Posted: April 24, 2012, 3:20 p.m. EDT
Giving customers the necessary tactics and tools can keep them happy and their dogs quiet.
By Steven Appelbaum
One of the more common behavior problems dog owners face is excessive barking. This is one of those behaviors that, if left unchecked, can result in a dog being rehomed and, in some cases, abandoned or taken to a shelter. The good news is there are many things you and your behaviorally enlightened staff can do to facilitate the elimination, or at least curtailment, of this behavior.
First, it is important to understand that barking is a normal behavior for our canine friends. This is one of the ways in which they communicate with each other and with humans as well. Some breeds are more predisposed to bark, although there are loud and quiet members of every breed.
Many dogs bark because they are bored or frustrated, or because they hear other dogs in the neighborhood vocalizing and simply want to join in. Still others bark excessively at front doors or as an inappropriate form of greeting. Some barking is learned, some is fear-based, and some is territorial.
Sales staff should first look at their customers’ own behavior toward their pets. Every dog owner needs to avoid sending mixed messages that encourage inappropriate dog barking. Let’s start at the front door or point of entry when an owner comes home. How does a dog act when its owner comes home from work? Does she bark and run all over the place? If yes, does the owner reward this behavior by petting or picking up the dog?
If the answer is yes, suggest they greet the dog more calmly and not praise or pet her at all when she barks. Owners should literally freeze or simply walk away from their dog when barking occurs. This will cause the dog to follow, which can also be ignored until the barking stops. The instant it does, owners can praise the non-barking behavior.
Treats are also a fabulous way of reinforcing what owners want. To use them properly, they should simply wait until the dog stops barking, give a small treat and then praise. Owners following this kind of program will typically find that after about two to three weeks, their dogs will greet them in a far calmer and quieter fashion.
Another behavior to ask about is how the dog greets others when at home. Does the dog bark at the front door? There is nothing wrong if the answer is yes, but dog owners need a quiet command to establish when enough is enough.
To teach this, have owners ask a friend to come to the front door and knock or ring the bell. When the dog runs to the door barking, instruct them to calmly walk over to the door, and when they want the dog to be quiet, they should give it a sharp “eh eh” cue. This sound will distract some dogs from barking. If the barking stops, they should immediately praise the dog.
Dog owners can also use a clicker for this. They simply click after the dog is quiet and then give a treat and praise.
Some dogs will take a while to stop barking. If after your customers give the “eh eh” cue and the dog continues, let them know that the best approach is to simply wait until it stops. Then, they should click, treat and praise, or just treat and praise. This can take a bit of patience on your customers’ part, which is why it is more realistic to ask a friend to help with the door knocking.
Owners that work on this a few times a week will be rewarded with two things. First, the dog will learn to be quiet when they say “eh eh.” Second, over time, the dog will bark less. Both are desirable, but this takes time.
Owners of dogs that bark excessively need to consider taking the dog through an obedience program. Obedience teaches the dog to respond to cues and also teaches the dog how to learn and be more responsive to its owner. Although I won’t claim that dogs that do well in obedience are never excessive barkers, I will go out on a limb and suggest that dogs who excel in obedience training are easier to teach to stop barking.
There are other things for dog owners to consider. Many dogs bark because they are bored. Make sure these dogs get proper and consistent exercise. Also, pet stores can offer customers adequate amounts of interactive play toys and a good diet.
I’ve discussed play toys in previous editions of this column. I love Kongs (especially if they are stuffed with delectable treats), Buster Cubes, Boomer Balls and all sorts of toys manufactured by companies such as Premier (Petsafe). I also recommend offering a good strong leash such as those made by Coastal or Four Paws and, of course, a good collar or head harness (for taking a dog on walks as part of an exercise program), such as those made by Coastal or Premier.
One of the toughest parts of this problem to address is what to do when the dog barks when no one is home. Many pet stores sell citronella collars, vibration collars and electronic bark collars to address this particular issue. It is important that these products are sold to owners who will use them correctly, which is why it is so vital for you and your staff to have a basic understanding about this behavior.
Steven Appelbaum is the president of Animal Behavior College, a vocational institution devoted to helping animal lovers succeed in animal careers. Appelbaum has been a professional animal trainer for 30 years. He is the author of the book “The ABC Practical Guide to Dog Training,” and is a freelance writer, lecturer and consultant.
The Education Series: Training & Behavior Modification column is brought to you in part by Farnam.
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