© 2004 Ian Dunbar
Some dogs get extremely worked up when visitors ring the doorbell,
or when dogs walk by the house. Some spaniels and terriers bark
at the drop of a hat. And our good friend Larry Labrador will bark
whenever a leaf falls from a tree three blocks away.
Barking is as characteristically doggy as wagging a tail or burying
a bone. It would be inane and inhumane to try to stop your dog from
barking altogether: "You’ll never bark in this town again!"
After all, some barking is extremely useful. My dogs are much more
efficient than the doorbell and much more convincing than a burglar
alarm. The goal then, is to teach dogs normally to be calm and quiet
but to sound the alarm when intruders enter your property. The barking
problem may be resolved to our advantage by management and education:
first, immediately reduce the frequency of barking before we all
go insane; and second, teach your dog to "Woof" and "Shush"
Reduce the Frequency of Barks
The easiest way to immediately reduce woof-frequency is by exclusively
feeding your dog from hollow chewtoys. Dogs bark the most right
after their owners leave home for the day. Each evening weigh out
and moisten your dog’s kibble or raw diet for the following
day. Squish the gooey food into hollow chewtoys (Kong products and
sterilized bones) and put them in the freezer overnight. In the
morning, give your dog some frozen stuffed chewtoys. Your dog will
spend well over an hour extricating his breakfast from the chewtoys.
And if your dog is busying himself with chewtoys, he will be lying
down quietly! (For detailed chewtoy-stuffing instructions, read
our Chewing booklet.)
Do not leave an excessive barker outdoors. Yard-bound dogs are
exposed to many more disturbances and their barks more easily penetrate
the neighborhood. Leave your dog comfortably in a single room (away
from the street) with a radio playing to mask outside disturbances.
If you have been leaving your dog outside because he soils or destroys
the house, housetrain and chewtoy train your dog so he may enjoy
indoor comforts when you are away from home.
Teach "Woof" and "Shush"
It is easier to teach your dog to shush when he is calm and focused.
Therefore, teaching your dog to "Woof" on cue is the first
step in "Shush" training, thus enabling you to teach "Shush"
at your convenience, and not at inconvenient times when the dog
decides to bark. Moreover, teaching "Shush" is now much
easier because your dog is not barking uncontrollably—barking
was your idea!
Station an accomplice outside the front door. Say "Woof"
(or "Speak," or "Alert"), which is the cue for
your assistant to ring the bell. Praise your dog profusely when
he barks (prompted by the doorbell); maybe even bark along with
your dog. After a few good woofs, say "Shush" and then
waggle a tasty food treat in front of his nose. Your dog will stop
barking as soon as he sniffs the treat because it is impossible
to sniff and woof simultaneously. Praise your dog as he sniffs quietly,
and then offer the treat.
Repeat this routine a dozen or so times and your dog will learn
to anticipate the doorbell ringing whenever you ask him to speak.
Eventually your dog will bark after your request but before the
doorbell rings, meaning that your dog has learned to bark on command.
Similarly, your dog will learn to anticipate the likelihood of sniffables
following your "Shush" request. You have then taught your
dog both to speak and shush on cue.
Over repeated "Woof" and "Shush" trials, progressively
increase the length of required shush-time before offering a food
reward—at first just two seconds, then three, then five, eight,
twelve, twenty, and so on. By alternating instructions to woof and
shush, the dog is praised and rewarded for barking on request and
for shushing on request.
Remember, always speak softly when instructing your dog to shush,
and reinforce your dog's silence with whisper-praise. The more softly
you speak, the more your dog will be inclined to pay attention and
listen (and therefore, not bark).
Teach Your Dog When to Bark
Invite a dozen people for afternoon tea to teach your dog when,
and when not, to bark. Instruct your visitors (some with dogs) to
walk by the house a number of times before ringing the doorbell.
When the first person walks by the house, it will take all of your
attention to keep your dog shushed. But persevere: it will be easier
when the same person walks by the second time, and again easier
on the third pass by. Eventually your dog will habituate and will
no longer alert to the same person's presence in the street. Profusely
praise your dog and offer treats for silent vigilance. Repeat reinforcement
for quiet vigilance several times on subsequent passes by. But when
the visitor starts up the garden path, eagerly and urgently say
"Speak! Speak! Speak!" Praise your dog when he woofs,
and then instruct him to sit and shush at the front door while you
welcome the visitor. If your dog exuberantly barks and bounces at
this point, simply wait until he sits and shushes and then praise
and offer a treat. Have the visitor leave and come back a number
of times. Eventually, your dog will greet him by sitting in silence.
This procedure becomes easier with each new visitor. Your dog soon
learns to watch passersby in silence and to give voice when they
step on your property, but to sit and shush when they are invited
indoors—a trained neighborhood watchdog, which even non-dog-owning
neighbors will welcome on the street where they live.
If you require a more detailed description, read our Barking booklet
and watch the Training The Companion Dog Video II: Behavior Problems
& Household Etiquette. To teach your dog to be calmer and bark
less, you will need numerous stuffable chewtoys. To teach your dog
to "Woof" and "Shush" on cue, you need some
freeze-dried liver treats.