Excessive Barking & How to Reduce it
1. Stop Barking Working
One reason that the habit of barking can become so ingrained is because invariably it has always worked to get your attention. Even negative attention such as telling them off, or telling them to do something is still attention and reinforces the barking. From now on if they're noisy, they get absolutely nothing from you, not even eye contact! Wait until they are quiet and then count to 3 in your head. If they're still quiet after 3 seconds, then give them the attention they want, removing it again if they bark again. This will be the toughest part of the process! Stick with it!
Extinction bursts: If a behaviour that has repeatedly worked for a dog (or a human!) stops working, they will try the same behaviour at an increased intensity to try and get results. For us humans that means if our key stops working we might wiggle it around or push on the door to get through. For our dogs that means that if barking stops working, they might bark louder or jump up to try and get your attention. If you give them attention at this point they will always escalate to the level that eventually worked for them, making it an even more difficult habit to shift. Keep preventing the behaviour from working and eventually they will give up and try something else, which is where step 2 comes in.
2) Teach your dog an alternative behaviour
Just ignoring them in its own isn't enough. It can lead to increased frustration and confusion for your dog, making their behaviour worse long term. We need to give them a socially accepted way to ask for attention. Reinforcing them for at least 3 seconds of quiet is a good start, but to eliminate the barking entirely we need them to offer a different behaviour to begin with. The easiest thing to teach is a Sit! We need our dog to work out that sitting is what works, not barking. We're going to wait for our dog to offer a sit, and then give them what they want! This is even more effective if you integrate this auto-sit into daily life, so that it just becomes their default behaviour.
It's not always an easy habit to break as can have been so reinforcing for so long. It may get worse before it gets better due to that extinction burst, but stay strong and consistent and you should soon be noticing a change for the better!
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