How to Stop Barking at the Fence
Learn how to decrease this annoying behavior
Barking at your neighbor may really put a dent to your outdoor time and your neighbor's as well. If your dog is allowed to stay out most of the time, he will very likely get bored, frustrated and engage in his favorite past times: digging, becoming increasingly territorial, and of course engage in obnoxious fence running and barking.
If your dog was OK with your neighbor before and now is suddenly barking, something unusual could have happened. While the first thing dog owners may suspect, is the neighbor doing something bad to the dog, this is not always the case. Yes, a neighbor may perhaps spray some water on the dog, scold the dog or provoke him by barking back or trying to scare him off, at times, the neighbor may doing something innocent which the dog may perceive as threatening.
This can be anything such as carrying a big object like a door, making a scary noise, or doing anything that may have startled your dog. If your dog barked and your neighbor stopped doing that something or left, your dog could have had a taste of victory. In other words, your dog could have learned that every time he barks the neighbor leaves and therefore his barking is reinforced. A vicious cycle therefore forms where the dog feels the need to bark to send the neighbor repeatedly away from its turf. The moment the neighbor is reluctant to leave, the barking will increase even more since the dog is thinking ''my barking is not working, therefore I need to increase the intensity of my barking''.
Of course, a dog who has always barked at the neighbor may do so for various reasons. The dog may feel intimidated by the neighbor, the dog may have not been well socialized, and therefore feels threatened, or the dog may simply be acting territorial which is especially a strong behavior in dog breeds bred to guard or be watch dogs.
Stopping this form of barking may take quite some time once it has put roots. Therefore, it helps to start working on it when it first presents rather than later once it has established. However, not all hopes are lost, especially if the dog is welcomed into the home, rather than being left outdoors in the yard, to cater to bad behaviors that cannot be corrected since the owner is not there.
How to Stop Your Dog from Barking at Neighbors
Barking at your neighbor, regardless of cause, can be significantly reduced by using classical conditioning and offering an alternate behavior. It is important to recognize that little can be done to stop a dog from barking at neighbors if the dog is left all day in the yard alone. Bored, frustrated, angry, or worried, the dog will continue the behavior, and with nobody there to correct the behavior, the behavior will continue to flourish. The training method therefore is best for dog owners who keep their dogs indoors and have control on the access to the yard. Therefore, they can organize training sessions and control the behavior in a consistent manner.
How to Reduce Barking at Neighbors
Two different training methods are offered to stop this form of obnoxious barking. Both methods use a positive reinforcement training philosophy, where wanted behaviors are rewarded so the dog feels compelled to repeat them. Unwanted behaviors are ignored, and with time, should extinguish, because they are not reinforced. Dogs, as opportunistic beings, tend to repeat behaviors that are rewarded, behaviors that do not yield results tend to fade.
Method 1) Classical Conditioning
Classical conditioning is the process of associating two stimuli. The world of dog psychology is made of associations. If your dog hears you opening a bag of dog food, very likely he will run to you. This is why in your dog's mind noise of bag=food, leash=walks, door=outside and finally, as in your case, neighbor=threat. We want to therefore change now this mind set, and have your neighbor go from foe to friend. We can do this, thanks to the powerful world of classical conditioning using a method I created for my clients known as COR© Conditioned oriented reflex.
- Step 1) Arm yourself with the tastiest treats your dog knows. These are not the average kibble or those stale dog biscuits forgotten in a jar. We are talking about treats that make your dog drool, freeze-dried liver treats, grilled steak, strips of chicken, hot dogs, cheese, you name it.
- Step 2) Make the treats in small bite size pieces. It works best if the food is soft and easy to swallow. Try to avoid crumbly, large or hard to chew treats. Place the treats in a treat pouch or fanny pack you can keep around your waist or clipped on your belt.
- Step 3) Practice this exercise: make a smacking noise with your mouth to get your dog's attention and immediately give a treat. Do it for about five times, until your dog understands that your smacking sound brings a treat. You know this happens when upon making the smacking sound your dog looks at you or your hand for a treat.
