My dog barked and whined all the time, and it was a breed (husky), that was known for making a lot of noise. The situation was especially bad when the doorbell rang or he saw strangers. It was almost impossible to stop him once he started, and if there was another dog involved, forget it – my dog would yap his head off until the dogs were separated and out of sight.
One weekend, though, my friend came over to visit. She worked at the Chicago Zoo and knew animals better than anyone I had ever seen. In an hour she had my dog completely quiet, and she taught me how to do it, too. One hour to solve a problem that was driving me crazy for the last three years!
The secret is not intuitive. First you teach the dog to bark(!) I thought my friend was insane when she told me this. Obviously my dog knew how to bark because he barked and whined all the time. But she explained that while my dog barked a lot, he couldn’t bark on command. First she taught him to bark on command, and then she taught him to be quiet on command. The whole process took less than an hour. My dog is pretty smart, so it may take your dog longer, but still, it’s an incredibly effective technique, and now, two years later, my dog still doesn’t give me trouble. What a great afternoon!
There are two elements at work here: positive reinforcement and intermittent reinforcement. Positive reinforcement teaches the behavior, and intermittent reinforcement keeps the behavior permanent. Negative reinforcement is just not a strong inducer of behavior. Negative reinforcement like shock collars or saying “No” does work to a certain extent, but studies have shown it to be about 10 times less effective than positive reinforcement.
Everything she did was very clear and precise, which was much of the reason she got her results so quickly. Your results may vary, but the clearer and more precise you can make everything, the better.
First, go on a long walk with your dog to get him a lot of exercise. Your dog can’t learn when he’s all riled up.
Teaching your dog to bark: Then get a box of treats. Then look at your dog. When he barks, immediately praise him and give him a treat. Don’t let any time elapse between the bark and the treat. Pretty soon he’ll be barking a lot. Right now, the behavior is coming before the cue. Shape the behavior first, and then add your cue.
Teaching your dog to bark on command: Then go away for a few minutes and come back. Ignore his barking and ignore everything else he does. Just stand there, doing nothing, not rewarding him at all, not even looking at him. It may take a long time, but eventually your dog will calm down, stop barking, and start doing his own thing. Once your dog calms down and stops barking, start working with him again. This time, only give him a treat when you say “Speak” and point at him, and then he barks. 1. Verbal command and point. 2. Bark. 3. Reward. Don’t give him a treat for just barking on his own. This part will take a while, but he will eventually understand the command. You’re rewarding him for behavior he already is predisposed to do, you’re just associating a command with it.
Teaching your dog to be quiet: Go away for a few minutes, and then come back. He’ll probably be barking a lot when you come back, but again, stay totally still and don’t reward him at all (no praising, no eye contact, nothing). Once he stops barking, count to five slowly to yourself. You may have to wait a long time before he’ll stop barking enough so a full count of five, but it will happen eventually. Once you can count to five without any barking, then reward him with praise and a treat. Notice that at this point, the behavior comes before the cue. Shape the behavior first, and then add your cue.