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Becoming more 'barky' at outside noises


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So my dog who has always been reactive to noises on the street, but she is becoming more and more reactive to any noise she hears outside (this is when we are in the house). Usually what happens is she hears a noise, her head goes up and she concentrates, when the noise comes back she lets loose and barks to her heart's content. 

I know the general rule is get some distance between her and the noises and reward her when she doesn't react, but that's not possible given the small lot size of the houses around me (even when in the basement away from the street we can still hear trucks, people, etc.). 

What I have been doing is either A) as soon as I see her pick her head up, make a weird noise or something to get her to look away then reward her the second she looks at me or looks away, or, if she won't look and she's freaking out, b) stand up and get in-between her and the door and basically back her down away from the windows/door, then reward her when she quiets. 

The issue is, she's getting worse so I fear one or both of those techniques is a failure/reinforcing something bad. I also sometimes poke her or pet her when she looks away to try to calm her. 

Thoughts? 

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Not so sure about "poking" her to get her to calm down. :o    Also, petting her to calm her down may be positively reinforcing the behavior you do not want, depending on your timing of the petting.

I suggest using the "Look At That" protocol in the book "Control Unleashed" (probably available at your library, definitely available online). It has trained some seriously barky dogs that I have known. It is a solid click-and-treat protocol that seems to work really well on any kind of reactivity including barking.

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Yes ^^^^^^.

Here's a success story from me, a novice (again, first dog, first BC). We are using this approach with our Darcy who barks at noises coming from the floor above. The idea is to transform the stimulus from a signal to bark into a signal to turn attention to you.

Initially I was saying "where's the noise?" (which Leslie McDevitt now recommends instead of "Look at that" I believe) when there was a noise, then I would click for any evidence of attention to the noise, and then give a treat when Darcy turned back to me. That is the official "look at that" method if I understand it correctly. (This is all predicated on the assumption that your dog knows about the clicker. But in our case, "charging the clicker" took approximately no time at all. Click-->treat. Not a hard concept for a BC. So if you haven't been doing clicker training, this seems like a great moment to start!) 

Our trainer simplified it even more. She instructed us to just click for attention to the noise and give a treat. (You really want her to turn to you for the treat, but at first it seems to be ok to just get her to take the treat any way you can to start to build the expectation of Good Things Will Happen when the click/noise happens). It did not take long at all for Darcy to associate the noise with treats so the noise by itself is starting to cue turning attention to me. 

Darcy barks less at noises from upstairs now (way less). And when he does bark a click and a treat puts an end to it. (Sometimes we need to repeat the cycle a few times. But so much better than just hysterical barking.)

At first I thought this was a little weird because I was marking a behavior I didn't want. But I was thinking about it wrong. The problem is not that Darcy notices things. The problem is Darcy reacts to things he notices in ways I don't want (barking). So, at the beginning, Darcy believed "Noises from upstairs mean I should bark." At the same time, Darcy knew that "The clicking noise means treats". Then, noticing things started to bring clicks, and clicks bring treats. So now noises mean treats. 

There is another side effect. Sometimes Darcy does not want a treat. So he hears what is now a treat stimulus (noise) and just continues about his business if whatever he is doing is more interesting than a treat. This is leading to more peaceful roaming about the room while I am trying to get work done. 

But for the first few days I had to literally sit next to him clicking and treating to keep the barking at bay. After a bit of this training we would just go somewhere else less noisy to give everyone a break. Now that the pattern is learned, if I am particularly lazy, I will just click and toss a treat to him from across the room and that does the trick too.

Let me come back to asking "Where's the noise?". If I understand correctly (and maybe I don't), the goal here is to be able to use this as a generalizable signal that the pup should turn her attention to you rather than whatever she is noticing. So this can turn into "where's the car?", "where's the person?", "where's the rabbit?". The way I am doing it right now, I would need to always have a clicker with me for this to work as I am not conditioning a verbal cue.  As it happens, I do always have a clicker, but at some point I might like to stop wearing that bit of dog jewelry all the time. I was glad to drop that step, as saying "where's the noise?" over and over to a hysterical dog was just further fraying my nerves. Now that I once again have a quiet basement and can think clearly again, maybe I will go back to asking "where's the...." as described in Control Unleashed.

