Demanding behaviours such as barking, jumping at humans or onto furniture that dogs aren’t allowed on or asking to go to the toilet when they don’t actually need to go are behaviours that I have seen a huge increase in since the start of the various lockdowns from March 2020. I’ll be referring to barking throughout this blog as it’s the most common manifestation of demanding behaviours, but the methods I’m talking through apply to all of the above. If you are struggling with any demanding behaviour I would recommend calling in a professional to assist you early – it’s very easy to get stuck in a cycle that escalates these behaviours and a professional trainer or behaviourist is your best bet to stop that cycle in its tracks.
Demand barking is fairly self-explanatory; it’s the process of a dog vocalising in order to get something they want. This can include growls, mumbles, squeaks, yips, and other noises that dogs are capable of so I’ve included all forms of vocalisation in my definition of demand barking. The dog can demand bark in order to; gain attention, access to food, an area of the house/garden, access to social interactions or to gain access to an opportunity to play. Below is a treatment plan for demand barking.
1. Prevent it happening in the first place
Prevention is key for a number of reasons:
- The more your dog barks, the more they will continue to do so. Barking is a self-reinforcing behaviour and is intrinsically fun for your dog to do. It’s also often combined with some form of external reinforcement (bark bark, postman go away, postman leaves, dog is reinforced because the postman went away).
- Prevention removes the risk of teaching a behaviour chain such as ‘bark then be quiet results in reinforcement’ in comparison to just ‘be quiet’. We want to identify scenarios where your dog is likely to bark and prevent that behaviour within the scenarios they are likely to bark. This may be a case of instructing your dog to do a different behaviour which is incompatible with barking. My personal favourite is asking them for a chin rest (it’s hard to bark when your chin is resting on something)!
- Prevention removes the risk of entering a cycle where barking occurs, it is ignored, the barking escalates as a result of an extinction burst which is then reinforced. The next time the dog barks, it will bark at the higher intensity that occurred as a result of being ignored the first time. Prevention means that the behaviour isn’t occurring and therefore this cycle cannot develop.
2. Instruct Your dog to do something else
Simply focusing on stopping the barking is not enough to prevent it from occurring. Demand barking occurs because dogs think that it will enable them to gain access to something they want. If we don’t teach them gain access to what they want in way that we find more appropriate, then the dog’s need to bark hasn’t been addressed. By telling your dog what we want them to do in order to gain access to what they want, your dog is more likely to repeat the behaviour you’ve instructed in the future versus the barking.
3. Don't reward the barking
Each time your dog demand barks for anything and receives what they want, they’re learning that demand barking works. Here’s what you need to do if your dog demand barks and you’ve been unable to prevent it from occurring:
- Remove the resource of interest. If you’ve got food in your hand, put it in a container, place the container out of the dog’s reach and walk to the other side of the room. If your dog is barking for your attention, simply leave the room. If your dog wants attention from another dog, simply walk them away from that dog and increase the distance between your dog and the object of interest. It’s really important to note that with dogs who want attention from people, any attention is a good thing. This means that even if you look at your dog, you’ve given them what they want. It also means that telling them off for demand barking won’t work as they want attention in any form, even if we’ve giving them ‘bad’ attention. Your dog won’t care because they’ve got what they wanted. As soon as your dog starts demand barking for attention, look at the ceiling, cross your arms and move out of the room if necessary.
- As soon as you’ve prevented the need for your dog to bark, your dog should stop barking in response (although this may take some time if you’ve entered the extinction burst cycle – it will get worse before it gets better). As soon as they stop barking, set the scenario up so that you can prevent the barking from happening again, instruct your dog to do a behaviour you like and try again. This takes practice so be consistent and patient!
4. Delay the interval between your dog barking and giving them something nice
With demand barking, we need to be wary of creating a behaviour chain where your dog barks, you cue a behaviour you want them to do instead, which is then reinforced. This can lead to your dog barking, then performing the cued behaviour in order to receive what they want. Dogs associate the last behaviour they did with any reinforcer. This means that if your dog barks, does a new behaviour and receives reinforcement, they may begin to associate the good behaviour with that initial bark. We can prevent this by asking for at least three behaviours after they have barked and before providing reinforcement. If your dog is a little older and/or trained enough to be comfortable performing multiple behaviours for one reinforcement, then we can extend this to five behaviours in between the original bark and the end reinforcement. The more behaviours between the bark and the food the better (just don’t make it so many that you give your dog another reason to bark)!
These three to five behaviours can be any combination of behaviours your dog knows. If you’ve just started training it can be as easy as three sits or sit, down, sit. If your dog knows a few tricks, then by all means work some of these into the mix. Your final behaviour should be the behaviour that you would like your dog to carry out instead of barking (so that you can reinforce it in a way that prevents the barking from occurring again).
These are our top tips for demand barking! Is this a problem you’ve experienced recently? Having any problems addressing it? Let me know in the comments!