This is the fourth of five posts about dog barking. It really is a complex problem, not easily corrected with just a tip or two. It needs to be understood in the context that it occurs because the reason for your dog’s bark can be very different – and so should the solution. 

There’s a veterinarian who writes a pet column in my local newspaper and she has a blanket solution to barking – squirt the dog with a spray bottle.  Ack!!  Not only is this no way to treat your best friend, this punishment technique teaches the dog nothing and may in fact cause the dog to become fearful.  In today’s post, I will focus entirely on territorial barking when dogs are outside – and positive ways to stop it.

As I said in my first post on barking, the dogs who are behind fences, physical or electric, can easily develop the habit of barking at anyone or anything that passes by. This type of barking is self-rewarding because the object they are barking at often is walking by the property and will eventually disappear down the street. In the dog’s mind, he is thinking, “I bark to get them to go away…and they do!” Once a dog has established this pattern, it can be very difficult to reverse it. It will take time, patience and a lot of management. When I say management, I mean being with the dog at all times to either ensure that you catch your dog in the act of barking so that you can work with him, or being there to ensure that the dog never starts to bark in the first place.

The number one criterion for stopping territorial barking is consistency. While you are in this training period, never, ever allow your dog to be outside without someone there who will work with him. I can’t say this enough: You will want to be there to catch your dog in the act of the behavior. If you don’t, your dog will always be presented with the temptation to bark. I can hear many people who are reading this say, “My dog loves to be outside, so please don’t tell me that I need to bring him in!”  While this may be true, please consider that if your dog is doing something that you or your neighbors do not like (barking), focused training is required. Think of it this way: If your dog was having housetraining issues, you certainly wouldn’t leave him unattended in the house and expect him to learn without guidance. Same thing applies to outside barking.

As my previous posts about barking discussed, the idea is to keep your dog’s excitement level down – never allow the adrenaline to surge. Keeping that in mind, I suggest you try some exercises with your dog by enlisting a friend to help you. Bring your dog outside on a leash and have some high value treats (canned chicken, cheese bits, cut up hot dogs, etc.) readily available but don’t let your dog know you have food. Or, if your dog is toy-motivated, put his favorite toy in your pocket (again, without your dog seeing it). Now, have your friend slowly begin to walk past your property. At the very instance that your dog sees your friend, begin to feed your dog or give him his toy. The idea is to ensure your dog does not get excited and start barking when he sees your friend.

If your dog stays calm and does not bark, calmly praise him and motion for your friend to walk out of sight. Stop feeding or playing with your dog once your friend is out of sight.  This maneuver is counter-conditioning at its best.  We want your dog to think that “great things happen” when someone walks past your property.

If your dog gets excited and wants to bark, remember, do not scold or call attention to the behavior.  Instead, take him inside. His privilege of being outside is denied.

Practice this exercise over and over until your friend can walk past your property without your dog barking. (Yes, I know, it’s tough!  But all habits are tough to break, as we humans know who try to quit smoking, drinking or improve our diets.) I suggest you do these exercises in short sessions so that your dog does not simply get accustomed to seeing your friend walk back and forth and get bored with the exercise. Try doing it a few times a week – provided you have a really good friend who can help.  And you can ramp up the stimulus by having your friend walk by with a dog! Continue doing the counter-conditioning technique described above.

Once your dog seems to be getting the hang of it, you can attach the “Watch” command that was discussed in the June 21 post.

I fully realize that I make it sound simple. It’s not. That’s why trainers are paid to come to people’s homes. If you have a problem barker, I strongly suggest you enlist the help of a qualified trainer (who only uses positive methods- please). Any trainer who suggests anything like water sprays, smacks on the nose, or other punishment techniques has not fully learned and understood dog behavior and learning principles. And I sincerely hope that you will invest the time in training instead of taking a shortcut by using a bark collar or other punishment technique. 

The next and final post on barking will focus on fear barking and play barking.