Some breeds of dog are naturally more noisy than others. But on the whole, noise is not the communication method of choice for dogs.
Dogs prefer to communicate through body language.
Unfortunately, we humans are not great at reading and discriminating between the often subtle signals that dogs use to convey emotion and intention.
As a result, dogs will often resort to vocalising in order to cross the language barrier between us.
Labradors are not a particularly noisy breed by nature.Yet from an early age, people tend to teach their Labrador puppies to be noisy.
This is understandable because we love to communicate with sounds.
Language is terribly important to us.
And we tend to respond positively to every little noise our puppies make.
- He whimpers, and we cuddle him
- He squeaks and we offer him some dinner
- He yaps and we get his lead
- He cries in his crate and we let him out
and so on.
In the space of a very few weeks, many people teach their new puppy to make a rich and varied repertoire of yips and yaps, barks and whines.
They then spend the next few years trying to turn them off!
Dealing with noise
Prevention is of course a good deal easier than cure, but most noise problems can be cured with patience and a little effort.
There are several useful strategies that can be used independently, or together
- Reinforcing silence
- Removing rewards for noise
- Putting noise on cue
This is a gentle system of behaviour modification that reduces noise by deliberately rewarding and reinforcing periods of silence.
These are very short periods to begin with, and are gradually increased in length as training progresses.
The system I use for this is called the ‘Click for Quiet‘ technique,and is also a great way to prevent noise problems getting established in small puppies.
It is great for dealing with whining in the crate at home and in vehicles.
I put most of my puppies through some version of the ‘Click for Quiet’ programme, check out the link for more information.
Removing rewards for noise
It is all too easy to inadvertently reward noise. We tend to forget that many of the things we do with our puppies act as powerful rewards.
Opening doors to let puppies outside, putting a lead on a dog.
Letting the puppy out of a car when we reach the woods, opening his crate, all these things are highly rewarding in addition to the more obvious ones such as throwing a ball or feeding him his dinner.
At some point, someone probably taught the Labrador in the photo above that the best way to get another fetch of his ball, is to bark until someone throws it for him.
It is very easy indeed to slip into this habit when your dog is quite small.
It is important to remember that puppies learn from the immediate consequences of their behaviour and anything good that happens to the puppy, will reinforce the behaviour he was exhibiting at the time. (Check out this article for more information on How Puppies Learn)
So if your dog is barking or whining, it is your job to make sure he does not receive any of the above rewards, or any other reward, whilst he is making a noise.
This takes patience because initially, he will try even harder to get the response he is expecting!
Check out our post on Vehicle Manners for some tips on this technique
Putting noise on cue
Behaviourists have long known that putting a behaviour on cue, that is to say, teaching the dog to do it ‘on hearing your command or signal’, may reduce the dog’s enthusiasm for exhibiting the behaviour spontaneously.
So, perhaps surprisingly, teaching a dog to bark on command, is actually helpful in reducing barking overall.
We’ll look at this strategy in more detail later too.
It is much easier to avoid a puppy growing into a noisy dog than it is to cure a noise problem. The first two strategies mentioned above: reinforcing silence, and removing rewards for noise, are great ways to prevent puppies from becoming noisy in the first place.
Watch this space for more information on these techniques!
More help and information
If you enjoy Pippa’s articles, you might like her new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.