National Train Your Dog Month: Demand Barking

Demand barking is any kind of barking or vocalizing that the dog is doing in order to gain something from someone.  The demands are usually one of the following; let me out of the crate, let me inside, let me outside, feed me, pet me, play with me, or simply pay attention to me.

My friend and client, Alecia, asked about this kind of barking in a comment.  She has a silken windhound named Cozi that barks at her to get what she wants.  Alecia has trained Cozi  to go lie on a bed when she needs some alone time from her smart little hound, but she, like so many clever dogs, barks at her from the bed.  

What a problem!  Cozi is partially doing what Alecia has asked of her, but she continues barking and carrying on while she obeys.  “Correcting” her for barking may accidentally ruin the lovely stay-on-your-bed behavior, and since this is an attention-seeking behavior, these corrections might also inadvertantly reward the barking.  If you get up and pop a cookie in the dog’s mouth every time she is quiet you will most likely build up an unwanted behavior chain–bark, silence, cookie, bark, silence, cookie.  So what to do?

The trouble positive reward-based trainers face with this kind of issue is that most of those in our fold would have you “ignore” the dog’s nusance barking; not looking at, speaking to, or feeding the dog until she is quiet–and that frankly won’t cut it.  I know it won’t cut it for two reasons; one being that most humans do not have the patience to ignore demand barking until it “goes extinct” (that’s learning theory jargon for when a behavior goes so long without reinforcement that it disappears from a dog’s repertoire, somthing that takes a long time.  Making matters more complicated, behaviors typically go through an “extinction burst” before they go extinct, meaning they get much worse before they disappear), and two being that this kind of passive training just isn’t good training when you think about it.  Dogs fare best with proactive training that shows them how to be right, or at least points them in the right direction.  Having your own behavior go extinct is a frustrating–some might say inhumane–process.

Now that we’ve ruled out ignoring the bad stuff, rewarding the absence of barking, and corrections, what are we left with?

We are left with replacing the barking with an incompatible behavior, and providing consequences for barking.  What’s the different between a consequence and a correction?  Honestly, they’re just words, and by definition they’re probably not that different.  But I use the word “consequence” to describe my act of providing my dog with information regarding his behavior.  A correction is something unpleasant that happens to the dog when the dog does the undesirable behavior (a squirt in the face with water, for example).  It provides no information about the real world to the dog, and doesn’t help the dog arrive at the correct conclusion.  A consequence is only “legal” in my book if you’ve already shown the dog that he will be reinforced for the correct behavior, and the consequence must apply directly to what the dog is seeking by barking.  (An example of a consequence would be removing your dog from the dog park if he does not come back to you when you call, after you have worked very hard on your recall and he has demonstrated that he can perform a recall under distracting environments).  

For demand barking, you must first and foremost make an attempt at preventing the barking.  If you know your dog demand barks while you eat a meal, set him up on his bed or in a crate (in sight!) with a raw bone to chew.  If you know your dog barks to be let inside, start calling him inside before he comes to the back door.  Second, after you have taken a proactive approach to prevention, you must think of a valid consequence to the demand barking.  The best consequence is removal of the possibility of the demand being met.  Notice I said removal of the possibility, not removal of the sought-after thing.  The possibility alone gets the dog some reinforcement and is probably why demand barking persists in so many homes.  For example, Alecia should get up and walk away from Cozi if she is barking, and if she asks Cozi to go to her bed, she should provide Cozi with something to do on that bed (like a raw bone, for the time being).  Removing Alecia from the picture removes the possibility for whatever Cozi wants.  If your dog is barking at you from a crate, cover it with a blanket so he can’t see out.  When he is quiet you may uncover him and start over.  If your dog is demand barking to be fed, and you have the food out, put the food away.  Try again when he is quiet.  If you haven’t even gone to the kitchen yet, go farther from the kitchen!  You must remove the possibility (and the dog decides what counts as “possibility”) to provide a consequence for demand barking.  

I hope this helped.  Any other kinds of barkng you’d like me to cover?          


5 thoughts on “National Train Your Dog Month: Demand Barking

  1. Awesome explanation, thank you! And very actionable! I’m off to Poudre Feed for some raw bison marrow bones to help Cozi give me the silent treatment. Thank you again!

  2. I love this post. Barking is probably one of the most common problems I encounter both with my own dogs (yup – they’re not perfect!) and dogs I work with. Waiting for extinction to come is, as you point out, often unfeasible. I am based in a city and many owners resort to using spray collars/rattle cans etc. etc. because they want their dog to stop barking fast. Even if neighbours weren’t an issue I know how exasperating it can be trying to wait for demand barking to stop. My little shih tzu is a demand barker, something we are still working on, in the past when I ignored him without moving away his reaction was to come right up to my face and bark even louder! Stubborn and smart.
    One question I would appreciate your thoughts on – what about demand barking in puppies at other dogs? My four month old Leonberger regularly loses his treats/toys to his wilier older friends and when that happens he starts woofing at them to get them to give them back. Obviously this never works and I deal with it by redirecting him to another toy/chew, but often he will still return and try and get the ‘prized’ possession back by woofing. Any tips?
    P/s on another note I have now ordered static cling window film (as suggested in an earlier post) in an attempt to help manage multiple dog woofing – daycare dogs at a roadside window!

  3. My puppy demand barks, but she also demand barks for people and animals (our cat, other dogs, etc) to play with her. She can get on a barking spree over this. How do I stop her? The cat ignores her but still, she barks in his face.

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