Welcome to the first installment of Bark Week!
Barking has always been a constant in this house. Lucas has a huge bark, which when combined with his reactivity, means lots and lots of barking at every noise on the street. Cooper, though. Oh, Cooper. We thought Lucas was a big barker until Cooper came around. The big difference between the two of them? I mean, other than the fact that Cooper out-barks Lucas 5-to-1? Cooper’s bark is shrill.
Working from home, I needed a way to get the barking under control – not only to be able to focus on my work, but also to be able to take phone calls without hiding in the bathroom…
So, pretty much since we’ve been back in Bloomington, we’ve been working on barking. We’ve made huge strides, though it’s not perfect, but so many of you have mentioned these same struggles that I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you what has worked – and what hasn’t! Today is all about how to get your dog to stop barking on cue!
A quick disclaimer: I’m just sharing what has worked for us. I’m not certified in anything relevant, so those folks with behavior backgrounds may cringe at my methods here, but… they worked for us, so I thought it might help someone else!
OK. So, the thing is, I’m actually not opposed to them barking in general. I don’t mind it, especially since we have weird travel and work schedules, and I’m home alone very often. I didn’t want to desensitize them to things passing by the house. Instead, I wanted them to feel able to bark if they needed to but -stop when I asked them to. (Some people want to curb the barking altogether by implementing a counterconditioning process for things passing by the house. That’s not what this post is about, though.)
The first step to success was limiting Cooper’s (and Lukey’s, too, but I’m going to use Coop as the example) opportunities to practice nonsense barking. So, the stuff where he barks his face off at… leaves blowing past the front door… or kids walking to the park or whatever. We’ve left our blinds closed for a few months now, especially in the front room of our house. By leaving them closed, his line of sight is limited, so he’s less likely to bark at nonsense.
Next, choose your cue. It’s important to remember that no matter what word you choose to teach, your dog has no context with that word. If you’ve been shouting “shut up” or “knock it off”, you need to pick something else. We went with “enough” because it’s not a word that we use in other dog cuing contexts.
(And this is where those behaviorists might cringe…) Now you need to start teaching the cue. For Cooper, once he started a barking frenzy out the window, he became completely unresponsive to everything else, so I needed to snap him out of that mode. I used my “face-full-of-treats” strategy where, when he started going nutso, I’d toss a small handful of tiny treats at his head. Trust me, it snaps him out of it instantly – giving me a split-second window. As soon as he realized he was just pummeled with treats and started trying to gobble them up, I could call him to me with an even better treat in my hand. It would break the frenzy and bring me his attention.
Eventually I began to integrate the “enough” cue when he would break his attention and come collect his treat, but that step took by far the longest because he was SO fixated on barking his face off out the window. So, repeating that over and over (and over and over…) combined with blocking his views out the window, we cut down on a huge amount of the excessive barking.
Here’s how it works now (please turn your volume WAY down… Cooper barking and me calling him… it’s loud… sorry ’bout that):
Wherever Cooper is in the house, as soon as I shout “Cooper, enough!” he runs at top speed, plops into a sit (unnecessary but nice), and collects his treat. Oftentimes I’ll ask for other behaviors, like a sit or touch, just to give even more distance from what he was barking at.
Of course, the funny thing is Lucas and Emmett dashing into the room to collect treats, too, but I want them to respond to “enough” as well, so I always dole them out!
There you have it! That’s how I taught Cooper to stop barking on cue. Now, if you’re really paying attention here, you’ll realize that “enough” to Cooper does NOT mean “stop barking.” To Cooper and the big boys, “enough” means “haul ass to lady and we get treats!” Not the same thing, but it works!!
As a quick aside, the reason I went with this method is because the old advice of “teach your dog to bark on cue, then you can teach him how to stop barking on cue” did. not. work. Oh, we taught them to bark on cue. But once they found their voices, they did not want to stop. “We’re getting treats for barking! YAY BARKING!” This method fixed that right up!
Phew! Such a long post. Sorry about that. I hope it’s been helpful!
Have you taught your dog to stop barking on cue? What methods have worked for you?