When I first started working on this post, I thought about getting some video of Cooper to illustrate the problem… but then I realized just how annoying it would be to watch a video of him barking his face off.
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It’s. so. annoying.
And, I know, many of us are faced with this behavior. So, what can we do about our dogs’ demand barks?
First, what is demand barking?
Your dog barks (and barks and barks) to get something from you: food, attention, play, to be let out, to be let in, and so on.
Cooper does this all the time. In fact, he made a spectacle of himself this weekend when we had company in town, and he insisted on barking at one of our friends for tortilla chips… of course, she kept giving it to him, so the barking continued. Cooper wins.
He also barks at Emmett and Lucas. He wants Lucas to play, so he barks in his face until he relents. He wants the toy Emmett is chewing on, so he barks in his face until Emmett gets frustrated, drops the toy, and walks away. He wants the bed they’re laying on, so he lays in front of the bed and barks until they get annoyed and leave. In each instance, Cooper wins.
Or, he sees something out the front window. It might be the UPS driver, kids at the bus stop, leaves blowing in a funny way… and he starts barking and barking and barking. The thing moves on AND our family isn’t attacked, so. Cooper wins again.
He consistently rewards this behavior all by himself because he barks and the thing he wants to happen happens. Annoying, yes, and super tough to curb.
So, I started doing a little research to devise a training plan to tackle Cooper’s demand barking.
The first step to stop excessive barking: management
This might be the easiest step in the process because it has nothing to do with working on the behavior.
Management means controlling the environment, and that gives you time to work on the behavior.
The biggest thing I recommend because it works well, it’s simple, and it’s cost-effective: window clings! This is the kind we have. You can cut it to any size you need, and it won’t damage your window. There are also fancy ones like this. You could also DIY something if you’re a crafty sort, but the idea is to block your dog’s view. (Yes, you can totally use blinds or curtains, too, but some windows can’t accommodate the right choice, some landlords don’t allow it, and some dogs–ahem, Lucas–will smash the blinds to get window access.)
Another option is to section off the areas that cause the most trouble, like the front door or a window that looks out at the mailbox. Adjustable gates like these work wonders. These are a perfect solution if your dog needs to be sectioned off into another room to keep him from barking at guests or from attacking the vacuum.
Okay, so you’ve found a way to control the environment, which should cut down on a ton of barking. Now we need to address the behavior!
4 Steps to stop demand barking:
- Don’t “correct” the barking with any verbal cues. So, no “no,” no “quiet,” no “seriously shutttt upppp!” Why? Well, it’s either rewarding your dog with your extra attention, OR your dog is like, “Oh, yeah! My person is backing me up and barking, too! Teamwork!” (Aside: This is REALLY hard for John. He always wants to shhh! him, so this will be the difficult part for him!)
- Ignore the demand and replace it with an incompatible behavior. When your dog is demand barking, you probably know exactly what he wants. He wants my chips? I’ll hand him a chew toy instead. Our go-to replacements for barking are the squeaky toys from BarkBox that we rotate monthly between the closet and the toy box to keep them fresh.
- Institute a pause. If your dog is barking to demand a thing–a treat, your food, whatever–implement a nice, long pause before you give the thing. That “nice, long pause” might only be three seconds at first. You’re working to build up your dog’s tolerance for waiting. If he starts barking again, that’s your cue to know you asked for too long of a pause. Once he waits for those three seconds, or five or ten or whatever you’ve worked up to, reward the silence with a treat, squeaky toy, or praise.
- Sporadically reward him for quiet. For example, if I’m eating carrots at my desk and he barks at me for a carrot, I’ll do step one (sometimes paired with step two, like asking him to go on his bed with a chew), then wait for a few seconds of silence, then give him a carrot. This has to be very random because we don’t want to risk setting up a chain reaction where: barking for a while + not barking for a while = treat.
Seems simple enough, right?
Be prepared for an extinction burst
Your dog was successful in getting what he wanted by barking at you for a very long time. Now that you’re stopping, he’s going to be super confused! It always worked before… what the heck is going on? Perhaps they didn’t hear me. So he’ll bark at a greater intensity: longer, louder, more frantic, etc. It’s critical not to give in at this point because otherwise you’re setting your pup up to think, “Okay, now I have to bark at THIS level to get what I want.” So, hold strong!
I’m actually curious to see what his “extinction burst” is going to be like…
That’s our plan! For now, anyway. The great thing about plans like this is that we can remain flexible and adjust as needed, as long as we keep the goal in mind: Extinguishing demand barking!
Does your dog do this? Have you tried a training plan to extinguish the behavior? Any tips or tricks? Anyone want to attempt this plan along with us?
For more on this topic, check out:
Demand Barking: What is it and how to curb it: This post is a one-year-later look at attempting the steps above…
How to Get Your Dog to Stop Barking on Cue: The “Cooper, enough!” cue used in all barking scenarios other than demand barking (with a video example)