How do you train a dog NOT to do something?
May 28, 2012 9:08 AM   Subscribe

How do you train a dog NOT to do something? I understand the basics of training a dog to perform a positive behavior: repetition, treats, encouraging words and body language, etc. I've even been somewhat successful in training my dogs to sit, stay, give paw, etc. But one of my dogs barks at my husband whenever he walks by, and he (the husband) is getting pretty darn tired of it.

Just as background: We have four dogs and two cats, and all except one of the dogs came to live with us as a result of me volunteering with animal rescue groups. I think my husband is a teensy bit resentful of the havoc that having multiple pets can cause. However, he does treat them nicely and plays with them and helps out with their care.

One of the dogs (Dino) is an adult male Pomeranian who came to us several years ago after living with an elderly lady. Dino has always been suspicious of my husband (and any male), and it doesn't help that my husband can be a noisy clomp-y kind of guy around the house. (If I weighed 8 pounds and was thisclose to the floor, I'd be suspicious too.)

So Dino barks at him. All. The. Damn. Time. Husband gets up from couch - Dino barks. Husband goes out to garage and comes back 12 seconds later - Dino barks. Husband walks by my office where I'm working and Dino is sitting quietly - Dino barks.

The only time Dino doesn't bark at him is when I'm not around. So we think it's some kind of [really over-the-top] protective instinct.

We've tried:

* husband feeds and cares for Dino exclusively
* husband carries treats around with him, and any time he passes Dino, gives him a treat
* homeopathic calming pills on a recommendation from our vet (who was reluctant to prescribe tranquilizers when I begged asked)
* ignoring the barking, thinking that we were somehow encouraging it
* yelling at Dino to shut the hell up already (our current approach, sadly)

Nothing works. Husband is now working from home, and I have summers off, so we're looking at three months of wild-ass yapping whenever husband moves a muscle.

HELP! How do I train Dino to not bark at my husband? I would settle for him stopping when I ordered him to, or stopping on his own after one or two yaps. Not barking at all would be ideal. I can't count on complete cooperation from my husband anymore, as he has given up and is ready to send Dino back to the shelter (ain't gonna happen.)

I have looked at the other AskMes about bark-y dogs, and the ones I've seen are focused on dogs who bark when the owner's away, which is the opposite of my problem.
posted by SuperSquirrel to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
If Dino barks every time he sees your husband, and your husband gives Dino a treat every time he walks by, it sounds to me like he is training Dino to bark at him. Oops.
posted by advicepig at 9:23 AM on May 28, 2012 [7 favorites]

Desensitization training is the term you want to google for. We did this with an aggressive dog with help from an animal behaviorist, so if you need more than a website or library book ask your vet for a referral to a behaviorist.
posted by instamatic at 9:26 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just some ideas.

You can use clicker training to train the dog to acceptable behaviours. This would work because you could do the rewarding instead of your husband and you can instantly mark the correct behaviour. It is very easy to get the dog to understand that the click of the clicker = treat/reward.

Then all you would have to do is be ready so that when your husband goes to stand up and the dog doesn't bark you reward that behaviour. As he gets slightly better you can stretch it out so now the dog has to wait until your husband is fully standing to get a click and so on. The added advantage is the dog could well get distracted by looking for the treat that follows the click that it might extend the non barking time.

Basically you want to encourage the not barking at the stimulus. There are lots of good books out there on the subject as well as information and videos online which you can find with a quick google.

Citronella bark collar might be another option. Though it usually only trains the dogs not to bark while wearing the collar and they have to be fitted properly to work which might be hard if your dog has a thick fluffy coat.
posted by wwax at 9:28 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's a PDF for training out barking that gives additional information related to whalebreath's answer above. I second the idea of training "speak" and "quiet" together. And if the barking is happening because the dog is fearful, it will be a good investment to address that as well with confidence-building exercises. Be careful to not reward if the dog is barking when you've asked for quiet -- timing is key. Oh, and yelling? It's likely that the dog thinks you're barking back. Calm and quiet is the way to go.
posted by vers at 9:48 AM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yes to desensitize, no to citronella (that is just going to make the dog even more suspicious of husband), vers' link has some good suggestions. I would perhaps train an incompatible behavior, like having the dog go get a specific toy when told to. Hard to bark when holding a toy. Good luck, this is a common and tough problem. I would definitely see if you can reframe it as training the dog TO do something (like hold a toy), rather than NOT to do something, since it is much easier to train a dog to do something than not to do something, and you will likely have better success if you find a way to train an incompatible behavior than just trying to train an absence of barking.
posted by biscotti at 10:42 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Harsh words spoken loudly immediately after the offending behaviour will have it out of the dog in no time. The trouble is, too few people are willing to shout at their dog and do it consistently (so the dog associates the barking with being chastised) for it to take effect.
posted by dougrayrankin at 12:11 PM on May 28, 2012

My son had this problem with his dog and windshield wipers. He lives in a rainy area, so it was a huge nusiance.

His solution: sit with the dog in the car, turn on the wipers. Let the dog bark. As she is tailing off, and you know the barking is about to stop, say 'quiet', or 'shhh', or some such consistent command. When she stops, reward with clicks, treats, high praise, 'good dog', etc. Repeat ad nauseum.
He says it took about half an hour before she got the idea, then a couple of reinforcement sessions. She still doesn't like the wipers, but she doesn't bark at them. When I took her out for a spin a couple of weeks ago, she growled softly when they came on. I said 'shhh' and she stopped immediately. So we had a nice ride.

