By Langley Cornwell
We just moved into a new home. As is always the case, the move was filled with highlights and lowlights; for us and for our pets. The dogs seem to have made the adjustment the quickest, with one exception: they bark a lot. I guess they are reacting to the smells and noises they are not accustomed to, but it is seriously driving me crazy. I can only imagine what our neighbors think of “the new kids on the block!”
Because I work from home, it’s fairly easy for me to get up and let them come inside so the neighbors (and I) can enjoy some peace and quiet. But one of the reasons we moved to this house in the first place was so the dogs could have a proper back yard to hang around in. I needed help, so I went on a quest to learn how to reduce my dogs’ unnecessary barking. The problem, however, is that there are so many different recommendations for how to handle this specific situation, and some of them sound downright inhumane.
It took me a good bit of research before I settled on a tactic. I think Modern Dog Magazine is a reputable source, so I’m trying the method recommended by guest contributor Stanley Coren, Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of many books about dogs, including Pawprints of History and How to Speak Dog. Coren starts by telling you what not to do quell unnecessary dog barking (even though it is sometimes tempting). He says not to yell “stop barking” or “no” or anything similar when your dog tunes up. Apparently when you shout, your dog interprets your sharp voice as a bark, as if you are joining the canine chorus. The dog will assume you condone his actions and may even ramp up the volume.
Coren explains that wild canine adults do not bark much because silence is necessary when hunting; noises may alert potential prey to the pack’s whereabouts and scare the evening’s dinner away. Pups and adolescents in the wild have not yet learned the necessity of quiet hunting and may bark at inappropriate times. When adolescents accompany their elders on a hunt and sound off unnecessarily, a dominant wolf will place his mouth over the pup’s muzzle, firmly but without actually biting, and issue a soft growl that can only be heard nearby. The young canine understands this signal and gets quiet quickly.
Humans can communicate with their domestic dogs in much the same manner, but your dog must be near you for this to work. When your dog starts barking without provocation, gently slip your left hand under his collar at the back of his neck to immobilize his head. Steadily lift up on his collar with your left hand as you fold your right hand over his muzzle. Do not pinch his jaws shut, that’s not the purpose. You are simply communicating with your dog here. As you gently press his muzzle, quietly and unemotionally but firmly say, “Quiet.” This action mimics the communication between wild dogs, and it should be fairly easy for your dog to understand what you are asking of him.
You may need to repeat this silencing maneuver many times before your dog responds to your satisfaction. Depending on your consistency and the breed of dog, it may take anywhere from a half dozen to several dozen repetitions before your dog associates the calmly stated, “Quiet” command with a request to stop barking.
We’ll see how this training method goes for me and our hounds. It’s going to take some maneuvering on my part, but I’m determined to make it work. Since it’s so pretty outside this time of year, I may just have to move my home office to the patio so I can teach them not to bark at the new, harmless noises in the neighborhood.
Wish me luck!
Top photo by carterse
Bottom photo by Wesley Fryer
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell
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