Thursday, January 08, 2009

Training Tips: Barking to order dinner

Some dogs learn to bark as a way to boss people around. This guy is a Lab I rescued from a shelter in KY. He came to me about 30 lbs overweight, had been "the man's dog" and made it clear he had no respect for women. He had learned to boss those in his previous home to giving him food (and whatever he wanted) on demand. I have dealt with a few rescue dogs who barked before dinner. I like to train with operant conditioning - which lets the dog think he is training you and is an effective, positive approach to fixing problem behaviors with bossy dogs (works great on submissive dogs too). Your timing is important in all kinds of training and is critical for dogs to get the message. You can use a clicker or not (read more about clicker training online. I like Karen Pryor's site at: Another tip I will interject here is the use of the word "Wrong" (which I learned from Gary Wilkes). It is said in a non-emotional, normal, quiet voice and it means "that behavior will not be reinforced, please try again". It is not the same as "No" - which means "Stop it!". Keep your cues and signals clear and unique if you want your dog to learn quickly.

Let's pretend you do not have a clicker, but want to start getting control of barking before the next meal. You are getting ready to feed your boisterous boy and he starts barking - perfect time to say "wrong", and go sit down and ignore him. If this is the first time you have ever used the word "wrong", do not expect him to understand it at all. It is meaningless to him right now. But, keep using it and he will learn by association so that it will become very meaningful in the future. Just remember to use it consistently and not interchangeably with "NO"! When you sit down and ignore him you should get a response to your behavior - it may not happen instantly, but the dog will stop barking. He stops, you say "good" or "good quiet" (if you want to teach the cue "quiet" you can teach it by association this way) and get up to go feed again. Barking resumes - say "wrong", go sit down again. Eventually he will stop barking more quickly and you can progress to stopping in your tracks instead of going back to sit down. When he stops barking say "good quiet" and move forward to proceed with feeding. Do not command "quiet!" while his is barking - he doesn't know what it means yet and you will just be yelling over him. Get the behavior first, then attach the cue. Continue this little dance of moving forward when he is quiet and stopping in your tracks or backing up and sitting down when he barks. Shortly your dog will learn he is controlling your actions with his behavior. You only progress toward the desired destination (dinner prep) when he is quiet. He barks-you stop, he's quiet-you proceed. He is the "operator" - that is the heart of operant conditioning. It is very powerful; we all want to feel we have some control of things that happen to us and this makes the message very clear to dogs because you are communicating in a jointly understood language. We all learn fast this way because the feedback is meaningful. As in all training, don't expect perfection the 1st time, but build on it with each session and have lots of successful sessions.

Some trainers don't like the idea of pairing the praise with the cue (e.g. "good quiet"), but it works for me. I do it both ways. Leave out the cue if you are in that camp. However, if your dog is just being quiet on his own during the day, telling him "good quiet" then will not be meaningful to him and will dilute or negate it as a cue, so remember to make your use of words relevant if you want to teach your dog to understand your language.

BTW, this guy learned quickly that he was not going to get fed when he bossed me. He is a dominant, very smart dog who gave me many challenges and taught me a lot. He still prefers men, but he respects everyone now - as long as they are a Pack Leader.

Happy Training!


I'm not blond, I'm GOLDEN said...

I'm going to try this technique on Riley - He doesn't bark for dinner - but he has just started to bark at me when he wants my attention (which is usually right around 1:30 AM...I thought the first few times he had to go out, but I watched him in the backyard and no potty) it is a nightly ritual...

Thanks for the tip! Kelly

OtterTail said...

I have gone through something similar with puppies during house-training and sometimes rescues. You think they may really have to go out in the night, so you give in the first couple of times and then - rats! You have inadvertently rewarded unwanted behavior. You may have to put up with a surge in the bad behavior before it is extinguished. It is always harder to stop a behavior that we have previously reinforced than it is to stop one that was never rewarded. An increase in the unwanted behavior when you first try to ignore it is natural, so expect that. Be strong.

Happy Training! Amy