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Barking


Should you use a shock barking collar or ignore your dog and reward when quiet or maybe yell at them when they are barking? There are many different ways to train a dog to stop barking and all of the ways you have heard of, have worked with certain dogs.


There are a few variables when it comes to barking and that is what adds complexity when figuring out how to train a dog not to bark:


  • Dog Type - Do they have a desire to be boss or follow?

  • Reason for Barking - There are 6 main reasons for barking. Knowing which reason will help make the decision on what to do to stop the barking.

  • Proper Consequence for the Dog - Using a positive method doesn’t work for all dogs when it comes to barking. Some need a consequence due to Bank Robber Principle. The dog will decide what consequence is adequate for them.



Reward vs Force


Reward Training to stop barking can work but it often takes a lot longer. Force training where there is a consequence tends to work a lot faster although it can have some pretty bad side effects for certain dogs depending on the dog and what the consequence is. Even though on average a consequence for barking works faster than reward, we still recommend using some reward and redirection methods first. This really helps minimize any of the negatives associated with using a correction. This is due to the dog understanding what they should do instead of barking. If the dog has no idea why they are being corrected and doesn’t know how to avoid the correction, you run the risk of habituating the dog to the correction to where they don’t care about the correction anymore. It could also cause aggression problems or bad fear problems. It is recommended that most Force Corrections be used as a last resort. Many dogs need a consequence, but still use positive and redirection methods first.


This is what we have found to work well of the different methods we have come across.


Important: Barking is a symptom, not the problem. Of course barking is often a problem for the people but in the dog’s case barking is a symptom of the below mentioned items.


Barking is natural dog behaviour and is caused by several things:


1. Boredom

2. Attention

3. Excitement

4. Fear

5. Territory

6. Separation Anxiety


You need to treat the underlying problem before the symptom of barking goes away. These are the simple answers and sometimes that is all that is needed. If that doesn’t work then further down in the article will provide the rest of the solutions.


1. Boredom – give them something to do and give adequate exercise.


2. Attention – give attention for being quiet and ignore demanding of attention when they bark.


3. Excitement - exercise your dog (if possible) and wait for them to settle down before giving praise.


4. Fear – associate something fun and positive with what they fear (Premack Principle).


5. Territory – establish pack structure so they see you as the leader and teach them to watch things go by but not to bark or growl (Distraction Training).


6. Separation Anxiety – Exercise the dog and give them something to do and leave them for small amounts of time and come back and praise them for being quiet.  Work up to longer and longer periods away until they become accustomed to you leaving them. Check out the article on Separation Anxiety for more info.


A little More In Depth


Boredom


These are typically the dogs that have nothing to do and bark in the backyard all day to burn off energy. They need to release energy and have no other outlets so barking is what some opt to do.


Here are some options for a bored dog:


  • Have someone come exercise the dog while the owner is away.
  • Doggy daycare
  • Interactive dog toys
  • Take the dog to work
  • Exercise the dog more when you are home so they are more tired the next day
  • Ideally get a dog that naturally matches your life. If a person is not able to be with their dog much throughout the day, getting a low energy dog is a better option.


Attention


A common method is to ignore the dog. This works for mid level Betas and lower. If the dog is high level Beta or Alpha they can get quite demanding (see end of this article for tips). Try ignoring first and when the dog is quiet you can praise them. Be careful on whether you are training the dog or the dog is training you.


Teaching your dog to sit nicely or go lay on their bed or lay down can be a nice way to have your dog politely ask for attention.


Example: Our one dog was laying on his bed one day while we were watching a movie. He stretched on his back and lifted one leg in the air. We came over to give him a belly rub since he looked so cute. He happened to do it again one time after that and we came over to rub his belly. That’s all it took and that habit stuck. Any time he wants attention he will lay on his bed and stretch his leg out and we will come give him a belly rub. Our other dog caught onto this just by watching him so she does the same thing to get a belly rub. It is quiet and polite so we don’t remind rewarding that behaviour. Keep in mind this can work just as easily with a bark. The first time a dog barks for attention it may be cute. The dog may only need to bark once or twice to set that habit in motion. It can get quite obnoxious with certain dogs.


Excitement


Excitement barking most commonly happens when a person comes home from work. It can also be when a guest comes over and the dog barks excitedly.


Person coming home from work - The best thing to do is ignore the dog when you come home. We know it is tough to do as we wish all of our friends greeted us as excitedly as our dog does. The reason why you may want to consider doing it is to prevent Separation Anxiety. This can be highly stressful for the dog. Once the dog quiets down you can then greet them. This teaches the dog that the sooner they are quiet, the sooner they get attention. We do this with all the dogs we train. Once they have no separation anxiety we then start greeting them a little more excitedly and there is no cause of separation anxiety after that. The method mentioned directly below will also apply here.


