Disciplining the Barking Dog
Punishment is seldom effective for the correction of a dog’s barking problems. Punishment can increase the dog’s anxiety and further aggravate many of the causes behind the barking. Even mild punishment can cause the problem to worsen, as the attention may be associated as a reward by the barking dog.
Rather than punishing the barking dog, or using rewards to distract the dog from barking – which also can be associated by the dog as a reward for barking – devices that distract the dog from the stimuli can be used effectively to break the behavioral patterns that cause the dog to bark.
Products Used to Distract the Barking Dog
These products are useful for getting the dog’s attention (disrupting the behavior) during stimuli induced quiet-command training. Ultrasonic devices, audible devices, water sprayers, shake cans (an empty soda can or plastic bottle with a few coins sealed inside), or even a favored squeaky toy might be used to get the dog’s attention and temporarily stop the barking. Keep in mind that unless you are also using re-training techniques simultaneously and consistently with the distraction, your dog, like many dogs, will soon begin to ignore the distraction devices
However, if the device is consistently used to interrupt the barking and the quiet command and reward is then given, the quiet behavior is reinforced. As your dog comes to associate praise and reward with obeying your command for quiet, he may become less anxious and less likely to bark in the presence of the stimulus, or at the very least will quiet much faster on command.
For barking that occurs in the owner’s absence, bark activated products (in conjunction with environmental modification and re-training) are often the most practical means for deterring inappropriate barking.
Bark-activated products may also be a better choice than owner-activated devices, since they ensure immediate and accurate responses to the barking. Off-collar (not worn on collar) devices are useful for training the dog to stop barking in selected areas, such as near doorways or windows (or for dogs that bark in their crate or pen). This type of device is made to emit an audible alarm that causes the dog to stop barking.
On-collar devices/bark-activated collars are useful for when barking does not occur in a predictable location. Audible and ultrasonic training collars are occasionally effective but they have the drawback of being neither sufficiently unpleasant enough to deter the dog’s continued problem barking, nor consistent enough in their response to be a reliable deterrent.
There are also collars that emit either a citronella or unscented spray each time the dog barks, which is sufficiently unpleasant to deter most dogs. Although these may be effective in the owner’s absence, they may soon become ineffective in the absence of concurrent behavior training.
One of the problems is that dogs that are highly motivated to bark may be too intense to be deterred for any length of time by the citronella spray. In addition, if the reservoir empties or the battery “runs out,” the dog may instead learn to bark while wearing the collar and the collar will lose its effectiveness as a distraction. Most importantly, bark collars only work when they are on the dog. Many dogs learn to distinguish when the collar is on and when it is off, so that when they are not wearing the collar, they will return to the barking behavior.
For best results, when using a citronella spray collar it is advisable that the owner be present, so that as soon as the dog stops barking, you can immediately give the command and use rewards and praise to reinforce the quiet response. Praise includes directing the dog to an enjoyable and rewarding activity, such as play, a tummy rub, a favorite treat, etc., as long as the dog remains quiet.
In this way, the quiet behavior is reinforced, and any anxiety about the stimulus (people coming to the door, people coming to the yard, other dogs) can be gradually reduced. In fact, in time your dog may begin to associate the arrival of new people or dogs with a positive reaction from you, a response that is referred to as counter-conditioning.