Sounds of silence
|The ‘quiet’ cue is a bit more difficult for a vocal dog. Photos by Chuck Dressler|
By Doris Dressler
And no one dared disturb the sound of silence.
Paul Simon, "The Sound of Silence"
Well, except for the dog—when the UPS truck pulled into the driveway.
Is your dog a barker? Try googling “top 10 dog behavior problems”; barking is always in the top five.
Humans generally don’t consider barking as a natural canine behavior, but dogs bark. Dogs bark to communicate with us, with each other and, sometimes, just bark to express an emotion. But when barking becomes excessive, it may be time to think about some training.
Barking is challenging to address because it’s an incredibly self-rewarding behavior. Think about it from the dog’s point of view. The UPS truck pulls up and your dog starts barking. Eventually the truck leaves. Mission accomplished! The dog did his job and the intruder went away.
The key to addressing a barking issue is to determine why the dog is barking; if you can determine the cause, it may be simple to resolve. For example, if your dog is barking at you for attention, one solution is to turn your back on your dog or leave the room. Your dog will quickly learn barking results in his playmate leaving instead of staying and playing.
What works in most cases is simply teaching your dog the “quiet” cue.
Teaching the quiet cue
An effective way to teach your dog “quiet” is to first instruct your dog to “speak.” This sounds crazy, but, if we teach the dog to bark when we ask for it and then highly reinforce that behavior, the dog will be less likely to bark unless it’s requested.
Dogs also learn behaviors faster if we can teach them in opposite pairs; sit and down, away to me and come by (herding terms for left and right) and, in this, case speak and quiet.
- Figure out a trigger that gets your dog to bark. For most dogs, this is as simple as knocking.
- When the dog barks after you knock, mark the behavior (with a clicker, if you are familiar with clicker training, or simply a high-pitched verbal “yes”) and immediately follow with a treat.
- Do this several times until the dog offers the bark without your having to knock. When this occurs, continue to mark the behavior and reward with a treat.
- Once the dog is freely offering the behavior (barking), add the cue—the word “speak.” If you like, you can also pair the cue with a hand signal.
- Now we need to work on what psychologists call “stimulus control.” The dog needs to learn he only gets rewarded when you ask him to “speak.” If the dog barks and you did not ask for a “speak,” ignore the dog. Wait a few seconds and then ask the dog to “speak.” When the dog barks, give a reward. The dog will learn barking without being cued results in no reward. But barking on cue does!
Now it’s time to teach the “quiet” cue.
- When your dog is quiet, say “quiet” and use a hand signal if you like (index finger over lips). Quickly mark the behavior (high-pitched “yes”) and treat.
- If the dog barks instead, simply wait until he is quiet and try again.
- Practice over and over until the dog understands a treat follows the “quiet” cue as long as he remains quiet waiting for it.
- As the dog begins to make the connection, extend the period of time between the “quiet” cue and the delivery of the reward. Try to work up to 10 or 20 seconds.
Coup de grace
Now comes the fun part. Start working the “quiet” and “speak” cue together. Ask the dog to “speak” but do not reward with a treat. Instead, immediately ask the dog to be “quiet.” Reward the “quiet” cue with a treat. We are teaching the dog that quiet is the more rewarding cue.
Another variation for dogs who really love to bark is reward the “quiet” cue with permission to bark. Ask your dog to be quiet; after he has been quiet, reinforce the quiet cue by giving permission to bark.
Most dogs enjoy training because of the one-on-one attention they get from their owners. And who doesn’t like a food reward? Keep training fun and upbeat and you’ll be surprised at how quickly your dog can learn.
Practice makes perfect. Happy training!