“SHUT UP!!!” And Why it Doesn’t Work, a.k.a. The Great Barking Experiment

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“SHUT UP!!!” And Why it Doesn’t Work, a.k.a. The Great Barking Experiment
Pamela Dennison © 2021

I have Shelties. Need I say more? Shetland Sheepdogs, in case you were ignorant of this fact, bark at the footfall of a squirrel from three days ago. My dogs were (past tense) actually pretty quiet on the whole, until Emma in her dotage, would bark for no reason (especially in the van). Being dutiful dogs, Finn and Dreamer decided very quickly to follow her lead. They adored her and would follow her around, so much so that I used to call them the swan and her cygnets. (See the front cover of my Maxwell Award winning book “You Can Train Your Dog; Mastering the Art & Science of Modern Dog Training.”) So why not bark with their swan?

I wasn’t paying attention to my dog trainer persona and decided (not a conscience decision really, just a “not paying attention to what I was doing”) for YEARS to follow my human self and started yelling at them to shut up. Which of course didn’t stop them from barking, and in fact, escalated the barking, which escalated me yelling and turning purple and increased the barking into other areas of our lives.

Slow forward to yesterday. Why I never thought of this I’ll never know, but here it is. The real reason why dogs bark.

Think about it. When we teach a dog to sit, we lure the dog and say sit *when* the dog is doing it, right? We pair the word *with* the actual sit and by naming it correctly (at the exact moment it happens), we facilitate learning. The same goes with any new verb we are teaching, although if it’s an instant behavior like sit, down and stand, I name it right away. Anything more complex and I name it once the dog has learned the task. Because we don’t want to name a substandard behavior, right? For instance, if my dog is walking next to me but not looking at me and not in perfect heel position, I’m *not* going to name it “heel.” I would only name it once it’s flawless.

Aren’t we really NAMING the action of barking, the words “SHUT UP?” Of course we are! The dog doesn’t know what these words mean – they mean nothing unless we pair them with a behavior. Think about it! Remember how you trained the basic cues? Sit happens, you say “sit.” Barking happens, you say “shut up.”

Get it? Sound familiar?

Tune in next week!

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