Friday, August 9, 2013

Your Dog is Barking -- Are You Listening?

By: Sue Pearson

Two years ago on a bitterly cold February night, the terrier across the street from my father’s home began to bark uncontrollably, much to the puzzlement and consternation of her owners. In an attempt to determine what was bothering Winnie, they opened the door and let her outside, where she promptly raced across the street to my father’s garage (something she had never done before). When her owners went to retrieve her, they found my father lying on the garage floor with a broken leg. Darkness had prevented any of the neighbors from seeing him and although he had been calling for help for over an hour, no one could hear him – except for Winnie.

Barking is a primary form of communication for dogs and as already illustrated, can be extremely useful, yet left unchecked, owners (and their neighbors) can be driven to distraction by a dog who refuses to quiet.

Dogs often bark because they have been reinforced for doing so. Whether the reinforcement has been intentional or inadvertent makes no difference -- behavior that is reinforced tends to be repeated. This maxim is also true of your behavior, your spouse’s behavior and, as most parents know, the behavior of every toddler and teen walking the planet. Puppies sometimes bark in their crates, and in order to stop the noise, owners let them out. Dogs may bark when they’re sitting near the dinner table, and an owner may respond by giving them food. If you’ve been paying attention, you can easily predict the future behavior of these two dogs. This unintentional reinforcement tells the dog that their behavior is effective, and they learn to use it repeatedly to get what they want.

Dogs also bark to alert us to changes in the environment, including solicitors hanging out on the front step with magazine subscription cards, miscreants lurking in the bushes, children fast-forwarding past the house, and the occasional squirrel, who appears to exist solely for the sheer torment of all Labrador retrievers. Read the entire article

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