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Extinguishing and Understand Barking Dog Behavior

Psychological theory says that if a behavior is not reinforced (responded to either positively or negatively), the behavior will disappear, or be “extinguished”. Without paying particular attention to your circumstances, it’s really hard to say whether your dog barks for his own reasons, or whether the way you respond to your dog’s barking is

actually increasing the unwanted behavior. If your dog barks and you yell at him to shut up, you are reinforcing the barking. Even though yelling at your dog seems like a negative thing to you, your dog is getting your attention, which is reinforcing in itself. He may even think you’re joining in on the barking, which is fun and will keep him barking. If he’s a little high-strung, the noise you make may be stressing him, making him bark more. If your dog seems anxious or afraid when he barks, you may attempt to soothe him with petting or even food. These behaviors certainly reinforce the barking, because your dog learns that when he barks, you will give him presents.

I knew a man whose Golden Retriever barked maniacally every time someone came to the door, and continued barking for ten minutes after they had come inside. Since we were roommates and I came in the door at least once a day, I found it frustrating and annoying to be barked at long after Lucky and I were well acquainted. I couldn’t understand why she needed to keep barking once she knew who I was and had decided she liked me (we played “fetch” endlessly). I started to understand what was really going on when I stopped watching the dog and started watching the man. I discovered that, although he would say something to her, “Oh, stop, Lucky”, he only said it once, in the tone of an indulgent parent who really doesn’t mean it but feels like he should say something. He really didn’t intend for her to stop. He actually smiled when she barked; he liked it! I never completely figured out what he got from her barking, but I did note that he was a quiet and soft-spoken man who spent a lot of time working alone at home. The problem with working at home is people tend to think that if you’re home, you’re not “really working”, so they feel free to call and drop in any time they like. Perhaps the dog was voicing the frustration her man felt when being interrupted by other people. Being a Golden Retriever, she was pretty good at intuiting what her human wanted from her, and she had the genetic predisposition to bark anyway, so she barked like crazy.

Changing your part in the barking process may be all you need to help your dog make a change. Ideally, all you would have to do to extinguish the barking is to ignore it totally. Wouldn’t that be nice! Once in awhile, ignoring completely works, but usually you’ve already tried that and given up because your dog learns that if he just barks long and loud enough, you will eventually give him some attention. Added to ignoring the behavior, you can remove yourself from the equation by leaving the room when the dog barks. This works on two levels: it tells your dog that barking doesn’t get him a verbal response, petting, feeding or anything else from you. On the second level, your leaving the room is something your dog probably doesn’t want. So, he gets no reinforcement, and your leaving is a subtly punishing consequence of his barking. It doesn’t hurt him. but it doesn’t make him happy, either.

If your dog only barks at certain times (or certain people), and you can’t remove the cues, you can use targeted training to teach him to stop. You can use Bark Prevention Training combined with the cues that set him off to teach him not to bark at delivery people, buses, and other dogs; whatever. Bark Prevention Training is the heart of this book, and the preferred method for stopping unwanted barking. It is excellent in that it provides activity, promotes daily shared time and builds your relationship with your dog. Simply working together can cure the symptoms of barking by relieving boredom and loneliness, and can lessen anxiety by teaching your dog his place in your “pack”. It also gives you something to build on: once you’ve started working with your dog, you may find that training gives you a new way to communicate with each other.

Article Summary

  1. When you respond to barking by giving your dog any attention (good or bad), you are reinforcing the behavior and causing it to continue.

  2. Yelling, comforting or feeding your dog when he barks also reinforcees the behavior.

  3. Your dog may be barking to please you: make sure you really want him to stop!

  4. Benefits from Bark Prevention Training include shared time and activity, alleviation of loneliness and boredom, reinforcement of pack structure, and communication and relationship building between you and your dog.

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