Guest coming over - This will benefit from the Core Rule: A to B Rule. Break this down into steps. We have a whole article dedicated to Greeting Guests as it can be quite an undertaking for many dogs.


Fear


Mid level betas and lower will tend to just bark out of fear and then run away if challenged any. High level Betas and Alphas can develop Fear Aggression quite easily if not handled properly. Barking gives them confidence and it can turn into lunging, snapping, chasing and even biting. Luckily a fear bite doesn’t hurt as bad as a dominance bite if you ever have the choice between the two.


Overcoming Fear With Premack Principle


This is where you associate really good things with something the dog doesn’t like a little. This will typically be:


  • Food
  • Toys
  • Attention


Treats or food work the best for most dogs. There is a saying in training that “food overcomes fear”. It does work very well.


Toys work great for high toy drive dogs. Just by playing fetch or tug with the scary item at a distance might be all it takes to get over their fear issue.


Cutting back on the attention you give your dog at home and saving your best praise for when the scary object is around and your dog is being calm, quiet or focused on you can be very helpful.


Attention is used in tougher cases. Checkout the story under the Core Rule Premack Principle where we used attention to help a black Lab overcome his fear of people.


Territory


This is typically when a dog barks to protect their house, car or yard. When a pup first barks at something going by its territory many people think its cute. Give that dog a few months of practice doing that and it becomes a full on problem. This type of barking happens among Betas and Alphas. The Omegas are pretty accepting of anyone that comes onto their property. Most Betas are pretty good as well although high level Betas can put another dog in their place pretty quick if they come onto their territory.


Preventing the Habit


Sometimes preventing the dog from seeing or hearing the stimulus that causes them to bark can help get the dog out of barking. If done for a couple months that might be all it takes.


Car Barking Example:


If the dog is bad for barking in the car when they see other dogs or people then putting them into a crate with sides so they cannot see out can help stop that barking problem.


If a person has a spot to tie the dog down then a short 1 foot leash will often work to keep the dog in the down position so they cannot get up to look out. Exercising the dog lots before going will really help out.


House Barking Example:


Usually the dog can see out a window and start barking at something. If you can block the view and prevent the dog from barking and do that for a couple of months that sometimes will stop the barking.


If it is due to the dog hearing a sound such as a car door or the neighbours, it can be helpful to record those sounds that trigger your dog and play them back on your stereo at a quiet volume while you get your dog to focus on you through Distraction Training.



Climb Exercise for Backyard


If there are dogs on either side of the fence then some dogs will start “fence fighting”. This is where they run up and down the fence with each other and bark aggressively.


Teaching an alternate behaviour such as Climb can help out. The dog is first taught to go on a climb platform. From there they can do whatever they want, they just can’t leave unless they are released. Take a look at the article on Climb to see how this is taught.




Teach the Dog to Speak on Command


“I am trying to teach my dog not to bark. Why would I train and reward them for barking?”


Sometimes it helps to put a certain behaviour on command and only reward it when you ask for it. It can work surprisingly well. It also allows you to reward the opposite behaviour, being quiet. Check out the article on Speak to learn how to train a dog to speak on command.


Focus on a Toy or Treat


Some dogs can be so toy or treat driven that it can be an easy way to train them to be quiet when a stimulus presents itself. Our German Shepherd loves to bark and wanted to bark right from when she was little even though we never rewarded it and tried to get a handle on it early on. We found out that her mom liked to bark more than any of the other police dogs there. Genetically she was wired to bark.


We spent a few months building her drive for Fetch and Tug toys. What worked best to train her to be quiet when guests came in was to have her on a bed out of sight of the front door. I would hold her favorite fetch toy above her head and my wife would answer the door. As soon as the guest came in I would drop the toy for her and she would happily chew the toy. This was a special prize for her as she never got to play with this ball on her own, it only came out for fetch and we always ended the game before she wanted to end the game. Take a look at the articles on Fetch and Tug to see how to build drive. We should add that nothing else worked for our German Shepherd. This was the only way to get her barking when a guest came in under control. We further fine tuned it by teaching her to Speak on command.



Habit Barking


In some cases barking will continue as a habit and you will need to have a negative consequence to stop that behaviour. Always remember that barking is a symptom not the problem. Once you take care of the underlying problem (listed at the top of the article), the symptom of barking often goes away. However if a dog has practiced barking for a while the habit can remain even after the underlying problem has been addressed. Also sometimes just trying to reward good behaviour is not enough. This is referred to as Bank Robber Principle and occurs more frequently with Betas and Alphas.


