Excitement Barking: 2

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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!



Excitement Barking: 1

Does your pup lose his or her mind when you pick up the leash? Put on your shoes? Say “Ready to go for a drive?” Or, for that matter, when a good friend comes up the walk? Welcome to excitement barking.

Roughly 95% of dog language is a visual language, spoken through the tip of an ear or the slant of an eye. But when your dog really needs someone to know something NOW, or just can’t stand how fabulous life is (or is about to be), they start barking.

The thing with excitement barking is that we need to bring the excitement levels down.

“But why?” I hear you cry. (I hear others of you cry, “Yes PLEASE.”) Well, because aside from being a nuisance, it can actually increase your dog’s anxiety (and that of the dogs around it). In addition, excitement barking isn’t a natural state in dogs, and other dogs get disturbed by the craziness of the excited dog. If they don’t join in (and sometimes even if they do join in), they can become aggressive toward the overly excited dog.

“Whaaaaat?” I hear you cry. “That makes no sense. Why would excitement create anxiety?”

People do this thing where we go, “I’m content. I’m happy! I’m excited! I’m so excited! THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER! WHEEEEEE!!!” But dogs do this: “I’m content. I’m happy! I’m excited! I’m so excited! THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER! OH MY GOD  I FEEL WEIRD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIIIIIIIIIIIIIIE!!!!”

And then comes the anxiety. Make sense? No? You can go back and look at the body language posts. Find the ones for stress and anxiety, and you’ll see the same look on dogs that are “overly excited.” Don’t trust me; trust what your dog is telling you.

So the big trick with excitement barking is to bring down the levels of excitement. There are a hundred and one ways to do this! We’re going to look at a few over the next couple of weeks, with going for a walk as the excitement trigger.

Note: I’m assuming you’re using a collar. If you’re using a harness or a collar you put on just for walking, it’s the same thing, but you start with the harness/collar instead of leash.

  1. The positive reinforcement method.
    This relies on teaching your dog something that they can focus on instead of getting over excited. I do this with most of my walking dogs in a minor way: we all sit to put our leashes on, because it gives them a way to learn to contain and control themselves. Likewise, you could teach your dog to go lay in his or her bed when a friend comes over, or lay down before getting in the car.

Cash verbally explodes whenever he knows we’re going for a walk. So, before I mention a walk, I grab several treats and call him over to where I keep the leashes. Before I touch a leash, I ask him to sit, and give him a  treat. Now I have his focus. If he also tends to physically explode (dancing, jumping, twisting, etc) I might, at this point, gently grab his collar to keep some control. Now I’m going to reach for my leash.

EXPLOSION OCCURS. My dog is going to try and meet my energy levels, so I’m going to stay as calm and quiet as possible. The more frustrated or in a rush I get, the worse my dog gets. I keep hold of my dog’s collar, hang the leash over my shoulder so I have one hand free, get a treat out of my pocket, and try to catch my dog’s eye. Now I wait for my dog to calm down. I’m going to say, “Sit,” quietly. When they finally calm enough to succeed, I’m going to give them the treat. Now I’m going to clip the leash on their collar.

EXPLOSION OCCURS AGAIN. If I didn’t get the leash on, I’m going to stop, stay calm, and go back to the above step. I’m probably going to straighten up as much as I can (with my hand still on the collar) to distance myself from my dog. And wait.

But if I DID get the leash on, then I’m going to straighten up and distance myself, stay calm, and take a breath. I’m also going to lift up gently on the leash. My goal is to feel my dog’s weight. If my dog isn’t leaping but is twirling and barking, then his or her front feet won’t come off the ground. All I’m trying to do is lift their head slightly, to rock the weight back on their haunches and get them to sit again. If my dog is leaping, then I might have to lift a little higher. I DO NOT want my dog’s weight hanging off their neck, so if I have to lift higher, I’m going to lift up so they can balance on their back feet and take their own weight. When they’re done dancing you’ll feel it; as they sink, go with them.

The goal here is to get your dog to sit again with the physical reminder of lifting. I don’t want to bend down and push on their hind end, because it gets me too close and touching them, which is a reward.

