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Dog talk with Uncle Matty: Dog talk

By From page A8 | February 28, 2014

“The trouble with her is that she lacks the power of conversation but not the power of speech.”

George Bernard Shaw said that, and I can’t help but wonder whether he was referring to his dog.

Dogs can’t converse with us, but they speak canine just fine. They talk, howl, whine and chat. They yip and yap. Much of it sounds like nonsense to us, but some of it transcends the communication gap.

If your dog looks at you and whines, or whines while pacing in front of a door, you’d be smart to let him out.

If he barks while play-bowing in front of a ball, you’d be kind to accept his invitation to a game of fetch.

If he employs his deepest bark prefaced by a throaty growl, you’d be wise to flip on the exterior lights and have a look around.

Some dogs sing at the sound of sirens. By the dog’s perception, the siren is the song of another dog, a member of the universal pack, and his mournful response is both a matter of politeness and of unity. I’m here. You’re not alone. We’re in this together, pal.

Dogs bark out of excitement, concern, territorialism, fear, alertness, loneliness, boredom, playfulness and even pain. You probably love the sound of your dog’s voice. I know I do. Within reason.

Excessive noise from a dog is annoying. It’s grating. And left unchecked, it can be enraging.

More and more people are working from home. More and more homes are being crammed into neighborhoods. Yards are getting smaller. Neighbors are getting closer. Is it just me, or is it hard to breathe in here?

If your beloved dog makes so much noise that it’s irritating to you, it’s at least 10 times more irritating to everyone around you. Don’t let excessive noise go unchecked. Figure out the trigger and make a plan.

For example, if your dog barks at that squirrel in your tree every morning, you have two choices: train the squirrel to exit the tree on command, or train the dog to be quiet. My money’s on the dog.

Teaching your dog to simmer down requires precision timing, loads of praise and possibly some high-value rewards: a favorite toy, cheese or meaty delights. I don’t typically train with food, but you aren’t a professional trainer and a squirrel is tough competition for your dog’s attention.

Next time your dog is barking, say in a calm, firm voice: “Quiet.” Once. As soon as he stops barking, if only to take a breath, praise him and offer his toy as a substitute behavior or a treat as a last resort. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Eventually, your dog will get that “quiet” means “stop barking.”

Things to keep in mind:

• Consistency. Decide on an acceptable amount of bark time (5 seconds? 15 seconds?). Anytime he exceeds that time, issue the “quiet” command.
• Shouting at your dog while he’s barking is, to him, tantamount to barking. Now you’re in it together — kinda like the pack howl. Don’t go there.
• A tired dog is a quiet dog, and the same can be said of a sufficiently stimulated dog. Make sure your pup is getting walks outside the yard and plenty of exercise.
• If you can’t break him of his bark on your own, bring in a pro. This is a problem that begets bigger problems.

Woof!

Dog trainer Matthew “Uncle Matty” Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series “WOOF! It’s a Dog’s Life!” Read all of Uncle Matty’s columns at www.creators.com, and visit him at www.unclematty.com. Send your questions to [email protected] or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619. 

Copyright 2014 Creators Syndicate Inc.

Matthew Margolis

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