  These things work well:


Citronella barking collar – this will spray citronella whenever they bark and is an annoyance to the dog in which many dogs learn to stop barking. It can work well for Boredom, Attention and Excitement barking. If your dog has bad Fear, Territory or Separation Anxiety Barking then this often won’t work. If it is mild versions then it still can. This works even when you are not around.


Lime or Bitter Apple – many people will put this in the dogs mouth whenever they bark and this will teach them to stop barking. This only works when you are present and if you can get close enough to the dog to correct them.


Electric dog barking collar – this method has worked for lots of dogs but it can have some serious negative consequences.


The worst consequence is the possibility of increasing aggression. If a dog is barking at people or dogs and they are shocked by the collar, the dog can think it is the other dogs or people that cause them the pain, thus making them more aggressive to dogs and people. If they understood they were being shocked for barking then it would be a different story. We may think they should make that connection but they don’t always make that connection. This is University Professor Syndrome in effect.


This negative consequence is more likely to happen with natural Alphas although some Betas will develop this aggression problem from a shock barking collar. Most mid level Betas and lower will back down from the correction.


Another issue is that when the dog is shocked, it hurts pretty bad. The dog barks, gets shocked, yelps, gets shocked again. If the dog keeps yelping from the pain the collar will often keep going off. It can be a vicious cycle. Some owners will come running over to the dog to yank the collar off to stop the cycle.


There have been advances in technology where the shock starts off quite low and if the dog barks again it increases the level of shock. Each bark increases the shock level until the dog stops barking. If the dog remains quiet for 10 seconds the collar resets back to the low level again. Some dogs get wise to this and bark until it annoys them, they quiet for a short period and then bark again. To circumvent this they also have a setting on that collar that will keep increasing until the dog quiets, however if the dog barks again it resumes at the last level. That seems to stop that problem.


The biggest issue we found with most shock barking collars is that the lowest level is still really high. The models where it starts low and increases is a better option if it is needed.


Where the electric barking collar works best is when the dog has a barking problem and the people are away at work. In the event they start getting fines for barking or there are threats to have the dog evicted. This method often works well. Our preference is to use other methods first as this can be very stressful and painful to the dog.


If a training collar does work for your dog Remember Core Rule: Training Phase vs Management Phase. The collar must be left on for 1-3 months of perfect behaviour (taking off at night or when not in use of course). If it is taken off too soon, the dog can become collar smart and only bark when the collar is off but be quiet when the collar is on. 1-3 months of perfect behaviour generally means the habit is set in place and the consequence is no longer needed.




Remote dog collar – this option seems better if you need a stronger consequence but don’t like the negative consequences of the electric barking collar. The advantage of this over a barking collar is that a person is in control of when it goes off and which level you decide to use.


If you are going to use one, get a collar with at least 100 levels to it. This allows you to fine tune the correction a lot more. It is much easier to find a level that annoys the dog as opposed to hurting the dog.


A collar that can be successful is the Dogtra IQ as it has 100 levels and a vibrate option. If you are first going to use a remote or barking collar you want to put it on the dog for 3-5 days before you turn it on (taking it off at night and ideally switching it from side to side to prevent sore spots).


After the 3-5 day introduction stage when the dog goes to bark you can press the “vibrate” option. For some dogs this is all it takes to get them to stop barking. Some are quite scared of the vibrate so you can actually use the “nick” to a lesser extent than the vibrate. Many people think that all remote collars will severely hurt the dog and cause lots of problems but if the correction is kept low that doesn’t happen.


Introducing with Vibrate


Each time the dog barks you press vibrate. For some dogs that is enough to stop and others will stop in the beginning and then not care about the vibrate. A small amount won’t even acknowledge the vibrate.


Next you will find the right “nick” level for that particular dog. You start at level 2 and go 2 levels up at a time until you find the right level. Most dogs acknowledge it around 38-42 although newer versions of the remote they might feel sooner.


The goal isn’t to make the dog yelp or send them running. It is to find the right level that annoys the dog enough when they bark to have them decide that barking is no longer fun to do.


This option works well for a lot of dogs if the other options didn’t work. The downside is that the person has to be within range to administer the correction. If the person is away and needs a consequence to be administered then the electric barking collar would be the better option if nothing else has worked.








Dogtra IQ Remote Collar Introduction


The Dogtra IQ can work very well to stop barking. There are two ways to do this and we will explain both. The first step is this:

1. Put the Dogtra IQ collar on the dog at a time when you can focus on playing a game or meal time or something else the dog really enjoys. Do not turn the collar on for at least 3 days. You will take it off at night to charge. Because the collar is lightweight most dogs can have it on for 10-12 hours during the day with no hotspots (sore spots on the neck). If your dog has extra sensitive skin you will need to switch it from one side of the neck to the other at least once during the day if not more depending on the dog.

