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Woof Woof Shush - Stop your dog from barking! NOW

Every dog barks. Barking is a part of natural dog behaviour. Dogs bark at leaves blowing in the wind, each other, us, the mailman, the garbage truck and other dogs. They will bark at anything.

Most of the barking is enthusiasm spilling over and is a normal part of the communicative tools used by dogs. The beagle will bark when they notice something, to alert you to the novel item. The mill dog will bark at everything. The Search and Rescue dog will bark to navigate you to the discovered person. The yard dog will bark at passers by.

Notice that I have used 4 different and real world examples:

  • Genetic Code - good breeding (Unconditioned behaviour)

  • Genetic Code - bad breeding (Unconditioned behaviour)

  • Trained Behaviour - good training (Conditioned behaviour)

  • Trained Behaviour - inadvertent training (Conditioned behaviour)

Let us expand just a bit on theses before we look at how to cut through the behavioural mustard. The Genetic Code: Some breeds where indeed bred to vocalise in a specific manner or at certain times. Beagle Hounds are a great example, they use their bark to signal that quarry has been found. The beagle has been bred to have a natural bias to bark. This makes walking after them easier for the foot hunter. So why cut it out? On the other side of the continuum is the disgraceful breeder that is interested in turning out pup after pup without interest in the well being of their fine animals. This can lead to poor mental health of dogs and problem behaviours can occur that are innately biased. So how do you stop this? Trained Behaviour: Good training involves a consistent application of a specific method that has an end goal in mind. The student dog is subjected to a training program that allows for as little conflict as possible whilst promoting desired behaviour. Inadvertent or poor training leads to reliable behaviours just as good training does. The mailman and the doorbell are great proofs of this. The issue is when the inadvertent or poor training creates a persisting scenario. As this scenario is recurring the behaviour becomes more and more conditioned to the point that the affected dog is able to break the scenario down into second order stimulus, the mailman's motorbike idling a few houses down - out of your earshot - now elicits the barking behaviour. Your frequent guest parking out the front of your house has a squeaky belt in their car? That coming down the road is the tell that elicits the barking. The Solution: There are many solutions to stop barking, you can go on to any social media platform and type in "how to stop barking" or ask "How do I stop my dog from barking" and you will receive an overwhelming cornucopia of answers, naturally none of them will agree. Here is the 100% foolproof nuts and bolts easy as can be and faster than light method for teaching your dog...anything: First things first: Teach your dog a language as soon as you can. Here are links to the terms that I use to direct my and my clients dogs behaviour: Wrong This tells your dog that what they are doing now, is the wrong behaviour to achieve what you expect. This allows your dog the opportunity to change tact and alter their behaviour. Good This tell your dog that what they are doing now, is the right behaviour or at least in the right direction. This allows your dog to continue to act as you like. No This tells your dog what they are doing is not acceptable. Not only that it also tell them that they will receive a negative response to what they are doing now. Yes This part of the feedback loop is the crux of the language. This tells your dog what they did is exactly what you want in this scenario. It allows you to give your dog something that they love. Be that a ball, a tug, a piece of meat, a walk a pat etc. Taking the example of nuisance and problematic barking as the case in hand how can you use these 4 words to alter your dogs reaction?

1) Assess the most pleasant thing you can give your dog at any time (Ball or food for example)

Play with your dog for 5mins a day for a week and you will find that your dog is responsive to some type of activity more than others. If you throw a ball is your dog interested or gunning for the ball for example. Once you have found that item, exploit it to reprogram your dog!

2) Determine the cause of the problem barking

Just like the examples above, determine if the doorbell is the problem or whatever the case may be. Sometimes it can be a neighbour on the other side of the fence. In these instances your neighbour is going to be happy if you ask for their help, it also gives you time before they blow their top.

It is pretty easy to figure the root cause out, pay attention to your dog and they will show you. Let us take a simple example: The Doorbell. Is the doorbell the signal to start barking, or the crunching of the pebble dash outside?

