Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How To End Attention Seeking Barking

Dogs bark for all kinds of reasons, to alert that there's somebody at the door, to tell you they have to go out or to entice another dog to play but in my opinion, the hardest type of barking dog to train is the dog who simply barks to get your attention.

(For safety reasons I must mention that some dogs bark when they're in pain, hungry, thirsty or have to eliminate; please rule out all of these causes of barking before attempting to train your dog to stop "attention seeking" barking)

Attention seeking barkers are a pain mostly because anything that we humans commonly do in order to interupt or stop this behavior is actually ENCOURAGING it, no mater how angry or serious we try to sound, we're still giving the dog attention which feeds the barking.

So how do you, a mere human, stop an obnoxious and sometimes serious habit with out accidnetly encouraging it?

Simple. Reward the silence. Confused? Let me explain.

If you wait for your dog to stop barking for only a few seconds and you reward the dog BEFORE it starts barking again you'll actually be rewarding your dog for being quite.

Still confused?

Let me explain how your dog views and interprets the situation. Most dogs think in terms of cause and effect. If I do this, I get that or If I do this, that happens. So far, your dog has learned in this paticular situation that if he wants attention all he has to do is bark and you'll come running to take them to go to the bathroom, to feed them, to see who's at the door etc. But when your dog is simply barking because they just want you to stop what you're doing and pay attention to them then what do you usually do? You yell at them to stop barking, be quiet, shut up, etc. usually while making eye contact and facing your dog, am I right?

It isn't important to your dog WHAT it is that you're saying to them but that you've actually stopped what you were previously doing, came over to where the dog was, made eye contact with them and then proceeded to talk to the dog. In your dog's brain, he's just gotten exactly what he wanted and he barely had to do anything to get it.

Are you starting to see why they say negative attention is still attention?

So back to what you CAN do about the barking.

After you reward the even just 2 or 3 seconds of silence by going over to your dog, verbally marking the silence with a YES (this helps your dog understand what it is that they're being rewarded for) and then handing them a small piece of their regular dinner kibble, say "OK" and go back to what you were doing. The dog will usually wait a few seconds or even a few minutes before it starts back up with the barking again.


There will be a break in the barking. Wait for it and reward promptly before saying "OK" and resuming what you were doing again. Repeat as necessary, gradually increasing how long you wait AFTER the silence has started and before your reward the dog for it.

Your dog should be barking less and being quiet longer each time you reward them.

You'll definitley need to practice this EVERYTIME the problem barking occurs. So you may do it a few days in a row beofre the barking completely ceases but it WILL work as long as you're consistent and patient.

Also, remember not to reward your dog TOO lavishly otherwise you could end up in a sticky situation of your dog barking JUST so that you'll reward them for the silence. I prefer to use a combination of verbal praise "GOOD DOG! WHAT A GOOD DOG!" and a piece or two of just regular dry dog kibble.

If this sounds TOO easy to be true, your right it is almost TOO easy which is why it is also VERY easy to screw it up. Remember, to wait for a 2 or 3 second pause in the barking at first then as you make your way over to your dog, start telling him/her what a good dog they are, when you get to them say "YES" and then hand them the piece of kibble. After they've finished chewing the kibble say "OK" and walk away. Your dog will then start barking again, wait for another break but this time wait for a 4 or 5 second pause before starting up with the verbal praise, going over to the dog, etc.

It's also SUPER important for everyone in the household to be on the same page. If even just one person tells the dog to "SHUT UP" instead of waiting for when the dog is quiet, you'll have to start all over again from the beginning.

It's a good idea to try and get everyone together in the same room when the dog starts the barking and have everyone practice waiting for the dog to stop, and then sending out a different person each time to reward the dog until the barking completely stops.

Also, remember a TIRED DOG IS A HAPPY DOG! If your dog is consistently barking they may just need more exercise. Please eliminate all causes of your dogs barking before assuming that it's Attention Seeking Barking. It's also a good idea to enlist the help of a Professional Dog Trainer or Behaviorist to help you with any type of barking problem.

Well that's all for now, check back periodically as I'm going to try to get together a step by step video of How To Stop Attention Seeking Barking as a follow up to this blog.

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