How do we stop dog barking on walks?
February 25, 2020 5:00 AM   Subscribe

How do we stop one of our hound dogs from excessive barking on walks?

We have three dogs who go out for a few walks a day, plus time in our fenced yard. One dog is a 12YO lab mix with anxiety issues but great leash manners. The other two are a bonded pair of Treeing Walker Hounds, who are about 2.5 to 3 years old. We adopted the hounds together as strays from the Humane Society about a year and a half ago.

Matilda, one of the hounds, is the one who barks during walks.

In our fenced yard and inside our house looking out the window as people and dogs pass, she is not an excessive barker. In the yard, she usually runs around a bit and then plants herself under a tree to watch the squirrels (without barking at them). Occasionally, she and the other dogs will bark at the dogs next door when they hear him come out. But we bring them in and that's that.

On walks, when Matilda gets near a house where she knows a dog lives, she loses her mind announcing herself. The problem is, we have a lot of houses with dogs around here. She can't usually even see the other dogs, and they aren't barking at her (until she gets out front and they likewise bark back). It's like she's shouting, "Hey dog friend, come out and play!"

She is friendly when she greets other dogs on the street or in daycare. She doesn't automatically bark when she sees another dog.

We are getting ready to move to a new neighborhood. One with a lot of kids and presumably dogs. In our current hood everybody knows Matilda and us. I don't want to scare off or piss off our new neighbors.

We use an easy walk harness for walks now. Her sister, Miss Honey, wears a gentle leader because she pulls. I'm wondering if anyone thinks that or a soft muzzle would help Matilda or if you have other ideas. She is very sweet, and we want our new neighbors to appreciate her non-vocal qualities.
posted by ilikemethisway to Pets & Animals (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'd try to go with a desensitization program here. It's not aggressive or fearful reactivity, which is what such training regimens are usually responding to but I think the behavior pattern is similar enough that you can use the same toolkit.

If there's a house that you know she always does this when approaching, take a walk (with just her if possible) with a big giant bag of treats. Find the threshold at which she begins yelling and move back from that. Treat for quiet. Move an inch. Treat for quiet. If she starts up, go back farther away. She's probably not going to generalize this to other houses right away, so I'd think you'd have to repeat this same process with a few of the other usual barky houses (though hopefully once she experiences the routine at the first one and is successful at walking past it quietly, it'll be a shorter process with other houses) before she really gets it through her coonhound head (I used to have a Black and Tan) that this goes for all houses, not just That One and Also That One.

Good luck!
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:52 AM on February 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

Desensitization is a great idea! I've found a lot of great advice about barking from Patricia McConnell (that link is to her website's "learning center") and have found her methods to be amazingly effective.

She recommends two great books about dealing with barking:

Help I'm Barking and I Can't Be Quiet

The Bark Stops Here

Hope this helps, and give Matilda and the other two lovelies scratches from me please!
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 7:09 AM on February 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Training a dog to not bark involves training the dog to do something else. So when you are just at the edge of the place where Matilda starts to bark you stop walking and get her to go through a different training regime, such as begging for a treat, sitting for a treat, whining for a treat, or you get her to chase a ball, or a stick, or inspect something smelly that distracts her from barking. And every day you move the substitute routine a little closer to whatever stimulus triggers her barking. The Shussh command isn't just to not bark, but is to sit quietly.

You do have to be careful not to train Matilda to bark in order to trigger the Shussh command. You don't want her training you to say Shussh so that she can sit down and get a treat.

You also want to train her in the Speak! command. When she is about to bark, raise your voice and bark out the word "Speak!" and then stop her from barking by giving her the treat. So you alternate between taking her away from the place on the very first bark so she can't go on barking, and prompting her to bark and rewarding her for it. Once she understands this she will wait for the Speak! command to bark, and then you only use it rarely and selectively in places where it won't bother or scare the neighbours.

You want Matilda to like to go to those places where she barks, and to be there while not barking, and to have enjoyed being there more than she enjoys barking. You want to remove her from the barking situation as soon as she barks. That often means turning around again instead of passing the house, the instant she starts barking. This can mean you end up walking from your house to one house over and cross the street as far as the first tree and back again, a mere two and a half house lengths, a boring walk for both of you when you have to do it fifty seven times to get enough exercise.

You will probably want to take Matilda out alone on bark-extinguishing training walks. This is often sufficient difficult a commitment that you might want to consider hiring a trainer to do most of those walks for you.

