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Dealing With Excessive Barking
Tips from the CMTC Blog

By: Jennifer Legere

As a professional dog trainer, I watch clients struggling with the same things when trying to get their dogs to communicate with them. Unfortunately, our society has encouraged dog owners to treat their pets as little furry humans rather than a completely distinct species. That's not to say that dogs don't experience similar "emotions" or "states" as humans do. But when walking down the aisles of the pet store these days, products are specifically geared to ascribe human qualities to our dogs. Tshirts for dogs bearing phrases like "bad to the bone" or "princess" encourage people to ascribe human attributes where they don't exist. No wonder we don't understand our dogs!

Below are ten tips that I give as a handout to all my clients on their first training session.

1) Dogs only do what works for them. Period. If it has no immediate benefit for them (that they can determine) then they will not do it. A dog will not wash the dishes or do the laundry because there is no payoff for a dog to do these things. A dog will sit if he understands what you want and gets a reward afterwards for doing it. A dog can learn to run an entire agility course just for the chance to play a game of tug afterwards. If you stop rewarding, however, the dog will stop working. If you put money into a vending machine and press the button you expect something to come out. If nothing comes out, do you put money in it again? Of course not. You stop trying.

2) Your dog has impeccable hearing skills. He heard you the first time. Do not chant commands at your dog. Do not repeat yourself. A command is given once in a sensible tone of voice. If your dog doesn’t do as you asked there can only be two reasons why:
 - He doesn’t understand what you want yet. Explain what you want again and be kind, deliberate and understanding. Maybe go a little slower this time.
-  He’s decided you aren’t serious. Get serious. If he truly understands what you’re asking then he’s lost faith in you. Don’t wait for the mood to strike him. If you want him to sit and he doesn’t sit, go to him, quietly get him to sit and praise lavishly. If you’re not prepared to back up your command with action, don’t give the command.

3) Your dog does not speak English (or any verbal language for that matter). He just doesn’t understand the concept of spoken language. He can only associate certain sounds with consequences, actions and behaviours. He doesn’t understand the cost of his chewing on your Herman Miller leather chaise or the angst you feel from his peeing on the antique Iranian Safavid Period carpet. The more you talk during training the more he will learn to tune out your voice. That’s a terrible mistake to make when one day you need your dog to STOP before he runs into traffic. By all means, talk to your dog during your day-to-day life with him. He loves your voice! Just be aware that during training and when working for you, he requires a lot less noise to be able to concentrate.

4) Dogs learn cause and effect very, very quickly. If your dog doesn’t seem to be learning something, you are not being clear enough to your dog. Consistency is the cornerstone to dog training. That means the same thing happens EVERY SINGLE TIME something else happens. If your dog jumps on you and you want to discourage it, show the dog that his jumping makes you turn your back and leave the room. Crystal clear. Every time. No exceptions. He will learn not to jump on you if you can be consistent. If you cannot be consistent, rethink your expectations of your dog. He’s not a mind reader.

5) Don’t forget to praise your dog! If he only hears about how he did something wrong how will he possibly know when he got it right? Give him a hint, spell it out: this is wrong and this is right! Be delighted and animated when he pleases you. He’ll want to repeat it!

6) Control the head of the dog and you control the whole dog. This principle is aptly demonstrated with a Gentle Leader head collar and lure-reward training. If your dog is not looking at you he is not going to listen to you. Eye contact is critical to training. Get your dog looking at you and then give a command for greater success.

7) Know when to train and when not to train. Dogs cannot learn when they are in pain, need to eliminate, when they’re afraid or in an overly distracting environment. A hungry dog, however, will be eager to focus on you if you are delivering treat rewards. If something seems to be hampering your dog’s concentration, check the environment for distractions, make sure he doesn’t need to eliminate, change your location to a more familiar one or make sure he isn’t too wound up or too tired to focus.

8) Ideally, your dog’s name should only be paired with good news and happy situations. Growling your dog’s name in a fierce voice is not going to leave a great impression in his mind. Try your best to use, “Hey! AAAH! No! Stop it! Whoa!” or some other words to signal your displeasure.

9) Dogs don’t exercise themselves. Ten acres of land will not tire a dog out. Throwing a ball will.

10) A 10 lb. puppy that bites will grow into a 70 lb. dog that bites even harder. Teeth and skin should never meet. Ever.

Every time you interact with your dog you are training. How you behave around your dog has a tremendous impact on how your dog behaves. If there's something your dog's doing that doesn't please you, try to look at yourself first to see if you might be causing it. If we can learn to watch ourselves, our dogs will learn more quickly.

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