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Barking is defined as vocal communication, but that communication can have many meanings. Let’s look at some of the types of barking and what causes them. Each type may have a slightly different training plan to decrease it, so knowing your barks can be very helpful.
Alert barking is probably the most common type of barking trainers see. It’s the “Hey! Something is out there!” or “I don’t know what you are but you’re freaking me out! Go away!” It doesn’t always mean aggression, although it can certainly include that. It really is just a “there’s something in the environment,” communication. Alert barking is slightly higher pitched than an aggressive “get out of here” bark, but not quite as high as the excited or attention seeking barking.
Unfortunately, alert barking to make things go away is often unintentionally reinforced. The mailman that comes 6 days a week, gets barked at, and goes away 6 days a week. Dogs don’t know he was going away anyway, they just think that the barking made him go away. The same holds true for people and dogs and bikes going by on the sidewalk. Dog barks, the things go away, and the dog thinks it was all thanks to their nifty barking.
It can be helpful to log alert barks for a week or so to see if there’s some consistency. Did the dog bark at a sound? Or did they wait until they could actually see something to bark at? Is barking more common at a certain time of day? Or, the flip side, is there a time of day that barking is naturally decreased?
Client Story: I had a fun client with a dog that persistently barked at 3am. 3am on the nose the dog would bark and bark at apparently nothing. After keeping a log to show the consistency of it we weren’t any closer to understanding it. One night the client was unable to sleep and at 3am on the nose heard the neighbor’s pool pump kick on. The dog barked and the solution was finally found.
Attention seeking is probably the second most common type of barking trainers see. I really is the “Hey! Pay attention to me!” or “Give me! Give me! Give me!” It’s typically high pitched and the dog is staring directly at the human. The difference between exited barking and attention seeking is context. If you’re already paying attention to your dog and they are anticipating something fun happening, that’s excitement. Attention seeking happens when you aren’t paying attention to your dog or you aren’t doing something with your dog. “Play with me! It’s time to throw the ball!”
Unfortunately, attention seeking and demand barking both get unintentionally reinforced. If the human says, “Quiet” or “No bark!” the dog just got attention and the barking worked. If the barking is so persistent that the human gives in, gets the ball and goes out to play, the barking worked. It can be very difficult to ignore a persistent attention seeker. Humans have a threshold and it’s that one last bark that sends us over the edge and we give in or give attention.
Again, logging the barking can be very helpful. This type very often happens at the same time of day and increases slightly during the work week. As we get tired and start putting off walks and play, the dogs get frustrated. Logging will show where those times are happening and plans can be made to accommodate the dog’s needs or teach a different activity time.
Anything can cause anxiety, but this type of barking is frequently seen with isolation distress or separation anxiety. It isn’t high pitched and playful, and it isn’t deep and aggressive. It’s repetitive vocalizations over and over and over and is a basically plea for help.
Unfortunately, the common thought for this type of barking is to let the dog “bark it out.” This rarely works, and if the human gives in the barking is reinforced. If the human tries to let the dog bark it out and gives in after an hour, the human just taught the dog that barking for an hour gets the human to reappear. Decreasing this type of barking after a few of these lessens can be difficult and costly.
Logging anxiety barking and what you’ve tried to lesson it can be helpful. If it’s separation or isolation distress, getting neighbors to help with the log or getting a video camera in your home to watch will help create the training plan. Distress is complicated and the behavior modification really needs an educated professional to help with it.
This is the barking that stops you in your tracks. You can feel it in your chest. There is a threat to it. Whether the dog is moving foward or moving backward, this bark says “Stay away!” and “Get out of here!” This bark is deep and includes a hard, staring eye and a very stiff body.
Unfortunately, this type of barking is the most frequent type to be punished as are the earlier signs of aggression. On the surface punishment makes sense, humans feel threatened and we want it to stop. Unfortunately, the barking is not something we want to stop right away. We want the dog to stop at a growl. We want the dog to stop at a bark. If the earlier warning signs are punished in order to try to decrease them, the dog will have no option but to bite. Decreasing the vocalization is not decreasing the fear or threat response the dog is feeling. Taking away communication should never be on the table. We need to know what the dog is experiencing in order to effectively modify their behavior.
