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Some ideas for problem barkers

Editor's note: While reading posts on listserves, I came across this post which I felt had useful tips. I like the fact that it comes from a dog owner who write about her personal experiences with her pooch.

I'm not a trainer, but I have a barker, so I think I might be able to help.

My dog Aurora is a terrible barker, but she barks for different reasons, and in her case, the reason for the barking is key to
stopping the behaviour. Here's what works for Aurora:

Stress/Anxiety Barking: first, the vet has recommended meds for this (she's on Clomicalm) because ever since I moved I've had a hard time
with her hyper-ness and excessive barking (worse than it had been prior to the move). The vet felt the stress of the move, and terrible
noise from nearby construction in my new neighbourhood were big factors. The meds have helped at least be able to get her to focus
better. When she's barking due to stress from scary noises -
thunderstorms, fireworks, smoke alarm - I have to take her away from the noise as much as possible (in the bathroom with the fan on and
taps running, or in the laundry room with washing machine on) and I do obedience commands with high value to treats to hold her attention.

Excitement Barking: ie when I come home from work and she's insanely happy to see me - I have taught a sit-down-get comfortable command and then I give treats. Simply having her sit or lie down was not enough, she would just bounce back up and keep barking; adding a "stay" didn't help either, as she was too hyper to concentrate. "Get comfortable" was a cue I taught to get her to roll onto one hip in a "down" position, rahter than the sphynx position; that seems to help her calm down. I taught it the way I taught roll over -- having her lie down, put a treat to her nose and move it sort of over her back toward her tail, then treated when she rolled onto one hip. It wasn't long befor that became the hand signal for the cue I began giving the reward from my other hand. I've been making her hold that position longer and longer now, it has done wonders for her excitement barking. She's getting really good, so soon I will add "in your bed" to the series where she'll have to lie down and "get comfortable" before she gets the treat.

Boredom / Not enough Exercise: If I think she's barking out of boredom, or her walks have been too short ie really cold weather, or
thunderstorms have kept us housebound, I either make her run up and down the stairs (throw treats up the stairs and say "upstairs", then say "downstairs" and give her a treat when she comes back down) or I do have her do doggie pushups or a bunch of other obedience commands, just to tire out her mind a bit. I end those sessions with "in your bed", "down" and "get comfortable" and these mostly work for her.

Barking at the Fence: I always go outside with her. When she sees or hears a trigger, (or preferably if I see it first) I try to prevent
the barking by offering treats and holding her in a "watch me" (with or without happy talk, depends on how much trouble she's having with
maintaining focus). If she's already started barking and is running back and forth along the fence it's a lot harder to get her attention
and at that point I usually have to get her to go back in the house. Fence barking is still a work in progress. When I need to hold her
attention, I've found it easier to maintain her attention by having a big treat in my left hand (I use Zukes' strips - I use venison but
they also come in chicken and beef) and I give her tiny pieces of that treat from my right hand.

Teaching the "quiet" command without making her relax did not work. Turning my back to her, or ignoring her did not work. Sometimes I
yawn a few times and turn my head, and that helps a bit. Watching TV with no lights off also helps her to settle but it takes a few minutes
for her to catch on.

Aversives - leash corrections, spray bottle, time outs, sharp "NO" - did not work (I don't use aversives anymore, those were things I'd
tried in the past) and actually made the problem worse usually.

I hope at least some of this will help you. But of course, there's only so much you can do -- the rest is up the dog's owners.

Deborah Calvert
(March 2009)

Permission sought to reprint
Permission granted for those who wish to contact Deborah
deborahcalvert [AT] sympatico. ca

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