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Canine Behavior/Barking...and barking...and barking

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Bennett
Bennett  
Hi Dr. Connor,  My husband and I adopted a ?lab/shepherd mix from our local humane society in November 2012.  He was 6 months old at the time.  We don't know much about his history, except that he was brought to the shelter at 5 months, adopted by a family with a young child, and returned after a month because he was nippy.  We worked with him, and the nipping has subsided.  He is a smart pup; we have completed Level 1 obedience, and are on our 3rd level of agility (all positive reinforcement only).  He is generally quiet in the house, and not very reactive - loud noises, people passing the house, and neighbour's dog barking cause minimal reaction.  In fact, the only real issue we have with him is his continual barking when someone enters our house or yard.  Sometimes he will settle (after several minutes of barking) only to start up again.  It doesn't appear to be provoked (the visitor hasn't stood up, etc); it doesn't appear to be fear or aggression based - it seems to be a call for attention.  Occasionally he will do the same thing when my husband gets home from work, and he frequently will bark during agility classes, if we are not actually doing an activity, but trying to listen to instruction.  I have tried several things to change this behaviour, but none were successful, and I'm afraid I may have just confused the issue.  I've tried waiting for a few seconds silence and rewarding "good quiet", turning my back on him, and putting him behind a closed door for a few seconds, but as none seemed to work; I probably didn't stick with it long enough to be effective.  Can you suggest a "tried and true" method to deal with this?  Thanks so much!!

Answer
Lovely dog and well done! in terms of obedience and agility.  Barking is communication.  Unless other indications are present (pilo-erection, for instance: ear set, tail set) this may have been inadvertently "trained" because it DOES get attention.  :o)

First suggestion:
http://www.dogwise.com/ItemDetails.cfm?ID=DTB989
"Barking: The Sound of a Language", Turid Rugaas

Second, her site on dog body language (a real eye opener that might alert you to just what sets the dog off):
http://www.canis.no/rugaas/index.php

This is her 'Calming Signals' community online (you may even be able to order the book from this site, dunno).

Even if this is over excitement or some sort of echo of a conditioned response from a "former" life experience, it can be extinguished.  The surefire method of doing so is to actually "train" it.  Should you choose this method, I would suggest you use a clicker (it will separate this particular "trick" from all other obedience routines).  Basics of clicker:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IC367wKGi4M&feature=related

The dog must be properly conditioned to the clicker and this isn't always as simple as it appears to be, since some dogs are sensitive to the click at first and many trainers who use it don't truly understand that the introduction and conditioning process are "unforgivable", meaning: you can't make a mistake, while its use is "forgivable" meaning, you can occasionally err in rewarding the "wrong" thing (I did it once on stage in front of an audience, totally inadvertently very embarrassing lolol).  So learning how it works and how to use it: Karen Pryor is the only resource so far as I'm concerned.  Her website:
ClickerTraining.com

There you will find many articles, free videos on all sorts of training (including how to control behaviors you don't want):
http://www.clickertraining.com/node/834

There are clicker solutions for just about everything with the exception being extremely advanced dog to human aggression.

Once the dog is trained to "bark" on command, he is then trained to "shush" (or whatever expression you choose to use) and the reward is slowly extinguished for the bark and reinforced for obliging the "shush" command.

It may take a few weeks (most likely will) and, while it might work at home quite well within a couple of months (or less), you will most likely have to go back to "kindergarten" (as Karen says) in other places (such as in class).  Once your dog understands how rewarding it is to STOP, he'll be happy to oblige (and you can use this when he responds to normal things, as well: let him voice his opinion, then "shush" him).

Use followup for any questions as you proceed.

Canine Behavior

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.

Expertise

I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.

Experience

30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for ThePetChannel.com for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, K9Shrinks@egroups.com. Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Organizations
Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Publications
Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Education/Credentials
Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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