The lines between defensive aggression, guarding aggression, territorial aggression, and just aggression are subtle. If you are experiencing aggression, whether it’s resulted in a bite or not, you should not attempt to “train” or “modify” the behavior alone without an expert. Doing so could result in a bite and a loss of life, either canine or human. Aggressive barking is a threat. It’s communication that more is possible, so please back up.
Logging aggressive responses can be incredibly helpful, but should include a little more detail. Who was being barked at, what was the environment like, and what did the owner do. This log will help a behavior consultant define the triggers and create the behavior modification plan.
~ Does your dog bark? What’s the most common bark that they do? Tell us in the comments!
Bringing a puppy into a fully planned system makes transition much easier.
Introduce your new puppy to their new life.
Whether you’re planning on going hiking or camping or just hanging out at home, you need to introduce your puppy to the sights, sounds, smells, and surfaces of their new life. Introduce things slowly one at a time, and make sure your puppy is not acting fearful. If your puppy displays fear, you may need professional training help.
What does fear look like?
Fear can be freezing in place, growling, cowering, running away, trying to climb you to get away, or any escape behavior.
Agree on house rules in advance.
Getting everyone to agree on house rules will save your new puppy years of confusion. Is your puppy allowed on furniture? Allowed in the kitchen or dining room when there is food present? Is your puppy allowed to jump on people? Lick faces? Sit down and have a family meeting so everyone knows the rules.
Use our Private In-Home Training as a Puppy Prep Pack
If you need help setting up a system and rules, call us! We’ll use the 1 hour consultation to help you determine the best potty, sleeping, and eating spots. We’ll help you set up the potty, eating, sleeping, and socialization schedules. Have questions? Get them out ahead of time!
Once your puppy arrives we’ll start the 8 thirty minute training sessions. You can use these sessions to continue to work on potty training or help with naughty behaviors like chewing, biting and jumping, or start some obedience with “come,” “leave it,” and “sit.”
Enjoy your new puppy!
“Mouthy” in dogs generally means “puts teeth on skin without drawing blood,” although scratches and minor wounds may occur when the dog is really excited. Mouthiness is corrected by the mother when the puppy is very young, but can be relearned by humans using their hands as toys. Bouncing your hand around on the floor so your puppy “attacks” it is quite cute at 8 weeks of age, but becomes a scary problem when your adolescent or adult dog is suddenly 50 pounds and jumping to play with your hand. Doing too much with teeth can make giving treats during training difficult. If your dog nips to the point you can’t treat to train you really need to fix the nipping first.
Teach dogs hands are only for pets and treats and toys. Playing tuggy with a dog that doesn’t get overly excited (overly excited means the dog jumps to grab the toy when it is taken away,) can be a great way to engage the mouth if done properly. Teach “take” and “drop” or “give” and always give a treat in exchange for the toy.
If your dog is already putting teeth on you, it’s time to teach an alternate behavior. Dogs can’t kiss and bite at the same time. Put a treat in your hand and close your fist. If the dog licks, open your hand and give the treat. If the dog puts teeth on the hand, withdraw the hand and try again. Do this often.
All play and attention stops when teeth are used. Tuck your hands in (at your bellybutton or under your armpits depending on the height of the dog,) stand straight and look at the ground. Even yelling or “no” can be attention that reinforces the behavior. Wait. When the dog gives up and either sits or starts to walk away, unfold your body and calmly present your hand for a lick. It is important for all household members to do this. There can’t be one person that still plays rough and allows biting. This is a universal rule, biting means play stops. Period.
A private lesson or two (no group classes since the distractions will be too high,) with a trainer to teach you how to redirect your dog to appropriate play and get you started on foundation behavior training is a good investment. Once you get the principles of training you can make your own plan, but in the beginning you should get a good start with some professional help.
We bring dogs into our homes expecting a cuddly friend and sometimes this isn’t the case. Whether it’s a rescue dog that has problems or a puppy that learned bad habits, the added stress of a problem dog can hurt the harmony of a household. It’s better to fix the problem as soon as it arises since it can become a learned habit that will take longer to fix.