I can, however, grab another treat, get my dog to focus, and ask them to sit again. Either lifting gently on the collar or asking verbally will work; use whichever one works best for your dog. Once your dog is sitting, give him or her a treat. Now we open the door.


Stop! Wait. Lift or ask your dog to sit. When they do, give them a treat. Take a step forward.


Stop! Wait. Lift or ask your dog to sit. When they do, give them a treat.

Typically after you’ve stopped a few times, your dog has gotten a handle on their over-excitement and will stop barking. Then you can actually leave the house.

“Heyyyyy, waitaminute,” I hear you cry. “Isn’t this to get them to stop barking way back when we leashed them?”

Yes… and no. We’re trying to get them to contain and control themselves even when they’re excited. From that place comes quiet. Your dog may not actually stop barking for weeks. If they get to a point where they’re sitting but still barking, then you simply withhold the leash or treat and stand quietly until they stop. Then you reward by taking the next step in getting ready to leave, or giving them a treat. At first, we don’t ask them to stop barking; it’s too big a leap. We ask them to start controlling themselves by sitting when they’re exited.

“Okay,” I hear you say. “But my dog doesn’t flip out at the leash. He flips out at the arrival of my spouse coming home.”

So, we find another something to get them to focus on. It might be recall, or sit, or lay in bed. In any case, you’re going to ask them to focus first, give them a treat, and if they need it, you’re going to physically show them what you want. Just like we lifted or cued to get the dog to sit, we can catch them and put them in bed, then reward for it.

This method can take a bit of time (usually about a month to see real results), but it’s a gentle, force-free method. I like this method, in fact. Sometimes, though, you have twin babies and you need the barking to stop YESTERDAY. So, next week we’ll deal with that!


Barking: when it’s a problem

Barking has been cropping up recently, so I thought I’d give it a go here.

There are three general types of barking: alarm barking, annoyance or nuisance barking, and play barking.

Alarm barking is what your dog does to let you know something’s wrong. Ideally, this is the type of barking we want. When someone comes to my door, Cash gives out several big, booming barks. He does this until I tell him I’ve heard him and I’ll take care of it. (I might say, “Enough,” or “it’s fine,” or “I got it,” or “Cash, knock it off,” depending on my mood. In every case, that’s his cue that I heard him and he can stop.) Note that he stops. That’s the big clue that your dog is alarm barking.

Alarm barking is really handy. It lets you know when someone’s at the door. It lets you know when a burglar is getting in. It lets you know when something unusual is happening — like a deer in the yard or a stray wandering about. It’s almost impossible to train a dog not to alarm bark, but you can train them that they shouldn’t be alarmed by things like squirrels,  joggers, cars, etc, which they probably see all the time.

The more common type of barking is annoyance or nuisance barking. This is the barking that happens when someone’s at the door, and the dog won’t stop. It also happens for things they shouldn’t be alarmed about: squirrels, cars, joggers, etc. This can be annoying for family, friends, and neighbors, and it stops you from knowing when there is a problem. Remember the boy who cried wolf? Exactly.

Nuisance barking starts typically when a dog is just growing up. Around 8 months to a year of age, dogs would start exploring outside their little living area. They would see something new — “Oh my gosh! Those leaves are blowing!” — and bark to let the other dogs know. The other dogs would look at the leaves, look at the barking pup, and say, “You fool. Those are leaves. Knock it off.” In this way, the pup learns what actually is a problem, and what isn’t a problem.

We can do the same thing. When your dog enters his or her barking phase, there are various things you can do about it.  In no particular order, you can:

  • Let them drag a leash around, and tug on it when they start barking.
  • Call them over and offer them a treat for coming, instead of reprimanding them for barking. (I find this has only limited usefulness.)
  • Put pennies or rocks in a can or bottle (or a chain in a pillowcase) and make a loud noise when they bark, escalating to throwing the bag/bottle/can against the wall near your dog if you need to. (Don’t do this with highly anxious dogs.) (Just because your dog barks doesn’t mean they’re anxious. Most of the time, they aren’t.)
  • Give them a quick poke after you’ve checked out the window.
  • Go to where they are, make sure it’s nothing, then ask them to sit. Give them a treat for sitting. (I find this works much better than calling them, especially for answering the door.)
  • Use a squirt bottle to squirt them when they bark.

