- There is a funny odor or sound (perhaps neither of which I notice at first) in the house.
- There is a stranger approaching. I may want that stranger to be hesitant of my barking dog, while I find out what they are doing here.
- You have lost electricity, are alone, and someone comes to your door. I like to check that it is in fact my neighbor checking on me, instead of a criminal looking to take advantage of a situation.
- Strange wild life or dog in the yard. Helpful for me to know before I let the dogs out, though they are all trained to be recalled from those situations. Better to know what is out there though, and just because your dog can recall, does not mean certain animals won't attack your dogs!
- Someone is casing or rummaging through my automobile. I worry often about someone getting ideas to steal my dogs. I like my dogs to give someone the idea that breaking into house or auto is not a good idea.
- My dogs alert when daycare clients come up, which is good because when the windows are closed I don't always hear or notice them. They work much better than a doorbell (or our doorbell anyway).
- Dogs have the ability to communicate not only to each other, but to humans when they are not sure. Often this prevents conflicts. Most dogs if they feel so threatened that they will bite, are not going to announce it with a bark. However, a bark or growl can alert the human or other dog to approach a bit differently or to at least not corner the canine.
One of my dogs, I am convinced, kept me from getting mugged or worse in Worcester Mass. Jazzabelle was not barking at the stranger creeping up until I saw him. I felt every pore of my body pop with sweat when I realized he was sneaking up on me in the woods. Jazzabelle took that cue, started barking, and I did not quiet her. I also got out of the woods safely, and when I urged the man to stay away and take a seat while we left, he did. Yeah Jazzabelle! So there are times some dog owners appreciate their dogs ability to bark.
Most dogs, except some breeds and occasional personalities, are going to bark. Asking them to never bark is like asking a human to never speak. Also as I had mentioned, this is a necessary part of their communication mechanisms. What we can do is teach them not to bark when we give them a command. We can also modify behavior so the dog feels more confident and self assured (therefore less likely to bark due to feeling vulnerable).
Every dog is different, and every dog learns differently and responds differently to different methods. Additionally, the solution is usually a combination of methods and possibly tools used in training that are worked on over a period of time, and then maintained over the owner and dog's relationship. How you are going to teach your dog to stop barking via a verbal of visual cue may differ from how my dogs or clients' dogs have learned.
Here are some things to think about:
- As with training anything, you need to work up to distractions. If you just wait until the biggest distraction comes along, this will not be effective training. You need to be proactive instead of reactive.
- Regarding number 1, setting up "fake" situations that cause your dog to bark (IE not waiting for a stranger to come over, but having your spouse set up a situation or have a remote control doorbell) can help you prepare your dog for what you want them to do (with the proper training).
- Redirection is ONE of the things you can use to help. My dog, Boris, will pick ball over stranger (human or dog) approaching the house. You can start to ween off the ball with a proper training regime designed to do that and increase distraction, but still only ONE aspect of this.
- Obedience training in general will allow you to give a command that does not lend well to an unwanted action. This is called counter conditioning. Many times if a dog goes into the command down (taught well and to a standard) they will not bark. Other times, it will take time for them to learn to relax, and another command "quiet" can be used to do this.
- If the distraction comes, you need to get up block or contain your dog. The more you just let your dog practice, the more they are convinced it is their job to bark and not listen to you. If my dog is not listening (and I am being consistent), then it is time for me to get up and control things. Ideally, I want my dog well trained enough not to have to do this. Sometimes, something really unexpected ends up in your yard or driveway though, or you have been lax in training (it happens).
I have heard the advice to teach your dog to "speak" in order to be "quiet". That is not really true, and in fact can backfire on people that do not study dog training. You can actually teach your dog to bark at you demanding all the time with a "speak" not thought out well. In fact, before I became a dog trainer, I instructed my neighbors ways they could keep Neptune from barking at them. They were all very friendly with Neptune, but we still didn't want him barking as a greeting. So we told them when they came home (and if he was out with us), to tell him to sit and then to give him a cookie. What I now know to be a predictable result, now Neptune barked at them every time he saw them, because he wanted the cookie LOL. So we had to change those directions up a bit, and really think about what we were "teaching" Neptune. We had actually taught him "speak" as a greeting instead of "quiet" as a greeting. Oops.
Just some ideas, this is a bigger topic than just this blog post. Remember every dog is different as far as the way they learn, what they find rewarding, and what they think their jobs are. It is our job to know our dogs (by training, playing, and spending quality time with them) in order to best get the results that we want.
I hoped this helped some of you. Remember there is no quick "magic wand" to this. All training requires thought, time, commitment, patience, work, repetition, and consistency (and most of all your involvement).
Do you have some problems with your pet dog? A simple e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), call, or filling out the client interview form will start the process of helping your relationship.