This post is part of the series in response to Dunbar’s 2012 Australian seminars. See index.
Dunbar advocates putting problem behaviours on cue. That goes for barking, too. The idea is to teach your dog to bark on cue (through lure-reward training) and then teaching your dog to be quiet on cue (again, through lure-reward). For example, you could use the sound of the doorbell or teasing the dog with a treat to elicit a bark and act as a lure. For the opposite, you could simply present a treat to a dog (they normally start sniffing and they can’t bark and sniff at the same time) and you have lured the silent behaviour.
The idea is, firstly, you can tell your dog to quiet if it is barking inappropriate. Secondly, by putting ‘bark’ on cue and rewarding it, when the dog barks of its own accord, and doesn’t get rewarded, it may realize that is not a desirable option (i.e. negative punishment, the removal of a good reward). Finally, by having barking on cue, it means you can sometimes give your dog permission to bark! It is unfair to expect dogs to never bark, but allowing them appropriate venues to bark (when cued) means that you are not denying your dog its natural desire to bark.
Though Dunbar believes dogs should be taught bark/shush as a matter of course, he believes that Kongs are one of the simplest and easier solution to preventing and treating problem barking. For someone who ‘doesn’t have time’ to teach cues for barking/non-barking, they can easily throw a stuffed Kong to their dogs.
That being said, Dunbar admits that it is difficult to teach an alarm or ballistic barker to quiet. As always, he advocates prevention through attentive puppy training, rather than trying to remedy a problem barker.