Barking Mad

Dogs Bark! – Latest News!

Most dogs bark. Toto talks. His growling and barking is awesome. He mimics voice tone, emphasis and pace to perfection. He repeats your words back to you. In dog. People tell me he growled at them, they dont believe when I tell them he was just having a conversation with them. Until I do it again!

Dogs bark when they are happy!

They bark when they are sad!

They bark when they are angry!

They bark when they are mad!

Dogs bark when they are bored!

They sometimes bark when your team scores!

They bark when they are excited!

They bark when they are glad!

They bark to say Hi!

They sometimes even bark to say bye!

***************

“My new dog is a female, two and a half year old Scottish terrier which weighs 18 pounds and is fed raw, I’ve had dogs all my life. This dog barks when it is on leash and it sees another dog”. Posted to an aggression list …

Madam, it’s a dog!

Not a Beanie Baby!

It’s a Scottie, for heavens sake!

They are supposed to bark, we bred them to bark!

It comes with the terriertory!

Congratulations!

Enjoy!

All joking aside, I think this might come under the heading “Realistic Expectations?”

We have in the past selected some breeds for particular behaviors. Labradors and Goldens are Retrievers. So playing fetch is probably going to be an easy lesson.

German Short Hair Pointers point, so a “stand-stay” is probably going to be a simple connection and you don’t have to work hard to get them to run around.

You can train a Scottie to bark less. It can be done but it is going to take a bit longer than to train a Labrador Retriever to achieve the same standard. See my response to the next email for a more detailed explanation.

The process is identical but overcoming genetic traits is always going to make the process longer and the results probably, but not always, more prone to regression.

Just Saying!

Rescued Beagle barking a lot!

Hi,
I came across you website and was hoping you might be able to offer some advice for a barking beagle problem. I already have one beagle, male, about 4 years old, that I trained from puppy-hood and is a total delight.  A month ago I rescued a field beagle, male, about 1.5 year old.   He  and my other guy get along great, it is wonderful to watch.  

My big issue with the new guy is that he gets overly excited when we go for walks.  He barks a lot at squirrels and other dogs and just can’t seem to help himself even with correction.  He seems to bark out of excitement (he wants to meet and play with the other dogs) as opposed to being afraid or angry.  When he starts barking he gets so caught up in it that it is really hard to get him to pay attention to me and calm down (I have taught him how to sit and look at me and he can do it when we are in the backyard and there are no distractions but not when there are other dogs around). I have tried several different training approaches with minimal success and am thinking that at this point it might be good to get some advice from someone that knows more than I do .  Do you work on barking issues and, if so, what is your suggested approach in this situation (I have heard everything from distraction with food to electronic bark collar and everything in between)? 

Thanks, Susan

 

Hi Susan,

Thank you for contacting me. That is a very good question and I will use it as an opportunity to discuss barking at some length. It is a frequent topic on my radar.

It is tough to give you specific advice for this particular dog because your interpretation of what is happening might not be entirely accurate, but lets give it a go, try to understand what is going on and see what makes sense to you.

Try to not only select the parts you agree with already. You can only learn if you at least explore the different angles and perspectives and tenaciously debate their merit.

It seems to me that often with rescued dogs their experience is so limited regarding daily life, and neighborhood walks especially, that everything in their new world is quite stimulating.

Some dogs are more sensitive, more aware of environmental stimulation than others, they definitely come right across the bell curve. With rescued dogs our main goal is to try to bring them somewhat into the centre of the bell curve, it is not to deny their past or their genetics but to bring them by gentle coaching to be somewhat “normal” and live with us in gentle harmony.

I will emphasize that the behavior you are describing may have nothing to do with him being a rescued dog. I have worked with registered, papered and rescued dogs. Young, middle aged and older dogs.  Pure breeds, mixed breeds and unimaginable breeds who have been with the same family from eight weeks old or only just arrived and exhibit similar behaviors.

So really he is just being a dog and your concern may be more to do with how other people see the behavior and how they interpret your parenting than with him expressing his personality.

Bearing in mind you have only had him a month it would seem that he is still in the throes of working out what his new life is all about.

Be patient.

Gus in his element, watching, waiting.
Why do Beagles bark?

Excited beagles bark (not just beagles!).

When is a bark not just a bark?

Barking or Vocalization is a natural behavior for dogs. While we humans in our arrogance and our ignorance often think a bark is just a bark the tonality, frequency and duration of the bark have an almost unlimited variety which is definitely not random. Each dog has the innate ability to communicate different meanings at a distance, which means that what you think your dog is saying is probably incorrect.

