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Curiosities: Can dogs be trained not to bark?

April 25, 2007

"Yes, absolutely," said canine authority and UW–Madison adjunct associate professor of zoology Patricia McConnell.

When confronting the natural tendency of our best friends to wake the dead whenever the doorbell rings, McConnell said it is essential to remember that "dogs do not come equipped to understand English" and yelling at a barking dog is perceived by the dog as … barking. To eliminate barking on cue, say, when the doorbell rings, McConnell suggests the following: Arm yourself with a dog treat and ring the doorbell yourself. When a barking Spike bounds to the door, move toward the dog and, in a firm tone, say “enough” just before bringing the treat to within an inch of the dog's nose.

Using the treat as a lure, move the dog away from the door while praising the animal. Give Spike the treat while praising him. Repeat the exercise multiple times, said McConnell, and the odds are you can break the dog of its barking habit.

Barking, McConnell explained, is hitched to the emotional center of the dog brain. Offering the treat and praise while moving the animal away from the source of emotional conflict creates a situation where distraction stops the barking and the dog's effort to remain quiet is rewarded.