How to Stop the Barking
Why is barking such an aggravation to us? Most of the time it is because it is embarrassing to us as it makes us look like we are being controlled by our dog. We don’t know how to fix it so it in turn makes us look “stupid.” So there we are looking stupid and out of control while our dog successfully draws everyone’s attention to the issue leaving us nowhere to hide. We forget that it is a form of communication for our dogs and even a vent for built up emotions. So if you want to get a handle on this annoying habit you have to find it’s root.
First you have to identify what type of bark it is. Is in a happy “I’m excited to be here” type of bark, or a more aggressive, “I am about to explode” type bark. These types of barking usually are a build up of emotion that have pre-cues you need to be attentive too. Agitated movement, panting, distracted gaze, excessive tail wagging and whining. If you can identify your dog’s pre-cues you can defuse the situation before it gets out of hand.
If you act on pre-cues you can distract your dog with a toy, put him to work until his focus is back on you or remove him from the stimulus that is causing his build up in emotion. Bring him back when he settles and try to lengthen the time he can be exposed before losing composure. It may be that it is too much to ask of him if he has gotten into the habit of being out of control in that environment. You may need to do a lot of work with a crate or pen at home. You will place him in the same area you practice and work a different dog in the practice area. Keep it light enough that the barker dog does not get over whelmed and be sure to keep each session short, treating him for being quiet.
It could be as simple as heeling a circle in front of the barker and treating him every circle that he is quiet. Then build to two circles, three circles and so on. Then build the emotional level little by little by adding more energy into the work you are doing with the other dog, treating every time the barking dog remains quiet. Go slow as you want to increase the emotion, but keep him under enough self control that he will succeed.
Next you can take your dog to other locations where he gets excited and start again. Being liberal with the treats for every improvement. When you take him to class you must pay close attention to him and divert his attention as described above when you see his pre-cues and treat him whenever he settles and for remaining calm.
Another cure can be to teach your dog to “speak” on command. While teaching your dog to speak, you will also be teaching an “off” cue. So, you teach your dog to bark when you say “speak” then tell him “enough” when you wont him to stop. A lot of times putting a cue on an unwanted behavior works wonders as the dog learns to wait for the cue. Putting a “off” cue on at the same time is obviously handy as well. Now when the dog starts making noise he understands the “off” cue. In the beginning be ready with the treats for both cues in all your practices.
If the barking is more frantic and the dog is on the verge of exploding with the danger of also nipping, you must remove the dog from the stimulus and help him regain composure by taking a walk, putting him in the care/crate or going into a down stay until he settles. He is telling you he is over stimulated. You need to pick up on the his pre-cues and resolve the situation before it gets that intense next time.
As for barking on course it is usually caused by the dog getting frustrated in the handler being slow in directing them to the next obstacle or out of joy of running agility. If it becomes desperate, the dog becomes confrontational, or decides he will determine the course, turn your back on him and remove yourselves from the course. By removing the dog from their “fun” you are letting the dog know who actually is in control. The dog gets to have “fun” time as a reward for good behavior and will be removed from it if they misbehave. He may return to where you left off once he cools down and is quiet again.
As you become a better leader and are able to either keep up physically or at least verbally, you should see this type of barking diminish. If there is no way you will ever be able to keep up with your dog physically, you will need to work on distance handling so you can always stay ahead of your dog.
Some dogs will never be completely quiet on course, but you can do your part to help your dog learn to control his emotions as well as become a confident leader able to keep the dog’s focus on the next obstacle. And understand the dog is trying to communicate with you. Accept the fact your dog may love to tell you how happy he is to be playing the dog agility game as long as it doesn’t get out of hand or interfere with your ability to direct him.