Bark Less. Reinforce Calm Quiet Behaviour
They want their Cocker Spaniel to bark less.
Nearly all action and activity in Woody’s world is generated by Woody. Much of it as a result of barking.
The two-and-a-half-year-old barks to get attention. He simply carries on relentlessly until it works. Some days they must take him out on his lead over ten times (they have no garden).
Recent changes in behaviour
Over the past few months he has also become nervous of new people and certain other dogs. He barks when they pass the house; he barks at dogs on TV and at other dogs on walks.
These behaviours are recent.
It is all such a great shame because the couple did everything they should when he was a puppy and young dog. Woody was well trained and taken everywhere with them.
He had always been brilliant with other dogs – so much so that daycare introduced him first to new dogs on trial. Then he went for a dog he already knew. Sadly daycare is unwilling to take him anymore.
The couple have had him very thoroughly vet checked to make sure his change in behaviour isn’t due to something physical like pain.
Change in circumstances
Their circumstances have recently changed dramatically.
About a year ago, the couple had moved in with parents for eight months. It was a busy household with three other dogs. Woody would have had lots of excitement, attention and action.
Four months ago they moved out and into their own home. Their baby was born very soon afterwards. Woody’s behaviour dipped at about the same time.
For eight months he had joined their other dogs, no doubt, in barking at people and dogs passing the house. He now does this at home.
Has that eight months of more arousal and attention (people and other dogs) set him up for his current general over-reactivity, particularly the attention-seeking barking? When worked up in any way – he barks.
Bark less, or quiet more?
When I arrived, Woody was scared of me. He barked but soon recovered. Then he began to bark at the young lady. He simply stood, barking at her, waiting for her to do something.
They go through all the usual things people do when they want their dog to stop barking. They ignore it, they give him what they think he wants or they get cross with him.
Eventually they give him time out in the kitchen. Then they let him out and reward him for being quiet with a chew.
To me this is all back to front. It’s not about getting the dog to ‘stop barking’ at all. It’s about the dog being quiet – or to bark less.
Giving him something to chew after he is quiet defeats the purpose. Chewing helps him to calm down. If they give him time alone in the kitchen, it should be with something to chew.
While I was there I showed Woody how rewarding it was to be quiet. I simply captured any quiet, calm, sitting or lying down moments with a click and food.
Now, in order to get the attention he craved, he found that sitting still, looking at me quietly, worked. Then he lay down.
A calmer base
The first and most important thing to do is to reduce Woody’s stress/arousal levels in every way possible. From a calm base he will be able to cope with everything a lot better and hence bark less.
At the moment he is reacting noisily to nearly everything. Sometimes it’s excitement, sometimes it’s to get attention or action and at other times it’s because he’s scared.
He now needs to learn that demand barking doesn’t work. They can ignore him or walk out of the room. They will no longer take him out ten or more times a day as a result of his barking! Everyone must be consistent.
Not responding to the barking along with reinforcing quiet isn’t enough though.
Just as important if they want Woody to bark less is enrichment. They already do well with this but he needs more fulfilment. Possibly, after eight months of being used to more action, he’s bored. Boredom is stressful. They inevitably give a lot of attention to the baby.
They will instigate short ‘Woody-activities’ very regularly, but only when he’s not barking. Things that stimulate his mind but don’t get him fired up. It’s so tempting to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’!
They will pre-empt times they know he will get barky by doing something with him before he begins to bark. They know the usual things that trigger him.
Too much lying down quietly?
I had an email next day. ‘We’ve noticed that he continuously lies down in front of us to receive treats. How often should we be dropping food for him? As I’m sure he will lie here all day waiting!”
They would rather he was lying down quietly than non-stop barking, surely.
For now they shouldn’t worry about Woody spending too long lying quietly in front of them for food. Over time they will space the food out more. He can earn some of his daily food quota so as not to make him fat.
All the time they are reinforcing quiet. Woody will be getting out of one habit (barking) and learning a better one.
I read somewhere, ‘You don’t stop behaviours without replacing with new ones. Gaps, empty spaces have a void that needs to be filled’.
It will be a lot easier to later wean him off lying down quietly waiting for food than to stop him barking!
This will be like a jigsaw. There are a number of small things to put in place that, when all together, should start to make a proper difference. Woody then will bark less. There won’t be any point.
As a calmer dog, he’s likely to go back to being his old relaxed self around other dogs too.