By Stacy Braslau-Schneck
Does your dog bark, jump and generally make a scene at every group training class? First, remember that it’s natural for dogs to bark. There’s nothing really wrong with it -- unless it’s keeping the other dogs from concentrating, or otherwise disrupting training. Every class has at least one yappy dog, and an experienced instructor will have a few methods that will help you deal with it, without having to resort to punishment. Avoid a class in which the instructor recommends jerking on the collar, spraying the dog in the face with water or grabbing the dog’s muzzle as a first resort.
Why Dogs Bark in Class
Dogs in class generally bark for one of four reasons:
1. Excited friendliness
3. Attention demands
4. A generally vocal nature
The excitedly friendly dog is so thrilled to be around other dogs that he or she needs to invite them to play. These dogs remind me of someone stranded on a deserted island who sees a passing ship: “Hey, hey! Over here! Look, over here!”
The fearful dog is going by “the best defense is a good offense,” barking to warn the other dogs to stay away from him.
Both of these types of dogs will benefit from extra attention work, rewarding them for focusing on you, their owner. If possible, also create more distance between your dog and the next closest dog. Both the excited and fearful dog should also be rewarded for looking at another dog, without barking.
In addition, a fearful dog really might need a visual barrier (usually an ex-pen with a fabric covering) to cut off his sight of the others. And a truly fearful dog might benefit from switching from group classes to private lessons.
Manage Your Barky Dog’s Need for Attention
The dog that demands attention from his owner with barking usually makes less noise in class because he’s usually getting more attention than he’s used to in an hour. Their barking should not be rewarded with attention or even the “negative feedback” of telling him to be quiet or touching/holding his mouth.
If your classroom has tethers for the dogs, talk to the instructor about the strategy of “abandoning” your dog when he barks. Your dog will learn that barking results in the opposite of what he wants -- especially if you also lavish your pal with attention when he’s quiet.
The Barky Dog
The dogs that are generally vocal are the most difficult to handle in a class. These are dogs that respond to all emotions with some sort of noise: whining, barking, baying or howling. These dogs bark in class even when they’re not looking at another dog or their owners. You can still reward them when they’re quiet and remove them from the class when they’re barking. (Ask the instructor to seat you close to the door.)
While you’re looking jealously at the quiet dog lying at another student’s feet, keep in mind that this dog might not only be calm, but also actually shut down fearfully. Meanwhile, that dog’s owner might be quietly dying of embarrassment that her normally perky pooch is moping and unresponsive. Hopefully, both sets of dogs will soon learn to quietly enjoy group class.
Stacy Braslau-Schneck is a longtime dog trainer and a professional member of the Association of Dog Pet Trainers. She works closely with the Human Society Silicon Valley and is the owner of Stacy’s Wag’N’Train, which offers small group classes and private lessons in San Jose, Calif. Stacy writes frequently for Exceptional Canine.