By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
Noise pollution was a problem at our house. The culprits? The treat-eating, hair-shedding, tail-wagging family members who press their black noses against the front windows for a good chunk of the day.
Some days, it felt like they were barking more than breathing. I’d be sitting in my home office, quietly concentrating on a project, and get jolted into a panic by a sudden barrage of barking. My blood pressure would shoot up, and I’d yell at the dogs to stop (which I now understand was the same as joining their barking brigade). It didn’t help.
On an average day, there are roughly a gazillion things at which dogs like to bark – the trash truck, squirrels, birds, cats, package deliveries, lawnmowers, bike riders, kids playing, leaves blowing, runners, walkers, doorbells, and cars pulling into driveways. I was sick of pulling down all the window shades to decrease the torrent of tattle-tale barking.
I tried rewarding the dogs with treats when they obeyed my command to stop barking. But they quickly realized that they could bark, get a treat, and then go back to the windows to bark again. It was a losing game.
Finally, I asked for help. My daughter’s service dog, Mac, has a professional dog trainer named Lin, who helps us sharpen his skills. Lin has been training dogs for decades, so I asked him how to stop the constant bark-a-palooza.
When he told me what to do, I thought it sounded strange and unlikely to work. I also thought I’d have to put months of work into it before the dogs quieted down. But the results have been so surprisingly good, I have to tell you about it so you can turn down the volume in your house, too.
Lin said he learned this technique from a dog trainer in Colorado named Nana Wills. The goal is not to eliminate all barking since most of us want our dogs to bark at suspicious bumps in the night. The goal is to reduce “nuisance barking” at everyday non-threatening occurrences. And yes, according to the expert, dogs really can learn the difference. Here’s what Lin told me to do:
Step 1: When the dogs go to the door or window and launch a verbal assault – because the neighbor had the gall to walk out to their own mailbox – I silently approach the dogs, make eye contact, and say this one word: “Bummer.” I don’t yell it, and I only say it once.
Step 2: Escort the dogs into a designated room and close the door between you and them. Stand outside the door and wait for 10 to 15 seconds of dog silence. Don’t leave them alone for more than 15 seconds.
Step 3: Open the door, let them come out, and say, “Good dogs.”
Repeat these three steps whenever the dogs bark at something they shouldn’t. Consistency is everything, my friends. After several repetitions, they’ll learn that their own barking lands them in a “time out,” which they don’t want.
No one was more surprised than me when this technique started working after only a few days. Suddenly the dogs didn’t care as much about the FedEx truck turning around in the cul-de-sac. They didn’t lose their minds when the neighbor’s cat stepped a furry paw into our yard.
The method requires zero human yelling or anger. Absolutely no swats on the nose. And if the dog walks away after you say “bummer” because he doesn’t want to go to time-out, follow him quietly (don’t chase) until he gives up and can be led to the time-out room for 10 seconds.
Dogs still get to bark when they’re playing or when they perceive actual danger. But the unnecessary noise goes way, way down.
One of the cute side-effects of this method is that dogs try to find a non-offensive way to watch out the window without triggering a time-out. Our Corgi does it by barely growling under his breath, so it’s not technically a bark. Or the Goldendoodle will let out one small, weak woof and then look at me to see if that was okay. It’s so much better than the instant onslaught of full-throttle barking that drove us nuts.
For me and so many others, home is wherever our people and our pets are. Life would be incomplete without them. Here’s hoping this shared tip, from one dog lover to another, makes your house a little more peaceful.
Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at email@example.com. Her book is available on Amazon.