Barking is a dog’s way of communicating, and under different circumstances, barking can mean different things. Dogs bark to let their family members know when there’s something going on – someone passing by outside, a strange noise, a visitor coming towards the house. They bark to warn intruders to stay away. They bark to greet. They bark out of boredom. They bark to seek attention. They even bark compulsively or because of separation anxiety.
You can’t teach your dog not to bark – barking is an automatic behavior – and dogs are stimulated to bark even more when you shout “shut up!” because they think you’re joining in. Altering this behavior may seem entirely hopeless, but believe it or not, you can create an “off” switch by teaching your dog to be quiet on cue. The Sacramento SPCA behavior and training department offers these five steps:
- Arm yourself with some type of high-value food reward – tiny pieces of nitrate-free hotdogs, meat, or cheese, for instance.
- Each time your dog starts to alarm or “watchdog” bark, say the command Quiet! or Enough! while holding a yummy treat in front of your dog’s nose. Let him sniff the treat, but don’t let him have it just yet.
- While your dog is distracted from barking and has their attention on the treat, repeat Quiet! or Enough! over and over for five seconds.
- Give your dog the treat after five seconds of perfect quiet. If the dog starts to bark again before the five seconds are up, repeat the process until you get five seconds. Just be careful to never reward the dog while it is barking.
- Don’t be discouraged if your dog doesn’t get the concept immediately. This procedure needs to be repeated consistently for 4-6 weeks in order to be completely effective. Cut the treats back gradually on a schedule – something like this:
- Do the sequence for two weeks with treats 100% of the time.
- Do the sequence for two more weeks with treats 75% of the time.
- Do the sequence for two more weeks with treats 50% of the time.
- Do the sequence for two more weeks with treats 25% of the time. After this, no more treats are needed, although you may want to offer them occasionally to reinforce good behavior. Always praise your dog for complying!
- You can also gradually increase the amount of time you expect your dog to be quiet before they get the treat.
Practice at first in set-up situations; your dog will need some time to learn before they can apply it in real world situations. Once your dog is responding to these cues reliably, you can start to use your quiet cue in real-life situations. Practice makes perfect, so practice your Quiet! command whenever you get the opportunity to build up that behavior for a well-behaved dog.