Alert barking, and what to do about it.
From guarding the home to hunting wild animals, alert barking is something that dogs have been bred for centuries to do. It’s a very natural behavior that is difficult - and potentially unhealthy - to eliminate completely.
But the lifestyle of the average dog parent has changed, and as such, our expectations of our dogs have changed, too. Most of us no longer need (or want) our dogs to alert us to the sound of a person in the apartment lobby, or the sight of a squirrel in the yard. But the thing is, our dogs didn't get that memo. We might see it as a nuisance, but our dogs are simply reacting to their world the only way they know how.
Even though alert barking may never be completely trained away, the good news is that it is definitely possible to make the behavior more manageable. To do this, you can use a combination of 2 strategies: the 3-step protocol, and management.
ALERT BARKING 3-STEP PROTOCOL:
☝️INTERRUPT THE BARKING. Calmly and positively get your dog’s attention on you (emphasis on the calm and positive part 😉). You can even say something to the effect of "It's cool, I hear it too!"
Bonus points if you can interrupt your dog before they start all-out barking. Look for those pre-woof body language cues, like alert ears and eyes, a tense body, and low growls or huffing sounds. If you can get your dog's attention before they begin barking, it will be easier to jump right into steps 2 and 3.
✌️ASK FOR AN ALTERNATIVE BEHAVIOR. Ask your dog for a behavior that they know really well, then reward them for performing it. A “touch,” "go to bed," or “spin” cue work great.
🤟REDIRECT TO CALMNESS. Immediately transition into a calming activity. Scatter-feeding, relaxing in bed, searching for a toy, chewing, shredding, or licking enrichment are all fantastic options.
Okay, but what about all the times of the day when your dog is home, but you're not available to actively train the protocol? What about when you're sleeping, in a Zoom meeting, out of the house, or just need a break? If your dog is practicing their alert barking behavior the whole day when you're not around, it's going to be a whole lot harder to make progress.
That's where our good friend *management* comes in. A few simple changes to your dog's environment or routines can make a huge impact on their alert barking behavior. Here are a few common examples:
☝️BLOCK ACCESS TO THE OUTER DOOR. If your dog isn't able to sit next to the front door anticipating and reacting to the sounds of neighbors all day, they won't have as many stimuli to alert to. Depending on your dog and your home, blocking access to the door could be setting up a gate in the front hallway, restricting your dog's access to parts of the house, or using a crate or play pen.
✌️COVER WINDOWS. Use curtains, shades, or window glaze to limit the visual triggers your dog has available to them.
🤟USE WHITE NOISE. Fans, music, calming TV programs, and white noise machines are all great ways to drown out the audible triggers from the outside world.
Use management and the 3-step protocol, and you will gradually teach your dog that checking in with you or engaging in a calming activity is more rewarding than alert barking. So over time, your dog will feel the need bark less frequently, and if they do bark, they will be set up to calm down more quickly. 🙌