Nuisance barking is one of those behaviors that’s… kind of a nuisance!
There is seriously nothing more annoying than nuisance barking. Especially if you have a dog whose barks are at the perfect grating decibel that my dog can bark at.
My little dog REALLY loves to bark.
She barks to let me know she’s feeling happy. She barks to let me know she’s feeling sad. She barks to let me know she’s feeling excited. She barks to let me know she’s feeling bored. She barks to let me know she’s angry. She barks to let me know that there’s someone at the door. She barks to let me know it’s too quiet in the house. She barks especially to let me know that she’s hungry, or that she thinks her walk is overdue.
As a professional dog trainer, I just accepted that that was part of “who she was” and I accepted that I would have to live with a barker.
To be honest, a lot of times her barking really annoyed me. But, I wasn’t willing to put her on a bark collar, and I didn’t really think she was “curable.”
Fast forward TWELVE long, bark-filled years after I got her, and I had my first human baby. A beautiful, precious little girl. After a healthy delivery, two uneventful days recovering the hospital, and a return home,
I was all ready to settle into my new mom bliss with my sweet baby.
For those of you who are parents, you know what happened next…
On night three, my baby “woke up.” She suddenly realized she wasn’t in the comfy, cozy womb any more and was not too happy about it. She also had horrible reflux, which meant she was screaming in pain a lot of the time. That basically meant 24/7 crying at my house, which progressed to angry screams if I couldn’t figure out how to help her.
As a new parent, I was still learning how to soothe my baby and get her to sleep. The method that we found that “worked” for me and her was that I would carry her around in a body carrier for HOURS at the perfect lilting step-bounce rhythm until she feel asleep.
Then, if I was very lucky, I could carefully peel her out of the carrier lifting her straight up in one smooth motion to deposit her gently in her bassinet. I would tiptoe out of the room, careful to avoid touching anything that might make a sound, including the creaky part of the floor.
And, when I finally closed the door and breathed a sigh of relief…. You guessed it.
“RAWRF! RAWRF! RAWRF! RAWR! RAWR! RWAR! RAWR, RAWR, RAWR, RAWR! RAWRAWRAWRAWRAWRAWR!!!!!”
I’d fly downstairs, only to see my twelve-year-old dog looking at me with a gaze of pure innocence and wagging her little tail seemingly to say “I love you. What’s wrong mom? Bark, and wake the baby? Me? No! I would never do that!”
WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! YOU ARE A CRAZY DOG!
After I stared her a few death daggers, I’d go back upstairs to my fully awake crying baby, only to have the whole scenario replay just a few hours later. Each time, her barking episodes would last just long enough to get me down the stairs and wake the baby, then she would stop.
Lord help me, I am going to kill this dog (I never, ever would, but my brain on 2 hours of sleep could only think in very simplistic terms).
After a few nights of no sleep, my brain seriously began to melt.
I thought I knew what tired felt like. I had never taken care of a newborn with reflux before. Tired did not even begin to explain it…
Maybe like when your leg falls asleep and you know something’s kind of not right, but you don’t realize the extent of it and you try to do something normal like stand up, only to fall because you can’t feel your leg? Like that. But, my brain.
Like, I’d search the house for the baby monitor for an hour only to find I’d left it in the closed fridge on top of the peanut butter jar… Because, you know, the baby monitor needs refridgeration? That kind of tired.
About a week after my daughter came home and after countless running up and down the stairs to quiet my baby then quiet my dog, during daylight hours, and after a coffee boost,
I finally decided to formulate a plan.
That’s right, the dog trainer put together a dog training plan for her dog (this is all so silly in hindsight).
And wouldn’t you know it? The dog STOPPED BARKING.
I’d been living for twelve years with an out-of-control barker because I didn’t create a behavior plan and stick to it?! SMH.
So, I know how hard this is. Because if I struggle and I’m a professional dog trainer, I know how hard this is to do when you are juggling a job that is not dog training, and trying to take care of your home, and the rest of your family. You don’t have the time to research how to fix it, let alone pick the right technique and read through gobs of learning theory just to find the method that will work best for you.
So, I did it for you.
Here it is, a simple, dog-friendly training plan to STOP your dog’s nuisance barking for good.
First, you’ll want to start by asking the four questions for behavior issues. Once that’s done, we can start working on the barking!
The most important thing with barking is consistency. You’ll want to address your dog’s nuisance barking each and every time that she barks (which, if your dog is like mine, will be a LOT in the beginning, but will become much more manageable after the first two or three days).
After that, here are the steps:
- Set up a crate in an isolated location. I used my basement.
- When your dog barks, say “uh oh!”
- Immediately put her in the isolated crate (you can pick her up if she’s small or snap on a leash and walk her there if she’s large).
- After 60 seconds (and until she’s quiet) let her back out. Act like everything’s normal. You can even tell her how much you missed her.
- Repeat if she barks again, only this time it’s 2 minutes.
- Repeat as many times as your dog barks, increasing the time by a minute or two each time.
- The next day, repeat, resetting the first time out to 60 seconds and moving up in 2 minute increments.
- The third day, repeat, resetting the first time out to 60 seconds and moving up in 3 to 5 minute increments.
Be prepared, you may need to do 20+ time outs on the first day. It should take only two or three days of using this consistently before you see a dramatic reduction/elimination of barking.
After that, you just have to maintain it by creating for the odd slip up. For maintenance I start at 5 minutes and until she’s quiet. It usually only takes one reminder to keep her quiet for most of the day.
- Your dog needs to be quiet to earn getting out of the crate, don’t let her out if she’s barking, whining, etc
- I recommend doing this on a Saturday so that you’ll have two whole days to focus on this behavior.
- My dog has never been in a crate, can I still do this? Yes, just use a small room like a bathroom.
- I don’t have a basement, I live in an apartment. Just use a bathroom or large closet, hopefully, you have one that’s not on a shared wall!
- Won’t this make my dog hate her crate? No, I’ve used this technique with dozens of my private clients and personal dogs, and I’ve never had a situation where the dog hated her crate after this training. When you put the dog in her crate, you are not yelling at her, scaring her, or being aggressive with her. It is pretty neutral. It should NOT be a scary situation for the dog, so there is no reason that it will make her dislike her crate. Now, if your dog didn’t like her crate before you started this training, this training will likely not help her love her crate more. In that case, you may want to switch to a bathroom.
- Can I just use a bark collar? I wish! It would be such an easy solution. Stay tuned for a post about why I don’t recommend bark collars.