- Step 4) When your neighbor is out, put a leash on your dog and wear the treat pouch full of treats. If your neighbor is collaborative, you can ask him/her for help and schedule these sessions together. If not, you will then have to keep an eye on when your neighbor is outside and take advantage of these outings to train your dog.
- Step 5) Open the door to the yard. Do not let your dog see the neighbor yet. But allow him to smell her (he will smell her scent in the air) and to hear her (she will likely make noises). Immediately after each noise your neighbor makes, make your smacking sound and give a treat. You have to catch your dog BEFORE he has time to react. If your dog starts barking you are too close to your neighbor, take a few steps back inside and work from there.
- Step 6) Once your dog learns that every noise your neighbor makes is followed by your smacking noise and treat, work on progress. Get one step out of the door, so your dog can see your neighbor from a distance. Try your best to make the smacking noise the moment your dog sees her and give a treat. Repeat-repeat-repeat every time your dog looks at the neighbor. If your dog barks, remember your are likely too close and your dog is out of his comfort zone, therefore, take a few steps back and start all over
- Step 7) Get closer to your neighbor taking a few steps ahead, but go very slowly and gradually. Every time your dog looks at her, make smacking noise followed by treat. You know your dog is starting to associate your neighbor with treats when upon seeing her he is looking for his treat, if so, welcome to the wonderful world of classical conditioning! You have changed part of your dog's emotional state. Instead of neighbor=THREAT, now neighbor =TREAT!
- Step 8) You are not done yet, you need to be consistent and repeat this exercise at closer and closer levels to your neighbor, up to a point, where you will be making a smacking noise and your neighbor will be tossing some treats from her side of the yard. If this is not possible, then continue working at close distances.
- Step 9) At this point, you should notice your dog is barking less and less asking for treats more and more. Do not worry, you did not spoil your dog! You can now progress and start asking for commands in exchange for treats. We will therefore shift a bit from classical conditioning to operant conditioning. Your dog will have to start 'working for them''. So say, your neighbor is out in the yard, you will make the smacking sound and then bring the treat at eye level and say 'watch me'. As soon as your dog makes eye contact, you give the treat. This is a great focus exercise! You can gradually increase his focus by keeping the treat longer at eye level.
- Step 10) You can also introduce other commands such as 'sit'' or lay down''. Upon seeing your neighbor, make the smacking noise ask for a sit and give a treat, or ask for a lay down and give a treat. You can then progress by using a long line instead of a leash, using the smacking noise which by now he knows means '' pay attention to me'' and use it to your advantage. You will arrive at a point where you can give the treats only occasionally, but please do give them every now and then to keep him tuned up. Also, it would help if your neighbor could toss treats to your dog from your yard but only when he is quiet. Her smell and sight now should be much accepted and even looked forward to!
Method 2) Asking Alternative Behaviors Using Counter Conditioning
In this case, you would take your dog out in the yard. When your dog sees your neighbor and barks you would say 'quiet' and encourage an alternate behavior that is in conflict with the original behavior. So let's say your dog barks at your neighbor out of fear, then you would say quiet and try to engage with your dog in a game such as fetch. Playing is a behavior in contrast with fear. A dog cannot be scared and play at the same time.
Both methods work well, however method 1 takes longer but should have a higher success rate. Method 2 works for cases where the level of arousal is not too high and you can easily command your dog to be quiet and engage your dog in a game. Method 2 may be used after obtaining good results from method one.
A good aid in severe cases of arousal due to fear, stress or anxiety, is Thundershirt. I find that using a Thundershirt with a behavior modification program as described in method 1or 2 may work out out great. Thundershirt has an 80% success rate and has been used for problem barking as yours, you can read about it and watch a video at this link:
A note of caution: As a general rule, if you really want to overcome this problem, make it of primary importance to avoid having your dog engage in the barking as much as possible. Remember: the more your dog engages in the behavior the more it puts roots, so try your best to prevent these barking episodes as much as possible.
Disclaimer: if your dog is exhibiting behavioral problems please consult with a reputable dog behaviorist which can assess in person your situation and recommend the most appropriate treatment plan. This article is not to be used as a diagnostic tool nor as a replacement for professional behavioral advice.
For further reading
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ptosis from Arizona on March 08, 2012:
Nice hub - do more on why dogs act the way they do. Woof.