If you live with a dog for fifteen years you will start to learn some of that dog’s language and if you are attentive and keen to learn you will pick up some of the expressions and give them meaning.

The chances of you being accurate in the translation are relatively slim except in broad general terms because the subtlety of the inflections are lost on most humans. We have developed our own languages to communicate more precisely, however even with this skill we often get the communication as a mixed message, even with people we know well. If you think, for example, how we can change the meaning of a simple phrase from a statement to a question or even sarcasm by having a lilt or rising inflection at the end of the last word you might start to wonder whether dogs have a fluency in barking that most people totally ignore most of the time.

Barking in and of itself is an expression, a communication and often the act of barking repeatedly can be self-rewarding. It feels good to the dog, like a mini orgasmrunners-high. There is a release of endorphins into the blood stream. Whoosh! There goes your little drug high! The challenge with this can be that the dog gets used to the high feeling and needs more stimulation to get the same feeling! (We see this a lot in fence guarding scenarios where the bored dog runs up and down the fence barking at passers-by wearing a groove in the ground).

So the barking gets worse more enthusiastic!

This actually is very useful when out chasing foxes, it is what we bred Beagles for!

Tally Ho!!!!

This is a good moment to point out that in order to get a strong behavior we want to mark it accurately and reward it instantly.

Timing is everything in effective training.

You will clearly see that in this instance the mark (identifying the fox or other dog visually or by smell) and internal reward (rush of blood to the head)  are very close together, fractions of a second between barking and feeling good. The response is autonomic, root-brain stuff, it is in the genes! It happens every single time with no exceptions. Powerful stuff! So this reward structure is very strong and very effective at creating a strong habitual behavior.

Think about drug takers, even though many times the long term consequences are clearly understood intellectually, the reward, the rush, comes so closely after the injection/ingestion/application and is so overwhelmingly feel good that the behavior is very difficult to eradicate. Almost impossible to eradicate in someone else, no matter how much you want it to happen!

Adding punishment after the reward is a complete waste of time. Again when the drug taker comes down from a high they feel like shit bad but they almost inevitably go back and do it again!

Punishing the dog sometimes makes you feel better. :-(

It makes you feel as if you are doing something, people feel frustrated and angry and by lashing out they release that pent up animal-like emotion. Humans are animals too!

Feel better? Feel bad? Feel guilty?

For some people it makes them feel better by diverting their anger and frustration and taking it out on the dog. However it is almost completely ineffective at changing the behavior of the dog. The dog may hesitate, cower, avoid you or bite you, depending on the personality of the dog, (the first three of which unfortunately is rewarding to us, “he knows he did wrong” is something I hear a lot, so we get in the habit of doing it!) but it does nothing to reduce the frequency or intensity of the reaction next time in the dog!

Which is the long term goal!

Be aware of this very human tendency and avoid it at all costs!

In fact the punishment is often so “remote” ( 2 seconds is way too long) from the initial response that the dog has already been rewarded and has no idea why you suddenly got pissed, the only thing that changed was another dog got close.

So the dog then goes from

“Look Ma! Another dog! What Fun! Can we play?”

to

“Aha! It must be the other dog you are angry at!!”

to

Oh F**** Oh my goodness, there’s another dog!”

and

“Now my mom is going to go batshit crazy get upset!”

“Go away all other dogs!”

Bark! Bark! Bark!

“my owner goes crazy when you get close”

“I think she will jerk me, bark at me”

“hit me again, shock me or spray me with Chanel No. 5!”

“Bark! Bark! Bark!”

Not you of course, but you may have seen someone else do this and wondered what is going on!

I don’t think that is quite the result they were looking for when they started this, but what happens is that some people find it does not work real well, get frustrated and so they do it harder, faster, more reactively and more aggressively! 

I recommend most emphatically

that you avoid any type of punishment.

I really think that you can turn a dog quite neurotic by punishing them for being a dog, feeling excited or anxious, you sure don’t want to add to the excitement or add to the anxiety, it is sometimes tough to tell these apart.

I have observed that often the dog does not even seem aware that it is barking, not consciously anyway, it is not deliberate, it is not defying you, it is frequently an automatic reaction and so in this instance the punishment comes “out of the blue” and from the dogs perspective is not connected to the behavior at all.

I see a lot of fall out, unexpected consequences, when people use punishment in scenarios such as this, sometimes where the dog refers the excitement from the stimulus and turns on the owner and responds to aggression with aggression. You see this at the dog park, a lot, where the aggressive owner has the aggressive dog. The other thing to think about is that a dog who is more aggressive brings out aggression in other dogs. Don’t be part of that equation!

