Tips to Help a Little Rescue Dog with a Big Barking Problem

By: David Codr

Published Date: June 11, 2021

For this Santa Monica dog training session we worked with Bear, a Chihuahua mix rescued from Tijuana who has a dog barking problem.

This is a severe dog barking problem. He started barking as soon as he heard me outside his front door and he continued barking for the first hour of our session unless I was distracting him with a bully stick, treats or training activity.

When you have a dog that barks at sounds, it’s important to take a comprehensive approach. Many people focus on the barking itself but not the root cause of the barking behavior problem. Some dogs bark to alert. Some dogs bark to make things go away. Other dogs bark to get things, we call this demand barking.

In Bear’s case, he was barking to alert guardians that there were things going on outside of his home as well as barking to make those things go away.

After I had identified what was causing the dog to bark, I was ready to address the auxiliary things that were contributing to the barking; not enough rules, structure and exercise.

I suggested some creative ways to get their additional exercise such as scent games like cookie in the corner, letting him sniff on walks, playing tug of war and games of fetch. I also shared a number of tips on how they can mentally stimulate bear such as feeding him out of a snuffle mat, using treat dispensing toys and puzzles, and giving him a lick mat.

Next we went over the importance of rules and structure. Many people think that when they have a rescue dog or a dog that had a difficult time before adopting it that removing all the rules and structure is a kindness. However this strategy usually backfires. When a dog doesn’t have many rules and the daily life is not structured, they can feel insecure which can certainly be a contributing factor when it comes to dog barking.

I suggested a few rules and explained how they can use the Premack principle to motivate the dog to offer desired behaviors to get things it wants. Asking your dog to sit down before you put it on a leash, open the door or invite it up on the couch seems like a small thing to do, but because we do these activities frequently they quickly add up to big impactors.

I also shared my petting with a purpose method which involves telling the dog to sit or lay down when it nudges, paws or barks at you for attention. This is another thing that seems pretty small and unrelated but is crucially important for dogs that engage in demand barking. If after asking bear to sit or lay down one time, he does, they should say the marker word and start petting him. If he doesn’t, they should refrain from repeating the request and instead show bear that they have something else to do. Each time they do this and bear does not sit or lay down, he will be more motivated to do so the next time. I also recommended they use the watch word of paycheck to help the other human get into a habit of directing the dog to do something before petting him.

But it is equally important to give the dog attention and affection when it engages in things that you did not ask it to do but find desirable such as looking at you, sitting, laying down, dropping things, etc. I like to call this celebrating and that’s the watchword I recommended the guardians use.

So if one of the guardians sees Bear walk up to the other guardian and sit down and they don’t start giving him attention or affection, they should say “celebrate,” which should cause the other guardian to say their marker word immediately, then start petting the dog. The more you pet a dog for desired behaviors, the more they will engage in them to ask for pets instead of barking for attention.

Next I showed the guardians an easy way to stop dogs from barking at sounds. Stopping dog barking with counterconditioning is one of my favorite things to do as a LA dog behavior expert.

The key is to find a low enough level of intensity so that the dog does not respond while being exposed to the stimulus, in this case knocking at the door. I made things harder than it needed to be by having the guardian demonstrate a loud knock at the beginning of the video so that you could see a before and after transformation. The problem with this approach is that it got the dog all worked up. I would not recommend the guardians doing that when they practice this secret to stopping dogs from barking.

If you have a dog that barks like crazy when it hears sounds outside of your home, you’ll want to check out the free positive dog training video below

The great thing about this tip to get a dog to stop barking is that anyone can do it, even if you are not a professional rescue dog trainer. The guardians can make this easier for Bear and set him up for success by exercising him a half an hour or so before practicing this exercise to stop barking. They should also select the times to practice carefully. You don’t want to practice this exercise when there are sounds going on outside that may trigger a barking response. Since this is a busy part of Santa Monica, that will be a bit of a challenge but it is important aspect to consider.

To help the guardians remember all of the dog behavior tips I shared with them in this in-home Santa Monica dog training session, we recorded a roadmap to success video. Unfortunately the first part of the video was lost due to my camera running out of available space. I included most of the information lost in that segment in this write up and below is the remaining part of that summary video.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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