Finally, Control Unleashed recommends practicing the "Look at that" (or "Where's the...") game with various items when the dog is calm to teach the behavior. But for us, going right to the stimulus we were having trouble with (noise) worked just as well.

(Before all this, we used a different strategy, as recommended by Doggy Dan. When Darcy would bark, I would say "thank you Darcy" and the go back to my business. Then if Darcy barked again, I would come look at what he was barking at, nod my head calmly, and again say "Thank you". If he barked again, I would calmly put him in a quiet room for a timeout. This apparently works great for some people. It worked not at all for us.) 

-Eric

 

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That book has been a game changer for me! I have used it to help my dog relax more with other dogs. Worked wonders :lol:

I can really recommend it. I read about the Look At That game here on the boards, but reading the book made it more clear to me. Plus there are other techniques in there too. I was very happy with the “there’s a dog in your face” one, which used to be stressful, but now is a fun training moment!

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On 12/11/2020 at 11:55 AM, erikor said:

...The way I am doing it right now, I would need to always have a clicker with me for this to work as I am not conditioning a verbal cue.  As it happens, I do always have a clicker, but at some point I might like to stop wearing that bit of dog jewelry all the time...

Actually, you do have a clicker with you all the time. ;) You can make a clicking sound with your tongue that is a great impromptu clicker that's always available.

My dogs have always recognized a mouth click as being the same as a clicker. I can't remember if I may have charged it first or not, and of course that's easy enough to do. But if you follow the mouth click with the reward just once or twice it's easily translatable to the dog.

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Another good book is "Click To Calm". This book revolutionized my approach to some kinds of unwanted behavior several years ago. 

I had a foster dog who was extremely fear-aggressive to other dogs. Three other foster homes had said they couldn't handle her because of this, and she came to me. If she thought another dog was in the house, even if she couldn't see it,  she would bark and snarl and growl non-stop. I thought "what can I click? She won't stop". But I learned  from "Click To Calm" that you don't have to wait for Good behavior to click, just for the slightest break in the bad behavior. Eventually a snarling dog has to stop for one or two seconds to take a breath. I worked with that, clicking every one-second silence, and working from there she took longer and longer breaks because as long as she was not snarling I kept giving her treats. If she started again, treats stopped. The breaks for treats got longer and longer.  I managed in only a half hour to gradually get her from snarling behind a closed door while my dogs were behind a closed door on the other side of the house,  to the point of being able to sniff my dogs up close. It was like a miracle.

This same thing, I have found, can be applied in many situations. Not saying it is "better" than the LAT, but is another good technique to know.

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So is one better or easier than the other (click when she pauses/Look at that)? 

Also, D'Elle, was there concern you were going to reward and reinforce the bad behavior? She absolutely loses her mind and goes vicious when we park by a dog in our car, and I'm afraid if I click when she breathes or pauses, she's going to think it's a reward for the barking/aggression. I'm also afraid she's going to learn that if she barks, she can look at me and I'll click and reward because she stopped (I've had that happen in the past).

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15 hours ago, drharps said:

So is one better or easier than the other (click when she pauses/Look at that)? 

Also, D'Elle, was there concern you were going to reward and reinforce the bad behavior? She absolutely loses her mind and goes vicious when we park by a dog in our car, and I'm afraid if I click when she breathes or pauses, she's going to think it's a reward for the barking/aggression. I'm also afraid she's going to learn that if she barks, she can look at me and I'll click and reward because she stopped (I've had that happen in the past).

As I said in my post above, I don't think one or the other is better.:

 "This same thing, I have found, can be applied in many situations. Not saying it is "better" than the LAT, but is another good technique to know."

You have to be quick with the clicker. If you click too soon or too late you will be clicking while she is barking and you don't want to do that. Only click when she is silent for one second. If you time it right, your dog won't think she is being rewarded for barking and will catch on that it is when she is quiet that she gets rewarded. If you are not familiar with the clicker, practice so you get good at the timing. Make sure the dog is nowhere near, of course, and then practice instant clicking when a friend suddenly lifts her arm, or whatever.

I explained how that works, and how it worked with a very barkey aggressive foster dog, but you don't have to believe me if you don't want to.

