Photo courtesy of Perfecto Insecto.
Dogs bark. That's what they do. Sometimes a dog barking is a good thing. Alerting you to danger or strangers on your property is part of the reason for having a dog. However, some dogs turn this alert into a nuisance. Dogs may bark at every leaf blowing by, at someone just walking down the street, or at any sound. Constant barking often leads to relinquishing the dog to a shelter, a terrible outcome for all involved. Rather than giving up and giving away the dog, teach the "quiet" and "watch" commands along with conditioning.
Dogs who are well socialized and confident are not typically as fazed by unusual happenings as dogs who are insecure and/or undersocialized. Conditioning, socialization, and confidence building all help a dog to be calm in new situations and accept changes in their environment. This training should begin as soon as possible. Take the dog out into new environments and use positive reinforcement to address any bahavioral issues. Socialize the dog with all types of people and other animals. Use your energy to let the dog know you are confident and in control, and he will follow suit. There are numerous sources of information for this type of training. While working on this training, two concrete commands to teach are "quiet" and "watch".
Teaching quiet is best done before the dog is excited by something and in a barking frenzy. The simplest way is to actually teach the dog to bark on command. Whenever the dog barks, say "good bark!" and give a treat. After a few rewards, the dog will begin to associate his behavior with your reaction. The dog can also be enticed to bark and then rewarded when he does so. Use body language to act very happy and excited and evoke a barking response in the dog. When he barks, say "good bark" and treat. Once this behavior is established, then begin teaching quiet. Ask the dog to bark. When he does say "good bark now quiet". As soon as he's quiet, treat and praise. Incorporating a different hand signal will aid the training. Continue with the "quiet" training by asking for quiet every time the dog barks. Be quick to reward the second he is quiet.
Teaching the 'watch" command is a bit easier than teaching "quiet". Any dog will look to his human if there are yummy treats! Simply ask the dog to sit and hold a treat up to your face, saying "watch". Then give the dog the treat. Repeat. As the dog associates looking at you with a treat, begin to use only your finger to point at your face and say "watch". When he looks at you, treat and praise. This command is useful in many situations where a dog's attention is needed so train with different distractions.
After the dog has mastered these two skills, begin to employ them whenever he barks at an unusual happening. Dog barks, say WATCH. As soon as he pays attention to you, treat and praise. Then follow with the QUIET command. If he's quiet, treat and praise immediately. These commands can be used in various circumstances. For example, if the dog is standing close to his human, the watch command is much more effective since line of sight can be easily established. If the dog is in another room, QUIET may work much better and, if taught well, should have the dog running to his person for a treat, which completely breaks the barking intent.
If the dog barks habitually at the same thing, a certain person and his dog walking down the street for example, the training can be a bit different. In this case, a desensitization may be a better choice. When the person and dog are sighted, go to the dog and ask for a sit, sternly if needed. Then use "watch", treats, and praise to tell the dog that the person is no problem. As long as the dog is sitting and watching his human, he gets treats and praise. Repeat this as often as possible and, eventually, the dog will understand that the desired behavior is sitting and calm whenever this distraction passes.
Disclaimer: If there is any concern for safety, consult a professional behaviorist before attempting to address any behavioral problems with a dog. Locally, there are numerous professional dog trainers that may be consulted. Manners in Motion in Pelham, Al is an excellent training facility. Petsmart stores around Alabama offer obedience training courses as well.
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