Barking Mad

dog_barking2Get control of this annoying problem today!

Q.  “I have just started agility with my very eager Labrador Spice who barks incessantly!  In the beginning I didn’t want to yell at him for barking because I was afraid it would dampen his enthusiasm.  But now it is a real problem and any tips would be greatly appreciated.”

A. “Take out your ear plugs.  What is Spice telling you?  The barking can mean various things.

“I’m so excited to be here!”  I think this type of bark is permissible in agility.  It expresses joy in life and anticipation of good things to come.  I don’t object to this kind of barking in class.  You hear it at every agility show, so get used to it.  However, as an instructor, I would not compete with it during lessons.  No woofs when I’m talking or my pearls of wisdom will go unheard.  Teach Spice to speak and be quiet on command, divert his attention with a toy or simply remove him temporarily from the training area which is triggering his excited barks.

“I’m so excited I could eat you!”.  This kind of bark verges on the hysterical.  Take it as a warning that Spice has wound himself up and could explode.  He may even try to nip you. He won’t mean to hurt you, but he just won’t be able to  help himself.  Put Spice in a Down stay until he has gained control of himself.

“You are so frustrating!”  If you hear this bark, it is because you have slowed down on the course or lost your way.  Make sure you know where you are going and what you are doing.  Plan each run in advance and execute it confidently and positively.  Your commands should be clear and your timing immaculate.  Spice won’t be baffled and he’ll have to work to keep up with you.

“Come on, come on, COME ON!”  Spice is pressuring you to get a move on.  He is even more frustrated and about to burst because you are hesitating again.  There is a hint of desperation and his body posture might be a tad confrontational.  If you don’t hurry up and decide which fence to send him over, he’ll decide for you.  As your handling improves, these situations should reduce in numbers.  In the meantime, turn your back on Spice.  Go to the end of the line till he has regained his composure.  Leave the building if you have to.  You don’t do agility with dogs that try to handle you over the course.  That is your job.  When Spice is quiet, take up where you left off, on your terms.  Teach him that silence is the starter whistle for agility.

For some dogs, barking is as natural as breathing.  It can be addictive as gambling, alcohol or drugs.  A spray of water might help break the barking habit.  But if Spice is making noise because he is frustrated or confused on the agility course, you need to concentrate on sharpening your handling skills to help Spice become a quieter dog.

Used with permission.
From Questions and Answers on Dog Agility Training, by Mary Ann Nester, T.F.H. Publications
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