How to Stop Attention Barking!

by Lauren Rubin

There are a variety of types of barking that dogs do – alert barking (“Yipes! The mail guy is at the door!”), attention barking (“Pet me! Feed me!”), bored barking (“noooooow whaaaat?”), and so on! In this blog post, we’re going to talk about Attention Barking and how to stop it.

Attention barking is usually something that we have accidentally reinforced. When our dogs bark at us and we say “sssh!” or “no bark!,” what our dogs see is us giving them our attention. They then learn that barking gets us to notice them, so they bark when they want us to do something. Over time, this behavior gets more and more extreme, until sometimes it can feel like the barking never stops.

To break up this behavior, we are going to try what we call “behavior extinction.” Essentially, if a behavior that was previously reinforced goes without reinforcement, it eventually fades away and stops entirely because it is no longer being reinforced. When this happens, though, we get what is called an “extinction burst.” If a behavior that was successful for the dog in the past is suddenly no longer successful, they will often actively try harder before giving up. In the case of ignoring barking, this means that your dog’s barking will likely increase in intensity and/or frequency before they realize it is no longer working. The trick is to continue ignoring them completely any time there is barking – if you reinforce your dog by giving in during the extinction burst, they will learn that barking louder/harder will work! Yikes!

Here is a graph of an extinction burst with a child throwing a tantrum as the example

The extinction procedure will only work if you ignore your dog’s attention barking completely from now on – this means not looking at them, talking to them, moving towards them…nothing. This can be very difficult to do as the barking is a very hard sound to endure! If you start this process and find yourself too frustrated and wanting to give in, give us a shout and we can help you create a specialized training plan for you and your dog.

*IMPORTANT NOTE: This behavior will not work for dogs who are barking due to anxiety, fear, aggression or alerting! In some instances, anxiety, aggression and/or fear barking will get worse if ignored. Please contact us for help with these behaviors.