You’ve seen the scene – and heard it – before: someone’s dog is barking nonstop, whether at the dog park, on the street, or at your friend’s house – causing other dogs to act up, annoying everyone within earshot, giving non-dog-owners murderous thoughts and even making dog-lovers cringe. Meanwhile the owner is reclining in his or her chair, sipping a martini, occasionally muttering a gentle stream of nonsense:
“Good boy Hudson. Hudson what are you barking at sweetie? Hush now Hudson. Nobody wants to hear you barking. You have so much to say Hudson! Good boy. Yes you’re a sweet boy but quiet down. HUDSON! Shush now. Ok ok quiet now. That’s enough Hudson. These people are trying to eat. HUDSON!! What is it, that cattie over there? He’s not bothering us. You want food Hudson? Are you hungry? If you quiet down maybe I’ll give you some steak, do you want some steak Hudson? HUDSON!!”
I find it in turns amusing and frustrating when someone pleads in extended natural-language sentences to their out-of-control dog, by all appearances with the intention of getting the dog to listen, understand, and adapt its behavior accordingly. I say these owners have that intention “by all appearances” because it is very difficult for me to understand what these people are thinking. Dogs don’t speak English; the ones that have been trained to understand a few commands here or there understand just that – commands – not full English sentences. And even if some superdogs have been trained to understand full sentences, these waffly, wishy-washy streams of consciousness aren’t the kinds of sentences the trainers of those superdogs have worked on. And anyway, these dogs don’t understand those sentences, and their owners must certainly know that!
I have a new theory, though: the people who ramble on like this aren’t actually speaking to their dogs; they’re speaking to everyone around them. They have no control over their dogs, no idea what to do to to stop them from acting up or to get them to behave; but instead of admitting it upfront – or, god forbid, actually trying and working on different methods that might in fact help – they want it to at least seem to everyone around (and probably to themselves as well) that they are fully trying, doing everything anyone could possibly hope for. Hudson just won’t listen – it isn’t the owner’s fault, since he’s talking up a storm and Hudson still won’t listen! Evidence presented, case closed; it’s the dog’s fault. Now you can all go back to sipping your drinks and instead of blaming the owner, have pity. In fact, buy him a drink, he needs it after putting up with this four-legged terror!
Of course this is ridiculous: whether or not a particular dog understands verbal commands, he can still be influenced to be calm-submissive and happily obedient. Dogs that don’t know commands need to be communicated with in non-verbal, sensual, physical and energetic ways: low, calming tones; body-blocking, physical touch; tap on the leash; leading the dog away from the problem area; redirecting to desired behavior; and finally, rewarding the desired, replacement behaviors with treats, praise, pets, and other positive reinforcement like play, relaxation, and socialization. Hudson obviously isn’t trained to listen to the drivel his owner is muttering; but that doesn’t mean the owner can’t start right now, right where Hudson is, cut the unbalanced behavior off at the source and reinforce the calm, obedient behavior that would appear in its place. And starting there, of course he can then progress to teaching Hudson some simple commands like “Come”, “Lie down”, or “Calm”.
The same points of course hold for behaviors other than barking – for jumping, chewing, aggressing, pulling on leash…anything that you want your dog to stop. But since this post is about barking, I want to end with a few Barking Do’s and Dont’s:
1. Yell (they’ll think you’re barking with them)
2. Ignore (they’ll keep trying to alert you)
3. Restrain or hold (adds to tension)
1. Block with body (you between them and the threat)
2. Acknowledge the alert (e.g. “Okay. Thank you!”)
3. If barking continues, snap fingers or tap leash (calm discipline)
4. Lead to bed or calm place, sit or lie down (redirect)
5. Reward calmness with treat, rawhide, or petting (reinforcement)
That’s all I have to say on the matter.