When first introducing the collar it can be put on a bit loose. When you are actually going to use it, you will need to snug it up quite tight and a lot tighter than most people think. To slide your finger under one of the electrodes you should have to use a hand to help pull the collar away from the neck while you slide a finger underneath. Just trying to slide your finger underneath should be difficult. If it isn’t good and snug it won’t make a good connection. That is when you can run across problems. The dog may move their neck one way and not feel it at all. They move their neck another way and now it makes connection. A person can mistakenly think the dog doesn’t feel it and turn it up too high. We have heard lots of people say their dog can’t feel it even at the highest level. Not to say there aren’t dogs out there that are tough and can’t feel it but we have never personally seen one.

2. Aggressive Barking at People or Animals:

a. When the dog barks press “vibrate” (this is the P button – stands for Page). You will do this hundreds of times, possibly over 1-2 days. This teaches your dog cause and effect. They start to understand it is them barking that causes the vibration and nothing else. The vibration will typically not do anything to stop the dog from barking when it is first used.

b. Then turn the dial from zero to two and press “Vibrate” then “Nick” right after. Do this 3-4 times at that level and then increase another couple notches and repeat. Keep going higher and higher until you find a level that seems to annoy the dog from barking. This should not be a level that causes the dog to yelp or cry.

c. If this doesn’t solve your problem and the dog doesn’t understand then you may be dealing with either some really bad Territorial type barking or the dog can be fearing for their life from what they are barking at like the Boogey Man or Garbage cans on garbage day. You should stop this exercise and go onto something more positive. If you keep trying with the remote collar and it isn’t working you run the risk of Habituating the dog to the Correction to where the correction isn’t effective. We refer to this as “escalating a negative”. You may have thought they needed the correction to stop but maybe you haven’t done enough on the positive side to take care of the underlying problem.  The Climb Exercise  is a good one to start. You can associate one of three things that a dog really likes (Food, Possessions, Attention). Take a look at the Distraction Training article for further tips.

3. Non-Aggressive – If your dog is just barking out of boredom or for attention or out of low Separation Anxiety Problems (if high separation anxiety then see notes on Separation Anxiety) then you can use this method:

a. Turn the dial up a couple of notches and press “Nick”

b. Go a little higher and then press “Nick” (1-2 notches each time)

c. Most dogs don’t start to acknowledge anything until you get to level 42 on average. Some can feel a bit lower, some we have seen go to level 64 before they acknowledge.

d. What you most commonly see is the dog barks and you eventually find that first level where the dog can feel something. You press the “Nick” and the dog looks to the side the collar is on, gets up and moves over a bit. They then bark again. This is the right level to have for your dog. You then press “Nick” each time your dog barks. Most dogs will get up and move several times thinking that it is something in the environment that is causing the sensation. After several repetitions they start to understand it is them barking that is causing the weird feeling. You can start to see the dog figure that out at this stage. From there many dogs will stop barking for at least a little while. If the dog doesn’t seem bothered then you can go up another couple of notches and press “Nick”. You will find a perfect level for each dog to stop barking.

e. Be vigilant. Your dog may stop barking very quickly but that doesn’t mean it is habit. Once the dog has learned and stopped they must remain quiet for at least 1 month in a row if not 2-3 months to really become habit (Core Rule: Training Phase vs Management Phase). If you take the collar off too soon your dog can become “collar smart” in which they are only quiet when the collar is on but bark when it is off. Your dog will bark from time to time in which you need to be there to correct the dog. This method only works when you are present. If you are not then the Citronella Anti-Bark collar or Shock barking collar can work quite well.



Summary


Barking is a symptom, not the problem. Once the problem is taken care of, the symptom of barking often goes away.


Reward methods tend to take longer than force. However we still recommend using reward first as it helps the dog understand what you want them to do instead of barking. If it doesn’t work then a consequence from the force side often eliminates the rest of the problem. With that being said we will sometimes try a squirt of bitter apple spray or a citronella anti-barking collar right away and that sometimes eliminates the problem right away. The key is knowing: Which dog type and what is the root problem of barking.


Many people have just used a shock barking collar right from the beginning and it has trained a lot of dogs to stop barking right away. Just be aware of the negative consequences that can be caused by starting with the shock barking collar.


Hopefully this helps explain why there are so many different methods and opinions. There seems to be a place for all of them. Once a person understands why, they can then apply the correct principles.