification (which is what most people would like). (See Warning Bark – then what?) Outside dog’s kennel set up will either increase alarm barking or decrease it based on where it is placed and what they can observe.
*separation anxiety – is multiple notches up from just not wanting to be left alone, but many of the same techniques can be used plus DAP (calming pheromones), Thundershirt (swaddling type clothes), medication prescribed by vet, treat and train remote treat dispenser – if the dog will eat then the stress levels are manageable. (See – Anxious Dog)
You’ve done all the evaluating, positive interventions, rewarding, progressions and your dog seems to have times when he’s just barking despite it all. Mapping
Then maybe the time to bark and time not to bark needs clarifying.
So when it’s not time to bark;
Penalty plays done in silence – 1. Cover the crate with a blanket (if your dog pulls blankets between the wires put a rectangular piece of plywood on the top that is several inches larger than the crate so the blanket is not touching the sides or reachable) – remove it when the barking has stopped – now you can talk pleasantly or
2. Silently move the crate into a room and close the door – when the barking stops move it back out into the closer area. Usually several cycles of these are needed.
3. Barking in the outside kennel – have a crate in a workshop or garage and silently go get the dog and put him in the crate after a silent interval go praise him and take him back outside – repeat as necessary, but remember that lots of repetitions means there’s some understanding missing.
4. If your dog is barking at you as you approach the crate/kennel turn away, if he continues to bark take another step away, barking more walk out of sight, when he’s quiet try approaching again. Repeat cycle several times as needed.
5. Put up a barrier to whatever is a barking trigger – inside curtains or filmed contact paper on low or door window, outside plywood/solid fence/trees.
6. Noise baffle – white noise, radio, TV.
What about stronger penalties like bark collars that spray or shock or automatic painful ultra-sonic sounds? Can they work, yup. BUT Side effects and non-discrimination of reason for barking are seriously bad downsides of these – your dog may become much more anxious, afraid, aggressive, not trust collar touches, generalize fears to other things that are kind of like the punishment device or in the area of the punishment device. They are not likely to learn silence is rewarded, they just learn barking is punished when those things are there. They may decide that the reason/person/thing they were barking at is the villain and become much more aggressive toward visitors – then you don’t just have a barking dog, you have an aggressive barking dog. The other problem with this is you become focused on punishing and being angry with your dog, not good for the relationship so having a dog that doesn’t always come and doesn’t seem to want to learn from you is often part of this scenario.
So it seems like the stronger punishments might work faster, but actually not if you count the extra work you need to do on the side-effects. And the likely hood that you end up thinking of more punishments and not really understanding how to work positively with your dog.
Barking is pretty complicated and that’s why it’s so often a problem. Do you have any stories about barking and when you thought it was just irritating, but then you realized you should have listened to the alarm?