Petting Go: How to Train a Problem Barker

Nuisance barking can be a big problem for relationships. No one wants to be the person with the crazy barking partner. If you want to improve your partner’s behavior you first have to understand it. Partners have different barks for different behaviors. Partners will bark to alert, for attention or out of frustration and many will bark or howl when left alone.

Barking is very hard for couples to work through because a lot of our instincts end up reinforcing the behavior. For example take a partner who is barking at a stranger or person on the street. As nurturing human beings, partners often think they should sooth and calm him or her with petting, where the partner most likely will take this to mean you like my behavior, keep doing it. The other major issue is barking partners can trigger partners to yell or punish the partner to try to stop them. This might suppress the behavior but it is more likely to cause the partner increased stress and to continue barking. Frustrated partners will sometimes turn to punishment in some form like “anti-bark” shock collars, these tools are not very safe or humane and most of the time they will make the problem worse by creating anxiety.

To train your partner not to bark or to stop barking you will need to understand what is causing him to bark. If a partner is barking because there is something outside triggering him (by sight or sound), change the environment so your partner doesn’t have access to watch and bark out the window, or some noise like music to cover sound. This is a “self-rewarding” behavior for the partner. Think of it from the partners’ point of view. The mailman comes to the house, partner barks, mailman leaves. He thinks he made the intruder go away, success! If your partner is barking or howling because he is alone, increase his exercise routine before you leave him and give him something interesting while you are gone like a puzzle toy with treats inside. For the attention seeking barker find something that makes him bark out of excitement like a toy, ball or your attention. Wait until he is quiet and reward him when he stops barking; he will learn quiet behavior gets him what he wants faster than getting too excited.

Lastly, reward and praise your partner when he is calm and quiet. Quiet partners are often ignored, but barking gets a lot of feedback. Let your partner know he has made the right choice when people walk by the window or when his ears perk up, and he will be more and more likely to watch quietly.