Training your puppy: barking

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We talked last month about how confusing it can be to train a new puppy, as there is so much conflicting advice out there advising different approaches. As part of our series on puppy training tips we are following the progress of the latest pup to join our team at tails.com, Biggie, and her new owner Kat. Biggie unfortunately got into some slightly bad habits in her first home which Kat has been working on and making great progress.  

Case study 2: Barking excessively

Scenario: Biggie barks at strange people, other dogs or any scenario she hasn’t encountered often due to nervousness or fear. She is also unsure of her status in her new home and is acting as protector to Kat when strangers or other dogs approach.

Incorrect training: Previous owner may have shouted at Biggie, increasing fear and negative experience, or responded by comforting her verbally and by stroking, talking & reassuring that things are OK. This is probably the most common mistake owners make which contributes to a fearful or nervous dog in later life. Remember, ignore or substitute unwanted behaviours and reward good.

Correct training: Ignoring barking completely and only checking in with Biggie to give verbal praise and reward when showing calm, non-fearful behaviour in the same scenario. Habituation and socialisation by exposing Biggie to lots of these encounters to make them neutral or positive experiences or associations will solve this problem in the long term.

In the short term, barking can be difficult to ignore however, so another technique called response substitution can help. Using training and obedience commands when you anticipate your dog might react to certain situations before they start barking can help distract attention, and make them realise over time that the initial trigger isn’t going to cause any harm after all. You may want to set up these encounters at a gradually closer distance whilst keeping attention on you, until the trigger can come very close without your dog reacting.  

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