Excessive barking is annoying. No one likes it and can wear on even the most patient pet parent. Here are three causes and solutions of unwanted barking:
I've heard this phrase, you've heard this phrase, it is actually pretty okay advice. Most dogs are understimulated both mentally and physically and once around the block is not enough to quell their energy. Heck with some dogs a two hour walk isn't enough. So you start playing fetch and walking for two hours but still your dog is full of energy. "He could go all day", you tell me and I believe you! Because you have inadvertantly created an athelete so now you must sustain that athelete or deal with his wrath. Are you seeing the problem here? More exercise means more energy and when you don't meet that need unwanted behaviors intensify.
So what is an owner of an energetic dog to do? The answer is simple, teach them how to relax. Since we know that behavior that is reinforced get repeated we can do just that. Catch your dog when they are doing nothing. That's right, reward the nothing. This is such a hard concept to grasp because we humans are so obsessed with pointing out the wrong. Think about it, what do you want your dog to do a vast majority of the time? Most answer that they want their dog to lay in their bed or in other words, do nothing.
Dogs that seem to have endless energy are the ones who are not getting enough restful sleep. Dogs need to sleep about half the day away and puppies need almost 20 hours! That frantic energy that seems to turn your darling into a hell beast is the same as a toddler screaming that they aren't tired. Self soothing through crates and tethers can help your puppy or dog learn their natural rhythm and therefore become more relaxed and less hyper.
In addition to rewarding the nothing the following behavior can be taught using a mat. This is how many service dogs are trained to relax in public places. This is also perfect for families with new babies as the dog can do settle time while your little one does tummy time.
I tell my puppy clients that if they only teach their puppy one thing it should be this:
Settle on Mat: This will allow us to start to capture calmness. We will start by building up a doggy magnet to our selected mat. This mat can be anything, a dog bed or a bath mat it doesn’t matter but the mat should be the same for this exercise. We will start by creating a “doggy magnet” and we will see the dog start to gravitate toward the mat whenever it is presented. Then we will be able to put it to a verbal cue for later use with the door/visitors and other high energy situations.
Step one: Set up the space. We want a mat and a chair set up in a space with no other easily accessible things that might attract your dog’s attention. Have something to occupy your hands/attention such as a book/laptop/tablet and a handful of tasty treats.
Step Two: Bring your dog to the space on leash and simply sit down and wait. As soon as they step a paw onto the mat, drop a treat on the mat. We are not using a marker word as usually it implies excitement and action while this is quite the opposite. Reward if the dog STAYS on the mat with another dropped treat.
· If he attempts to “mug” your treats simply ignore him, which is why you have something else to occupy yourself.
Step Three: After a couple dropped treats for being on the mat now wait for either a sit or a down, reward with a dropped treat. Now that your dog has offered the sit/lay down do not drop treats for just being on the mat. If he stays in his sit/down drop another treat preferably between his paws.
Step Four: Once the dog is lying down continue to drop treats until your handful is gone. If he gets up just wait for him to lie back down and then continue to drop treats. Once your handful is gone use and end cue such as, “All done”, get up, unleash, pick up the mat, and continue with your daily activities.
Step Five: Once your dog has the hang of lying down on the mat every time it is around we can start to reward calm behaviors instead of just dropping treats. A list of calm behaviors
· Slinging hips to one side
· Deep breaths/sighs/Yawning
· Squinty eyes/blinking/Staring at a fixed point
· Head down
· Relaxed ears
Tips and tricks: Try not to reward the same behavior again and again, smart dogs will try and offer those in particular and that is NOT calmness (it's cleverness). Start with the same amount of treats every time and slowly start to raise the amount of time before the next treats, you should be lengthening every session slowly.
Add to this that they have a special needs daughter, a pregnant daughter, an elderly Chihuahua, and a cat. A dog that has ended up on a chain, generally is there for one reason, lack of training. A dog jumps/barks/chews and since the owners don't know what to do the dog gets resigned to the backyard in a run or on a chain. Losing mental/physical stimulation and human contact will drive any dog insane, it makes my heart break when I have to think about it. No living being should be neglected in such a way.
Taking in a dog like this is a challenge in and of itself. Chopper, for all intents and purposes was feral. He frantically paced the room, jumped onto family members, nashed his teeth, barked at anything that moved or any sound, pulled like crazy on leash, and barked at their special needs daughter. Chopper was going to take a lot of work and dedication. I was hesitant to even accept the case. I posted to a trainers group after the consult and almost everyone suggested rehoming, something that I cover in all consultations. The family wanted to give it a try first, "Chopper has had such a rough life and been bounced around. I don't want to do that to him again." But other family members were very unsure, and rightly so, Chopper was a lot of dog. There was a puppy to consider and my biggest concern, a baby due in four months. After really thinking it over I decided to accept the case. I worked with the family every week for six weeks. Impulse control, relaxation, and basic household manners were our focus.
Chopper had wild eyes and a glazed expression. My heart broke when I first met him and I instantly bonded with his dad, John. It takes a special family to put themselves into such crazy situation on purpose. A few times during our consult I moved too fast or talked too loud and Chopper jumped into my lap and barked in my face. Thanks to years of working with these special animals I managed not to flinch. I didn't think Chopper would bite me, but in the back of my head I was worried about it. Chopper pinned Gage to the ground twice, not in an aggressive way more of a lack of social skills. I also decided to try and get Chopper to play because the amazing power play has. He did tug a bit with me, then became too excited so he grabbed and humped my leg....
In only my second visit Chopper was a different dog. The frantic energy that had greeted me only a week ago had seemed to fade away. The eyes that looked up into mine offering eye contact were thoughtful and clear. On my third visit, the jumping up was almost a non issue as well as his mild "aggression" issues. He was becoming easier to handle on leash and that meant he got more exercise. His brain could finally calm down and start to focus. Training Chopper was becoming easier and he was shaping into a great dog.
Gage, the lab puppy on the other hand was WILD! He was waking John up in the middle of the night, peeing in the house, latching onto Chopper's neck to the point of pain, and just being an unruly little jerk! Puppies in and of themselves are a lot of work almost as much if not more than a two month old baby, because that is what they are. Finding a puppy's natural schedule and working with it is very important. Because of the chaos of the situation Gage didn't have a natural rhythm. I had been offering different ideas for managing the 3:00 AM crazy puppy time but to no avail. I asked how much sleep was Gage getting? The answer was not very much. Puppies need to sleep 18-19 hours a day, Gage was getting maybe half that. We instituded a little bit of "ruff love" which involved teaching Gage to self soothe in his crate.
Our sessions had extended to every other week. On my eighth visit after I came in and sat down in our usual routine, rewarding quiet behavior, I asked how the week(s) went. "Great, things are going great!" I sat and listened to how well the dogs had been behaving. The daughter had moved out taking her Chihuahua and cat with her. Gage had taken to the "ruff love" program and they were able to see when he was tired and give him appropriate naps. Chopper now understands the routines of relaxation and any new scary or exciting thing can quickly be taken care of to the point of non issue.
The family knows that they have to keep training to maintain the progress they have made and create two very well behaved dogs. It has come to their attention that Chopper is uncomfortable around children so that will be our next hill to climb. With his amazing understanding of relaxation we should be able to progress quickly. They also want to develop off leash skills with both of the boys and continue to reap the benefits of incredible dog training.
***Spoilers for Jurrasic World Below***