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Dealing with an Alarmist Barker

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  • Dealing with an Alarmist Barker

    I have an 8 year old cocker who I adopted a year and a half ago. She was a retired show dog/breeder who never really lived in a house. She has some separation anxiety issues that are pretty well controlled. My big problem with her is that she's an alarmist barker. We'll be cozy on the couch and she'll be sleeping and I shift my weight she'll jump off the couch and start barking. I close the lid on my laptop - BARK LIKE CRAZY. Cat jumps off the kitchen chair onto the floor - BARK LIKE CRAZY. Plow drives down the street - BARK LIKE CRAZY. Phone rings - BARK LIKE CRAZY. Rice steamer dings - BARK LIKE CRAZY. Microwave beeps - BARK LIKE CRAZY! Any little sound or movement sets her off.

    I've tried to teach her the "NO BARK!" command but nothing gets through to her when she starts. I will soon be moving to an area where I will have appreciable neighbors who, if they make noise on their side of the fence, will probably set this dog off and I worry that the barking will never stop!

    What can I do with this dog? Are any of those no bark collars actually humane and effective? I adore her and have no intentions of rehoming her but I don't want to be "that neighbor" with the dog that never shuts up. I have a few months to make her a solid citizen and would really like to get the ball rolling on this ASAP.

  • #2
    she hasn't gotten any better over the year n half- fewer triggers set her off, nothing?

    have you tried teaching her to bark on command? I know it sounds weird, but many dogs really seem to come equipped with zero VOLUNTARY control over their barking- it's entirely stimulus-response- so your efforts to train the dog to stop cannot work until the dog learns how to voluntarily control barking. Teaching the dog to bark on command helps this process, and of course once you have a dog who barks on command, you can easily teach the dog a stop-barking command.

    Just saying STOP BARKING or SHUT UP to a dog doesn't do anything unless you teach the dog what these words mean FIRST. If you constantly emit these words at your dog while your dog is barking, your dog may actually believe you're somehow barking along with her, or she may just learn to ignore these particular words as meaningless, or she may even believe they are cues for her to bark more.

    In order to teach an effective cue, you have to be able to predict reliably when the dog will do the behavior, and then give the cue right before the dog does it. So if you can predict reliably when the dog will stop barking, then you can give your Silence cue right before the dog stops barking, get silence, reward silence, and you're on your way to actual understanding on the part of your dog.
    So if your dog will bark on cue, you can then predict reliably when the dog will stop barking, and can thus actually teach an effective shut up cue.

    If that fails, the no-bark collars (at least, the good ones, from reputable companies) work really well and are very humane (at least the shock ones are, not so much the spray devices). Using a no-bark collar is far more effective and more humane than many other punishment techniques people like to suggest, like spraying your dog with water. The collar works better and is more humane because unlike humans it has perfect timing and perfect consistency. I watched some people trying to stop their dog from barking in the crate with a spray bottle- at least half the time they were late, and ended up spraying the dog AFTER he shut up. No wonder the poor dog was confused and not learning very quickly. Most dogs very rapidly learn to stop barking with the no-bark collars and only get a few corrections from them.

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