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How can I train my Armenian Gampr not to bark so much? (Answered on Quora)

Hi. Below is an extract from my book (Decode Your Dog).

Before I begin I do need to set out my thoughts on barking. For me, barking is not, and should not be the issue it clearly is. Dogs bark. The only ethical way I know of to 100% guarantee no barking is either not getting a dog in the first place or to get a Basenji (which is a dog breed that cannot bark but it can howl!). I don’t support the extreme or punitive measures that some others promote such as dogs being hit (corrected) for barking or being operated on to remove their ability to bark, which unbelievably does happen! I, personally, think these are both cruel and very unnecessary.

Barking is important to dogs and some dogs are more vocal than others (yes, I am looking at you Mr Jack Russell Terrier). We need to remember that barking serves a purpose to both human and dogs as it warns of strangers, dangers and mangers…well, not really mangers but I just wanted to put something there that rhymed and ‘mangers’ came to mind. Barking can also be an energy release. Unfortunately, barking can also often be a demand whereby your dog gently ‘reminds’ you that “I am here, I want that, play with me etc”.

We need to control and manage barking opportunities and barking durations. In my experience, it is not barking as such that is seen as an issue but moreover uncontrolled barking. To this end, here is a few solutions to reduce the barking.


Don’t bark!

It always amazes me that very often the first thing we do when our dog goes off on a barking frenzy is join in. When we yell at our dog to stop barking, or repeatedly issue the stop barking (i.e saying no) instruction, then it becomes a bit of an oxymoron. We are ‘asking’ for a behaviour to end via enacting the exact same type of behaviour ourselves. When we are yelling at our dog to stop barking our communication is riddled with emotion which, very often, heightens the dog’s anxieties and energies further encouraging the barking to continue not end. In addition, if your dog is mid-flow in the bark, do you actually think it will listen or actually hear you? Of course, a vocal interrupt (like ‘No’ or Stop’) may work but you really don’t need to join in the conversation. Instead why not try one of the following: –


Reward the silence

For generalised ‘excitement’, ‘exuberant’ or ‘demand’ barking then we can, if you have the patience, reward the breaks in the barking. This will teach the dog that it is silence that gets the good stuff and not the noise. A barking dog will naturally need to take a break when barking so, when it does, wait a second or two then issue the command “stop” and immediately issue it a treat.

Initially, the barking is likely to resume and when it does reward the next break in much the same fashion as above. Reward the small wins. If your dog is thinking about barking but doesn’t then that deserves a reward. You see your dog is making a choice and the silence, or slight whimper, is the correct choice. Take care not to say or do anything else but just wait and act.

After several repetitions your dog should start making the connection between the instruction and the reward. When you feel that this is the case then you can test this by issuing the instruction mid-bark and if your dog stops and looks for the reward then you have achieved the desired outcome. From herein it is practice, practice, test, and practice some more.

The above will work for a lot of dogs but certainly not all. This exercise will not work though if your dog is ‘reactive’ barking to a person or another dog. If your dog is reactive to people, or dogs, or something else then you should address the ‘reason’ (trigger/stimulus) for the barking rather than the barking itself (see dog to do/people reactivity program noted previously).


Teach to speak

This may seem a bit counter-intuitive but by teaching your dog to bark on cue you will also be teaching it to be silent on cue also.

The first step would be to teach your dog to bark on cue. To do this get a treat, or toy, that you know your dog will be interested in. Let your dog see the treat/toy but hold on to it. Your dog should start getting frustrated at not getting the item therefore will no doubt let out a bark (or the start of a bark). When this happens immediately give your dog the item. There is no instruction to be given at this stage. Repeat this until you feel that your dog has worked out that the barking gets the reward.

When you are at the stage where your dog has worked out that barking gets the goods then you can introduce the command (i.e. “speak”). Now when your dog bark, immediately say speak and give the reward. Repeat this a few times and once you are comfortable your dog is getting this 100% then still issue the command but slightly delay the issuing of the reward.

Again, after many repetitions we can test if your dog has made the association of the commend to the required response. This time make sure the toy/treat is not in view and issue your ‘speak’ command. If your dog responds correctly then reward it immediately. Now repeat this but gradually increase the time taken to give the reward after getting the response.

Once your dog ‘speaks’ to command reliably then you can turn your attention to the ‘quiet’ command. To achieve this, we need to get your dog in a high state of arousal in order to generate some barking. Upon hearing a bark then immediately stop all activity and issue the command (i.e. “quiet”) followed immediately by the reward. This time it is important that you issue the quiet command from the start in order not to undo the ‘speak’ achievements. Repeat this until your dog starts to connect the quiet command with the reward. Once you get to this stage then start to delay the issuing of the reward (but not the command).

When you are confident that your dog has made a solid connection of the command to how it should respond then get someone else to act as the ‘agitator’ and get your dog excited and then you issue the ‘quiet’ command and issue the reward if you get the required response.

From herein it is just practice, practice and more practice for both the speak and quiet commands.


Pre-emptive strike

This exercise is great for teaching your dog that it does not need to bark to get rewards but it does require good timing. Basically, as with the ‘look at me’ training you need your dog to focus on you. Assuming that your dog has managed to successfully perform the ‘look at me’ what you want to do here is practice this but this time you are looking to reward the silence as well as the eye contact.

Get your dog to look at you as you would in the ‘look at me’ exercise. Maintain the look at me position until you see your dog getting ready to bark. Once you see the first sign of your dog readying itself for a bark issue the reward along with the command “quiet”. Repeat this over and over again each time trying to catch the bark before it happens.

Don’t worry if you do not get this 100% as sometimes the bark will shoot out before you have a chance to act. If this happens just ignore it and continue with the activity as if the bark had never happened.

If all goes well and your dog is getting it then still issue the command (quiet) but slightly delay the issuing of the reward. Continue the reward delay until you can get a non-bark response for about 10 seconds or, better still, you see no signs of wishing to bark after holding the ‘look at me’ stance for about 20-30 seconds.


Action interrupt

The action interrupt approach is a form of redirection. Here we aim to acknowledge your dog for ‘speaking’ to us and thank it for doing so then redirect it onto something else.

This time, if your dog barks, then say thank you, using the 5 Cs, and briskly walk away from your dog and simultaneously call it over. Once it comes over to you then get it to compliance sit and reward this. Thereafter guide your dog to what you would prefer it to do (even if this is a ‘go rest’ (see game 7)).

What you are teaching your dog here is that its barking has a purpose, you have acknowledged that purpose and it gets it reward for alerting you. The key here is rewarding your dog away from the stimulus that triggered the barking in the first place.


Disappointing demands

The aim here is to let your dog know that demands don’t get. Therefore if your dog is demanding (barking) your attention then let it know you disapprove by creating distance from it and possibly walking out of the room into another whist, at the same time, paying no attention at all to your dog. You are letting your dog know two things 1) that you are not going to rewards its demands by engaging with it and 2) you disapprove and show this by creating distance from it. Your dog will learn that barking is not achieving the interactions (rewards) it did previously and will learn to refrain from, or lessen, this activity.

It is important that when we do get the silence that we reward this and let him/her know that we do approve. Even if the barking does not stop altogether it should reduce significantly.