Pretty much all dogs bark but demand or attention seeking barking has the potential to drive you mad, and we have had a run of cases involving demand barking , driving owners mad.
There are lots of different reasons for a dog barking, and certainly excessive barking or changes to barking behaviour (increases or decreases, for example) may even indicate an underlying medical causes so a vet visit is a good idea.
To solve problem behaviours, we need to know what the behaviour is, when the behaviour happens and why the dog does it. (you can apply this to any behaviour, not just demand barking)
What is demand barking?
Demand barking is usually directed at you or the thing the dog wants e.g. the ball that’s rolled under the sofa.
The demand barker may make direct eye contact with you, may bounce toward you, may throw their head back and may even follow you to get their point across.
Balto shows you how it’s done:
In that clip, we were coming to the end of our session and he had worked hard at self-control, so he’s a little depleted. We have also just started to work on some lead handling and this has raised his excitement level.
By taking a break in the constant stream of opportunities to earn rewards to talk, Balto becomes frustrated and wants the game to continue.
When does your dog do it?
Look carefully at what’s happening just before and while your dog barks at you.
Whens often include:
- you have food, whether you are eating or it’s food for the dog
- you have a dog toy
- there is a toy available or the dog knows where it is
- you are preparing food, for you or your dog
- you are on the phone or having a conversation
- you are busy and otherwise engaged
- you are relaxing
Why does your dog do it?
Dogs do what works – they are very efficient at learning how to get things they like, and avoid things they don’t like.
There’s a hint in the label for this barking…attention-seeking…
Your dog has trained you – they bark and you give them what they want. Don’t take it personally – dogs do what works and there’s no more significance than that.
These barkers become the centre of attention when they bark, whether they get good things or are told off, it’s all rewarding for this barker.
Whys might include:
- eye contact
- talking to the dog, even telling them off
- giving the dog the food or toy they want
- allowing the dog gain access to the thing they want
Why does your dog still do it?
Even though you might have tried ignoring your demand barking dog, he still shouts at you.
Attention seeking behaviour will often present like this, as very resistant to efforts at withdrawing the reward. This is likely because this behaviour works best in extinction burst.
Extinction is not just for dinosaurs
Extinction happens when we break the associations between the when and why and demand barking. Extinction means preventing the dog barking at the when and stopping him gaining access to the why.
When extinguishing barking the dog learns that there is no point barking at the when, because the why is no longer available.
So this sounds easy, right? Just ignore the barking, don’t give in, extinguish that behaviour…
But, and this is what’s driving you crazy, before we get extinction we get extinction bursts.
Extinction bursts are not just for dogs; this clip shows some examples of behaviours you might recognise:
Problems with extinction: extinction bursts
If you have been rewarding demand barking behaviour and one day decide no more, your dog may bark a little more persistently to gain your attention (hey, what’s wrong?! this usually works!) and when this doesn’t work he barks a little more, maybe louder, maybe he jumps a little bit more too.
All in all, the behaviour gets bigger, just in case you missed it…
The problem is that you are only human and this burst of activity may push you to the edge and you give in. Now, your dog has a whole new bigger and better barking behaviour to get what he wants.
Problems with extinction: intermittent reinforcement
If you have been rewarding barking now and then your dog may not notice at first that you have decided that today is the day for ending this behaviour.
This dog will try even harder and be a more persistent extinction burst-er.
Problems with extinction: spontaneous recovery
Extinction bursts may lead to eventual extinction of the demand barking behaviour but before that the behaviour will go through cycles of bursts and recovery…yep, the behaviour comes back before going through another burst and another recovery, over and over.
This is really difficult to maintain and live with, so we give in and we get even bigger bursts of demand barking.
Problems with extinction bursts: frustration
Not getting the reward he expects may cause your dog to experience high levels of frustration. This can be especially relevant when we are talking about behaviour that is often arousing (exciting) so your dog may be too wound up and lose some control.
Frustration is experienced as an aversive, so may cause the dog distress. This can be associated with other things in the situation too, further damaging relationships.
And frustration can drive aggressive responses, causing the dog to redirect his frustration onto you, other people or animals present or even things around him.
Extinction doesn’t sound so hot anymore, huh..?
Just ignoring unwanted behaviour (as is often recommended) is not good enough, easy, safe or effective so for peace and quiet we need to develop a better program.
Achieving Peace & Quiet
Once we know the whens and the whys, we can being to build a program to reduce demand barking and bring back some peace and quiet.
1. An ounce of prevention…
List the whens in which demand barking is likely.
Prevent your dog practicing attention-seeking barking – practice makes perfect and your dog is already pretty good at demand barking!
Before they start, give your dog something else to do, ideally something that makes demand barking at you difficult.
Ideas might include:
- move to another room
- set the dog up with a yummy stuffed, frozen food dispensing toy
- park your dog with a yummy Kong toy
- throw the ball before they bark
- use two balls so he almost always has one ball in his mouth
- set up some sniffing challenges in another room or in the garden
- move toys to areas that dogs don’t have access e.g. the bathroom
- don’t give the dog toys at source, where you store them
2. Remove rewards
List the whys that drives your dog’s demand barking behaviour.
Prevention might not work every time, especially early on when you are trying to establish the program.
No more eye contact, no more talking to him, no more giving him the ball…turn your back, step away, sing a little song to yourself, put the ball away.
A little bit of extinction can be applied, where we are working hard on all the other areas too.
Barking is still going to happen. You are human. Your dog is a dog.
When it happens, stop the interaction, go still and don’t reward. Step or turn away if you need to. Wait for the silence…
When they stop, count to three before redirecting their behaviour. This might mean that you resume the interaction, or you ask for another behaviour.
Reward with attention, food rewards, toys or access to good things.
4. Make quiet MORE rewarding
Make a training mix with your dog’s regular food:
Have a little bowl/s of your dog’s training mix in places that you and your hang out – there should be at least ten rewards available.
Your dog isn’t barking all the time.
Reward your dog at least ten times for quiet over the day. Use all those food rewards, and restock if you need to.
5. Change the motivation
An attention seeking dog wants and needs something from you, as annoying as their chosen method of communicating that need is.
Teach your dog how to train you to give him access to things he wants without having to bark or be obnoxious.
Work on default sits:
You can work on default downs too, any behaviour that makes barking a little more difficult and giving attention easier.
By practicing throughout the day your dog is being rewarded more and more for quiet too.
6. Interrupt barking
We don’t really want to stop our dogs barking altogether but do want to be able to control it a little better.
You can teach an interruption cue, that may be applied to different unwanted behaviours including barking.
Or we can teach a Shush! cue that is eventually applied to barking behaviour, after some practice:
Sssshhh! means search the floor for yummies:
7. Work on underlying factors too
Demand barking can be a sign telling us that the dog doesn’t have enough to occupy himself, that he doens’t tolerate frustration well and that he doesn’t calm himself too well either.
- establish an appropriate balance of physical AND mental exercise
More here and here and work on Week 1 of Train Your Dog Month.
- teach your dog to relax, chill and self-calm
Work on Week 2 of Train Your Dog Month.
- practice self-control exercises and apply them to everyday life
Work on Week 3 of Train Your Dog Month.