As much as we love our dog/s barking can be a source of irritation for us. Many owners are embarrassed when a neighbor calls Animal Control to complain about Fido’s barking. Owners go to the door and shout, “Shut up.” Some use spray bottles or hoses to spray the dog in the face. Others roll up a newspaper and smack Fido on the butt. Some use the extreme (which I consider both unnecessary and abuse), the E-collar or Shock collar.  The only things these efforts accomplish are, 1. You instill fear in Fido. 2. Causing Fido to distrust, 3. Perhaps, instilling fear aggression in Fido, 4. Your possibly causing Fido to become reactive to newspapers. Anytime one applies punishment there are unintended consequences. There is a better way.

 I will illustrate what you can accomplish. I have a Great Pyrenees. Barking is a part of the Pyrenees DNA. He lays in the back yard and barks at everything that moves. His job is to keep the coyotes away from the sheep (us). He takes this job very seriously and I love him for it. His barking is to summon everyone, “I think you need to come and check this out.”  Now, I don’t want to stop his barking. What I want to do is let him bark on my terms. Here is how I did that.

As I explain this process, remember, I am a clicker (marker) trainer. When I click to mark the behavior I want, it is always followed by at least one treat. Having our clicker ready we also have treats in a pouch around our waist to hold the treats. You can use a bowl to place your treats in. To mark the wanted behavior I “click and treat.” I will use “C/T” to indicate this.

The first thing I needed to do was put “bark” on cue. Here is how I did that. Remember, Dexter does not know what the word “bark” means. So I need to capture that “bark” and C/T that behavior. I set up my training time. No phone calls or other distractions. I needed to focus on Dexter. When he barked, I would C/T. Dexter knows the clicker so for me he responded quickly. “Bark,” C/T. With a couple of times of this order Dexter would bark, look at me, C/T. Be sure you are clicking the bark. If your timing is off, you will click the head turn and that will confuse both Fido and you. When he barks, C, you would then treat if he turns his head. What you want to mark is the bark.

Once Dexter was barking intentionally, I changed what I was doing. Now it was time to set my training to 2 or 3 minutes. I would count out my treats, 20 or 30 treats accordingly. This way I knew Dexter’s rate of barks. When I felt comfortable that he was barking, C/T 8 to 10 times a minute it was time for me to introduce my cue, “Bark.” As Dexter would bark, I timed the word “bark” with his bark. In the next session (2 to 3 minutes) I would say “bark” with his bark, but I would then switch and say “bark” just before his bark. I would do this in a couple of sessions until I could back the word “bark” to before his “bark” and him bark in response to my cue. Now, I can say, “bark” and he barks. He doesn’t bark if I don’t say, “bark.”

I want you to understand, this is only in the training session. Outside of the training session he can still, and will, bark as he needs to bark. Be sure and not correct or punish him for this or you will poison your efforts. You have a goal here, do not get ahead of the process.

Now, you are going to ratchet things up. In your training session you will cue Fido to bark, C/T. You wait a couple of seconds (no more), if Fido barks you do not C/T. What you do is immediately cue Fido to bark. He will and you C/T. You do this for a couple of sessions until Fido understands that you want him to bark on your cue, but not when you do not cue him. This  process will not take long. He will understand.

Here is another point. When Fido barks, without your giving the cue do not say, “No,” or “uh, uh.”  We call those a “no reward marker.” Just don’t say anything. Also, if you get frustrated because things are not going the way you want, then stop. You will only make Fido frustrated and he will shut down. However, don’t just walk away leaving Fido to wonder what he did wrong. End EVERY session on a success, even if you hold your hand down, say touch, he touches your hand with his nose, C/T. At the end of EVERY session, put your hands in front of you and say, “finished,” then toss some treats on the floor. This way, you ALWAYS end on success, and with something wonderful. Fido will always anticipate you getting the clicker out for another session.

Now you have “bark” on cue. The goal of this exercise is the second part. Quiet. Again, set up your training session, 2 to 3 minutes. Have your clicker and treats ready. With Dexter, he knew we were training, so he would sit in front of me. I cued him to bark, then I waited after the bark, one thousand one, C/T. Cue him to bark, one thousand two, C/T. I keep extending the time AFTER the bark until I can count, one thousand five, C/T. When I could have Dexter bark, quiet to one thousand five 8 times a minute, it was time to introduce the cue, “quiet.”

I would cue Dexter to bark, then he would be quiet, I would count to one thousand four, say, “quiet” C/T. I wanted to move this forward until Dexter would bark, I could say, “quiet” and he would not bark again until or unless I cued him to do so. Now I want to ping pong bark and quiet. Sometimes I would want to really reinforce Dexter by giving 3 or 4 treats. Not every time, but once in a while. You do not have to limit yourself to just one treat following the click. Just be sure you are clicking one time as a mark. Also, when you cue, you give the cue ONE time. Let Fido process your cue. If he can’t do that, then you introduced the cue too early. Always end your session on a success.

You will want to train in a different room, outside, so Fido can generalize his bark/quiet behavior. When Dexter had this down I will let him bark 2 or 3 times at something, then I will say, “Good bark Dexter, now quiet.” And guess what, he quits barking and usually turns to walk with me. I had a guest in my home not long ago. We were sitting at the kitchen table, and Dexter was barking at something. It was summer and the sliding door was open, so I called out to Dexter, “quiieet,” Dexter stopped barking and my friend said, “No way.” So you can begin adding distance when you cue.

Early in Dexter’s training for bark/quiet, if he did not stop barking I would take a few steps toward him to close the distance, cue him again, and usually he responded. Never close the distance in a threatening way. If you are frustrated just go calmly and quietly, take Fido’s collar and walk him away from his interest. He will usually stop barking as you walk away. Now tell him, “Good quiet” and reward him.

I also want you to understand in teaching Fido quiet, you are not C/Ting him for not barking. You are C/Ting his quiet. We are teaching Fido two distinctive behaviors, bark and quiet. I do not C/T Fido for not doing something. So it is not that Fido is not barking, but that he is being quiet. This distinction is important for your thinking and avoiding Fido becoming frustrated and confused.

One last thing. When you are cuing Fido, do so in a calm, controlled voice. Louder is not better. Fido is not deaf (although you will at times think he is). Do not repeat the cue. “Fido, quiet—quiet—quiet.” Or, “Fido, quiet—-QUIet—QUIET!” If Fido is not responding there are three reasons, 1. You introduced the cue too early, 2. The value of your reinforcement is not high enough, 3. The rate of reinforcement is not often enough. You may need to go back to establishing the behavior with no words, just Behavior, C/T.

Fido is not being “stubborn.” Dogs do not know “stubborn.” They know when they are confused. They know when they are conflicted. When Fido is confused or conflicted, that is my not being clear.

You goal, in this exercise, is to teach Fido quiet. To do that we put its counterpart “bark” on cue so we can then put “quiet” on cue.

Here is just one valuable time this can be used. A lady is taking her dog for a walk. There is a man approaching and you have feelings of being uncomfortable. You can cue Fido to bark. This will usually deter someone with whom you are not comfortable. You now have a safety feature in walking Fido.

Have fun training because you are strengthening your relationship with Fido in the process.

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