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From Barking to Zen: Games and Techniques to Help Dogs Overcome Excessive Vocalisation

In this week’s blog I’m going to address a common challenge faced by many dog owners: excessive vocalisation…..barking. Whether it’s incessant boof boof or yip yip, whining, or howling, excessive vocalisation can be a source of frustration for both you and your furry friend. But fear not – with the right games and techniques, you can help your dog find their inner zen and reduce their vocalisation.

In my own journey with my furiends, I’ve encountered my fair share of barking battles and I’ve discovered some effective techniques for helping dogs overcome excessive vocalisation. Hold my drink, we’re diving deep.

It’s worth mentioning that excessive vocalisation can sometimes be a sign of an underlying medical issue or behavioural problem that should be assessed by a vet behaviourist, so if you’re struggling to make progress, or if your dog’s vocalisation seems to be getting worse, don’t hesitate to seek guidance from your veterinarian or vet behaviourist. They can help identify any underlying issues and provide you with a customised treatment plan tailored to your dog’s needs.

Now, back to training methods. Let’s talk about the power of distraction. One effective way to reduce barking is to redirect your dog’s attention to an alternative activity whenever they start vocalising. For example, you could ask them to “Get It” as you bowl a piece of kibble across the floor or give them a puzzle toy to keep them mentally stimulated and focused. By providing them with a positive outlet for their energy and attention, you can help break the cycle of excessive vocalisation. Just be careful that you’re rewarding the alternate behaviour and not the barking.

I often remind people that we have selectively bred dogs, over thousands of years, to guard our campfires and now our homes. Stan Lee, being able to hear out of one ear, often barks when someone knocks on our door. Over time we’ve taught him that he’s allowed to bark to alert us to someone at the door and then his job is to run to his bed to receive his reward. This has resulted in him delivering a few short barks and then 38kg of dog running to his bed (get out of his way – he’s a dog on a mission!)

Next up, let’s talk about desensitisation and counter-conditioning. This is not the be all and end all of training for barking but it’s a method that is commonly used in all sorts of situations. This method involves gradually exposing your dog to the triggers that cause them to bark, while simultaneously teaching them to associate those triggers with something positive, like food or praise. For example, if your dog tends to bark at passing cars, you could begin by stopping them from rehearsing the barking, either by moving them to a different area where there are no cars or stopping the trips out while you train alternate behaviours. Next, you might start having them watch the cars from a distance while giving them food and praise. Over time, you can gradually decrease the distance until your dog is able to remain calm and relaxed in the presence of the trigger. The trick here is to keep Fido under threshold. If your pooch can’t or won’t take a treat then they’re over threshold and you should move further away or empty their bucket by heading home to let all those stress hormones lower to baseline.

But wait, there’s more! Not steak knives but relaxation. How about incorporating relaxation techniques into your dog’s daily routine? Just like humans, dogs can benefit from activities like massage, aromatherapy, and calming music to help reduce stress and anxiety. You could also try teaching them a “settle” or “quiet” cue and reward them with treats or affection when they respond appropriately. With practice, your dog will learn to associate relaxation with positive reinforcement, helping them stay calm and composed in stressful situations. Just a head’s up – always check that any aromatherapy you are using is dog safe.

And let’s not forget about the importance of exercise and mental stimulation. Be sure to provide plenty of opportunities for physical activity and mental enrichment throughout the day. Whether it’s going for a walk, playing interactive games, or playing training games, keeping your dog physically and mentally engaged will help reduce their urge to vocalise out of boredom or frustration.

It takes time for dogs to learn new behaviours, so don’t expect overnight results. Celebrate every little victory along the way and be prepared to adjust your approach as needed based on your dog’s individual needs and responses. All the 1% improvements add up to be something substantial so keep on training.

You can help your furry friend find their inner zen and enjoy a quieter, more peaceful life. Here’s to many more bark-free days ahead!

Game On! Let’s Play!


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