Happy family dog went to coercive dog trainer who used prong collars and electronic stimulation collars. Has now bitten three people since his training! None before!

Don’t do it!

You become part of the problem not part of the solution and it is not building a long term relationship that will end well for either of you.

It is a huge breach of trust that can be very difficult to repair.

I think you will find that the behavior will probably fade if you ignore it. If you feel you have to do something you can try a number of things, some of which might seem as if they work simply because time passes and he would have settled down anyway.

I would be tempted to think that he will settle down as he becomes more familiar with the surroundings and your habits and rituals.  He is already starting with an elevated excitement level  being in his new home and all the new stuff that is expected of him. If you stay calm, go about your routine, you may well find that he will become less and less bothered by new stuff.

It is called socialization, becoming comfortable in a social setting, desensitization where we are dealing with stuff that he reacts mildly too, familiarization to stimulus and so on.

The one thing you do want to watch out for is becoming part of the problem, tensing up on the leash when you see another dog, for example. Joining in by barking with your dog as he barks, is another example. You think you are barking at him, he thinks you are barking at the other dog.

You can use positive reinforcement for a strong “look” which you talk about but just did not do enough work on yet. If he will do it in a level one distraction, in the back yard, then build on that with a level two distraction, and 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8,  before you ask for the performance in a level 9 distraction scenario. That is called systematic progressive training.  Check out my suggestion for where and how to do that further down the page.

You could label “quiet” when he is being quiet, unfortunately most people bark “quiet” when their dog is barking which does not help at all if they have never trained “quiet”!

Here is what you should do

1. Reduce the anxiety, excitement and distraction.

While we are training perfect behavior, management dictates a temporary reduction in opportunities to practice the behavior we dislike. Walk a different route? Different time of day?

also

2. Train an alternative behavior.

You can use distance to manage the intensity of the distraction so that you can practice success, mark and reward the success. Success might be defined as your dog seeing another dog in the distance and turning away from the dog and looking at you calmly, holding your eye contact for five seconds working up to a continuous minute or more. Ultimately you are looking for a performance of maybe three minutes attention that allows the other dog to pass by and leave without engaging with your dog. A behavior that is very specific.

Buster practicing steady and continuous eye contact
as a six month old puppy in Foundation Training.
I am not waiting for him to become reactive with other dogs.

As a puppy he was already lunging forward to meet dogs.

Herding dogs, i.e. German Shepherds, Border Collies and Australian Shepherds have a natural tendency which we have selected for
in the breeding for assertive, dominant eye contact
to help them manage animals larger than themselves.
This often makes other dogs uncomfortable.
So we train the eye contact, cued by the first sight of another dog
to head turn and gaze adoringly at us while the other dog passes by.

Yes! This is what I want!

Not vaguely, I hate it when you bark at this, bark at that and bark at the other.

So you might for example work him inside a tennis court or fenced area if that is enough distance that he does not react. You can train him on walks but you might find it hard to avoid getting too close to the stimulus, it requires constant attention to your surroundings at a distance that most people are not used to being aware of.

Then you can mark and reward him when he looks at another dog two hundred yards away and is quiet. Use the 2 second rule.

Only a Fool breaks the Two Second Rule!

If he looks at another dog for two seconds then you attract his attention and divert his attention. Never allow a gaze or stare at another dog to last for longer than two seconds without him turning his head, redirecting his attention, to you. Any longer than two seconds, (do not wait for a reactive moment) and the welling up inside will reach threshold relatively fast and then the emotional content will take over and make it so much harder (sometimes impossible) to get his attention back on you.

You will probably need to work on timing the mark so that you are precise. You can then add a word label, “quiet”, or “look” or “rhubarb”. You see the label does not mean anything to the dog in and of itself, (it does not speak or understand the english language) only what you have attached it to, rightly or wrongly.

The idea is to use familiarization first, preferably without him reaching the threshold at which he starts barking. This distance might be half a mile away. :-)

Manage the environment to set him up for success.  For example I use a local dog park. We don’t go in, or even near, but there is a good chance that if I stand with a dog in the middle of the soccer field next door that I can get a satisfactory performance, then over a period of days I might get a little closer, a little closer and so on. Always marking the behavior I am looking for (your look at me command for example) and ignoring any other. If I get a reaction on day three for example, it is not a dog problem, I just rushed the training. My mistake, snakes and ladders, go back a day and start again.

This is a lot of information so feel free to ask more questions.

Thank you for taking the time and making the effort to work this through with your new boy.

Warm regards,

Robin

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