National Train Your Dog Month: Barking Part Two

I had two requests on more barking talk, so here it is.  If your dog has YET ANOTHER kind of barking that you want addressed, just leave me a comment, I’m happy to cover all the barking bases!

The first comment was from Brett who asked about the dog barking at the TV.  His clever cattle dog Juna apparently barks at disorderly humans on the television, and while this sounds hilarious it is actually a problem not unique to Juna (or cattle dogs).  My parents’ pugs, Odie and Oz, will bark and even attack the TV if there is a barking dog on it.  What usually ensues is dog barks and/or lunges at the tv, humans are shaken out of their tv-induced-coma, humans begin yelling, scene on tv ends, everything goes back to normal.  I assume that in the dog’s mind he is getting what he wants by barking because the thing that is causing the barking always leaves the screen.  Solving it is going to involve not falling into that TV-coma we all love so much for a while, at least if the dog is in the room, and I would go about it one of two ways.  For either method, make a list of your dog’s triggers (does he bark at all dogs on TV or just barking ones?  Does he bark at all fighting on TV or just fights that involve screaming? etc.) so that you know exactly what it is you’re working with.  Then do one of the following.

  • For dogs (humans!) that have not had much training or are not clicker-savvy:  Sit down to watch some tube with a bowl of treats sitting nearby and your list of triggers in your head.  As soon as something bark-inducing comes onto the screen don’t wait for the dog to start barking, just start shoveling treats into his face.  As soon as the trigger is gone, stop feeding.  You will do this for a long time until you notice that your dog begins looking at you expectantly when his triggers appear.  At this point you can start to randomly give your dog a treat when his triggers appear on the screen.  If at any point he has a relapse, you will need to go back to being a treat machine every single time a trigger is on TV.
  • For dogs (humans) that are clicker/shaping-savvy, I have a better option:  Sit down to watch TV with your clicker and some treats, as well as that trigger list.  Shape your dog to glance at the TV on cue (if you’re familiar with Leslie McDevitt’s Look At That! game, that’s essentially what we’re doing here).  Do this by clicking your dog if he looks at the TV.  Put on a high-trigger show if he is unlikely to look at the TV while you have treats or if he the opposite and is likely to ignore the food if his triggers are on television, put something low-key on a low volume.  If he is likely to react to triggers, but not so much that he stops eating, just work on this exercise without worrying much about what’s on the TV.  When your dog is “offering” glances at the TV to get clicked, you can add a verbal cue to the behavior (I suggest “what’s on tv?”).  Simply ask him “what’s on tv?” click when he looks, and treat.  Like all behaviors, when he seems to understand, you need to stop clicking and move to treating only every few times or so.  Now that this behavior is under his belt, you can use it when his triggers come on TV.  For example, a commercial for dog food comes on, you ask your dog “what’s on tv?” and treat him for just looking.  Do this repeatedly until the commercial is over.  You will have effectively replaced his barking with just looking and changed his motivation for looking as well.  Hurray!

The second comment was concerning dogs barking out the window at people or dogs passing by on the sidewalk.  I know this is a very common problem, and the solution is actually similar to the above TV-barking scenario.  You have three main options.

  • You could use the classical conditioning method above (the treat factory opens when the “intruders” appear).
  • You could use the Look At That game as above, which is recommended in conjunction with the next option.
  • You could block the view with something like this, or curtains, etc.  Simply removing the option is the fastest way to solve a behavior problem, and when these management techniques are combined with training you will have the most success.  If your dog is loose in the house all day, you MUST block his sight so that he isn’t allowed to bark all day unmanaged.

While doing research on barking I have come across some really disturbing websites.  Please don’t believe everything you read on the internet.  If you are struggling with your dog, hire a qualified positive reinforcement-based dog trainer to help you.


One thought on “National Train Your Dog Month: Barking Part Two

  1. Demand barking. I’ve got Cozi going to and settling on her mat when I need some downtime, but she’ll lay there and bark at me. I don’t know how to get to the next step — help! And thank you!

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