How to Stop Demand Barking

What to do if your dog barks at you to demand things, such as food.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA,
October 11, 2011
Episode #122

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This is where the earplugs come in. Here’s why: The Shih Tzus have had the barking habit for a while now. Sometimes maybe Katherine feeds them right away. Sometimes she holds out for 5 minutes. Or even 10 minutes.

Consequently, the dogs never know quite how long they have to bark before the food heads their way. They’ve learned to persist. To end her dogs’ barking habit, Katherine will have to ignore it and not give them any food, no matter how long the barking lasts.

Hold Out Through the “Extinction Burst”

Wait, it gets worse. Suppose your old car sometimes takes 5 or 6 tries to start. One morning, though, you try 6 times. Then 7. Nothing. How many times do you turn that key before you accept that your car has given up the ghost? A dozen? Two dozen? That last flurry of key turns is what scientists who study learning call an “extinction burst.”

For Katherine’s Shih Tzus, barking sometimes works right away, but often it takes a while. They keep turning the key in Katherine’s ignition, and eventually she starts. The day she doesn’t start – the day when, no matter how long they bark at her, she doesn’t give up any of her food – they will throw a barkfest louder and more intense than any she has ever heard before. If she can’t stand it one more second and caves in then, her goose is cooked. Because now her dogs have learned that that’s how long and hard they have to bark. This is not a problem for them.

The good news is that extinction bursts come right before the barking dog (or ignition-key-turning person) gives up. The bad news (there’s always more bad news) is that with a really well entrenched behavior, there may be more than one extinction burst. Each burst is weaker than the one before, but maybe we should add noise-canceling headphones to those earplugs for poor Katherine.

Scolding and Punishment Probably Won’t Work

You might be wondering why I don’t recommend Katherine reprimand her dogs or punish them. For starters, attention is a reward for most dogs, even negative attention such as scolding.