Lacey. Ah, Lacey. A sweet, gorgeous, loving, playful dog who loves giving and receiving lots of cuddles and attention… and who has a serious barking issue…Lacey’s barking is out of control. Reverse canine psychology has not been working, so I’ve gone back to what has worked for me in the past with problem barkers. I’ve had to, because Lacey’s barking is starting to have a negative impact on my dog, Glimmer, who is starting to practice the same unwanted behavior.
My technique is simple, but it requires extraordinary patience and calmness. Lacey is a very demanding dog who expects to be given affection when she wants it instead of waiting for it to be offered to her. It doesn’t matter if the affection is a food treat, play time, meals, pets, or any other form of affection. Miss Lacey wants it right now and if she doesn’t get what she wants when she wants it, she makes sure the entire neighborhood hears her displeasure.
So, yesterday, I began the process of hard-conditioning with her. Hard-conditioning is a term I use to describe my process of correcting a serious problem behavior using nothing but energy, body language, a clicker, and food. Here’s how it works.
Lacey starts barking her demands, getting louder and louder with every bark. I stand calmly and quietly in front of her, giving her direct eye contact, and I wait. The second she stops barking, I click and give her a food treat. When she starts up again – and she always does – I repeat my response. We do this for as long as it takes for her to stop reacting and start thinking about what she has to do to get the treat. When I started this process with her yesterday, the first round took nearly ten minutes before she finally got the message that she wasn’t going to get her way until she was quiet.
Once she understood that she had to be quiet, we repeated the exercises for a few more minutes just to make sure she was clear about what was expected of her. Then, I increased the challenge: be quiet when the door bell rings or there’s knocking at the door. The first time I knocked on the wall, she barked so loudly and for so long that she nearly made herself sick. I waited her out- calmly, quietly, and patiently.
We repeated the exercise several more times. Each time she showed me she was understanding what was expected of her, I upped the challenge a little more. By the end of the session, I was simultaneously ringing the door bell and pounding on the wall. Lacey made good progress; by the end of the session, her barking had significantly decreased both in volume and duration. Glimmer helped out tremendously by showing Lacey what to do; Lacey watched and then started to mimic her. Every time she did, she got a food reward, which helped to reinforce the correct behavior. Thank you, Glimmer!
Today, we’re going to be repeating the exercises. From now until Lacey goes home, we will be doing the exercises several times over the course of each day. I will also be recruiting friends and family to help reinforce the lessons so that Lacey learns and accepts that she must practice the correct behavior at all times, regardless of whether she is at home, with us, with her people when they take her with them to visit with friends or family, or just generally out and about with her family. She must learn and accept that the days of her making demands – and winning – are over.
Have a great day, everyone, and remember: Stay calm and lead on…