Remember barking in dogs is good and a huge part of the benefit we got when we domesticated them, and is something you want her to do, just not then and there. You want your dog to save her barks for when she needs to communicate or to warn. But she isn't being a bad dog for barking, she is just doing what dogs do when they haven't received sufficient guidance. It's like training your dog not to piss in the house. You don't try to train her to stop pissing altogether. You train her to piss only where and when you will croon, "What a good girl she is! Oh, she's a good Matilda!"

The worst thing you can do when a dog barks is to bark too. So when she barks make sure all your vocalizations have nothing whatsoever in common with a bark. Not short, not sharp, not quick, not loud, not intense. Yelling at a barking dog, jerking at its leash and slapping it are all techniques that are extremely effective in training the dog to bark. Many owners of yappy little dogs bark at them all the time, "Quiet Foo-foo! Be quiet! Quiet!" is a very effective thing to say to a dog when you want it to yap. It has exactly the right intensity and cadence to sound to the dog as if you are trying bark yourself.

One very effective technique for dog training is to bring along a five year old who likes to play at being a dog, and train both of them to not bark. You can explain to the five year old that if she doesn't bark but sits nicely she gets a gummi bear, and the demonstration by the five year old will help Matilda to understand what good dogs do, except that she gets a little dog treat instead of the gummi bear. Your spouse or your fifteen-year-old can also play the part of the dog, but that is rather harder for the dog to understand as they identify with people their own size more.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:12 AM on February 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

Turn around & go the other way, take them away from the thing they are so excited about they're barking at it after about 20 metres or so when the dog is calm again, turn around & walk back toward the stimulus that made them bark. It's basically desensitising training like the others have mentioned, but uses the reward of getting to to or near the exciting thing instead of treats. If after a few tries they don't quieten down then keep on walking away, dogs failing to get what they want also teaches them something. You look a little like a crazed Roomba for a while but it's very effective way to train reactive dogs that if they want to get to the every exciting thing, they have to be quiet. The treat method works great if they're scared of the object, but in the case of my dog at least, barking at the squirrel/dog was so very exciting & the best thing ever that no treats were as strong a reward as getting to go near the very exciting thing and would just be ignored.

Also counter intuitively training your dog to bark on command, is the easiest way to train them to stop, because once you have them barking on command you basically now have a behaviour you can tell them to stop & reward and you can do it in a calm controlled setting at home without the heightened excitement of being out in the world with all the stimuli.
posted by wwax at 9:56 AM on February 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

I had a dog who had this problem, and (as just about everyone else is saying) the thing that worked was to get her to associate "dog behind gate" with "OH I MUST LOOK AT MY PERSON BECAUSE A REALLY GOOD THING WILL HAPPEN IF I DO". In her case, it was getting a treat. She was very food motivated. If your dog is not food motivated, this will be more difficult.
I started with training a "look at me" command first, away from any distraction. Pick a distinct, short word (usually best not to the dog's name as it's so over used) and get her used to the fact that if you say "looksee!" (or whatever) she gets a treat. Once she's solid with that, then take her into the distracting environment. Try to time it so that she looks at you before she notices the dog. At least at first, it won't work once she's already locked on and barking. In fact, don't try to use it once she's barking.
I've tried wwax's technique, but it can be difficult if every other gate has a dog behind it so it's difficult to get away from the exciting stimulus, and sometimes you just have to walk a particular route. That kind of training works best if you go specifically to do it, and choose a spot that will work for that, rather than just trying to apply it to your daily walk.
posted by Zumbador at 1:42 AM on February 26, 2020

I have a bluetick coonhound, and they are bred to bark like this. One type is called a bawl-mounth and one is a chop-mouth. It is just in their DNA. I like my dog's bark, but it can be annoying. You can work to train them not to bark at those times, but it will be tough.
posted by chocolatetiara at 9:30 AM on February 26, 2020

I agree with the answers above about positive reinforcement training to try to teach her not to bark, although it may be difficult. I wanted to chime in because you mentioned a soft muzzle, and I wouldn't recommend it for a walk. Those are good for very short term things - they're getting a shot or an examination and might snap at someone, for example. But on a walk your dog needs to be able to open their mouths to pant, and can easily overheat if you are keeping their mouths closed. Unfortunately muzzles safe to use while active (basket muzzles) don't prevent barking.
posted by thejanna at 9:38 AM on February 27, 2020

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