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). Continue reading…

Barks. Barking at Everything. Constant High Arousal

Barney barks at anything and everything.

he barks at everythingThe Wirehaired Fox Terrier came to live with the lovely lady ten weeks ago, a companion for her Welsh Terrier, Lily.

Barney barks for attention and simply won’t stop until he gets it. He barks at the slightest thing he may hear or see. He barks at anyone who might come to the house and this will continue, on and off, all the time they are there. He barks with excitement, he barks with frustration and he barks when he’s scared. He barks non-stop in the car.

Barney barks at Lily when he’s aroused and this can upset her. He also barks at Lily when the lady pays her attention of any sort.

Over-arousal. Habit.

There are two underlying things to be dealt with that are relevant to the excessive barking, the main one being Barney’s severely high stress levels. Even in this calm environment they are permanently so high that the smallest thing tips him over. He is constantly having to find ways to release the build-up.

The other underlying thing that’s relevant is habit. He’s learnt to rely upon barking. It’s a learned behaviour that has been reinforcing to him in some way, probably for most of his seven years.

Whenever he’s barked for attention he will have received it in some form or other, even if only to be shouted at (not by his new lady owner, I must add).

Barking may simply make him feel better (like we might feel better by screaming, shouting or crying if we had no other way to relieve our feelings of frustration, fear, anger or excitement).

His barking was worse than usual when I was there. Normally it’s just the three of them and things are more peaceful. We sat talking, sometimes in a fairly animated way. The lady was giving me her attention and not Barney. This kept him restless.

It was good that I was able to see everything at its worst.

Cold turkey.

I would liken Barney’s need for attention a bit to that of an addict’s need for drugs. The only way to reduce this is for attention barking not to work; he will need to go through a kind of ‘cold-turkey’. Things could get worse before getting better.

The antidote without veterinary intervention is plenty of attention and reinforcement being given for quiet and for calm along with various stress-reducing activities to fill his life with instead.

Where barking will get him nothing in the way of attention, stopping barking or even a momentary break in the barking will be reinforced. The idea is to teach him that not barking works a lot better than barking does.

Barking isn’t the only thing he does to relieve his stress. He may scoot along the floor or rock on his bottom. He may pester Lily. He drinks excessively and constantly licks his lips and nose. He pants.

He is using Lily to redirect his emotions by barking at her too. She tries to chase him off. I advised immediately calling him away as it upsets her.

When they did play, it quickly developed into Monty body slamming – see here. I’m told that when he is relatively calm they play nicely.

Gaps and empty spaces leave a void that needs to be filled.

I read something the other day which I like: ‘You don’t stop behaviours without replacing with new ones. Gaps, empty spaces, have a void that needs to be filled’.

The lady will be looking at more alternative activities to help him de-stress, involving chewing, foraging and so on. She had already made a good start. Anything that is currently happening in Monty’s life that works him up will be reduced as much as possible.

He will be taken into the garden on lead until he learns not to charge out, barking frantically as he goes. He won’t have unattended access to outside. The lead-up to walks and meals will be done differently for maximum calm.

We went through lots of things, ways to reduce his stress levels whilst looking for acceptable ways in which he can vent his overflow of stress for himself that will replace the barking.

A bit like the Tesco slogan ‘every little helps’, lots of small things should add together to help Barney. This in turn should, over time, reduce his barking.

 

Little Dog Barks at Everything

Scared Shihuahua Yorie mix

Freddie

Sometimes people can be at their wit’s end with a dog that seems to bark incessantly, particularly when they know it affects the neighbours. This is the case with the owners of little Chihuahua Yorkie mix Freddie, on the left. He is only ten months old and lives with thirteen-month Westie/Yorkie Belle, who is now joining in.

Actually, although Freddie spends a lot of time barking, he’s not a barker as such. At times when other dogs would be barking, he is quiet – like when he is put in the kitchen alone. He doesn’t bark for attention either. He has a lot of attention and gentle training so isn’t lacking stimulation. It is very evident that the one and only cause of his barking is fear.

If fear is causing barking, then it’s the fear that needs to be dealt with rather than the barking as such. His barking is basically yelling ‘go away, go away, I don’t feel safe’. On the left I just caught a break in his barking at me for this photo,

Westie Yorkie cross

Belle

When I arrived and for much of the time I was there, Freddie was so aroused that it was hard to do anything at all about it, so we experimented with various approaches before popping him into the kitchen for a break where he calmed down, eventually leaving him in there. It seems that so many things alarm Freddie that he’s in a permanently heightened state, most particularly when he hears any sound, when he meets a new person – particularly someone coming into his house and also people, dogs and noises when he’s out on walks.

The five-minute walk to the park is yet another story of barking that needs working on! The lady has resorted to carrying him so he can be off lead to play with Belle. I am a believer in little dogs walking, but in this case I would say that anything that can be done to reduce Freddie’s stress and anxiety is valid just now.

We ‘unpicked’ Freddie’s day and found quite a few little things that, when added together, should make him calmer. The two main ones were to block the dog flap so that he hasn’t constant access to the outdoors even when they are out and can bark at everything he hears, and to control the two dogs’ unchecked and prolonged wild play when they are out in the park.

Again, like a jigsaw, there are several small pieces that when added together can create a better picture.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Freddie, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).