Constant Barking- Nothing Seems to Help

This is a place to gain some understanding of dog behavior and to assist people in training their dogs and dealing with common behavior problems, regardless of the method(s) used. This can cover the spectrum from non-aversive to traditional methods of dog training. There are many ways to train a dog. Please avoid aggressive responses, and counter ideas and opinions with which you don't agree with friendly and helpful advice. Please refrain from submitting posts that promote off-topic discussions. Keep in mind that you may be receiving advice from other dog owners and lovers... not professionals. If you have a major problem, always seek the advice of a trainer or behaviorist!


Walk until your- paws drop off
Barked: Wed Feb 6, '13 12:12pm PST 
A little while ago, I posted about a dog who's staying with us, Blue, and his manners regarding our new cat. This is copied and pasted from the first post:
"At the moment, my fiancee's parents dog is staying with us. He's an older dog, though they've only had him for about two years, and he came with many bad habits(stealing food, constant barking, occasional nipping, never listens, etc.) and they're fed up with his bad behavior. My fiancee's mother wants to get rid of him, but his father is convinced that Blue should just be put down, as he's old and with so many undesirable traits, he doesn't think Blue would be able to find a home. To keep this from happening, we're working on teaching him some better manners. Blue's progress is slow, but he's old, somewhere around 12, so we're trying to be patient."
His training is going fairly well, he and the cat are getting along better now, and he's making great progress from the bratty, anxious dog that he was into a calmer and I think happier dog now. There's just one thing we can't seem to get a handle on: his barking. I've had beagles before, and those little guys can be stubborn barkers, but Blue takes the cake. He barks at everything- a passing vehicle, a person out the window, an animal in the yard, animals on TV(a cute quirk at first, but it's become rather obnoxious-we watch a lot of Animal Planet), people who are trying to talk to each other, a person who's trying to talk on the phone, and occasionally, it seems, nothing at all. I'm going to be having a baby next month, and I really would like her to be able to sleep without being woken by Blue. Getting rid of him isn't an option anymore. I found out he's closer to 14, almost 15 years old, so he's most likely to be staying with us for the rest of his life.
When my fiancee's parents had him, their solution was to just yell at Blue until he lost interest in whatever he was barking at. I, however, have had enough experience with dogs to know that if you yell at a dog, especially one like Blue, he's likely to yell back. We've been calm, but there's a certain tone of voice that will send Blue to the safety of his bed, and even from there we'll hear the occasional soft woofs. I don't want to scare him into behaving. When I had the beagles, teaching them a "speak" and a "quiet" command usually did the trick. With Blue, though, he won't listen to us unless we have a treat to give him, and I'm already concerned about Blue's weight. His first owner kept his bowl full of food for him, and when we got him he was dangerously overweight. He's getting down to a more decent wight now, but I'm afraid that if we continue feeding him treats, he'll start to put weight on again. He's a pretty smart dog, too, and I don't want him to start barking as a way to get treats.
The barking while people are talking is really getting to be a hassle. We know it's because he wants attention- if he gets ignored long enough he'll shove his way in between the people talking, and if that doesn't work he starts nipping. We've tried giving him toys to entertain himself, and we've tried having someone else give him attention while the others are trying to talk, but he ignores the person petting him and continues to act like a brat.
We asked around amongst our friends to see if anyone had any ideas for us. One suggested a muzzle, but he doesn't need a muzzle. He doesn't bite, he barks, and any muzzle that's going to keep him from barking is essentially going to keep his mouth forced shut, and I'm not leaving something like that on him all the time. Another suggested an electronic collar. Not a shock collar, one of the citronella spray collars. Blue barks enough that I'm afraid he'll just end up sticky and miserable if we use something like that.
Does anyone have any suggestions or tips for what we can do for Blue? I know that if he didn't bark as much, it would just be a better situation for my family, Blue himself included.
Thanks in advance!