Note that in each of these cases, you should see why your dog is barking, then tell them to stop, THEN act out the consequence/distraction.

This will teach them that they should bark at unusual things, but stop when you ask them to. If your dog persists at barking at normal things, then cut out the bit where you look at what they’re barking at, and just start fixing it as soon as they start barking. Interestingly, this makes for calmer dogs: even though they may get in trouble for barking, now they know that all those things in the world are no big deal, and they don’t need to grow into anxiety.

Finally, we have play barking. Play barking is what (mostly young and herding) dogs do when they want to play or want you to engage with them. Some of this is natural; if you’re playing with your dog and they’re barking, try not to worry about it. (If you HAVE to stop it because you live in a condo or something, then stop playing, wait for your dog to settle down, and start again.)

If, however, your dog is barking to get you to play and you can’t, then it’s time to break out the squirt bottle. Very seriously, tell them, “No,” or, “Not right now,” or, “I’m busy,” or, “Get a toy,” or anything you’d like to tell them. When they start barking again, do any of the following:

  • Squirt them with a squirt bottle.
  • Put them in time-out until they calm down in their crate or another room.
  • Ask them to lay down and stay.

In each case, provide a more appropriate toy that they can entertain themselves with. Young dogs especially have to learn how to entertain themselves, and the way they do that is by you re-directing their energy to an appropriate thing.

In all barking situations, make sure you don’t get frustrated or raise your voice: if you do, your dog will think you’re barking back!

Now go, enjoy, and have a quiet household!


Tango is now 13.5 weeks old, and taking his/her time weaning. That’s fine: it means s/he’ll be calm and confident when I do get him/her! These pictures are from last Friday. Tango and Quin, and Tango with his/her sibling!




FAQ: Help! The office dog is fear-aggressive toward men!

I recently got this email from a friend, and am re-printing it and my response with permission! (If you would like to email in for advice, you can reach me at jenna.b.mcdonald [at] gmail [dot] com. Including a video will get a much more specific response!)

Hey Jenna,

Here’s the breakdown on the office dog of incredible noisiness. He’s about 5/6 years old, debatable breed (picture attached), abused by men in his puppyhood, and adopted by Headbossman at around the age of 1 – 2 (ish). 


His major issue is fear, especially of men. He’ll bark uncontrollably at any man who comes into the office or walks by the office, even coworkers he’s known for months and years. The only men he’s comfortable with are Headbossman (who he’s super attached to and really clingy about), and me.


Some women he’ll freak out over, and some he’ll ignore. 


When he freaks out, he’ll do these little aborted lunges, sort of mock-charging the person who’s scaring him. If the person walks toward him, he’ll back up fast but keep barking the whole time. To my knowledge, he’s never snapped at or bitten anyone; I’ve never seen him snarl or be overtly aggressive, just noisy.


He’ll shut up when I yell at him, and he’ll kind of quasi shut up if Headbossman or Ladyboss (who he adores) yell at him. He spends a lot of his time in the office hiding under Ladyboss’s desk or headbossman’s desk. Sometimes he’ll just bark from under the desk. 


If we shut him up in a back office, he’ll bark and bark for hours. So that’s not at all effective. 


I can definitely get a squirt bottle, bully sticks, and walk him in the middle of the day. I’d really appreciate if you could give me a battle strategy, or he’s going to end up a casualty of war. >.>



Hopefully he hasn’t ended up a casualty of war yet! 😉

Okay, what you’re describing is fear aggression. I’m going to give you several scenarios at once.

First of all, everything we do with him we do as gently as possible. Very firm, very, VERY gentle. Dogs who are so fearful that they stop thinking and just start attacking everything (ie, are fear aggressive) have no confidence in themselves and no confidence or trust in the humans around them. It would be like living with grizzly bears. We want to convince him that you’re not a grizzly bear; you’re a dog in human skin. This means lots of encouragement and as gentle as possible corrections until he learns that you’re not going to attack and hurt him.

