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0 Comments | Jul 11, 2015

Alert barking

Question:

You may have noticed that when Tess saw someone walking by a window she got ramped up and barked.  We have that problem at home and in our back yard when she senses someone walking out side the fence.  If I use the squirt bottle to distract her, where does the reward come in for doing the right thing?  If I get her to look at me for a second when she’s ramped up do I give a treat then?  Sometimes I think she barks at people because she knows when she stops and looks at me she gets a treat?  –Jeff M.

Answer:

I believe you are right about Tess barking with the expectation of getting rewarded for stopping.  I generally do not give food rewards for stopping a behavior.  Dogs are smart and they quickly realize that in order to be rewarded for stopping a behavior, they have to do the behavior first.  After all, if you were never barking, you can’t get rewarded for stopping.  If you want the treat, you first have to bark.  So rewarding a dog for stopping barking creates more barking, rewarding a dog for mouthing creates more mouthing, rewarding a dog for jumping creates more jumping.  Make sense?  Instead, interrupting the behavior followed by brief praise and redirection usually works better.

We generally want dogs to alert us when they notice something out of the ordinary, but then we want them to stop when we ask them to.  Part of getting this to happen involves us understanding the reason for the bark, and what the dog is looking for.  When a dog barks an alert, they are signaling that something is out of the ordinary, and they are looking for backup.  Rather than yell for them to be quiet (which sounds to them like you are joining in the barking, and looking for more help!) or bribing them to quiet (which makes it rewarding to bark in the first place), I recommend checking out what the dog is barking at, and then telling the dog how to proceed.  This means walking over to the window, checking out the loud noise, or looking at the car that pulled up, and then guiding the dog away from the situation while teaching a word that tells them you have checked things out and they should stop barking now.  I use the word “enough” with my dog, followed by quiet praise.  It is important that you calmly insist that your dog leave what she is barking at, getting her to turn her head and guiding her away, back into the house or into another room.

It may take a little longer with Tess at first, since she is used to getting a reward for stopping barking, but she should catch on to the new game plan before too long!