Last week I talked about excitement barking, what it is, why we don’t want it, and how to fix it using positive reinforcement. But sometimes, you need the dog to stop barking NOW or you’re going to get evicted. So, how to bring the energy levels down faster? Let’s see…
Adversive training method
The goal here is to bring the excitement levels down fast, and make your dog understand that barking isn’t acceptable.
Sometimes you’ll hear people (myself included) use the terms “correct” or, if they’re trying to make it sound bad, “punish.” This is adversive training: we bring in an adverse stimulus to make the dog stop. My favorite adversive tool when a dog is barking from excitement is a squirt bottle.
There’s two rules with a squirt bottle:
- If you pick it up, use it. If you don’t, your dog will think, “I can keep being rotten until Mom gets the squirt bottle and aims it at me! Then I can get out of my bad behavior just by looking sad.” If your dog looks pathetic only after you pick up the squirt bottle, squirt them once for good measure so they learn to stop before you pick up the squirt bottle, that once you have it it’s too late to apologize.
- When you squirt your dog, you keep squirting until they turn around and leave. If they don’t leave, they’re learning they can withstand a squirt. If they don’t realize they can leave — for instance, they’re sad and pathetic but not leaving — then while still squirting, take your hand and nudge them away. Then stop squirting. They quickly learn that leaving will get the squirting to stop. (This, additionally, helps them to learn that they can leave to avoid a bad situation. If they know they can leave, they don’t need to fight!)
The beauty of a squirt bottle is that it’s surprising. They don’t add noise and therefore aren’t missed under the barking (which, sometimes, noises like Pet Correctors are), and they don’t increase anxiety. Since part of the problem with being over excited is that it can increase anxiety, we don’t want to further that along with a correction that will also increase anxiety.
The downside is that you’ll have a wet dog. But, hey, better than a barking fiend!
But say you don’t have a squirt bottle or your hands are full or you have beautiful hardwood floors you don’t want to ruin with water?
The I Do Not Have Time For This method
Get yourself a citronella spray bark collar. For most dogs, the small dog version works just fine. I recommend a brand that says it only reacts both when the dog barks AND it vibrates from barking (otherwise another dog barking can set it off). These days they run $40-$60 on Amazon, and they’re worth every penny. Much like a squirt bottle, it sprays a mist under the dog’s jaw, surprising them into not barking. Unlike an electric collar, they’re not painful, don’t create anxiety, and they actually tend to work better. You can get scentless sprays, too, in case you can’t stand citronella. (I’d recommend getting an extra can of refill spray if you have more than one dog.)
When you first use a citronella collar, it may work brilliantly. Or it may not seem to work at all. Keep using it! The thing with the spray collars is that they’re annoyance training, as opposed to painful or truly scary. As the dogs come down from their excitement high, they’ll notice the spraying and stop, confused and a little offput. This will happen sooner and sooner, and before you know it your dog won’t be barking unless it really is important. If your dog is barking to go out with you for a walk, then just stand there and wait for them to stop barking, and let the collar do its work.
What is the collar really doing? Breaking up the over excitement with confusion. Hooray!
Important: try and get some giggles out of the very confused look on your dog’s face. This is always entertaining to me. In fact, take a video and send it on over, would you? I can always use a laugh!
(I know, I know, I’m terrible. But the looks on their little faces are still hilarious as they try to find the source of the spray!)
Finally, oftentimes dogs who are excitement barking are just that: excited. But sometimes they’re bored. Make sure that your dog doesn’t need to find excitement in its life. Provide that excitement through regular exercise, fetch, treat balls, bones, fun toys, and petting. All those will help, too!