Ask the Behaviorist: Barking and Lunging!

Check out the Michigan Humane Society blog on Wednesdays to see common pet behavior questions answered by our Senior Director of Operations and pet behavior expert, CJ Bentley. If you have an immediate behavior concern with your pet, please call a qualified trainer or behaviorist! If you have a non-urgent question you would like answered on the blog, you can comment here or email us at mail(at)michiganhumane.org. Today’s blog is a repost of one of our most popular questions.

Senior Director of Operations CJ Bentley and her adopted dog, Rogue

Senior Director of Operations CJ Bentley and her adopted dog, Rogue

“How do I stop unwanted barking? We have tried water spraying, citronella collars, shock collars and the gentle leader– all while giving commands first. He continues to bark. Ugh.”

Barking is so hard. Part of the trouble is, most of us want our dogs to bark sometimes. Just not all the time. Yep, I tried most of the tools you mention, too. For me, however, one of the tools worked so “well” that my car was stolen out of MY DRIVEWAY and my dog never made a peep. That wasn’t exactly what I had in mind either. And, my dog was super stressed by the tool and began acting out in other ways. It was not a good time.

So…where to begin? First, the only way to “diminish” barking (I won’t say stop because that’s just a dream) is to understand WHY the dog is barking. For example, dogs left in the yard all day with nothing to do can bark all day long out of boredom. For those dogs…we need to not leave them in the yard all day and give them something fun to do. Dogs who bark for attention – like those who bark every time you try to answer the phone – need to be exercised, ignored when they bark and given something more appropriate to do to gain your attention. Dog who bark out the window when someone/something goes by…well, they could be barking because the presence of something new stresses them a bit and they want to drive the thing away. And of course, it always works, doesn’t it? The person walking past always keeps walking – to the dog it’s mission accomplished. He barks, they leave. Yay. That’s a tough cycle to break and it will take lots of patience.

If your dog’s an ‘out the window’ barker, to get some immediate relief, get a large roll of paper (like butcher paper) and tape it along the window so your dog can’t see out. Not pretty…but effective. And it will bring you some peace at least to start. Then, teach your dog to bark when you say bark. Let’s work on rewarding the positive instead of punishing the negative. Remember, you cannot rely just on a tool to stop the behavior. You have to provide an alternative behavior that gets rewarded as well. Once your dog barks on command, teach him to bark, then give him a word to stop barking. Make it a word that is normally sort of high pitched for you so it cuts through the sound of his barking. So…when he understands the bark command – tell him to bark. When he barks (no reward at this point) tell him to stop. When he stops, get all excited and walk immediately with him to – well, in my house it’s the kitchen because the truly awesome snacks come from the fridge. Treat, treat, treat him! What a good boy!

When he’s really good at running to the fridge (like mine are) when he hears the “stop barking” word, take down your lovely window paper. When he starts barking, give him the stop barking word and meet him at the fridge. You’ll have to be consistent, but it can work. Right…he’ll still bark a few times, but he’ll stop when you ask. Hopefully that’s a compromise that will reduce your stress (and your dog’s).

“My dog pulls/lunges at squirrels, other dogs or people when she is walking on the leash. Otherwise she walks on the leash well.”

It’s nice to know I’m not alone. Mine did that too! To start, use an Easy Walk Harness. You can get them at Petco and PetSmart; they are made by PetSafe. These harnesses clip in the front and rely on your dog’s opposition reflex to help reduce the pulling. Your dog will feel pressure on her shoulder when she pulls and will turn in toward the pressure, causing her to focus back toward you. It’s important to remember, though, that using a tool is never enough.

Once you put the harness on, you have to be ready to reward for the good behavior that the tool helps you achieve. Super tasty, once in a lifetime treats are the best to use here. Something she would not receive at any other time. And she gets those treats while the person, dog or squirrel is in view and she’s behaving herself. Once they pass by – no more treats. And if she won’t eat the treats or behave herself when the person (dog, etc.) is in view – YOU ARE TOO CLOSE.

That’s the biggest mistake people make. Put enough distance between your dog and the person, etc. so that she sees them but can still behave. Eventually you can move closer to the person, little bits at a time, but to start, you’ll have to be pretty far away. You have to get the good behavior to happen so you can reward it. Behavior that you reward is more likely to be repeated.

Just remember:
– Try a front clip harness (like the Easy Walk)
– REWARD with fantastic food treats when your dog is focused on you and not lunging
– Get FAR ENOUGH away from the people, dogs and squirrels so that your dog can focus on you and eat the treats
– Stick with it

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