Next, walk him. When you walk a dog they start to trust you, they learn some basic rules, and best of all, they’re too tired to argue! A twenty minute walk every other day is enough. If he never gets walked, a ten minute walk every day is even better. (Since he isn’t your dog, this would have the added benefit of encouraging him to trust you. Training will be easier if he comes out from under Ladyboss’s desk.) Give him lots of treats and encouragement on his walk, so he looks to you for food and some rules. This is setting him up later, so he’ll look to you when men come in the office! Also give gentle (gentle!) tugs when he walks ahead, tugging straight up, until he drops back beside you. Be persistent; we’re nagging into good behavior, rather than demanding it right off.

When things are calm and quiet in the office, start calling him over and giving him treats. (My dogs LOVE “Canine Carry-Outs.” You can get them at Target or most pet stores, and break off little pieces.) If he won’t come out from Ladyboss’s desk at first (which is highly likely), just say his name to get his attention, and toss the treat toward him. Continue doing so, with a shorter toss each time, until he’ll come out and get it. This might take several days, with backsliding at first.That’s normal! What we’re doing here is teaching him to come to you. When you’re sure he’ll come for a treat, then start saying, “[Name], come,” as he’s coming toward you. (Make sure he’s actually going to come: we want to trick him into thinking he has to when you tell him, because he does it every time!)

The other thing you’re going to start at the same time is no more yelling. When a dog starts barking, and you yell, they think you’re barking too. It actually encourages the barking and carrying on. By the time you’re being forceful enough to break through his barking haze and make him realize you’re “barking” at him, you’re so forceful that he’s going to be afraid you’ll hurt him. (I am using “you” as a general term here.)

So, this is all set up. You can do set up and training at the same time. The more you do set up, the faster training will go.


There are a couple of things that would be easiest to solve the barking problem. One would be to use a squirt bottle. When he starts barking, don’t say anything, just lean under the desk and start squirting him. Squirt bottles are great because they startle dogs out of bad behaviors without causing stress or anxiety. Something about being squirted doesn’t tend to scare them or increase aggression, it just makes them go, “What the heck–?!” I suppose it would do the same thing to me! This is telling him, “Don’t be aggressive.” Once you’re breaking through the barking with a few squirts, use a noise just for him. It can be a command (“No barking”) or a noise (“Hssst!”) or anything else, but it needs to be something you can say in a deep, calm voice that is only for him. You say the noise and squirt at the same time; he should start pairing the two pretty quick, so that he stops barking when he hears that noise. Again, this is stopping the aggression. If your boss doesn’t want you squirting her dog, skip to the next step below. It will take a LOT longer to stop the barking, but it will work slowly but surely.

The next step is stopping the fear, so he doesn’t snap at someone, or have an unexpected outburst some day. To do that, we want to teach him to come to you for protection, and to be calm enough to realize men aren’t that bad.

To teach him to come to you for protection (or to get him to stop barking without a squirt bottle) it’s easiest to put a leash on him and let him drag it around. When he starts barking use your squirt bottle until he stops. (If you aren’t using a squirt bottle, just grab his leash.) Then grab his leash, say “come,” pull him to you, get his attention with a treat (put it practically on his nose, and when he starts to notice it draw it toward your face until he looks at you), give him the treat, and praise him for coming to you. DO NOT let the stranger pet him. Your job is to protect him!

If your boss doesn’t want you doing either of these, you can wait until he’s calmed enough to be thinking, THEN catch his attention (finger snapping is usually good), show him a treat, call him over, and give it to him while praising him for being quiet. As he starts to realize that he’s going to get a treat shortly after he stops barking, he’ll stop barking faster and faster, and soon when you see a guy coming to the door you can call the dog and give him a treat while the stranger comes in.

Now, when he starts calming down overall, what you’ll find is that a stranger comes in, he gets his treat, and then he goes and barks. This just means you need to keep giving him treats. It will give him something else to focus on other than the stranger coming in. He’s addicted to barking: he needs a distraction, and that’s food! If you stop, he’ll probably start growling and head over to bark. Call him back, praise him for coming, give him a treat when he looks at you. (Always treat while he’s looking at you: if you give him a treat while he’s staring at the stranger, you’re rewarding aggression!) This treat business gives him a chance to calm down long enough to realize that the stranger isn’t hurting him, and that he gets food when he sees strangers — always a plus! You can also give him bully sticks that are “special stranger” bully sticks: take it away when the men leave, so he associates getting his special treat only when there are strangers in the office. (Kongs with peanut butter are also good. Do not do this if he’s treat aggressive, or be prepared to squirt him to get it back.)

