Next to crate training, teaching a dog to be quiet is probably the most common complaint I hear from dog owners. I can’t stand a yappy animal myself, so I sympathize. But I adore Chihuahuas, so how does that work? Simple, I ask them to hush. (Ok, let’s be honest, maybe the word I use isn’t always so polite.) But I don’t have to shout and I don’t have to nag and the dogs are all quite capable of understanding this means “stop barking now”.
There are some rules:
You can’t yell. You can’t reward them for hush when they’re speaking. You must practice. You are not allowed to reflexively tell your dog to Hush and must always investigate!
Supplies: something to encourage the dog to bark (doorbell, door to knock on, another dog, youtube, piano?…), treats, dog. That’s it. I promise.
The first step in teaching your dog to stop doing ANYTHING is to fist teach him to do that thing on cue. Yes, I’m serious. Yes, you’re going to teach your dog to speak on cue. If you want him to stop digging, you’d first teach him to dig one cue. He won’t understand what you want unless he understands the opposite. Moving right along. Step one: encourage your dog to “speak”. We’re going to teach your dog the name of the behavior he already knows. This is called capturing his behavior. You can either engineer a situation wherein he will naturally want to bark (ring your own doorbell), or carry treats around waiting for it to happen. You ought to be carrying treats around anyway, but that’s another post. When your dog speaks simply say “Speak! Good speak!” and offer a high value treat. Repeat this process. A lot. Eventually you want to phase out the doorbell (or other stimulus) and simply say “speak”, then reward efforts to speak. To do this you say speak before the doorbell, wait a second, reward here if no doorbell is needed, use the doorbell if you must, and reward. It takes…PRACTICE.
When Dingleberry has “speak” captured, start capturing “Hush”. After a session of speak, when you can anticipate that Dingleberry will be quiet for a few seconds, ask him to “Hush”. In that half second of quiet befuddlement, reward his “good hush!” Ask him to hush again. Slip in a whole entire second there if you feel comfortable, praise and reward! Continue asking for “hush” at every available quiet opportunity. Remember my 5 minutes, 5 times a day rule?
After you’ve captured a solid 5 second hush during quiet periods it’s time to apply his learning to real scenarios. During a barkfest, praise Dingleberry for his good speak! (Give him some soft pets) and ask him to “hush” with a treat very obviously in your hand. You should reward him immediately when he looks at you. You then want to practice extending the duration of his hush in this more distracting environment. If he barks again, simply ask him to hush and wait two seconds. Do not expect him to stay hush for any longer than his 5 seconds that you’ve established without the excitement of whatever has induced him to bark this time. Remember that difficulty of behaviors is increased with distance, distraction, and duration.