Q: How can I get my beagle, Jake, to stop barking whenever someone rings my doorbell, knocks on my front door, or walk past my house? A few barks are okay, but Jake barks on and on and at a volume so high that I want to take out my hearing aid so I don’t have to hear his noise. When I yell at him to stop he ignores me and barks even louder.
A: Some types of dogs are born barkers. The hound breeds, like Jake and his cousins the basset hounds, foxhounds, and blood hounds, were bred to use their bark to communicate with the owners during hunts. In addition to their breed histories, some dogs are very territorial. In their minds, your home is their domain to defend. Jake is sounding the alarm and if we could translate his barks, he is probably saying, “Come quick! Check it out! Friend or foe? What do you want me to do? Now you’re yelling, too, so I’d better keep barking!”
As you can see, yelling at Jake to stop barking is futile, because barking dogs interpret our loud vocalizations as our attempt to join in the warning. Your yelling has unintentionally served to reinforce his yapping. You will need to re-train Jake so that he develops a new association with the sound of your doorbell. Start by ringing your doorbell. When Jake barks, ignore him. Patiently wait for him to stop. After a few seconds of silence, introduce a cue by saying hush and then reward him. Timing is critical – do not reward him until he has ben quiet for several seconds. Think like a dog for a moment. If given the options, which would you choose: keep barking or hush and garner a tasty prize?
Conduct these training sessions several times a day until Jake figures out that hush means to be quiet and that being quiet brings treats, while barking brings nothing. Make the pauses between his silence and your pauses between his silence and your hush cue longer and longer. Then start saying hush when he is actually barking and reward him when he stops. Remember not to keep repeating that phrase, though, because it will only reinforce Jake to continue barking.
I also have a backup training strategy: diversion. Instead of yelling at Jake when he barks at a passerby, call him to you and reward him for performing a desired behavior, like sitting in front of you for a moment or fetching his favorite toy. For safety reasons, you don’t want Jake to behave like a canine mime when someone approaches your home. It is good that he alerts you, but by trying diversionary tactics and rewarding his silences rather than his noise, you will benefit by having a better-behaved Jake who no longer irritates your ears with nonstop yapping.
For more tips on improving your dog’s behavior, purchase The Dog Behavior Answer Book from Your Dog.