Friday, August 16, 2013

Dream Cruise Weekend - Barking Issues

My brother turns 69 this year. Ha! Happy Birthday David.

I had an email from a friend whose Icelandic Sheepdog recently had puppies. One of the new owners is having barking issues.

Here's my response: - 

Of all the issues I deal with, barking is the most common concern.

You have to be extremely pro-active to reduce the barking to an acceptable level. The puppies can NEVER go out in the yard alone until they have learned to bark less.

Please note: - Icelandic Sheepdogs have been bred to bark as a way of herding their animals and warning about predators. Hundreds of years of selective breeding went into accomplishing that. All herding breeds have been bred to bark; that behavior is not unique to Icelandics. Border Collies, German Shepards, the two kinds of Corgis, Aussies, Australian cattle dogs, Pyrenean Shepards, etc. all bark.

That said, it is possible to significantly reduce the barking to an acceptable level but that training has to start from the time they leave their birth home. I hope it's not too late for Heather.

                                                              No Bark!

It's not hard to accomplish but training has to start early and it also takes time - not days. not weeks, months. Lots of time. Persistence  pays off.

My oldest dog is now over eleven. When she goes out into my yard (with the rest of my dogs), I am always listening. Always. They are NEVER out of my hearing. If I hear a bark, I'm on it. My neighbors have never complained - crossed fingers. If they bark, I'll call them back, thank them for barking and reward them for coming back to me and for stopping the barking. Again - for emphasis - I start my rewards with treats and praise. Over time - lots of time - I reduce the treats and increase the praise. I never stop with the treats. Reduce the frequency of treating over time, of course. Stop? Never. (Most people who 'work' would not work if their pay stopped. Treats, toys, praise and petting are your dog's pay.)
                                                              No Bark!

Dogs bark to alert their owners that there is a 'problem'. The problem may be unfamiliar people or new and potentially dangerous animals like coyotes, other dogs, wolves, etc. lurking around the herd (or yard), prey birds like hawks and eagles flying overhead, etc. If you don't acknowledge the barking, they will keep on barking until you do.

They are more likely to bark when their human is not near-by. The barking alerts their human to a possible problem so that the human can deal with the problem. That is exactly what is supposed to happen.

                                                              No Bark!

Most people try to discourage the barking. That is, in my opinion, the wrong thing to do. Instead I congratulate my dogs when they bark. They have done what they were bred to do and are extremely proud of doing that. Reward. (Treats, praise, toys, petting. Some dogs do not like to be touched or do not like to be touched in certain places. Watch their body language!)

Especially with young dogs and puppies, I take my bait bag and treats with me clipped to my belt or pants and reward my young dogs with treats, praise, toys, and petting. I use my calm voice and say things like, "Good Dog!", "Good Bark!", "Thank you for warning me!", "Good Girl/Boy!" and reward them while I'm saying those things. I also say, "That's enough!" and "It's OK now!" and, importantly, "Good No Bark!" So they get the idea that they have done the right thing and I am aware of the problem.

(For treats I have used Cheerios, small pieces of hot dogs, small pieces of low-fat string cheese, Captain Crunch peanut butter, etc. Some dogs don't like one treat or another and you have to find what your dogs LOVES if the treats are to work. I keep my treat bag with hot dogs and string cheese in the freezer so they don't spoil.)

                                                              No Bark!

None of our dogs should ever be left out in the yard alone - - - especially when they are young and being trained.

As a volunteer (read: - unpaid) dog trainer for an AKC obedience club in the Detroit Area, I see stuff like this all the time. People are always buying a breed of dog because that breed is popular (like all the retriever breeds) or cute, or pretty, or handsome, or just the right size, etc. They almost never think of what the dog has been bred to do.

Retrievers (Goldens, Labs, Chesapeake Bays, Flat Coateds, etc.) were bred to get things and bring them back to their owners. Lacking hands, they must hold those things in their mouths. They are mouthy breeds and like to grab onto pant legs, hands, arms, etc. That's what they were bred to do!! Can you discourage that behavior. Yes, but that also takes time and consistency in training. If you don't start when they are pups, the 'problem' becomes worse. Again, you should encourage the behavior - - when appropriate - - by praise, treats, toys and petting - - - and discourage it when inappropriate.

Watch experienced handlers at dogs shows or in video clips on Yahoo. Their dogs are always watching their hands for the treats. You have to be the most interesting thing in your dog's life if you want to be successful. How do you do that? Toys, treats, praise, petting. Find the reward(s) that works best for your own dog.

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