Barking – Shaker Can and God Given Corrections

I was talking to a friend about using a shake can to stop her dog from barking.  This method can work but only under the best possible circumstances.

Actually, shake cans can result in two negative consequences: fear of the person shaking the can, that is distrust of the owner; and fear of noise. The only way a shake can is effective is if it can be tossed in the dog’s direction (not hitting the dog) and not associated with the person tossing it.  I call this a God Given Correction.  But unfortunately this is difficult for most pet owners to do.

Our members at The Dog Knowledge know my focus is on creating the best possible relationship between us and our dogs. A technique that nurtures fear and distrust is not good. Just as importantly, noise as a consequence for unwanted behavior has the potential for creating a noise-sensitive dog that’s afraid of loud noises, and even the sound of a soda can hitting the floor.

Despite possible consequences, using a shake can is often recommended by people – even by some veterinarians and dog trainers. I too have recommended it.  However, more recently, I have refrained from recommending the shake can because I finally realized that most owners can’t give a God Given Correction.  So unfortunately, the dog associates the terrible noise with the owner.

There might be an argument to be made for shake cans if it were the only way to stop a dog barking, but there are lots of better ways that don’t rely on fear, don’t have the potential to damage the dog, and more importantly damage our relationship.

Start out by rewarding the dog for barking in his crate. Let him out each and every time he barks. Be consistent – the slightest woof gets praise and the reward of freedom from confinement. Do this for a few weeks – about 50 repetitions.

Step two: Now, wait for quiet. No matter how long it takes, do not let your dog out until he’s been quiet for a few minutes. (You might want to warn your neighbors). Then reward your dog by letting him out. That’s it! That’s all.

Here’s why this works: It’s the laws of reinforcement. Random reinforcement strengthens behavior. Like a slot machine, you never know if you’re going to win next time so you keep playing. This is how barking is usually treated. Sometimes we let the dog bark, sometimes we make him be quiet, and sometimes we let him out of the crate. He never knows if he’s going to win or not. Random reinforcement.

Continuous reinforcement is like a vending machine – because you get a result every time, when reinforcement stops, so does the behavior. For example, if you put money in the vending machine and nothing happens, you stop rather than putting more money in, as with a slot machine.

Rewarding the dogs barking behavior each and every time creates the predictability of a vending machine. So when the reward suddenly stops, so does the behavior.

One caveat – be prepared for what is called an “extinction burst”: a return of the barking worse than ever. It’s the last gasp of the dying behavior – like pounding on the vending machine before you walk away. Suddenly the barking will reappear worse than ever. Don’t give in! Get through the extinction burst, and you’re home free.

Alternatively, sign your dog up for a week of behavior modification at The Dog Knowledge.  We will work on the problem for you and then all you have to do is follow-up once your dog returns home after a week of consistent training.