The Tinydog
Barked: Wed Feb 6, '13 12:54pm PST 
Megatron was a pretty serious barker, though probably not to the same extent your Beagle is. I found that a citronella collar coupled with loads (and I mean loads!) of exercise, food and toy distractions and reinforcement for quieting on cue worked pretty well. I think we used the collar for a month or two alongside intensive training and the problem was markedly better after then.

Also, you need to limit his access to things that make him want to bark, like being able to see how the window. If he can bark unabated while left alone outside, or when you're out of the house, etc, you're not going to have much luck training it out. Consider crate training as well to give him a safe spot to rest, but make sure he's well tuckered out first.

Member Since
Barked: Wed Feb 6, '13 1:01pm PST 
The best way really is with training the "Speak" and "Quiet" commands with positive reinforcement for good behavior. Some dogs are content with an ear rub, some dogs need the food treats. But this does not have to make your dog overweight. All you need is to take a portion of his regular meal (if he's on kibble, you can use the same kibbles as treats) to use as treats. So, if he normally eats 2 cups of food a day and you use up an entire cup for treats, then all he needs is one cup for his meal. Other options inlude using ice-cubes for treats (my dogs love this).

It's really the best way to go about modifying this behavior.


Let's play tug!!
Barked: Wed Feb 6, '13 11:17pm PST 
Holy cow. 8 months pregnant and doing intensive behavior work, huh? I'm way impressed.

The tricky thing with dogs who bark constantly is that they're usually barking for several different reasons, which respond best to different tactics.

So, this is the basic outline that I would use:

Underlying management: block his view of the outside. Tape newspaper over the windows, buy heavy curtains, stick a tension rod in the window and drape a sheet over it- whatever works for you. Smokey was so bad at first that he would take a flying-tasmanian-devil leap at the blinds in order to knock them aside and bark directly at whoever had dared to threaten our den. If you've got one like him, I give you my condolences (and I suggest that you Velcro foamboard directly to the windows).

1) When he barks, identify the cause of the barking. Try to label it as "demanding/bratty" "excited" or "fearful" (reactive, defensive, aggressive, territorial, etc all go in this category)

2a) If the barking is demanding, ignore it. Try to hold out for 30 seconds. If during that time he offers any alternative behavior, even for a split second, reward that IMMEDIATELY with attention, treats, and/or a toy. If the situation makes it difficult for you to listen to 30 seconds of barking, you feel too irritable to cope with it right then, etc, just give him a timeout in his crate. Otherwise, wait the 30 seconds before removing him to his crate. When you do remove him to his crate, do so silently and calmly, looking at him as little as possible. The message you're sending is that calm dogs get privileges, and noisy dogs get boring crate time.

2b) For excited/overstimulated barking, tone down the environment if possible. Stop any vigorous play, loud talking, or enthusiastic petting, and become a quiet, boring person. When he calms down, offer him something he likes, maybe a game of fetch. You want him to see that self control makes fun things happen, and freaking out makes boring things happen. Remember that learning happens subthreshold. If you find that you're giving the same command over and over, or that he's not noticing and responding to the reinforcement you're giving, his frontal lobe is probably not working, and he is probably not learning anything. Save both of you the aggravation and give a timeout.

2c) For reactive behavior, you want to reward him for reorienting to you. Keep in mind that you can use very tiny treats. I usually slice cheese, freeze the slices, and cut those into microscopic squares. If you store them in the freezer, they won't stick together. Slim Jim or beef jerky works for something shelf stable. As soon as Smokey looks at me, I say "yup!" and throw him a handful of cheese particles, scattering them as much as I can. This usually distracts him until the trigger passes. He hasn't shown any propensity to bark for treats, but I have seen other dogs do that. The second you start to feel that he's playing a game- a good indication is letting out a couple woofs, looking at you, then letting out a couple more- truly worried dogs stare at the perceived threat and don't want to give you their attention- reward only for looking toward the trigger without barking at all, then looking at you. You can do this for triggers that he sees in spite of your management precautions, and also for animals on TV. If he's only slightly reactive to stuff on TV, you may want to start out rewarding only for no reaction. Just follow your gut about where to start.