Our foster dog, Pancake, is afraid of my husband. He barks and growls at him in a number of situations. Last week I shared how we decreased these behaviors by decreasing Pancake’s opportunities and motivation to behave this way. We changed where Pancake was spending time, and paired my husband with reinforcement.
This week I talked about how I am reinforcing specific behaviors that Pancake does around my husband, to decrease aggression. In order for training to decrease barking or other aggression, you need to decrease opportunities for aggression first. So make sure not to skip Part 1 of this series!
I gave this presentation originally in our free Facebook support group. You’re invited to join if you’re not already a member.
I’ve set up our house so that my dog is barking less at family members. What behaviors should I reinforce?
First, choose which behaviors you like. What would you like to see more of? You might be thinking “I just want the barking to stop!” And that’s where you’re headed. You’re going to use positive reinforcement to increase behaviors you DO like, so your dog does those behaviors instead of barking.
For Pancake, some behaviors I’m reinforcing are “come,” “stay put,” and “move away.” But as you’ll see in the video, you can really reinforce any behavior your dog does when the “less preferred” family member is around that isn’t barking or aggression. Don’t be too picky! You can even reinforce “quietly noticing” the family member that the dog is afraid of.
Again, this isn’t something I’d recommend doing on your own, especially if you don’t see quick improvement. Reach out to a qualified R+ trainer for help.
I’m trying all of this and my dog is still barking at family members!
If you’re still having trouble, there are a couple of likely causes. One is that you are making progress, but your expectations are a little too high. You want to see a decrease in frequency of barking at family over time, but there will be ups and downs. Keeping a record of how often your dog is barking at family members can help you see whether things are moving in the right direction.
A second common source of trouble is not controlling the environment well enough. If your dog is still barking at family multiple times per day, go back to part 1 of this series and examine how to decrease your dog’s opportunities to bark. If gates are out of the question for some reason, consider tethers, crates, or closed doors. There is always a way!