An expert’s primer on problem barkers: Tips for muzzling bad behavior


Story by Georgia Swing
Photos by Billy Hardiman

dog_training1Along with the holidays come
ringing doorbells and visits from
family and friends, the delivery
of packages, Christmas cards and
baked goods from neighbors.
It can be a nightmare, if you’re the
owner of a problem barker.
Offensive yipping and yapping can
be minimized with the correct training,
says professional dog trainer Nathan
Braaten owns A-Way to Wag
Private Canine School and Learning
Center in south Tempe. There, Braaten,
36, provides basic training for day
clients and specialized training by
The truth is, most problem
barking occurs because the dog is
bored, Braaten said, and the solution is
to train and stimulate your pet.
“Idle hands do the devil’s work,”
he said. “A bored dog is going to mess
up. It’s going to tear up your house; it’s
going to bark at your neighbors. The
best thing is just to be involved with
your animals.”
Besides boredom, other common
causes of dog barking include alerting
the presence of a visitor or someone
walking by; the doorbell, which stems
from the dog’s expectation of a need to
alert; separation anxiety; rivalry with
another dog; and attention-seeking.
“You need to find out what the
stimulus is – what’s making the dog
bark, number one,” Braaten said.
“If it’s a noise of something that
we can replicate, I want to desensitize
them to those noises. So let’s just say
it’s the doorbell. I would ring that
doorbell a thousand times, or ‘til that
dog didn’t bark. And then, when it
didn’t bark at that doorbell, I’m going
to reward it.”
Such training takes patience
and time. It might take a half-hour of
doorbell ringing before the dog doesn’t
bark, he said. “The moment you ring it
and he doesn’t bark, give him a couple
treats, love him up, and then you stop
for that day.”
But continued training is
important, he said. “It takes three to
six months for anything to go from
short-term memory to long-term
memory in a dog.”
Braaten, born in Minnesota, has lived in Tempe
since he was 5. He graduated from Mountain Pointe
High School and attended Mesa Community College
until a medical problem led to brain surgery and a
two-year rehabilitation.
During that time, he trained his Rottweiler,
Daisy, to be a service dog to help him with stability
and mobility. That experience led to schooling at the
Texas Triple Crown Dog Academy (now Starmark
Animal Behavior Center) near Austin and later to the
Assistance Dog Institute (now Bergin University of
Canine Studies) in Santa Rosa, Calif.
His business at 1730 E. Elliot Road employs four
assistants and cares for 100-plus dogs a week. The
dogs behave at his shop “because it’s my house. They
are the guests at my house…I’m firm but I’m very
fair,” he said. “It’s either black or it’s white; there’s
no gray areas for any of the dogs. I’m very clear with
what I’m asking out of these animals.”
Dogs that get overly excited or engage in too
much rough-housing at his daycare go in a crate,
though otherwise his operation is cage-free. “It’s not
for punishment,” he said. “They settle down, they
take a little break. When they’re calm, they can come
out and join the pack.”
Here are some other tips from Braaten about
curbing a dog’s barking, and other bits of canine
“A lot of times if you teach your dog to speak on
command, (unwanted barking) goes down. They’re
getting out that vocalization. It’s the enjoyment of
it. My dog knows he speaks when I do this,” he said,
making a hand signal of a dog’s mouth opening and
closing, “not when he hears noises or stuff like that.”
If the dog is alerting the presence of the mail
carrier or other delivery people, “they get selfrewarded,”
Braaten said. “Because the mailman
comes up the driveway, the dog starts barking. He
puts the mail in the slot and the mailman turns
around and walks away. Well, the dog is going, ‘Oh
my gosh, did you just see what I did? I just scared
that guy.’ So the next time the mailman or UPS
comes, it just escalates because they go, ‘I want to get
rid of this guy faster.’ So they bark meaner; they act
meaner. I wouldn’t allow them to see what’s going
on, number one. Block the stimulus.”
Sometimes on a walk, a dog on a leash will
bark at another leashed dog approaching with its
owner. If the approaching dog is displaying signs
of aggressiveness, the other dog wants to show it
is tougher, he said. He would turn the dog to walk
behind or in front of the other dog, to avoid the
Leaving a dog alone in a fenced yard for long
periods of time leads to boredom, and boredom leads
to barking.
Spend time with your dog, teaching basic
commands, giving it mental stimulation. Show the
dog what you expect of it. “If I can get my dog into
a ‘sit’ or a ‘down,’ it’s less likely you’re going to get
these bad behaviors to come out – because we’ve
taught them how to act in the right situations.”
His response to attention-seeking barking?
“That’s one of the ones where you want to ignore
it. Because if you try to console or reprimand your
dog, it’s getting the attention that it’s asking from
you. You can reward the dog when it’s offering a
better behavior. If my dog is sound asleep, and it’s a
barker, I consider that a better behavior. I’ll go over
there and (say): ‘You’re such a good boy,’ and give it
a treat, even though they were sound asleep.”
Treats used as rewards should be small and
soft. If you’re training with repetition, treats that
require chewing take too long for the dog to swallow.
Quick training exercises keep the dog and the owner
interested. “It takes less than a second and a half
between cause and effect with a dog.”
To correct barking, “Figure out what the
stimulus is and contact a professional dog trainer.
We have a pretty good grasp on their behaviors and
their body language. We can usually see something
that the owners haven’t seen.”
Little dogs tend to bark more than big dogs,
because “people don’t correct little dogs.” They think:
“‘It’s Grandma’s dog. I don’t want to be mean to
Grandma’s dog.”
He advises dog owners not to:
Hold a barking dog’s mouth shut. “Any time you
start getting physical, it starts becoming a struggle. I
don’t want my dogs to think they’re going to have to
struggle in their relationship with me,” he said.
Engage in prolonged scolding. “Dogs learn to
ignore idle threats.”
Put your dog on your lap when it barks. The
dog thinks: “ ‘I just taught that owner, when I bark
at him, to pick me up.’ A lot of times they’re training



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