Modifying Barking

What is the Functional Analysis for this behavior? Why is the dog barking? A typical FA could be

Antecedent -------------------------> Behavior --------------------------> Consequence

Dog sees someone outside window ----> Dog barks --------> Stranger walks away

Step 1 – Management

We can’t continue to let the dog perform the behavior as that will make it harder to train an alternative behavior. Therefore, we need to prevent the dog from seeing out the windows. We can use baby gates to keep the dog away from the windows. We can cover the windows with frosted film or curtains/blinds. This can be a permanent or temporary solution, depending on how much training the owners follow through. Management may resolve the issue and be a good permanent solution with no need for further training. Barking is such a natural behavior for dogs, it can be difficult to eliminate, particularly when owners are not home.

Barking can be a symptom of boredom, lack of mental and physical enrichment, and/or lack of attention (like my Olive). So be sure your client is meeting all of the dogs needs on a daily basis. We covered distant antecedents earlier – mental enrichment, physical exercise, diet and nutrition.

Step 2 – Determine an alternative behavior

The obvious alternative behavior is to be quiet.

Step 3 – Train the new behavior

One simple method is to train a “Quiet” or “Hush.” This technique requires that you capture the Bark and reinforce brief moments of quiet. You can use a hand signal similar to a baseball umpire declaring a player safe at home plate - hands in front of you palm facing down, then spread the hands wide and say Hush.

Here is short fun video I made with my English Bulldog, Olive. She barks at me in the evenings for attention.

Another technique is to use negative punishment to decrease barking. If your dog is barking for your attention, take your attention away when he barks. Turn your back to the dog and ignore or leave the room altogether. Return when he is quiet and give him the attention he craves. This method won’t work well if you can’t control the rewards for the behavior. For example, if your dog is territorially barking, he’s been reinforced for it when people walk past your house. To your dog, his barking has caused the “intruders” to leave. It’s not practical to have people stand in front of your house until your dog stops barking in order to remove the reward for the behavior.

Redirection toward a more appropriate activity is another method to decrease barking. This can be done easily by calling the dog away from the stimulus (this assumes you have trained a good recall with your dog) and engaging him in an activity he enjoys – a game with you, a food dispensing puzzle, or a good chew. With continued practice, your dog will understand that after one bark, he can come to you for something better to do.

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