Q: I have a Shih Tzu/Bichon mix who doesn’t want to stop barking. He barks at everything. I have tried so many different techniques on him, everything from Cesar Milan’s techniques to dog training that I have learnt in the past, but nothing I have tried helps. I have had many dogs and this one is the loud mouth. What can I do?—Deafened in Detroit
A: It can be very frustrating when you have a chatterbox for a canine friend! Barking is a very rewarding activity. Behaviour that is rewarded is repeated; since barking makes your dog happy, he barks more!
To change any kind of behaviour, consistency is critical. If you keep changing how you deal with his barking, it will probably just confuse him and the barking will get worse. I do NOT recommend yelling or making any other noise back at him. He’ll just think you’re joining in!
It does help to understand what is motivating your dog’s barking. Here are some common causes and how to treat them.
1. He’s barking to get something. For example, he barks so you’ll take him outside, feed him, throw the ball, etc. If this is the case, don’t give it to him. At first, his barking will get worse, because it has worked for him in the past and he’ll be very confused why it’s not working now. Stick it out! Ignore him. The second he’s quiet, only then should you react.
For example, my puppy, Sawyer, would whine to be let out of his crate. I would reach for the crate latch and the whining would start, so I would freeze. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t do anything. He soon learned that as long as he whined, my hand never reached that crate latch. The whining stopped.
2. He’s barking at things he sees. For example, he barks at people outside, kids on bikes, other dogs, etc. This can mean he doesn’t have enough socialization with these things so he feels a need to yell at them to defend himself. It also could be that he is so excited by them that he wants to talk about it. Increasing his exercise (a tired dog is less likely to bark) and managing his environment so he doesn’t have access to his triggers can help. Barking through the window? Shut the blinds!
Don’t forget to reward him when he is quiet. Use a clicker to mark the moment and give him a tasty reward. You will teach him that being quiet is more rewarding than barking. As always, if you’re still having issues I recommend finding a reward-based professional trainer to help you at home.