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Verbally Enthusiastic Workers

Posted on 12/02/09 12 Comments

Recently I had someone ask me if I thought it would be a problem to let his dog bark while he shaped behaviours. First of all, the barking could be a sign that your dog training skills need to be sharpened. Perhaps have an experienced trainer watch you and give you their opinion.


Buzz was my first introduction to vocalizing while working.

It wouldn't be right to have a blog post about barking without a picture of Buzz!
It wouldn't be right to have a blog post about barking without a picture of Buzz!

  I wrote about some of the lessons I learned from the experience of shaping a verbally enthusiastic (how PC is that) working in my book, Shaping Success .  If you haven’t read it, that is a good place to start.


Barking is a “cheap” behaviour in that it has a low response cost to the dog, the effort needed to do it is minimal. If a dog had to nudge a switch on his butt every time he wanted to emit one bark, there would be far less barking in this world, (there would also be more flexible dogs and a lot of weird head near butt while walking in the woods responses).


Because barking is so cheap, of little cost, it will attach itself to any behaviour if you allow it to go on while you are shaping. Once there it becomes extremely difficult, if sometimes impossible to extinguish. Get rid of it before you shape for each reinforcement you give the dog while he is vocalizing will help to connect the barking or whining stronger to the behaviour you are shaping. This doesn’t mean I NEVER allow any vocalizing, but if the all out barking, especially staring in my face barking goes one, I pick up my cookies and turn my back to the wall until it stops.  The odd woof during a “dry” spell because the dog is frustrated, or a bit of whining while thinking of what you want I allow. Just watch for patterns.


I would not use a clicker while shaping a dog that wants to bark. I actually only use a clicker for very specific skills since it is a very specific tool. However while shaping a “barky” dog you will get times when you will inadvertently click and the dog barks at the same time. You now are faced with a choice of either rewarding the barking or not rewarding after the click (which can dilute the effectiveness of using the clicker). So in order to avoid this dilemma do not use a clicker while shaping a dog that wants to be “gobby” as my British friends call it.


Today I am grateful for stiff and sore muscles showing me I have been working hard at my morning workouts:)


  1. Emma says:
    Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 8:22pm

    Thanks Laura! Kind of freaky that your V’s named Emma! Unfortunately mines not “Laura,” his name’s “Seven” 🙂
    I think you’re right about breaking things up into smaller chunks. Now, it seems so obvious I can’t believe I didn’t think of it.
    I also will turn my back and disengage when he’s “demand” barking at his food/toy/siblings etc and that works very well, I just can see him shutting down if I do this when he’s frustration barking during shaping sessions.


  2. Bethany says:
    Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 4:05pm

    My eldest Motion, a 5 yr old border collie, is an incessant barker. She came home a non-stop screamer when she didn’t get what she wanted and barks whenever she’s excited or frustrated. Since Motion suffers from an aggression problem related to arousal levels and faulty (?) wiring her barking is even more obnoxious and a valued signal (yes, at the same time). At 5 yrs of age I’m trying to teach her to high 5 (she’s retired due to health problems) and she scream barks while staring me straight in the eyes and wildy attacking my hand with her “clawed” paw. Ouch! I’ve read Shaping Success but of course, my copy is lost. I’ll try ending the game when she barks and see what happens. It’s sure to be interesting.
    Of course in my defense, I must say that she’s my first “wired” bc and I honestly taught her that barking gets her no where but some of her psych meds makes her even more barky than she’s ever been before. Yeah, excuse, excuses.


  3. Laura says:
    Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 3:53pm

    Emma, my thoughts would be to break the behaviours down into even smaller pieces to reduce the frustration. Keep your training sessions between tugging/play ultra short and when you can see that frustration is beginning to set in, call it quits before the barking starts for a short play session before going at it again. What Susan said about turning her back when barking happens worked wonders for my V pup. She started to bark at me when I was scooping out her food. My response – drop the scoop in the bin, shut the door and leave briefly – cured that in 2 days. Don’t just stand there and ignore the dog, physically turna way or better yet, leave the area. I think it conveys a stronger message.

    Laura (with an 8.5 month old Vizsla named Emma)


  4. Emma says:
    Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 1:43pm

    I have a 7 month old Vizsla who is generally fairly vocal. During our training sessions he keeps up a steady stream of whining and high-pitched barking that I think started with frustration and is now a habit. However, I think that, because this was born out of frustration, withholding rewards for barking will make him more frustrated instead of thinking clearer. Am I wrong? What should I do with a soft, “highly strung” puppy who gets frustrated at the drop of a hat?


  5. Linda says:
    Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 1:25pm

    Hmmm….this just sounds soooo familiar…oh yeah it is that 17 minutes of video I have with you and Xane and barking….what a difference that has made in our lives =D


  6. Jen says:
    Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 12:06pm

    My dog now is a barker, and I was told Cavaliers aren’t. However, since the day he figured out he could, he’s been a barker. I had good success with previous dog, who used to give his paws incessantly, bringing the behavior under stimulus control in order to get rid of it at other times. Barking though, I was totally unsuccessful. I got him to stop on command, though honestly I think this made him start so he could get the cue to stop and be reinforced for stopping. Now, if he does it, I walk away from him until he stops, and if he starts on my way back, I turn away again.


  7. Trudie says:
    Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 11:20am

    My dog does not vocalise while working…. however, a really annoying nuisance habit of barking as a way of greeting regular visitors to the house. We are gradually changing this by playing the “Leave it” game with lots of reward.

    Many thanks to Buzz, his story (and that particular photo!) is awesome!!


  8. Melissa Blazak says:
    Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 10:31am

    Thanks for this blog today! Rudy can be a yakker at times. Since I am in touch with some of his siblings owners I know that they too are talkers. Oddly enough he doesn’t bark when we do obedience although he is very happy to be working. I cut out the barking at meal times by only putting the bowl down when he was quiet.

    Rudy barks in the morning when he first gets up and is let out of his crate. I think it’s just from being excited to be awake and greeting the morning.

    However, Rudy does bark during shaping. If I am trying to use shaping to get a new behaviour and he throws the ones he knows at me and doesn’t get a cookie he barks in frustration. I have waited him out at times but does that not build more frustration? I am confused. I will try it again and work on it a little harder. I definately don’t want a barker. I went back to the clicker again for some obedience stuff because he loves the sound of that click even more than the “yes” I usually use.


  9. CJLang says:
    Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 9:58am

    My dog barks but even more disturbing – she screams. Literally. She vocalizes constantly – most of the time whines and moans and other assorted noises. She does this in the car, while on walks, sitting on my lap….. When we train – that is when the screaming really starts. I’ve tried turning my back on her until she quiets (at least until she has lowered the volume to her normal mumbling!) but then she jumps on my back…. sigh….

    I have never had a dog like this and am really unsure how to discourage it or at least drop it to a reasonable level.


  10. Kelly says:
    Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 9:35am

    Congratulations on the stiff and sore muscles! 🙂


  11. Lisa says:
    Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 9:06am

    Oh my! With my first “shaping” dog I accidently shaped a bark with the targets. What a big mistake! Once you have it, I don’t think you can get rid of it!


  12. Sally says:
    Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 8:35am

    Oh yes my youngster likes to vocalise but its not always a bark sometimes its the funniest grunt – bit analogous to the noise a tennis player might make when they put in extra effort on a point. I try just to not reward the behavior if she does make the noise but its not always so effective as the behaviors she likes to throw in the noise are those she gets motivated doing.

    Anybody come across this and is it worth getting on top of. It doesn’t as yet translate across to either her formal obedience work or her agility training.


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