I think you need to choose a training method, have specific training sessions with the dog, your husband and you, and stick with whatever method you choose.

Best of luck!
posted by SLC Mom at 12:13 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Harsh words spoken loudly immediately after the offending behaviour will almost certainly make a fearful or defensive dog even more so. Most modern trainers would guide an owner to ramping the situation downwards; quieter, slower acting, perhaps using some dog communications calming signalslike. Dogs naturally bark, some smaller breeds persistently. Taking a long view toward calming the g (not coddling-- calming) and rewarding for the action cued, quiet
posted by vers at 12:33 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Neat -- cat on keyboard posting for me!

Calming signals -- we can speak their language.

To finish that last sentence, Taking a long view toward calming the dog (not coddling-- calming) and rewarding for the action cued (quiet) gives the best chance of success. It's likely going to take both time and consistent effort. Training the dog in other areas can also both help its confidence and make learning new things easier.
posted by vers at 12:39 PM on May 28, 2012

Response by poster: advicepig, the idea was my husband would "catch" him being quiet before he started barking, and give him a treat right away. It was a nice idea, but difficult to maintain, and yeah, the timing got messed up more often than not, so it turned into a reward for barking.

dougrayrankin, there are enough harsh words (human and canine) flying around this house already to prove that this approach doesn't work with this dog at this time for this purpose.

wwax, I'd never heard of the citronella collar, but Dino does have a very thick undercoat. Forgot to mention that we tried a shock collar with him, but due to his coat, the shock didn't even register. I also didn't like the idea much anyway.

I really appreciate all the resources and ideas. I will be looking at each one. I think the ideas about teaching him to calm down in general might be worth pursuing first, as he's a pretty nervous dog.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:54 PM on May 28, 2012

Dog trainer Patricia McConnell has a nice summary of training options for dogs who are reactive to other dogs - there may be some information or techniques that you might find useful.

Dog-Dog Reactivity – Treatment Summary

Also, I really like her blog in general, I've gotten a lot of good information from it.
posted by periscope at 2:59 PM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

You could try working on eye contact. Hold a treat in your hand tight fist. Let him freak out and try to get it. When he looks at you reward him.
Work on this a lot.
Then go up a step. When he looks at something frightening or intimidating like your husband. And does bark. Reward.

You could work on tricks and have your husband walk into the room.
Distrations help with timing. Pomerians are pretty high energy even though they're little. So they need a lot of activity to make them less anxious.
If you don't have one get him a spot. A kennel a bed anything. That he can go to when he's nervous.

When your husbands around and the dog is calm make it rain treats.

You may want to consider taking over his cares. To establish dominance over him so he doesn't think he need to defend you from your husband.
Since it seems like he's being protective. You could consider ways of making you husband less threatening.
posted by misformiche at 4:19 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The basic idea is to get your dog in the habit of looking to you (for a treat) when its nervous, instead of barking.

It is easier to reward correct behaviour then it is to scold a dog.
posted by misformiche at 4:22 PM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I asked a knowledgeable friend if she had anything to add to the many good suggestions already made, and she said: Not much to add. Think she needs to have a professional trainer involved. Timing is everything and most of us laypeople suck at it.
posted by jeri at 7:34 PM on May 28, 2012

Upon further reflection: Look into Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed, there are some excellent exercises for reactive dogs in there. Do not punish this behavior (a shock collar is exactly the opposite of what you want to do here) and do not consider this "protection" or a behavior in need of "dominance" from you. The dog is stressed by your husband for some reason, you cannot reduce stress by adding pain or fear (have you ever been made unafraid by someone yelling at you?). Classical counter-conditioning (the dog learning to associate your husband with something good) is going to be your best first-line treatment here, your husband should shower the dog with treats (that the dog LOVES, and that the dog ONLY gets when your husband walks by - I am talking bits of cheese, chicken, steak, liver, whatever the dog loves) - he should NOT hand-feed the treats, that is adding pressure the dog may not be able to handle yet, he should simply toss a few of the treats towards the dog as he walks by, EVERY time he walks by. You are not rewarding the dog for barking at him, you are simply reducing the dogs' bad feelings by replacing them with good ones - the easiest way to teach a dog that something is Good For Dogs is to make it true - and food is a very powerful motivator for most dogs.

I would not address this as a problem with barking, I would address this as a problem of the dog being fearful of your husband.
posted by biscotti at 8:40 PM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

And timing is very flexible when using food for classical conditioning, all that needs to happen is that your husband becomes associated with extra-yummy treats appearing. But it needs to happen EVERY time your husband walks past, and the treats need to be extra good and they need to be tossed towards the dog, not hand-fed, and not treated as a reward for something (no asking for a sit or saying "good quiet" or anything else, the only thing you are trying to do is recalibrate the way your dog feels about your husband, you are not training a behavior, you are trying to change how the dog feels). Just remember to reduce the dog's regular food accordingly so you don't end up with an obese dog while you're working on this. And expect it to take a while.
posted by biscotti at 8:44 PM on May 28, 2012

We trained our dog not to bark by calmly crating her every time she barked. We keep a crate in the living room for this purpose, and she will go in herself when she wants a time out. She now only barks accidentally when she is surprised, and it's only a single bark.
posted by trixie_bee at 5:56 PM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

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