3) Plan to recreate those root causes

Find a way of performing those scenarios 5 times in one session. That is more than enough to get your dog on the right foot per session. You can then do multiple sessions per day - I advise no more than 4 per day.

Once you have determined that actual cause - since barking is the response - you can set the signal up to be repeated over and over again at your will.

As you repeat these scenarios you will be able to act quicker and quicker into the chain of events that lead up to your dogs barking. Watch for the subtle cues like ear movement towards the signal. The sooner you can read your dog, the better. This means you will need to manage your dog and have them in sight so you can catch them before the barking starts.

This allows you to interrupt and steer your dogs behaviour in the right direction. Using your paired smartphones and tablets or video messenger services or even the live video feeds of social platforms lets you see your handy helper approach over the pebble dash and get closer to the door bell. This affords the opportunity to gauge your dogs body language to predict the likelihood of barking.

4) Use of language

The terms are great and the information simple to follow. Being consistent in their application is key. If you make a mistake, honour the mistake for what it is and move on.

Now that you know the language, you can afford to relax a little. Your dog understands the tonality of your voice and when you are stressed out or chilled down. Let the comfort of knowledge sharpen your skills and your dog will follow suit.

If you see your dogs ears twitch towards the driveway for example, give the "Wrong" command and note your dogs response. If they are able to inhibit their desire to rush at the door barking it is worth paying the response with a "Yes" and a reward event. Make sure you send your helper back down the driveway.

Once your dog is able to inhibit their reaction start to increase the duration of their inhibition by 5seconds per session.

For example: If you have your dog in a station such as their mat, your helper is coming up the driveway and those ears twitch, give your "Wrong", as soon as your dog stops, say "Good" 3-5 times then say "Yes" and give the reward event. Next session you build to 10seconds and say "Good" 5-10 times.

5) Close the loop

Irrespective of the feedback needed - Reward event for "Yes" or Punishing event for "No" - the feedback must come and it must come NOW. If you hesitate then your dog has no choice but to continue with their previous behaviour. If you hesitate you blew that repetition. No big deal, simply start again.

It is important to understand that closing the loop through "Yes" and "No" gives your dog a snapshot in time of what happened and pairs it with what is going to happen because of their actions in that moment of time. If your response to their reaction is not strong enough, their barking - in this case - will not change.

When you say "Yes" ensure that you give just a slight pause and then launch into the more favoured action of playing with the ball, frisbee, tug toy, or they get their piece of cheese or meat. But they must get it! Every time you say "Yes" - whether right or wrong - they must receive that reward event.

On the other side of the coin is the "No". Again, irrespective of your intent, the response must come 100% of the time. Not only that but the intensity of the perceived feedback must be greater than the desire to perform the undesired action. The verbal part - the "No" must also precede the actual feedback by a slight delay. This is exactly the same as the "Yes". The difference is that the feedback is not fulfilling to your dog.

Perhaps you take them into another room and keep them there for a period, grab a hold of the lead and take your dog further away until they settle or you startle your dog with a throw cushion or other such device. Whatever it is, the intensity must be so that your dog must pay attention to the consequence as opposed to the barking cause. No need to demolish your dog to dust though, he's no Mike Tyson. No need to over feed your dog either, they are no Sumo. The intensity of the repercussion to the behaviour should always be intense - to your dog. As the repercussion is the actual inhibitor. The "Yes" is the predictor of the food, it is the notion of food that prevents the barking for example. FAZIT

Bear in mind that you are competing against a solid behaviour based on either genetics or training, or even both, and as such they are well rehearsed and reliable. Keep at it and you will succeed in allowing your dog to succeed with each step. The longer the behaviour has persisted for and the more intense the behaviour is - to your dog - the longer the training will take before your dog has been reliably trained. Behaviour is defined by a specific action to a specific pre-cursor over time. To keep it simple, barking is called upon by the root cause and maintained over a period of occurrences. Your modification of the problem barking will equally be tested over a period of time. I advise keeping a tab on how many times a behaviour is occurring to see the result of the training over time. This helps staying on track after a bad session or bringing back to track after a few supposed good sessions.

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