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Ask a Dog Trainer: How Do I Get My Dog To Stop Barking At Me?

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Image source: @AndrewButitta via Flickr
Image source: @AndrewButitta via Flickr

Does any (or all!) of this sound familiar:

  • Barks for food
  • Barks to go out
  • Barks for attention
  • Barks for you to throw the toy

If so, than you probably dealing with a demand barker! Demand barkers are simply pups that don’t have a lot of self-control AND have learned from you that all they have to do to get your attention is to bark at you.

Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed we all do it. Usually it happens because when they are puppies we think it’s “so cute” when our dog barks when we stop petting him (because he wants more) or barks because he is excited for us to throw the ball again.

What many don’t realize is that their smart dog is paying very close attention to this and is learning – hey, if I bark, they give me or do what I want.

Pretty soon, your dog is running your life and annoying you by barking at you all the time.

Luckily, there is a pretty easy fix. However, it will take time.

So how do you do it?

Simple! IGNORE YOUR DOG WHEN HE IS DEMAND BARKING!

I know, not simple right? I mean, it’s loud, it’s annoying, and a dog who has been demand barking for years will bark and bark and bark. I’ve known demand barkers that would bark for twenty minutes straight.

But, it really is the key to getting them to stop.

So, let’s say your dog barks for you to throw the toy (a common one). As soon as your dog starts barking, hold the toy out of sight and completely stop paying attention to your dog:

  • Turn away from him
  • Fold your arms
  • Walk away
  • Do not give him eye contact or talk to him (even to say quiet).

And now you wait. When he finally is quiet, wait 3 seconds (so he knows it’s the quiet you wanted) and then give him what he wanted (i.e. throw the toy).

 Image source: @Mike via Flickr
Image source: @Mike via Flickr

This same principle works for anything your dog barks at you for: food, attention, walk, going outside, whatever.

Extinction Burst

Be warned! Before it gets better, your dog’s barking will get worse! Why? It’s what psychologists call an “extinction burst.” Since barking has always gotten your dog what he wants in the past, when it suddenly stops working, he is going to try it more – louder, longer, and he may even add in jumping or pawing on you.

However, when he realizes this is still not working, that is when you will get your silence and then you can reward.

A Warning About Variable Reinforcement

It is imperative to the success of this training that every single person who does anything with your dog knows the rules and follows them explicitly.

Image source: @BridaAnderson via Flickr
Image source: @BridaAnderson via Flickr

Make sure your dog is quiet before your kids throw that toy!

If even one person does not and gives your dog what he wants when he barks, the barking will continue to get worse.

Why? Because of variable reinforcement. When you get rewarded for something sometimes, but not every time, the drive to continue to do that behavior in the hopes of getting the reward actually gets stronger. Think about gambling – it works because you get rewarded (be winning) every once in a while – a very rare once in a while.

The same holds true for your dog.

However, if you make sure everyone follows the rules and sticks to the plan on ignoring your dog’s barking and rewarding him when he is quiet, he will learn that the only time he gets reinforced is when he is quiet and the barking will go away. After all, your dog just wants to get what he wants, he doesn’t really care how he gets it. If silence, and not barking, is what works, he will gladly change his habits.

Written by Kristina Lotz
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