The other reason to work with treats after he’s stopped barking is because if he’s fear-aggressive, it’ll just come out some other way unless you give him an alternate option. His alternate option is to run away and hide, which we reward. That way, he’s not cowering under Ladyboss’s desk waiting for the next terror to strike and letting that fear build until he snaps at the next man who sits down in front of Ladyboss’s desk: he can act (run away) and be praised for it instead.

So, in short:

Start walking him to build trust and wear him out.

Stop yelling at him when men come in: he thinks you’re barking, too.

Teach him “come” by calling him and giving him a treat.

When men come in you can either:

1. Squirt him until he stops barking, then call him over — pulling on his leash if you need to — and reward his good bravery by protecting him and giving him a treat.

2. Just pull on his leash, protect him, give him a treat for coming.

3. Wait for him to calm enough to think again, call him over, give him a treat. Do so sooner as he starts to calm down faster.

I hope that helps! Figure it’ll take about two weeks to really be much better, down to a bark or two before he stops and runs to you (assuming you get a couple of guys in an average day). Let me know if anything needs clarification!Jenna

*Update: About a week later R emailed to let me know that though the Office Dog Of Incredible Noisiness hadn’t yet gotten brave, the barking was decreasing rapidly and he was starting to come to his name. Huzzah!

Barking dogs

Well, I suppose if you’re not that guy who wore the bark collar, you might want some better options to stop a barking dog. Let me tell you first that most dogs bark out of boredom: if your dog is barking when you’re not home, start adding some daily walks to the routine. Quiet often that gets rid of the problem!

But if you’ve already done that and you need help with barking at doors and windows, for instance, read on!

There are a lot of things you can do regarding barking dogs, but a few of the easiest are bark collars, squirt bottles, and recall.

You can get a few different kinds of bark collar. Now, keep in mind a bark collar will remove the symptom (barking) but not the problem (obsession, not listening, being hyper-vigilant.) That said, if you need a patch while you work on the rest, bark collars are great! I personally prefer the citronella bark collars if they work for your dog; they spray a strange-to-dogs scent in the air when your dog barks. The downside of these are that they run out of spray if the dog barks too often, and sometimes the dogs don’t care!

If the citronella collar doesn’t work on your dog, you can look at a static (or electronic) bark collar. Be aware that this is way too much power for some dogs, so go the citronella route first. (Pet Food Express, among others, will take these back if they don’t work on your dog.) You can get an idea of what sort of shock your dog is getting if you put the collar to your throat and either cough or laugh. Keep in mind fur dulls it significantly, but it’s still a surprising jolt. (I’m never a fan of jolting my dogs, but it’s better than a neighbor poisoning them.)

Now, if it’s something that happens when you’re home, you can also try a squirt bottle. Get one of those heavy-duty ones from a hardware store, put it on stream, and the next time your dog barks use a verbal bridge. This means you start talking as soon as they bark, and continue talking until you squirt them. You’re bridging the bad behavior with the consequences by talking. My “talking” is my bad dog noise, which is a hissing sound, but you can also use a litany of words: “No barking, I said no, that’s enough, boom shakala boom” — it doesn’t matter, as long as you keep talking! Then you can squirt them even if they’ve stopped barking, and they’ll still make the connection. Woo hoo!

Finally, there’s the recall option. This relies on replacing a poor behavior with a better behavior. When your dog barks, call them inside and give them a treat for coming, then keep them inside on a time-out so they have a chance to calm down. Time outs should last 5-10 minutes. Worst case scenario is that they bark and then run to you. Best case scenario is that they stop barking!

All this said, let me just restate: walk your dog! Bring down the energy, teach them to listen on walks, and they’ll be much better behaved at home, too.



We break from our regularly scheduled program to bring you this video! This is hilarious. I kind of love this owner. (We’ll return to walking past exciting things next week.)

He also says, if you go to youtube itself, that the collar didn’t work so well on the dog. They ended up hiring a trainer, who recommended a doggie day care once a week and regular walks to help calm the barking. The gentleman says that worked better than the collar and, yup, that sounds about right!