And again, the dog learns that being quiet gets rewarded. As long as the dog is quiet you keep giving treats. It stops when the dog barks. As for your dog barking and then stopping to get treats, I would watch her and see if she is barking at something or if she is just letting out a bark or two randomly, then stopping and looking at you. If she is doing the latter,  I would ignore her. It's like training a certain behavior like fetching something for you. You would not reward the dog every time she brings your slippers, or that's all she would do all day. You'd only reward when you told her to get them. 

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6 hours ago, D'Elle said:

As I said in my post above, I don't think one or the other is better.:

 "This same thing, I have found, can be applied in many situations. Not saying it is "better" than the LAT, but is another good technique to know."

You have to be quick with the clicker. If you click too soon or too late you will be clicking while she is barking and you don't want to do that. Only click when she is silent for one second. If you time it right, your dog won't think she is being rewarded for barking and will catch on that it is when she is quiet that she gets rewarded. If you are not familiar with the clicker, practice so you get good at the timing. Make sure the dog is nowhere near, of course, and then practice instant clicking when a friend suddenly lifts her arm, or whatever.

I explained how that works, and how it worked with a very barkey aggressive foster dog, but you don't have to believe me if you don't want to.

And again, the dog learns that being quiet gets rewarded. As long as the dog is quiet you keep giving treats. It stops when the dog barks. As for your dog barking and then stopping to get treats, I would watch her and see if she is barking at something or if she is just letting out a bark or two randomly, then stopping and looking at you. If she is doing the latter,  I would ignore her. It's like training a certain behavior like fetching something for you. You would not reward the dog every time she brings your slippers, or that's all she would do all day. You'd only reward when you told her to get them. 

Thanks D'Elle. I'll give this a try first, and slowly work towards LAT as well. Until I get her trained on LAT, I'll try rewarding her when she pauses.

One other question: there are times when I don't have the clicker on me, and instead wait for the break and say, "YES, good girl," and reward her. Is there something magic about the clicker, or is it the praise she receives at the right moment to indicate the action we want, regardless of whether it's a click, a tongue click, or a "good girl." 

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There are several advantages to a clicker. One is that it's a clear, sharp and consistent sound that doesn't change with context or your mood. IOW if you're feeling frustrated or are simply tired or whatever, your voice changes in subtle ways that the dog can hear no matter how you try to control it. And that can influence the way the dog perceives the verbal reward.

It's also something that's used only during training, which establishes the context of training (i.e. learning) to the dog.

And believe it or not, once you're practiced with using it it's actually faster than your voice is.

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^^^^ This.

The clicker isn't magic but it is the best way to train, IMO. I didn't see how the clicker was better at first myself, but studies have actually been done on this, and not only is what GL says above true, but also the sharp sound of the clicker goes faster to the part of the brain that involves learning. When I am training a new dog or a puppy I always just carry a clicker and treats around with me all the time so I can reward good behavior.  It is preferable to use only the clicker, rather than a combination of clicker and voice, but it's possible to do both and have that work.  In this situation, when you have to be spot on with your timing, using voice if you don't have the clicker in your hand is a reasonable substitute. Maybe if you have the clicker in your pocket, when she starts barking you can pull it out and have it ready in your hand for when she stops to take a breath. I think that's what I would do.

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Inexpensive coiled wrist bands are a great way to have your clicker handy at all times. When I'm training a pup or a new dog I wear my clicker like this all the time. They're often sold where clickers are sold (i.e. pet stores or trainers), where keys are made or easily found online.

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I realized that I'm training my dog as much as training myself. In a few cases, training the dog is MUCH easier than training the human.

For example, I had to train myself to be watching the dog, especially early on in the process. I think I used CT with Shoshone, who was my 2nd border collie. Got her from a rescue, and she'd been taken from an incredibly neglectful and actively abusive situation. Had to muffle the clicker to use it with her at the beginning. 

Getting the timing right, or close to right, meant I had to watch the dog quite a bit. Once I was better at that, she picked things up really fast.

So be prepared to accept your own mistakes and keep going. Your girl may pick some things up really quickly, other things you  may need to break into parts and then pull them together.

Good luck with it all!

R & G

 

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Thanks everyone for the incredible advice! I've already started with the training, and will dig up the assortment of old clickers we have laying around. We used the clicker when she was younger so she'll pick it up quickly. One thing that will be interesting is I've trained her that when I click with my mouth, she needs to look at me. Hopefully she doesn't confuse the two, but they're distinctive enough I think it'll be fine. 

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